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Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership Offers New Courses During the Fall Semester
by Katie McKellar, History Chair, Upper School; BCIL Upper School Curriculum Innovator & Collaborator

Seven BCIL designated courses were offered this fall in the Upper School, including Sustainable Earth Engineering, Latinx in Los Angeles, Science of Well-Being, Robotics, Entrepreneurship I, Applied Psychology, and Civic Leadership and Current Events. Ninety-eight students enrolled in these courses that were all designed around the BCIL mission to “engage with real world challenges and explore solutions within and beyond the classroom.” Theo T. ’21 said of his experience in Entrepreneurship I: “This course is different from others because it connects to real life more than any other. You have to think about your own life and the problems you have. With those problems, you work to come up with solutions.”

A unifying feature of all BCIL courses is the emphasis on student choice and student initiative. Final projects ranged from building a garden on campus in Sustainable Earth Engineering to prototyping a stuffed animal that tracks sleeping patterns in Robotics, to developing a child-directed online marketplace for used toys in Entrepreneurship I. For her final project in Civic Leadership, Gavi W. ’21 identified a need for more curricular resources exploring the AIDS crisis.  She created a lesson plan and list of resources and presented to Brentwood’s History Department as part of her final project, and is continuing the work this spring to implement these lessons into a variety of history classes. Speaking to her experience in the class, Gavi said: “This course was different from other classes that I have taken because we not only learned about how to be a leader, we also got to be leaders. I enjoy classes that actually implement what you do in class to the real world because that is what people do in life.”

Another distinguishing feature of these classes is the integration of the BCIL Core Leadership Skills. Students in the Science of Well-Being class competed in Brentwood’s Innovation Challenge as innovative problem solvers when they were asked to design a product, service, or initiative that furthered UN Sustainable Development Goal #3, Good Health and Well-Being. To prepare for this challenge, students conducted stakeholder interviews with seven faculty members, an experience that required them to practice being adept communicators. Carly M. ’21 reflected on the skills she gained from this course: “I have been supplied with tools that empower me to feel confident to tackle real world problems, and more importantly, be a leader while doing so. I learned that being a leader requires a great amount of self-care, something most high school students don’t feel they have the time, energy, or desire to do. I enjoyed trying all different kinds of things, including breathing, meditation, exercise, and sleeping more, and found what worked for me.”

Latinx in Los Angeles encouraged students to be courageous risk-takers through final projects that included a podcast exploring the representation of the Latinx community in pop music, a photo essay comparing the authenticity of cultural artifacts in Olvera Street with those in Plaza Mexico, and a cultural tour of restaurants serving Latinx cuisine in Los Angeles. These activities unveiled a growing sense of involvement with and awareness of the many issues facing the Latinx community in our town. Students in Sustainable Earth Engineering had lessons on being effective managers as they worked to plan the necessary steps for installing the new garden on campus. Students in Civic Leadership gained experience as inspired community builders as they had the opportunity to interview numerous civic leaders on both the local and national level, and then practice these skills as they developed and executed individual projects to take civic action on issues that resonated with them. Eve J ’20 said, “I’ve always had an interest in working with animals and have worked with people who have disabilities in the past. When I found Dawg Squad, an organization that focuses on dogs who have disabilities that are up for adoption, I was immediately intrigued.” 

In all BCIL courses, students are given opportunities to connect with stakeholders within and beyond the Brentwood community. In Latinx in Los Angeles, author and professor Beth Caldwell, '94, delivered an engrossing lecture about the plight of deported Americans. Students in Sustainable Earth Engineering wrote a letter to Brentwood’s groundskeeping department reporting the results of their soil analysis detailing the physical composition, pH level, and nutrient content including levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Finally, students in Civic Engagement and Current events heard from a range of speakers, including Miry Whitehill, the founder of Miry’s List, an organization that provides new arrival refugee families with things that they need to get started with their new lives; later in the semester, Brentwood parent Craig Scholz, who founded My Friend's Place, a drop-in resource center in Hollywood for youth experiencing homelessness, visited with inspired program Director Heather Carmichael and Volunteer Coordinator Rachel Sanchez. A highlight for the students in this class was also traveling to City Hall and meeting with the Mayor’s West Los Angeles Representative. 

BCIL courses build on the strong foundation already set by Brentwood’s core academic program in encouraging students to think critically and creatively and make meaning out of what they are learning. By highlighting connections between the classroom and the real world, and also building confidence with essential leadership skills, BCIL courses complement this strong foundation and further prepare our students to excel in the 21st century. 

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