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Students Confront COVID-19 with BCIL Programming
by Katie McKellar, Assistant Director of the Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership

For two weeks this summer, 24 students in the Upper School enrolled in the Summer at Brentwood BCIL course, “Confronting COVID-19: Los Angeles in the Time of a Pandemic,” where they addressed real world challenges stemming from the current global health crisis.

Guest speakers in this class included Steven Almazán, a D.C.-based policy advocate with a focus on educational equity, and Dr. Ben LaBrot of Floating Doctors. Students interviewed stakeholders across Los Angeles and created final projects on a range of topics, including access to relief for refugees and undocumented immigrants, the education gap, and access to equitable resources for communities of color during and after the pandemic.

“I learned a lot about creating connections with people” shared Connor C. ’21, a student who researched how animal shelters had been affected by COVID for his final project. “Before this class I was very uncomfortable with reaching out to strangers, but having a purpose and working towards a goal that is important to me has given me the confidence to put myself out there more. I also learned about finding trends in data you collect yourself. A lot of research projects I’ve done in the past have only been online or in books, without talking to experts. I think I’ve entered a new stage in my academic learning because now I have the tools to become informed on a topic and pursue answers that will help me create a real world change.”

Several groups from this course are continuing to develop action plans to carry forward during the year. John B. ’22 and Charlie B. ’22 brainstormed virtual gaming tournaments to raise awareness about inequitable distribution of PPE around the country and planned to donate funds from the tournament to a local community hospital.

These efforts continue work done by the Brentwood community last spring, including Challenges of the Month related to COVID-19. In the Lower School, students were asked to design and make something that kept their family safe from germs and promoted healthy habits at home. Davis L. proposed a better mask with a glass visor and oxygen tank. Amelia S.’s submission “Suds Gloves” included mini brushes with soap that can keep your hands clean anywhere.

In the Upper School, Julia T. ’21 and Haley G. ’21 participated in the challenge as part of their AP Government class and proposed local, state, and federal measures to decrease panic buying. As a result of their notable submission, these students were offered an opportunity to present their ideas to Mayor Garcetti’s West Area Representative Kevin Taylor. AP Government teacher Hasani Sinclair joined the meeting and reflected on the opportunity: “I really appreciate how the BCIL works to take the curriculum beyond the classroom, helping students connect their learning to real-life problems. We were dealt an unfortunate opportunity this spring with the COVID pandemic but, interestingly enough, it fit very neatly with a few topics we had covered in the course. Haley and Julia did an outstanding job in AP Government, and beyond the course, are both deeply committed to advocating for and serving their fellow community members and helping to foster links between elected officials and their community.”

In addition to the Challenge of the Month, Upper School students engaged with COVID-19 through BCIL projects in their regular classes. In Claire Mittleman’s 10th Grade English class, students created COVID-19 monuments that called attention to voices and experiences often left out of the dominant narrative. This project asked students to design the monument and present it to an audience along with a call to action. 

This fall, we anticipate several additional COVID-related projects. Latinx in Los Angeles, a BCIL-designated course in the Upper School, will begin the school year discussing COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on the African-American and Latinx communities. Students from the COVID-19 summer class will share their research with this class, allowing students to build on the learning of their peers when thinking about how to positively impact communities within and beyond Brentwood during the pandemic. Additionally, other student teams have been meeting with members of the BCIL collaborative to get feedback on their ideas, including plans to partner with animal shelters to address needs stemming from the pandemic. All students have access to the BCIL collaborative through the incubator and are encouraged to bring ideas forward that have the potential to positively impact the broader community during this pandemic.

[Image by Amelia S. '27]

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