From Sparks to Flames of Action

At graduation this past June, I ended my remarks to the Class of 2017 by quoting Golda Meir. She said, “Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” These words are a perfect bridge from last year’s theme of Building the Future to this year’s theme: Inspiring Thinkers and Doers. What are those inner sparks of possibility? How do they become flames of achievement? 

To help us understand, I want to share two stories with you today: 

A number of years ago, I had an advisee named Wyatt who was also in my Chemistry class. As his advisor, I had known that Wyatt suffered from debilitating migraines—the kind of migraines that can make it difficult for you to get out of bed. At the end of the semester, as part of his final project, Wyatt chose to research the brain chemistry of migraines, why they occur, and how they are treated. Over the course of a couple of months, Wyatt learned from texts and journals, met with his doctor, and spoke with other people that suffered migraines. He finished his Chemistry project and turned it in at the end of the year. For many students that would mark the end; not for Wyatt. The next fall, Wyatt returned and petitioned to do an independent study. He wanted to learn how to create apps in iOS in order to put what he had learned into use. He went on to learn how to code for iOS and created an app to help people track the potential triggers of their migraines. Wyatt released the app just a few years ago. His doctor now regularly recommends patients to use it, and he has already made a difference for people suffering from migraines. 

The second story is about two students that helped raise the consciousness of the Brimmer community just a couple of years ago. While the story does not begin then, it was spurred forward when Alexis Ifill, Class of 2017, and Katheryn Maynard, Class of 2018, went to the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference. At the PoCC they listened, shared, and learned with other high school students from around the country. They listened to the struggles and successes around diversity at other schools and shared the work that has been done at Brimmer. What they learned and brought back has had a profound impact on our School and will help shape the experiences of everyone in this room and future students.  

After the conference, they wanted to share what they learned with the Brimmer community. They were eventually invited to present at a Board of Trustees meeting. Their message was that, at Brimmer, we are grateful to have such a diverse and accepting community. AND, at Brimmer, we should be proud of the work that has been done to raise awareness of issues of equality and inclusion. Katheryn then explained, however, we cannot just give ourselves a pat on the back and be content with where we stand and the success we achieved. Being a diverse community is hard work and you cannot rest on your laurels. You need to continue to think about what our community is capable of accomplishing and then work towards those new goals. Seeing the need, theyall gender focused improving in areas of gender and identity. The message from Katheryn and Alexis left a lasting impact on the School leadership and has helped lead to an updated dress code that strives to be inclusive and does not talk about bodies as a distraction, the removal of gender specific pronouns in the Student/Family Handbook, the formation of affinity groups for our students of color, and the reassignment of single-use bathrooms in the school as all-gender restrooms. 

What does being a Thinker and Doer mean to you? Perhaps it is building something new to help people. Maybe it is creating a new club for the school or designing a way to help limit food waste. It could be organizing a fundraiser for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Or it might be simply performing a small act of kindness or finding a way to make the experiences of your classmates more positive. No matter what the idea is, or how big or small it may be, we are all capable of being thinkers and doers.  

Each one of you has the potential to transform the sparks of your ideas into actions; Actions that will lead to the flames of achievement that emanate from our community this year. 

Building Space for Innovation

In 2011 President Barak Obama issued a challenge to the nation in his State of the Union Address to train and hire one hundred thousand new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) teachers. Over the next five years President Obama continued to usher in this generation’s Sputnik Challenge. During this time there was a message that continued to develop about the needs of the nation’s workforce and the need for studentsSTEAM LAB to adapt to the demands of our modern society. Over this time the rate of change has increased exponentially forcing institutions and companies to reevaluate the skills employees need for their institutions to be successful.

Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to visit non-profits, small businesses, and Fortune 500 companies. These visits allowed me to discuss with them what they are looking for when hiring interns and employees, as well as how they are redesigning their spaces to meet the needs of collaboration and work flow. Each conversation affirmed that today’s students need to be strong problem solvers, collaborators, critical thinkers, and adaptable. In addition our spaces need to be flexible, as well as promote collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

As an educational institution Brimmer and May was identified by the National Association of Independent Schools for its progressive thinking and its leadership in developing skills that are necessary to prepare students for a 21st Century workforce. While we have been successful in creating programs in our current space to prepare students for what lies ahead, our Chase Addition is a critical next step for the school to continue developing students that are prepared for our rapidly changing world.

The new space will enable Brimmer to be an incubator of innovation and social entrepreneurship. No longer will space be an obstacle for student success. Equipped with a 3D printer, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, CNC mill, and other fabrication tools, Brimmer’s creators, innovators, developers, and makers will have the space to develop and build their ideas. It will enable classes such as Problem Solving Through Design, STEAM Lab, and Media Production to work at a more sophisticated level and for the creation of new classes such as 8th Grade Innovation Hour and the Upper School elective TechShop. However this space is not just for physical creations and developing technical skills.

Instead it is about providing more opportunities for students to further develop the essential skills identified by employers. In addition, the continued incorporation of Design Thinking into our Lower, Middle, and Upper School curriculum plays a key role. We have learned from design firms like IDEO that this way of thinking is not solely about building products. This was evident during the Boston Winterim program this past March.

Students used the design thinking process to engage in social innovation. During the weeks leading up to, week of, and weeks after Winterim students worked to make an impact on the Newton Community. They identified an issue in nearby Hammond Pond Reservation and Webster Woods and prototyped different solutions. During this process they communicated with the City of Newton, local representatives, State Legislature Representatives, and State Senators. Their work even was presented to a design firm that was retained by the Commonwealth to address issues with this area.

It is projects like the Boston Winterim program and classes which balance skill development with content mastery that will ensure that Brimmer students develop the essential skills needed to be successful in the stage of life and to be the architects of our future.

Article published in the Summer 2017 Brimmer and May Ambassador magazine