hillbrook school los gatos students engaged classroom
hillbrook school los gatos

“What matters to you and what are you doing about it?”

Those are the questions asked of each student at Hillbrook School’s Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship. The Los Gatos school was founded in 1935 to support the idea of a “village of friendly relations.”

The goals of the Scott Center—which was founded in 2017, and endowed by Shannon Hunt-Scott, President of the Scott Foundation, and Kevin Scott, Microsoft Chief Technology Officer—further the vision of Hillbrook’s founders by providing a bridge to social entrepreneurship in the 21st century. These goals are also deeply connected to Hillbrook’s core values: “Be kind. Be curious. Take risks. Be your best.”

scott center for social entrepreneurship

The Scott Center describes “social entrepreneurship” as empowering learners to engage deeply in complex challenges locally and globally. “It’s the ability to see the world as it is, imagine what it might be, and what we can do in a diverse, equitable and inclusive world,” said Annie Makela, Director of the Scott Center.

From the youngest junior kindergarten students on through high schoolers, children begin to imagine themselves as changemakers and entrepreneurs. Younger children are paired with older students as mentors and helpers on the projects Scott Center students create and implement. As an example, Makela mentioned a girl, now an alumna, whose mother was an Iranian refugee. When the student heard about the Afghani refugees in her own community, she created “Taste of Home,” baskets of foods familiar to the refugee families, which were then distributed to them. “We continue to do ‘Taste of Home’ today,” said Makela.

taste of home hillbrook school

The social entrepreneurship program is built on six “lenses” of connected impact academics—story, civics, finance, agency, design and systems. In partnership with Hillbrook’s Hub, a state-of-the-art Maker space, and core academic teachers, students tinker, explore, build and iterate, she said—helping them understand “what it means to do hard things and collaborate well with peers and community partners.”

“Meaningful experiences both on and off campus deepen our connection to communities,” said Head of School Mark Silver. “They push us to ask big questions and imagine our roles in shaping a more just and equitable world.”

“Micro-civics” asks all students, “what communities are you a part of?” Makela noted that a project involving water revealed that clean water is not a right or a given worldwide. In learning about water filtration systems, students learned about Ross Creek, a natural body of water that flows through Hillbrook’s campus, resulting in participants nominating themselves as “Captains of the Creek,” and volunteering to make sure it was regularly cleaned—a practice that continues today.

Hillbrook School will open a new upper school in downtown San Jose in fall 2023, after renovating two historic spaces: the Moir Building and the Armory. The upper school students will also participate in Scott Center learning by traveling to places such Alaska and Argentina. They will be asked to choose from among several social impact immersives to pursue, including art-as-activism, research and data analysis, impact investing and environmental justice. Makela said that learning about the history and possibilities of AI technology will be part of the curriculum as well.

Hillbrook School’s six-week summer camps, beginning in June, offer different kinds of opportunities for students to practice social entrepreneurship outside of the classic school structure, said Makela. “We explore our 14-acre school campus, plan meaningful field trips, and create intentionally unstructured time,” she said. Each week features new activities. For example, this year’s first week offers “To Hillbrook & Beyond Garden Party” (rising JK), “Art-O-Rama: Passionate Painters (JK-1st grade), “Mad Scientists” (K-2nd grade), “Hub Camp” (3rd-5th grade), and “Foodies of the Future” (5th-8th grade).

Parent involvement is a big part of Hillbrook School and the Scott Center’s success. The Scott Center hosts civic dinners, held at homes of parents, board members and administrators, in which adults discuss posed questions, and “get to know the community at a deep level,” said Makela. Building a sense of belonging and connection for all families is a commitment and focus at Hillbrook.

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Hillbrook alumni are also a resource. “Seven alumni joined the founding Scott Center Fellowship in 2023,” said Makela. These seven will form the future Scott Center Youth Advisory Board and as part of their training participated in a 12-week Social Innovation certificate program with UPenn and Schoolyard Ventures to hone their entrepreneurial skill set. 

Looking to a global future, Hillbrook and the Scott Center are fostering a kind of thinking in students that is a “critical skill to move us away from an industrial era of education,” Makela said. “What remains so exciting is that young people are eager and find immense joy in social entrepreneurship work. At the Scott Center they believe youth are not just future world leaders but capable of changemaking at any age. Powerful things come from a school culture where teachers and administrators work tirelessly to be sure each child receives a just-right challenge, balanced education and the ability to understand their own agency to create change and reach beyond themselves to make a difference in the world.”

For more information about Hillbrook School and the Scott Center for Social Entrepreneurship, visit Hillbrook’s website: https://www.hillbrook.org/ or The Scott Center: https://scottcenterse.org/

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