Raising Empathetic Changemakers

Every other Wednesday, all Upper School students engage in CoLab day, a break from the regular cycle schedule which allows them to delve deeply into topics with which they might not otherwise engage. Classes range from Coding, to Health and Wellness, to Financial Literacy.
The backbone of the CoLab day is the learning which takes place through our interdisciplinary, project-based courses in grades 9 through 11: Voice and Vision, Culture and Context, and Introduction to Engineering Design. Seniors utilize the foundational skills learned in these courses in the independent and experiential learning they undertake as part of senior projects.

These courses are the artery of the Upper School curriculum. They strengthen girls’ ability to identify and contend with complex problems, and propel them into action, readying them to use their talents to shape the world for the better. These unique courses provide our students with powerful opportunities to practice empathy, gather knowledge and resources in an intentional manner, and develop well thought out action plans to implement change in the world around them.

The scope of the interdisciplinary program evolves from a focus on self in grade 9 to a focus on the school community in grade 10, to a focus on the broader Pittsburgh community in grade 11, and culminates in a senior project which allows students to choose their own area of study that is grounded in impacting the world around them. Throughout the curricula, students are not merely presented with a problem and charged with solving it—the typical approach in many traditional high school courses. They are instead asked to identify real-world problems, gather information through thoughtful research and stakeholder interviews, and identify creative yet plausible solutions.

For example, in Introduction to Engineering Design, students have been asked to use human-centered design methods and to consider solutions that could minimize ableism in our world. Current projects in the class include designing a device which will allow someone to wash their face without the use of their arms, designing a device to allow individuals without a hand or with severely limited use of a hand to cut food with a knife, and designing a device to allow a wheelchair user to reach and transfer items from out of immediate reach. Through this project, students are asked to consider an experience that is not their own, to cultivate deep understanding and rigorous discernment, and to deploy resourcefulness, determination, and flexible thinking as they conduct iterative tests to refine their prototypes.

It is incredibly exciting to watch our students step outside of their comfort zones and flex their muscles as empathic changemakers.