Teaching Kids Social Innovation for a Brighter, More Sustainable Future

St. Thomas School in Medina is piloting a new course program that teaches kids problem-solving and leadership skills with real-world applications.

When it comes to the topic of a sustainable future, many might think they don’t have the power to make a change. This is the very thought process Kimberly Mecham is trying to counter.

“You don’t have to be born an innovator to make a change,” she said, “That’s a myth, and I’m trying to break that.”

Mecham is the director for the Center of Leadership and Innovation at St. Thomas School in Medina and has been working with the school for the past 14 years.

About two years ago, the school board wanted to create and design a center that promoted leadership and innovation, so students could apply those skills later in life. Since Mecham had experience as a leader in technology education, she saw an opportunity to help design the newly formed center.

Mecham previously worked at Microsoft as an HR product manager and created some of the first versions of employee self-service tools that are still used in offices today. She also has been recognized as a leader due to the work she’s done for a girls’ school in Rwanda, which led her to win the Microsoft Alumni Inspired Leader award and help the Rwanda Girls Initiative become one of the top secondary schools in Africa.

Now, she’s tapping her experience with this new course at St. Thomas, one of the first to come out of the center. The Social Innovation Course will allow seventh- and eighth-graders to identify a problem and then try to fix it.

The course is based around the 17 sustainable development goals created by the United Nations. In seventh grade, students are tasked with selecting a topic they are passionate about. They will go on to research their selected area and perform interviews with other social innovators, so they can have a spectrum of examples on how people deal with real-world problems.

After studying the goals and selecting a topic, the following year, students will then break into teams and focus on a solution.

“Their solution can be something completely new that no one has done before, or something that already exists, and they will make it better, or even how they are going to get more people on board,” Mecham said.

Overall, the vision of the course is to provoke curiosity and provide a space for learners so they can fail and succeed. Ultimately, the goal of the course is about the journey and proving to kids they can make a difference.

The course is in its second year and is still considered a prototype. Mecham has realized, though, that when students select a cause they care about, they feel more excited about and invested in learning.

“One student is working on gender equality and studying the wage gap, while another student is studying feminism and why there’s a negative space around the word,” she said. At the end of the day, it’s about the positive changes Mecham is trying to bring to the world by educating kids and making them passionate about what they are learning.

There is still a lot of work to be done with the course overall. Mecham is working to find ways teachers can adapt the course in a way that suits their style. In the future, she hopes to bring the course to the public, so adults can realize that they have the power to be social innovators, too.

 

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