The first commitment of The Hewitt School’s strategic vision is to redesign learning around transdisciplinary real-world challenges to build students’ leadership capacity and sense of purpose. Read on to learn about how this commitment lives in the everyday experiences of our students and what students and families can look forward to next at Hewitt.
We have launched a new lower school leadership program that builds our youngest girls’ capacity to design the future. In grades K-3, we are giving students more voice and choice—more opportunities to collaborate with their teachers to shape their learning environment and experiences. From first graders engineering mazes and coding robots to navigate their obstacle courses to third graders engaging in a design challenge to make their classroom a more joyful and inspiring space, Hewitt girls are shaping not only how but why they learn.
This fall, fourth graders embarked on a leadership journey of their own design, participating in a new program that puts our learners in the driver’s seat rather than following a set curriculum developed by adults. After discussing what kind of leaders they wanted to be for their lower school, they designed a community gathering program to celebrate the work of their younger peers and educate the community about issues important to them, such as Breast Cancer Awareness month. The fourth graders organize and host each gathering, and plan to include third graders in designing the last community meeting of the year so that they are ready to take the reins next fall! As one fourth grader recently said, “This isn’t just about being a leader, but about our legacy, what we want to leave behind for lower school when we move up to middle school.”
Why this innovation matters: Hewitt girls are learning what leadership means through their own exploration and experimentation, developing the foundational skills and mindset necessary to thrive as they transition from lower to middle and upper school and beyond.
We have created a new middle school capstone experience. Our new eighth grade capstone is a signature Hewitt experience: a year-long immersion in research and action, leadership and collaboration. Students investigate the seventeen goals at the heart of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and identify a goal for which they feel inspired to develop a local project that advances this world-wide effort. A group of eighth graders is collaborating on a project in support of Sustainable Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all people at all ages. Thinking globally and acting locally, they are focusing on inequalities in healthcare, and their background research on this global issue is informing their current work on an action plan that includes interviews with local providers, agencies, and advocates. These students will apply what they learn to meet their goal of designing a way to provide detailed information to area communities about affordable, quality healthcare.
As students develop their capstone projects, they receive and implement feedback from their teachers about the quality of their research, how to conduct interviews, and their public speaking skills. To culminate this capstone project, all eighth graders make a public presentation to their families, peers, and all Hewitt faculty and staff. After their presentations, students have the opportunity to process additional feedback about their oral and visual presentations.
Why this innovation matters: Hewitt middle school girls gain the skills, the curiosity, and the confidence to connect their personal interests to the most pressing issues of our time. Learning how they can make a difference in the world now is key preparation for Hewitt’s upper school program.
We have developed new transdisciplinary courses and programs for independent study in the upper school. Upper school faculty are developing an evolving lineup of courses modeled on two new electives taking place this year: Uncovering Climate Change and History of Global Disasters. In Uncovering Climate Change, an integrated physics and chemistry course, students grapple with the economic, social, political, and ecological dimensions of a warming planet, a challenge that two-thirds of U.S. adults under the age of forty see as a significant or very serious problem, according to a 2022 study by the Pew Research Center. In History of Global Disasters, students use recent cataclysms—Chernobyl, Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti—as case studies in human nature, governance, and social infrastructure. The courses integrate learning experiences facilitated by other Hewitt faculty and experts in the field, such as a mathematics educator teaching how to design predictive models for climate change and a technologist teaching how to design energy efficient classrooms. In the spring, the classes will come together to conduct fieldwork in Central Park and East Harlem in how heat waves are increasingly creating disasters in communities that are either unprepared or under-resourced to protect their residents.
Additionally, Hewitt has developed and evolved a program called Extended Inquiry. In its current form, this program enables students to explore at greater depth a topic of interest to them in one or more than one subject through independent, rigorous research that addresses an essential question of their own posing. Extended Inquiry projects culminate in an academic paper and presentation that synthesizes materials across disciplines and is shared with a faculty committee from numerous departments. Students who opt to participate in the Extended Inquiry program acquire mastery and demonstrate autonomy through this challenging addition to their coursework.
Why this innovation matters: Hewitt students are immersed in learning experiences that foster independence and engage them in understanding the nature of systemic problems and in problem solving for relevant real-world challenges in New York City and globally.