Josephina Wang ’23 was upset by and tired of hearing about athlete abuse scandals in the news. As a swimmer, she wanted to do something—to help empower her peers to protect themselves and one another and end abuse. Last year, she joined a new program offered in Holton’s Upper School that helped her learn how to and eventually launch such a venture.
Offered in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania and Schoolyard Ventures, the Social Innovators Program gives students the tools and opportunity to build initiatives and organizations that positively impact society. Some 47 Holton students signed up for the first session, which ran during the 2019-2020 school year. Its goal is cultivate students’ “entrepreneurial mindset,” to provide them with “a creative problem-solving framework that can be applied to any number of situations and opportunities—and [that’s] fundamental to students’ long-term success in school, work, and life.”
As Head of School Susanna A. Jones marveled in her Head’s Notes column last spring, the first crop of Holton “Social Innovators” designed and kicked off an awe-inspiring array of efforts for social good, ranging from creating a new holiday to foster more interpersonal connection (especially during these socially distanced times!), to helping peers become better environmental stewards through small, achievable daily eco challenges delivered via text message.
Building on the structure and tools provided by the program, Josephina was inspired to launch Girls Speak Up. As she wrote in her May 2020 article on SwimSwam, “My goal is to empower all female swimmers and help them face the reality of harassment, with an emphasis on promoting self-advocacy and educating them about Safe Sport,” USA Swimming’s abuse prevention program.
In early 2020, Josephina began leading meetings with her own swim club to train them on identifying and reporting on abuse, and started recruiting peer “ambassadors” across the country that she trained to educate and empower their own communities. In a July article on Reach For The Wall, Josephina shared that she was receiving positive feedback from her more-than 20 ambassadors in eight states.
Said one ambassador: “Girls Speak Up has opened my eyes to the abuse that unknowingly occurs all around us. But instead of living in fear of these situations, I have been prepared with the tools necessary to handle them if they were ever to occur. I now use my newfound knowledge of Safe Sport to educate and empower my fellow female athletes.”
While Josephina looks to continue growing her program, Social Innovators continues to gain momentum at Holton. An additional 25 students participated in a virtual summer session, while some school-year participants further developed their skills and projects in an Entrepreneurial Leadership Program. The new school-year session, also virtual, will begin on Nov. 23. (The program is open to 9, 10 and 11 graders. Students must apply by Oct. 22; more information is at www.schoolyardventures.com/holton.)
As Susanna Jones noted in her spring blog, the end products produced by Social Innovators were impressive and may be lasting, but what’s most important are the lasting skills, tools, and takeaways they gain from such an experience: stronger problem-solving and project management skills, resilience, flexibility, increased comfort with risk-taking, self-confidence, and so much more.
Social Innovators is just one of the countless ways that Holton works to cultivate these critical 21st-century skills and habits of mind and helps equip students to effect positive change in the world. Learn more about Holton’s School-wide competencies and our curriculum, and be on the lookout in particular for news this fall about our new Middle School year-long project-based learning endeavors, which are also providing our students with a deep-dive into entrepreneurship, problem-solving, and social responsibility.