Social Innovation Program Plunges Students Into River Study

3 min read

As the Sequoyah High School began its first year, students were introduced to a new program designed to produce the activists of the future. The “Social Innovation Program” (known more commonly as SIP, pronounced “sip”) aims to teach students how to be proactive and socially conscious citizens.

As a way to become more comfortable with SIP and its methodologies, groups first took on a challenge that connected them to a familiar environment and directly affected their well-being: the limited storage space at the high school campus.

On three consecutive Fridays, students put their heads together and used different strategies in order to produce a logical and efficient answer to the issue. The program heavily encouraged the use of “design thinking,” a business strategy that strives to solve problems through observation, problem-definition, experimentation, then evaluation.

Once research had been done and projects were finished, students pitched their ideas in front of a panel of stakeholders and experts.

Student groups presented diverse storage strategies ranging from new spaces for musical instruments and sports equipment, a metal pipe from which to hang stray backpacks, new norms for locker and storage etiquette, and deep cubby spaces under the main stairway.

The winner of the storage plan is currently being determined by the Sequoyah administration, along with the school’s Student Steering Committee, the lead committee in the high school’s Stewardship Program.

Ian Chang’s SIP team visits Sunnynook Park with Shona Ganguly from the Nature Conservancy (Marc Alongi/Sequoyah School)

This year’s larger SIP topic focuses on the natural and economic conditions of the Los Angeles river. With the help of Alia Kate, the high school’s Director of Social Innovation and Field Studies, Sequoyah students are speaking with active members of the community and brainstorming ways to make the further development of the Los Angeles River as environmentally sustainable and socially just as possible.

Since the program began, SIP teams have been flexing their problem solving skills, attending off-campus trips, and studying up on the history of the L.A. River in order to prepare for more challenges in effective problem solving.

Some site visit destinations have included City Hall, where students heard from the deputy mayor’s office, as well as organizations and nonprofits such as River LA, LA-Más, and Tree People.

When they returned from their outings, students put together presentations and debriefs to share information collaboratively among the different SIP groups. These presentations have taken the form of traditional PowerPoint slideshows, poems, raps, and YouTube videos.

Kate explains that the Social Innovation Program is meant to stir excitement about real world issues in the minds of Sequoyah youth, preparing them to be “changemakers” long before they go into the world as adults.

By becoming active in their community, Kate hopes that students can develop opinions on subjects regarding environmental health, economic awareness, and the changing of the modern world.

While some students preferred the outings, others thought groups could use more study time in class.

Grantland Unterseher, a tenth-grader, said, “I enjoy SIP. I really like the outings and site visits we go on.” He explained that “Sequoyah is a community of learners, and going out into the world is something that drove me to this school, rather than others where the majority of time is spent in class.”

Another tenth-grader, Sophie Root-Stevens, shares Unterseher’s opinion, and said that “SIP is a really great program because it allows us students to go out into the world and be hands-on with everyday issues.” Root-Stevens described the program as “innovative.”

Root-Stevens is just one of many students with strong thoughts on the subject. Ninth-grade student Sarah Hughes likes the idea behind the SIP program and is optimistic for its room to grow in the future.

“I think SIP is all in all a very interesting idea and a really great thing for the high school to be known for,” Hughes said, “but because we are such a new school with such a new program, I feel like we sort of aren’t really there yet.”

Hughes said she hopes that as the program progresses, students and staff will become more and more “engaged” with the work Sequoyah does with SIP and their community.

Whatever the room for improvement, students agreed that the SIP program distinguished the new high school from other schools. “SIP really makes our school different. We are so engaged in the outside world and present in our community, and I don’t think other schools do that,” said Root-Stevens.