Principals Perspective (February 2023) - Dr. Eliana Lipsky
Dr. Eliana Lipsky

Innovation, Inspiration, and Leadership

Our fourth annual Innovation Minimester was exceptional. During this two week intersession our middle school students were challenged to take healthy learning risks that inspired them to step outside of their comfort zone and pursue, or perhaps even discover, a passion of their own. The building was abuzz with creativity, passion, and drive. Innovation Minimester was an intense period where innovation and inspiration flowed between our 30+ seminar leaders, students, and teachers.

Our middle school students designed projects that ranged from calling out harmful societal constructs to educating others about neurodiversity, economics of card collecting, geography, climate change, athletic skills, and potentially dangerous electronic devices. Several students focused on increasing accessibility at the local, national, and global levels. Others designed product prototypes that have the potential to improve the experiences of students in schools around the world. For example, our STEM-focused eighth grade track designed a set of ingenious ways to help students access their lockers and to prevent locker related injuries - an issue we did not even know existed until that moment. 

How did we get here? Just as any R&D department might do to improve its product, our fantastic Innovation Minimester faculty team gathered student and faculty feedback from previous years to continue innovating and improving our “users’ experiences.” Our goal was to ensure users could gain the most out of this student-centered and student-driven program. Indeed, when we unveiled the new updates for Innovation Minimester “4.0” during our KickOff session, many of our students instantly recognized how their feedback influenced so many of our decisions for this year’s program. Seventh grader Ayla G. shared that prior to that moment she did not think her voice mattered. Now she realizes how important it is that she speaks up because there are people who care and are ready to listen. 

Eighth grade students stepped up to lead this year’s Innovation Minimester from the KickOff session where they described their previous projects and lessons learned and through the closing celebration where they applauded their younger peers’ work, recognized fellow eighth grade mentors, and took time to thank their teachers. As eighth graders, they had four choices: participating in Innovation Minimester as they had the previous two years; participating in a focused STEM track; participating in a Creative Writing intensive track; or mentoring their sixth and seventh grade peers throughout Innovation Minimester. These options provided our oldest students a chance to stretch themselves while also having their different needs recognized. 

In total thirty-four students opted into these tracks, with the largest group taking on the role of Minimester Mentors. For the first two days of Innovation Minimester, seventeen eighth grade mentors were immersed in a leadership bootcamp, learning about and preparing for their mentor responsibilities. Each subsequent day began with a leadership cohort meeting where they reviewed the expectations and goals of the day before heading off to seminars and mentoring younger peers. 

It was inspiring to witness the pride our mentors had for their mentees. On an almost daily basis, mentors would enter the Moadon with beaming smiles just to share how hard their mentees were working, their excitement for their mentees’ projects, and how proud they were of their mentees when they had to push through a hurdle. Although it was not required, each mentor made a point of visiting their mentee’s Product Share as a cheerleader. I cannot begin to express the nachat/joy and pride we felt hearing our middle school students reflect on their Innovation Minimester process in the morning and see the fantastic products optionally showcased during the final afternoon’s Product Share. 

It has been a few weeks since Innovation Minimester and teachers are still hearing students make connections in class between what they are learning now and what they learned and experienced during Innovation Minimester. Many of us are still talking about the students’ work and how we can continue to recognize their achievements, and in some instances incorporate their ideas into the daily life of our Middle School.