Innovation Block Nurtures Life Skills and Personal Growth in the Upper School

Equipped with the bare dorm-room essentials—a microwave, a mug, paper plates and bowls and a few common ingredients that can fit in a small refrigerator—Upper School students went to work making tasty, nutritious and filling meals, using recipes that will come in handy when they head off to college.
 
Dorm room cooking was one of 14 topics offered as part of the Upper School’s new Innovation Block. The block was developed after hearing student feedback that asked St. Margaret’s to make learning more relevant and to nurture personal growth and life skills that will serve them well in school and beyond.
 
As a part of the new schedule designed to support student health and wellness, St. Margaret’s carved out time dedicated to learning experiences consistent with that feedback. The hour-and-45-minute Innovation Block will occur nine times this school year for juniors and seniors, and provide rich opportunities for students to delve into topics and activities that are of interest to them outside the normal structure of class.
 
Learning different easy-to-make meals in a confined space like a dorm room is one example. Elsewhere, students looking ahead to financial independence signed up for a mini-course dedicated to personal finance. The first block explored budgeting, bank accounts, filing taxes and credit scores, with topics like investment basics and the stock market upcoming.
 
A college 101 course touches on several aspects of independence, including personal safety. The first session took place at a Taekwondo studio in the Ortega Village Center, where students participated in a self-defense class.
 
Other learning experiences fit into one of three buckets:
 
Skills-based offerings. An entrepreneurial-focused mini-course brought in business professionals including St. Margaret’s alumnus Ian Thomas ’09 to lead a popular session that examined best practices for launching a start-up business. Other mini-courses include resume and career development life hacks, and graphic design.
 
Health and wellness offerings. Aiming to improve physical and mental health, student signed up for a hiking course which takes place in outdoor spaces around San Juan Capistrano. Options on campus include yoga, mindfulness and meditation, and positive psychology.
 
Passion classes. Students also had the option to apply their creativity in new ways. In a DIY handcrafts class, students could make art pieces, jewelry and even practical items like pillows with a sewing machine. Other classes included film art, eSports, and fantasy sports and analytics.
 
Two sessions of mini-courses will run during the Innovation Block through the year and tap experiential opportunities to get students practicing and applying their new learned skills and include personal reflection.
 
Student excitement was palpable for the new program. 

“We have the opportunity to learn things that will be useful in life that don’t fall into a typical classroom environment,” said senior Matthew Margason. 
 
Senior Matthew Colglazier added: “The most powerful part is it opens up a whole new dimension of things we learn. Much of what we learn is centered around core academic areas, but in reality, it’s about learning in every aspect of your life.” 
 
The notion of choice also resonated with students. 
 
“The fact that I was able to choose increases my anticipation and excitement for what we get to do,” said senior Will Reinkensmeyer. 
 
Added senior Emily Sun: “I am excited about the freedom to do something at school you might not normally do, and bond with classmates with a common interest.” 
 
The Innovation Block supports Strategic Plan goals around expanding experiential learning, developing student health and wellness programs and cultivating important life skills. Through ethnographic research with students as a part of the design thinking process, students told school leaders that they wanted more relevancy to their learning, connection with others and better use of time.
 
“We created the Innovation Block in response to clear messages from students and in alignment with our strategic goals,” said Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem. “School schedules often restrict innovation, but in this case our new schedule is driving it.” 
 
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An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California