Every year, seventh graders at Menlo School in Atherton, CA, examine a specific problem—local, regional, or global—become experts on the issue, develop an action plan, and formulate solutions for change. The “Right On, Dude!” project shows students they can make a difference in the world.
It also challenges them to learn and grow while drawing on skills from all core classes, including research, writing, critical thinking, resilience, and connection to the broader community. Students must contact someone directly involved in their cause, consolidate their research into a written document, and develop an action plan—which may include pamphlets, videos, or an ePublication—to achieve their solution. They work independently, but are also given regular guidance from faculty mentors. The project culminates with an oral and visual presentation before their teachers and peers.
This year, seventh graders have taken on some pretty daunting issues, including climate change, pancreatic cancer, PTSD, children’s sports injuries, women’s rights in Pakistan, gun violence, discrimination against gays, and prison overcrowding. “In school you’re usually assigned a topic,” said seventh grader Kate. “In the ‘Dude’ project, you get to pick something you’re passionate about.”
It’s difficult work, but the school believes that resilience is an important life-long skill. “It might seem overwhelming to some,” said middle school teacher Erin Brigham, “but they’re stretching themselves intellectually and creatively, and they’re finding solutions.”