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How Girls Become Effective, Compassionate Leaders

Castilleja School’s Center for Awareness, Compassion, and Engagement (ACE) gives girls the skills to transition from witnessing the world around them to becoming active stakeholders, emerging change agents, and compassionate leaders. The school’s Social and Emotional Learning Program (SEL) provides them with the necessary scaffolding to take on these challenges. With raised awareness, compassion, and engagement, they more fully understand their own identity, develop empathy, and find purpose as part of a greater community.

In Middle School, students learn to break down stereotypes through reciprocal partnerships with local non-profits and community organizations. Tenth graders research and learn about social issues, including conducting extended interviews with members of two nearby socially and economically diverse communities. Unique initiatives have emerged from these efforts, including digital apps designed in computer science class and a collaborative garden project in a shared space.

Eleventh graders focus on social issues through the Global Investigator program, embarking on one of four international trips in partnership with a local stakeholder, such as Roshni Academy in India. Topics are global—environmental sustainability, immigration, and gender equality—but student learning is personal. Students listen to one another, manage expectations, and grapple with the ambiguity of global partnerships—all SEL and leadership competencies.

“There’s no toolkit of solutions in any of these experiences, only awareness and engagement with the partner in an authentic project,” says ACE Center Director Stacey Kertsman. “We believe that’s the optimal way for our students to learn to navigate complex, ambiguous situations with empathy, understanding, and thoughtful and critical analysis—prerequisites to being effective and compassionate leaders.”

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