Students Use Technical Skills for Greater Good

All Lick-Wilmerding High School students take a minimum of two years of technical arts classes, including participation in a unique partnership that puts design-thinking skills to work for the benefit of others.

The “Private Skills, Public Purpose” (PSPP) class begins with an empathetic stance—an in-depth study of social inequities and an exploration of privilege in society. Students first learn to build for themselves; soon they begin addressing these real-life issues in support of a wide range of local nonprofit organizations. This year’s projects are benefiting a group of charter schools and an Islamic center in the Bay Area, where students are building benches, basketball hoops, planter boxes, picnic tables, bookshelves, lunch counters, signs, and trophy cases.

“I like the shop classes in combination with community and public service,” says one student. “Having the opportunity to use my skills to help other people is rewarding.” Another classmate values the program’s ethic of service, and that deciding what’s actually needed is central to the class. “Working with a client and having real people to communicate with is exciting. I love figuring out ways to balance what we can do with what the organization needs.”

PSPP teachers Youssou Fall and Giles Thompson also find the program inspiring. “It’s a way for students to get out of their comfort zones and immerse themselves in things and communities they don’t know,” says Mr. Fall. And, says Mr. Thompson, “they can truly live the mission of the school as they help humanity.”

Does your school do something similar?

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