HorizonsJan 20, 2023

updated Nov 20, 2023

Taking Action

Empowered changemakers making a difference

Contributing boldly and creatively to the common good is central to the MHS experience. A 10th grade Horizons initiative reinforces the notion that contributions need not wait.

Emerald Power

Now in its second year, the “Empowered Changemaker” project asks students to choose a cause or issue important to them and devise a meaningful action in response. This culminating sophomore Horizons experience provides students opportunities to dive into issues they care about and feel empowered to act on what they learn.

“This is the peak of 10th grade Horizons, where students demonstrate and develop an action project focused on their interests,” explains Director of Horizons Emerald Power (see page 22 for more about Emerald). “There is structure in how they identify and research an issue, then develop their proposed actions, but there are also lots of possibilities for how they pursue their project.”

The project is also a stepping-stone to the 11th grade experience, when students go off campus to volunteer or intern in the broader Berkshires community. Their work beginsin January, after spending the first semester learning about the history of the Berkshires and preparing to host the fall Harvest Luncheon. Students can work alone or in groups, and projects fit one of four themes:

  • Social entrepreneurship — creating a solution to a local or global issue;
  • Social activism and advocacy — working with others to bring about a social change at MHS or beyond;
  • Service work — providing service at MHS or an outside organization;
  • Personal development for future impact — developing a skill or learning something new that can benefit a group or organization in the future.

Our students are thinking ahead, and this experience is very much an opening into what is to come for them.

Director of Horizons

“They use a design-thinking model to guide their ideation, clearly defining and planning their process, thinking big, then narrowing down, and putting a plan into action,” Ms. Power adds. “Part of the process is learning what is needed, not just assuming what is needed, but making sure an issue is a problem people are facing, then collaborating and connecting with people on the ground to work on a solution.”

The project culminates in sharing the results of their work, whether to classmates or to a wider audience in the community. And their projects last year ran the gamut. Iva Knezevic ’24 wanted to help her adopted Berkshires community. Passionate about science, she wanted to combine that interest with a local impact. When a classmate told her about Volunteers in Medicine (VIM), a nearby nonprofit that provides access to free healthcare for the uninsured or under-insured, Iva found her match.

With COVID-19 part of daily lives for more than two years, she fundraised for VIM and connected with VIM’s Director of Advancement to learn about healthcare needs in the community and how to help. She also reached out to MHS alums who work in the public health and social justice fields to ask them about the impact of COVID.

“I was interested in seeing how specifically the Berkshires had been dealing with the pandemic,” adds Iva, who this year is interning with a physical therapist. “It’s not directly connected to my work last year, but I knew I wanted to do something related to medicine, because I realized I enjoyed that. I liked the research and definitely learned more about different aspects of medicine and public health, and I could connect my interest in science with something impactful.”

Naomi Hopkins ’24 partnered with Kyla Gore ’24 to develop a guide to the 2022 Massachusetts gubernatorial election. Naomi then used that experience to shape her 11th grade internship at The Berkshire Eagle.

For their changemaker project, Naomi and Kyla dug into the campaign finances of each of the state’s gubernatorial candidates, researching who was donating to which campaign, examining causes those donors typically support, and, importantly, identifying how donations related to the candidates’ political stances.

“We wanted to provide an accessible way to look into campaign funding and what that means for someone’s politics,” Naomi explains, adding that the experience — digging into research and connecting the dots — got her thinking about how that could unfold in internship options for this year. “We were reading news articles in The Berkshire Eagle, The Boston Globe, and other newspapers, and I realized that I was doing the research that could lead to me writing an article,” she adds.

Ms. Power notes, the Changemaker project provides students a window into how their passions can connect to the community beyond the campus. It also prepares them to step off campus for junior and senior Horizons.

“It allows them to see that they are a stakeholder in deciding their experience,” she adds. “They can identify interests, advocate for themselves, and get an idea for what they are interested in — or what they are not interested in. Our students are thinking ahead, and this experience is very much an opening into what is to come for them, but at the same time, they have the opportunity to make a difference now.”

Empowered Changemaker Projects 2021-22

  • Kate and Henrike volunteered at Pittsfield elementary schools.
  • Diana, Daniela, Zoe, Oumou, and Nat collected blankets, socks, coats, sweaters, shirts, and pants, for Western Mass Labor Action, which operates emergency clothing programs for members.
  • Malena organized a community viewing of the documentary Speak What We Feel, phase 1 toward her goal of forging connections to our nationally recognized neighbor, Shakespeare & Company.
  • Molly developed a research presentation about perfectionism and how it affects young children through adolescence.
  • Kitty and Ayako created a website to call attention to raise awareness about homeless animals.
  • Ella designed and delivered a presentation, “Disabled Isn’t a Bad Word: Exploring the Stereotypes and Ideas Surrounding Neurodivergence and Disability and the Problems They Cause,” for the 2022 Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Identity (JEDII) Teach-In.
  • Hypnos, Leora, and Maddie collected donated arts and crafts, snacks, and other play items for children at Pittsfield’s Berkshire Kids Place and the Elizabeth Freeman Center.
  • Honey developed a six-week self-care project.
  • Hanna and Juliana volunteered with Jewish Family Services and worked with children in Pittsfield.
  • Sophie developed a PowerPoint presentation investigating ancient human and neanderthal ancestry, using modern genetic strategies.
  • Izzy examined the integral part poetry plays within ourselves, the world, and our communities.
  • Kyla and Naomi sought to provide financial transparency about the 2022 candidates for governor in Massachusetts.
  • Ruby organized a food drive through local nonprofit Berkshire Bounty to benefit community residents who suffer from food insecurity.
  • Lila explored developing a psychology class at MHS.
  • Zadie researched the barriers girls face globally to education — and what can be done to help.
  • Iva fundraised for Volunteers in Medicine and connected with VIM’s Director of Advancement to learn about healthcare needs in the community and how to help.
  • Cora researched the difference between introverts’ and extroverts nervous systems and how differences affect behavior.
  • L researched youth substance abuse and consequences.
  • Ella, Naomi, Wel, and Lily worked with the Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) to research ways to reduce waste and increase sustainability on the MHS campus.
  • Sophia held a vegan bake sale, with proceeds benefiting Farm Sanctuary and the Food Empowerment Project.
  • Ina worked with Dr. Himes to create videos/documents about biomorphic robot and motion tracking.
  • Yiyi, Craye, Yuki, and Jessica explored the causes, effects, and solutions to video game addition.
  • Najma presented on the history and development of her home country, Somaliland, and organized a petition in support of the country’s independence.
  • Carrie presented her watercolor study process, including an introduction to watercolor technique and her process.
  • Joana published a poetry collection, “A Young Woman’s Symphony,” exploring themes of transracial adoption, being black, racism, growth, loss, memories, and family.
  • Margot and Eden researched the Stockbridge Munsee Tribe.