Envision Richmond, 8th Grade Capstone, Launches Fifth Year

From Oct. 16-20, Collegiate School’s entire 8th Grade will embark on Envision Richmond, the grade-level capstone program that immerses students into the local community with a focus on intensive leadership and civic engagement.
During the week, students will leave the traditional classroom, visit more than 15 nonprofit organizations in the City of Richmond and wrestle with a variety of issues facing the organizations. Using design thinking, the 8th Graders will work in teams to develop a viable solution to the problems they identify. At week’s end, the student groups will present their ideas to community leaders, as well as School administrators and teachers.

The goal of the Envision Richmond program is to foster collaboration, empathy, creativity, communication and problem-solving techniques within students, so that they feel better equipped to improve the world around them. Groups continue to work throughout the year and in the spring, as a part of the second phase of Envision Richmond, students design an outreach project for their community organization that targets an immediate need identified from their work in the fall.

“As our 8th Graders go through the Envision Richmond Program, my hope is that they will strengthen their empathy for others and feel confident that they can make a difference in the world,” said Laurie Shadowen, Middle School Humanities teacher and Envision Richmond Coordinator. “Envision Richmond plants the seed for change in our students.”

Several Envision Richmond alums, now students in the Upper School, shared advice with the current 8th Graders beginning the program, as well as their thoughts about the program, what they learned and how the skills honed during their experience have remained with them.

Charlotte Harrison, 9th Grader
“For my project, we visited multiple public schools with an English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Our group ultimately decided that the major issue kids who had immigrated to America were facing was that they were struggling to socialize. We came up with a website where they would connect with an American buddy before entering the country and meet them, become comfortable with the school and then when they arrived, they would meet their buddy and stay connected.

“Envision Richmond was very interesting because it was one of the first times that we were given a lot of freedom and control in how we wanted the project to go. Essentially, our teachers said, ‘Find your own problem and find your own way to fix it,’ instead of ‘Here’s a problem, now fix it.’ So there was a lot of open-endedness and it led to a lot of discussions between team members because we weren’t quite sure whose idea we wanted to go with. So we had to come up with a better way to collaborate.

“I am definitely using the skills I learned in Envision Richmond. I stop a lot more often before I think and I’m making sure I’m listening to everyone else. I presented a project recently with three of the same people from my Envision Richmond group and we were like, ‘We know how to do this.’

“My advice to the current 8th Graders is definitely go slowly, because the teachers are giving you time to figure out your idea. You don’t have to figure it out in the first 15 minutes. You can change it or even come up with a whole new idea. So even if you’ve already done all the work, it’s always better to have it right.”

Tucker Felts, 9th Grader
“I was in the military group and what we ended up doing was purchasing some things that the seniors needed at the Sitter & Barfoot Veterans Care Center. We got headphones because they like to listen to music. And we also shipped sports equipment overseas because we heard from some younger veterans that they like to play football when they have free time. So we shipped a lot of sports equipment like footballs, basketballs and baseballs.

“In Envision Richmond, you definitely had to learn how to take your time and be patient with people. Because some people wanted to try and take a lead role but that didn’t work out. It has to be more like a direct democracy. Everyone has to contribute their own amount. And you definitely have to give people their turn while speaking. We tried using things like a talking stick and giving people turns, which I thought definitely worked. I thought we were pretty productive.

“I definitely feel like I use the skills I learned in Envision Richmond daily. I think it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed doing it. I think it has helped me with cooperative group working skills.

“My advice would be to definitely have fun with it because it’s supposed to be fun. But take it seriously, because you don’t want one or two members of the group hauling all the weight, because it’s a big project. It takes a lot and just be respectful to each other. You have an advisor watching you, but they won’t tell you what you need to do. Your group is working on its own and your advisor will watch you do your thing.”

Cameron Ruh, 9th Grader
“For my project, we visited Sportable, which is an organization that gives opportunities to disabled people to play sports. We met some people there and we got to play wheelchair basketball, which was really fun for us, even though we don’t need a wheelchair. Since we saw how fun it was for us and how fun it was for people who, that’s the only way they can play basketball, we wanted to make it a more widespread thing. So we came up with the Wheel Deal, which was wheelchairs for basketball that were set up at local parks near basketball courts. So people could pay a small fee and get wheelchairs and they could play basketball.

“The people in my group, some were really creative, some were really good at public speaking. I wasn’t really great at public speaking, but I was kind of the leader of the group, so I had to say a lot when we presented. I found that I’m better at public speaking after that. I had to give a speech recently for class president and I felt more confident going into it.

“My advice would be just don’t be shy. If you don’t have friends in your group, everyone in the group will become friends. It’s an open environment. Also, try and connect as much as you can with the people that you work with in the organizations because that’s a really useful skill.”
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