Students in my eighth grade American History Class have been studying The Gilded Age (1870-1910). During this period, a new social class emerged in American cities, known as the urban poor and composed primarily of immigrants. As part of the unit, students were tasked with using the design-thinking process to create nonprofit organizations or settlement houses to support this group of people in America.
Using empathy research, students investigated primary and secondary sources to learn more about the experiences and needs of people during that time. After defining the group and establishing the need, the students ideated potential solutions by asking “how might we…?” questions.
As part of their preparations, Jenn Mason and Cindy Dill, members of St. Luke’s Development Team, delivered a crash course on nonprofits and how to solicit donors. Students learned the four key elements to making “the ask”: preparation, confidence, authenticity, and presentation.
Students designed their strategies, scripts, and solicitation materials in preparation for their final presentations. After polishing their mission statements and ensuring they could “make the case” for their nonprofit organization, students completed the final phase of the design-thinking process: testing their ideas. They presented their ideas to a group of “potential donors” (teachers and administrators from Middle School and Upper School) on Monday, March 7, in the Wyckoff Family Black Box Theater.
The students held a friendly competition to see which organization could raise the most funding. Congratulations to James Adams ‘26, Liam Hall ‘26, and Benedict Carey ‘26, who created Irish-Aid to provide free healthcare to Irish immigrants in New York City, and Maeve Welch ‘26, Alanna Watson ‘26, and Madeline Levin ‘26, who pitched The H.E.L.P. Foundation, designed to provide housing, education, and work guidance to Asian immigrants in San Francisco, California.
When asked about the projects, students replied:
"I really enjoyed being able to use my creative skills and speaking skills to share about a topic I am passionate about. My greatest takeaway from this project is that not everything has one simple solution. We had to dive deep to find the solution to help people. We had to go all the way down to the bottom of the iceberg. We couldn’t just scrape the tip of the iceberg." —Sam Thomas ‘26
“This project was a great way to dig deeper into the immigration aspect of the Gilded Age and use our creativity.” —James Adams ‘26
"I had a lot of fun seeing our project evolve and watching as we succeeded and overcame challenges that were thrown at us." —Alanna Watson ‘26