Students Tackle UN Sustainable Development Goals with Real Life Solutions

Before Whittle School & Studios even opened its doors last month, 21 pioneering students in grades 7-10 joined the first-ever DC Center of Excellence (COE) initiative, the “ Summer Ideas Lab Experience,” a summer webinar series where students modeled a real-life think tank. Over the course of four weeks, students learned about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 to be accomplished by 2030, and they worked with their classmates virtually across the nation to create exemplary projects that highlighted specific UNSDGs and proposed solutions to critical global issues.  These courageous students tackled issues ranging from gender equality, to sustainable cities and communities, to clean water and sanitation.


Whittle School Students


Students took incredible initiative to craft the course of the four weeks, down to changing the name of the webinar, originally called the “Student Think Tank Experience.” Ideas Lab Scholar Grant Baxter commented on the name change saying, “We [students] felt that the word tank in the word think tank was limiting. We wanted our time and research to be focused on thinking outside of the box and being creative. So, we voted and “Ideas Lab” was the best fit.”

Using High-Quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL) and Asia Society Global Competence, the premier frameworks that guides all project-based learning at Whittle, six student groups conducted research on their respective issues and identified diverse ways to publicly present their projects.


Whittle Center of Excellence


Ninth graders Grant Baxter, Simon Lee, Amy Weng, Marley Wingfield, Ellie Fitzgerald, and Sophia-Nicole Bay​ presented a compelling case for re-localizing agricultural production through urban vertical farming. They created 3D models of vertical farms, researched abandoned buildings that can be re-purposed, and created a budget and mini business plan for a farm at Whittle.​


Ninth graders Inshera Kankan-Boadu, Jia Jia Fu, and Valerie Yang delivered a visually compelling presentation that highlighted the devastation of the environment due to human-induced climate change, proposed solutions, and ended with a strong call to action for everyone to do their part.  ​They hope to turn this into a video in the coming year. ​


Whittle Center of Excellence Project


Eighth grader Giselle Erdman and ninth grader Isabel Gray closed out the webinar series with a reading of their collection of found poetry, composed of lines selected from research articles on critical issues covering life below water.


Whittle Center of Excellence Project


In their first two weeks at Whittle, Ideas Lab students are already finding ways to channel their passion for tackling critical global challenges and inspiring other students to do the same. Isabel Gray has deepened her literary focus and her climate-change activism through joining the upper school Poetry Club and the Environment Club. Sophia Bay and Valerie Yang have joined the COE-run Model UN and Debate clubs to hone their rhetorical skills and dive deeper into the topic of international relations.


Whittle School Students
Ideas Lab Participants and Students Interested in Joining the Center of Excellence in their First Week of School

The COE is excited to continue to support the pursuit of advanced knowledge in international cooperation and diplomacy and helping students attain the skills necessary to create change locally and globally.

- Greyson Mann, Assistant Director of the Washington, DC Center of Excellence


Here is a full list of student participants, along with group titles and links to their projects:

Click here for a full report on the 2019 Ideas Lab.


About the Washington, DC Center of Excellence

Each Whittle School has its own Center of Excellence (COE) in which students work with mentors to explore an area of interest with unprecedented depth and focus. In the heart of the nation’s capital, the Whittle Washington, DC COE is focused on International Cooperation and Diplomacy. Modeled on research institutes at leading liberal arts colleges and universities, COEs will connect the Whittle learning community with the world beyond our classrooms. Our global network of COEs will develop students’ learning along STEM and humanities pathways and foster design, communication, and problem-solving skills.