Metro, Newton

Winthrop Park School Institute Offers Summer Leadership Program

The Winthrop Park School (WPS) Institute, an educational nonprofit, will offer a three-week Summer Leadership Institute for rising ninth through 12th-grade students with site visits around Boston to promote leadership skills and civil engagement.

“Everything that we’re doing is really about creating opportunities for young people to be leaders of their own learning, leaders of their own lives and leaders in their communities,” WPS Institute Executive Director Laura Tavares said.

WPS Institute’s Community Learning Lab develops ways to engage students outside of school and discusses the importance of fostering connections between students in schools and their communities, according to Carrie Wihbey, director of the Learning Lab.

“We essentially are working under the tenets that we really think learning should be more connected, that oftentimes schools and communities are siloed from each other,” Wihbey said. “We really want students to be empowered in their learning.”

The WPS’s Community Learning Lab works with several local extracurricular organizations, including LigerBots, a robotics team with students from Newton North and Newton South High Schools.

Through working with young individuals, Wihbey has seen firsthand what excites and attracts them to engage with educational stimuli. WPS has hosted various collaborative events that invigorate curiosity, creativity, and outside-the-classroom learning.

In conjunction with Wihbey, LigerBots’s Team Executive Roshan Karim hosted a Hackathon at WPS’s Newton Centre campus back in February. 

The three-day, two-night group engineering event attracted young people worldwide, from Germany to Egypt, Karim said. 

“I did some work with this other nonprofit called the Hack Foundation, and they funded this event that they were having me and a couple of my friends run,” Karim said. “We had an overnight event. It was 120 people.”

Karim, a senior at Newton North High School, is also a member of WPS’s Student Advisory Board, which receives a stipend to develop ideas for ways the institute can enhance its offerings to young people and its overall use of space on campus.

“[Carrie] really wants to hear about what it is that works and what doesn’t and how we can make WPS efficient and effectively achieve its goals,” Karim said.

Wihbey said the program will work toward promoting the WPS Institute’s central goal of engaging younger generations in their communities.

“It really gives them an opportunity to explore innovative spaces, pioneers of amazing experiences, or industry experts in the greater Boston area,” Wihbey said.

The Summer Leadership Institute program starts with team-building activities at a local ropes course and later trips to places such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Maker Space, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Eastie Farm, a once-abandoned East Boston lot turned sustainable farm.

Through learning about civil engagement, the Summer Leadership Institute encourages students to consider ways they feel they can make a difference, according to Wihbey.

“We are going to give students an opportunity to think about how they can really authentically impact their local communities,” Wihbey said.

Students participating in the Summer Leadership Institute will then have the opportunity during the 2024–25 school year to receive a stipend to carry out their presented community development ideas from the program.

Tavares, who has worked in education since 2001, believes young people deserve the platform to use their creative skills and feel empowered to create change.

“As an educator, I know that adolescents are capable of so much and so much more than they often actually are given credit for or offered opportunity to act on,” Tavares said.

Karim said he’s grateful to the WPS Institute for allowing him the platform to host events like the Hackathon and for strengthening his leadership and communication skills.

“What WPS did was it gave me the opportunity to explore things that I already had the initiative and drive to complete,” Karim said.  

Karim said he appreciates the WPS Institute’s student-centered approach, which he feels makes it an important part of the Newton community.

“I feel like what makes WPS very unique is that the events focus on what students want to do,” Karim said. “It’s an organization that exists to serve students’ needs.”

April 16, 2024