Six Years in the Life

Six Years in the Life

by Nicole Haims Trevor ‘91

Student details in this story are fictionalized.

Many of us have heard a popular statistic that by the time our students graduate from college, 65% of today’s jobs will not exist. While the source of this stat is hard to locate, the image is stark. How will our students respond? Certainly, all jobs will change in a significant way by the time our children are in the workplace, as the nature of employment—like the nature of organizations, infrastructure and technology—continues to rapidly evolve.

This article time travels to that not-so-distant future, in which all Prep students, thanks to a transformed campus and interdisciplinary programs that encourage their growth, can leave for college prepared, not just to study and succeed, but to conquer difficult challenges.

Join us on a journey of one student’s life at Prep as we imagine the possibilities of our burgeoning STEAM, Global Studies and Leadership programs.

Our fictional student, Ana, is as busy as any typical Prep student, dabbling in singing and soccer, diving deep into Student Senate and founding a 3D design club. Ana is imaginative, a tinkerer, a young woman unafraid to try out new ideas.

As she enters 7th grade, Ana doesn’t yet know herself, but by the time she’s in high school, her ability to see global perspectives—and act on her desire to help others—has materialized. She’s transformed by the school’s formal leadership training and mentoring programs. She thrives on the support of her community and wants to return the favor.

Ana takes advantage of the tools and spaces in the Collaboration Building to complete an ambitious senior project. Building on her passion for design and her love for gardening, as well as her deepening knowledge about challenges faced around the world, she collaborates with a classmate to create a scalable, inexpensive greenhouse to be used with a Prep partner NGO in Senegal. Her process is iterative, inquiry-based and requires her to take initiative. Ana and her partner, Matt, leap forward, sometimes failing, always bouncing back and learning profound lessons along the way.

March 2026 — Twelfth Grade

Ana has hit a wall. Unfortunately, her original geodome greenhouse design, while unique, durable and weather resistant, is really hard to put together, even with all the tools in the makerspace. Her greenhouse sits, half-assembled, in the corner.

On top of that, she has just received bad news from her partner, Matt, who sits beside her with his laptop open. He’s received an email from Prep’s partner NGO in Senegal. The NGO doesn’t think the geodome will be cost effective to manufacture in large quantities.

“What do you think we should do?” Ana asks Matt.

“We could change the business plan,” says Matt, cautiously.

There is silence between them. Matt reads the email while Ana sketches a series of hoops on the whiteboard surface of the table.

“What’s that?” Matt asked.

“A Quonset design.”

“What if we simplify the design but add a system to test soil moisture?”

They continue to talk, each getting more excited. Matt starts bulleting out a plan next to Ana’s Quonset structure. He takes a picture with his phone and texts it to Ana. They high-five. Just like that, Matt and Ana have the beginning of a new plan to build a simpler greenhouse. The battery-powered moisture sensor turns on a light whenever the soil is below an optimal level. An optional solar backup preserves battery life.

Seventh Grade

It began as Ana set foot on Prep’s campus for the first time in the fall of 2020 to begin her 7th grade year. The Collaboration Building on the north side of campus had just opened. Everything about it was magical to her; she was excited to be one of the first students to take classes there.

Her peer counselor had asked her, “Why is it important to care about other people—even people you don’t know?” Ana was too shy to volunteer an answer, but her peer counselor called on her anyway.

“If you care enough to listen to other people, you can learn from them,” she said. The small group discussed the importance of empathy and paying close attention.

Her 7th grade history course with Will Bellaimey was called “The Los Angeles Museum of Geography,”
a year-long simulated museum assignment that required students to explain LA’s cycle of boom and bust, drought and flood, and the way water has shaped the city. On opening night of the first museum exhibit in the Learning Commons, Ana was a docent for other students, the museum’s advisers (including its Board of Trustees) and her family, eagerly walking them through interactive displays that she helped build in the makerspace.

As the project continued into spring, Ana found herself overcome with empathy. She asked Mr. Bellaimey, “What was it like to live in LA before there was a steady supply of water? How did people drink, grow food and cook?” Her questions led to an intense class discussion about how people all around the world struggle with these concerns.

Ana found that her growing curiosity helped her make connections between classes. From Mark Salzman’s writing prompts to the iterative process of coding in Shane Frewen’s algorithmic thinking class, she felt different parts of her brain working together.

Eighth Grade

Ana was introduced to the school’s Leadership curriculum and found herself considering the circumstances under which she is a leader.

In her CIP class with Hilary Thomas, Ana learned how to practice “self science.” The purpose was to understand how to turn a passion into a project that helps others in a measurable way. Ms. Thomas told her class about her trips to Malawi, and Ana learned that many countries around the world lack access to water. The struggle for water was less remote to her when she knew the names of people impacted.

Ana’s French teacher, Lauren Van Arsdall, set up Skyping sessions modeled on Manny Nuñez’s and Fabian Bejarano’s sessions with students in Nicaragua. Once a week, Ana met with her class in the Global Studies Lab to talk with kids her age in Senegal. Her French improved immensely, and she became friends with a girl her age, initiating an on-going email correspondence beyond her class assignment.

For her CIP, Ana decided to conduct a poll of students and adults to understand their level of knowledge about how the need for water impacts people in Sub-Saharan Africa. She did a PowerPoint presentation in the Global Studies seminar room about the impact of drought on subsistence farmers in a small village in Senegal. The farmers had chosen to farm sorghum, a drought- and heat-tolerant crop with many uses. Her presentation included photos from her Senegalese pen pal.

Ninth Grade

In 9th grade, Ana’s leadership trainings were held in the Collaboration Building. In addition to identifying core leadership qualities like passion, integrity, initiative, commitment and collaboration, Ana and her classmates received training on subjects such as time management, conflict management and teambuilding.

Ana also joined the soccer team. On a cool winter night, her first game, Ana was so scared that during the warmup one of her teammates took her aside and gave her a pep talk. She had four assists that night.

Inspired by her work maintaining the school’s hydroponic garden, Ana joined an SCAC-sponsored activity weeding and planting vegetables at an urban community garden. Not only did she enjoy working with her hands, but she also liked seeing that her efforts yielded results. After a few more visits to the garden, she was hooked. That year, she joined SCAC.

Ana started devising some ideas for a greenhouse. She met with art teacher Melissa Manfull to discuss her idea for a unique design for a school greenhouse. They experimented with several geometric designs, finally deciding on a geodome made of concentric equilateral triangles. She took her drawing to Andrew Williams to prototype.

Dr. Williams helped her create a small-scale prototype big enough to put a plant inside. She added polyethylene sheeting and a tomato seedling. She had another seedling outside next to the greenhouse, and she checked on both plants at the same time every day, measuring the moisture of the soil, watering only when moisture was below its optimum level. In the end, the greenhouse tomato was 30% taller than the outdoor tomato, and it required 20% less water than her out-door plant. When Ana presented her results at the STEAM & Service Fair, she realized how comfortable she was explaining her project.

Tenth Grade

Ana is now a 10th grade class commissioner, elected by her class at the end of her 9th grade year. In the fall, Ana asked Dr. Williams if he’d be her adviser for a new club she founded called 3D Design Club. She and a team of students designed otherworldly structures on paper and tried to replicate them using the 3D printer. Some of their structures got to be pretty big—and intricate.

Ana’s 10th grade science teacher, Reid Fritz, asked students to do an engineering project solving a problem on campus. Ana teamed up with two students in her class, Matt and Marie. They worked with the school administration to design a battery-powered system to periodically test the dryness of the soil in the school’s drought-tolerant front garden. The system sent a text message to a staff member when the sensor indicated the soil was too dry. The trio used open source code and an Arduino micro-controller to build the device, which they tested on an area in the garden that the administration suspected was being overwatered. After a few weeks of analysis, the administration was able to recalibrate the watering schedule, saving water and money.

Eleventh Grade

Still singing, playing soccer, working at the community garden, running her club and recently elected vice president of her class, Ana attended the junior retreat. She was asked what kind of leader she wanted to be in her final year of high school and spent a lot of time thinking about her answer. She wrote down some ideas in her journal. While she understood that she was already a leader, she wanted to formalize her commitment to assisting younger students. She decided to apply to be a 7th grade peer counselor.

Twelfth Grade

Beginning her senior year, Ana loved all her classes and activities. Above all else, she felt like she was being treated like a college student—from the way she could choose her electives to the subject matter of her courses. Though she often felt challenged, she also felt prepared. She proudly handed off the 3D Design Club leadership to an intensely committed sophomore. She enjoyed working with her 7th graders and supporting her own class through Student Senate activities. She was fascinated by the complex questions raised in her international relations class. She realized that there were no clear answers, but rather than feeling discouraged, she wanted to understand more.

May 2026

When the day arrives for Ana and Matt to give their capstone presentation on their project, The Greenhouse Effect, everyone is buzzing. All the seniors are on campus, congregating in the Miller Theater for performances supervised by Rob Lewis and running across to the Collaboration Building, set up like a gallery, for academic presentations and interdisciplinary exhibits.

When it is their turn to speak, Ana and Matt walk the audience through their product and goals. Then they spend the rest of the presentation describing their process—learning to work together, learning when to leave each other alone and learning how to divide tasks. They laughlingly refer to their process as failing upward—and failing downward—since, along with their pitfalls on The Greenhouse Effect, they took so many trips up and down the stairs of the Collaboration Building. Ana and Matt also talk about their mistakes, from Matt getting a late start with the NGO to both of them having to learn the hard way that not all polyethylene is the same. During the Q & A, someone asks why she missed obvious signs that her initial design wasn’t good.

Ana gathers herself before answering. She’s clearly anticipated the question.

“I was focused on what I understood—urban gardening right here in LA, where aesthetics can make
a difference in funding for a public garden. I really loved my design because it was new and it was mine. Once I realized I had to let go, I was able to help reframe the problem and create a solution that addresses the environment, resources, needs—and most importantly—real people in Senegal,” she says.

“Matt was a patient and empathetic partner. More than once, he guided me back to the goal of our project by reminding me to look at both our research and the people we know there through our relationship with the NGO. His sense of passion and enthusiasm made collaborating with him easy. And his programming skills turned a simple greenhouse into an inexpensive climate-controlled environment that can change lives. Without his leadership, the project might not have succeeded.”

As they walk off the stage, Ana finds herself so grateful for so many things—the wise teachers who taught her so much, her classmates with their own unique passions and skills, the space she needed to fail and restart, the freedom to ask tough questions and, most of all, the initiative she needed to solve a big problem alongside a friend.