Upper School Community Engagement

We challenge students to experience deeply, empathize with other human beings and life on Earth, and commit to purposes higher than themselves by taking action on issues that matter to them. 

Program Philosophy and Vision

The Community Engagement Program at Menlo School is driven by the philosophy of practical idealism: let us be motivated by an unwavering belief in ideals such as a Bay Area without poverty and an end to human activities that result in global warming, but then step back, strategize, and organize to be practical in our efforts to pursue those ideals. Indeed, the great social movement leaders of modern history used this approach. The ideal thus for Menlo is that we become a world-class model of how a community uses its collective genius, ethics, determination, and drive to address local to global problems.  Students are challenged and supported to understand and take creative, constructive action on issues that matter to them—injustice or patterns of violence or air pollution, for example—at the systemic level. In this way, Menlo students can start making major impacts early on in their lives of commitment to purposes higher than themselves, and the Menlo community can be an example of what effective community engagement via school-based programs can offer the world.


Critical consciousness is an understanding of the reality of the world as it is experienced by a diverse range of people, its power structures, one’s position in it, and taking action to change that reality for the better.

Community engagement thus challenges students to engage in the real world to learn through experience and acts of service with four areas of focus meant to help students develop critical consciousness:

  • getting out of your comfort zone
  • building empathy
  • growing social consciousness
  • taking action on issues that matter to them

Four Areas of CE at Menlo Introduction

Community Engagement (CE): A GRADUATION Requirement

CE is a requirement at Menlo because its four areas of focus are essential skills for a life of active citizenship, in line with our school mission and values “to become ethical, responsible, and engaged members of ever wider communities” and “commitment to purposes greater than ourselves.”  We don’t simply want students to be ready for college when they graduate from Menlo.  We want them to be ready to take a leadership role in changing the reality of the world for the better. 

“10 AND 3”

During the 2020-2021 academic year, Menlo Upper School students must complete at least 10 CE credits by August 25, 2021. Besides achieving 10 credits, the student must have at least 3 unique experiences. This is to ensure a variety of experiences from which to learn, ideally with a diverse range of people and activities. Any experiences a student has between June 1 and August 25 of a year can be input for the previous academic year—input reflections by August 25—or the coming academic year—input reflections after August 25.  Seniors must also complete an independent project that will begin in the second semester with support from a faculty adviser.  

In lieu of the “10 and 3” students can apply to carry out a Year-Long Engagement (YLE).  Ask the leaders of Menlo’s Knight Vision (the Upper School’s community engagement club) or the Director of Community Engagement for details.  Applications are due by October 19, 2021.  Note that YLE projects will require much more work than what one can do minimally for 10 credits, but students who have a strong desire to do deeper work on a particular issue of importance to them are encouraged to apply.

Community Engagement OPPORTUNITIES

 A curated list of opportunities is updated continuously by the Director of Community Engagement, with large updates every 4-6 weeks. We recommend students bookmark the document at the link above to quickly see the latest CE opportunities.  Want some personalized ideas based on your interests?  Take this survey developed by Knight Vision, Menlo’s community engagement club, and they’ll respond with some experiences that should work for you!

We also recommend the following search engines to find service opportunities for teenagers:

  • Meaningful Teens: a website of service opportunity listings curated by local teens!
  • BayAreaParent: don’t let the name fool you - the link takes you to a description of about ten websites that each offer several opportunities.
  • HandsOn Bay Area: about 40 ongoing activities of various types that are open to youth.
  • VolunteerMatch: quickly register, filter a search for near Menlo Park and teens, and you’ll still have several tens of great options!
  • Bay Area Teen Science: cool opportunities in places like the Computer History Museum and California Academy of Sciences.

Remember, to earn CE credits the student must not only participate in the experience but write a reflection about their experience using Fortress, our online CE portfolio system.  Watch this video to see how to complete reflections with excellence. 


As you earn credits, there are different levels you can achieve:

    • At 25-49 credits: CE Exemplar
    • At 50-74 credits: CE Action Taker
    • At 74-99 credits: CE Change Maker
    • At 100 or above: CE Champion of the People

      Each of the above will result in a certificate of recognition as well as recognition at a school assembly.

We will also recognize students who demonstrate extraordinary contributions in particular areas of CE.  The following prizes, offered annually, will not be solely based on credits earned, but include consideration of exemplary engagement, commitment, and impacts made.  The names of the prizes change year to year to feature various historical or contemporary exemplars.

  • The Eleanor Roosevelt Global Citizen Prize: awarded to a student who makes significant contributions to a better world beyond the borders of the United States.
  • The Carl Sagan Patriot Prize: awarded to a student who makes significant contributions on a major contemporary issue (ex: gun control) within the borders of the United States.
  • The John Lewis Social Justice Prize: awarded to a student who makes significant contributions to address issues of injustice or inequity in the U.S. or global society. 
  • The Favianna Rodriguez Activist Artist Prize: awarded to a student who uses art (performing or visual) to create awareness around important issues in our society and/or in the context of protest or demonstration.  
  • The Greta Thunberg Global Cooling Prize: awarded to the student who makes significant contributions towards the mitigation of global warming.

Community Engagement Credit Guide

How are CE credits earned?
To earn CE credit, a student must engage in a qualifying CE experience, write a reflection on Fortress (how-to video), then have that reflection approved by a faculty member on the CE faculty committee, with final approval by the Director of Community Engagement.  We require reflections because it is only through thoughtful reflection that students truly extract learning and growth from any experience. 

Students should write a reflection after the experience within a week.  They can submit later, but to gain the most from the reflection process, we recommend students do it within a few days.  Note that the reflection must include the contact email and/or phone number of a supervisor or adult outside of your family that can verify your participation.

If you are doing something continually or repeatedly, such as tutoring or interning at a non-profit, wait until near a semester deadline or when you are finished with the experience to write your reflection for it.  Fortress now allows you to enter more than 10 credits at a time.

What experiences qualify for CE credit?
A qualifying CE experience is any service activity you take on outside of an academic class and for which you are not paid.  It does not need to be sponsored by Menlo.  There are also some cultural or community activities that qualify.  In this case, only the ones promoted by the Director of Community Engagement qualify.  If there is a cultural or community activity that you think should qualify and/or would like to promote as a CE opportunity, email the Director of Community Engagement. 

 How does the CE reflection review process work?
Students receive feedback from a member of the CE faculty committee within 2-4 weeks of submitting a reflection.  Current students: keep in mind that because the Director of Community Engagement now has a committee, all of your reflections will be reviewed, without any being auto-approved.  This means that a hastily written reflection that may have been approved last year might not be approved this year.  If that is the case, you will receive a notice of “revision needed” until your reflection is approved.  Make sure to follow the instructions on the reflection form in Fortress to ensure you are meeting the standard for approval.

How can one know how many credits a CE experience is worth?
In some cases, the Director of Community Engagement will make clear how many credits an experience earns a student.  Otherwise, credits are calculated by a new formula beginning the 2020-21 academic year.  For every hour of activity, a student earns .5 credits.  So, let’s say student tutors twice a week for an hour, for six weeks.  The student has thus earned twelve credits upon writing a reflection in Fortress and approval of it. 

A student can also earn bonus credits.  Bonus credits are either offered upfront by the Director of Community Engagement as a way to encourage participation in particular experiences or are awarded based on how much the student’s reflection demonstrates authentic and active engagement in any of the four areas of focus for CE (see above).  These bonus credits are awarded at the discretion of the faculty reflection reviewer when they are read reflections in Fortress.  They will follow a formula of .25 x N x Credits, where N=areas of CE focus engaged.  So, for example, if in your reflection on tutoring for those six weeks you strongly demonstrate the ways in which you built empathy and grew your social consciousness, you will earn 6 additional credits (.25 x 2 x 12).