Ever since graduation, Natalie Anderson, SGS class of 2007, has continued to be an active member of the SGS community. In this conversation, Natalie explains why she is choosing to invest in the future of the school and its mission, and in turn, in the generational leadership that SGS builds in its students. Natalie is a proud SGS donor and has taken her involvement in the Rise Up campaign to the next level by serving as the campaign’s co-chair.
Can you talk about your overall experience with the school as a student?
SGS is the first place that gave me agency or ownership over my student experience. Other schools have parent teacher conferences, where parents and teachers put their heads together to talk about the student but leave the student out of the conversations. At SGS, the students actually run these “learning team meetings” where they think about their interests and goals. I was able to think about what my learning goals were and how my parents and teachers could support them. At SGS, students ask themselves, “how can I take responsibility for my own academic success?” SGS students learn to advocate for themselves, and this is a lesson that has followed me everywhere I go.
What makes SGS unique?
Everything at SGS is hands-on. We don’t just learn the content, we learn how to apply it. Our project “Mission to Mars,” for example, involved applied nutrition, computer science, experiment design, and robotics. There is a huge amount of trust between teachers and students at SGS. When we would go to teachers with questions, they had us try it out to see what happened; we were responsible for our learning.
The focus on equity and bias training is not a typical experience for middle schoolers. The prevailing sentiment is that “kids are kids and they aren’t ready for these conversations,” but even kids can see where inequality and bias exist in their lives. Responding to bias is an active choice. We are giving students the tools to make a conscious decision. Particularly right now, when issues of racism and bias are constantly in conversation, it’s important that we give kids the language to speak up and identify what’s happening. At SGS, students learn to take responsibility and advocate for themselves and for others.
What inspired you to give to SGS the first time?
I have always spoken very highly about SGS. It’s made a huge impact in my life, and I wouldn’t have been as successful in life without the skills I learned at SGS.
I first became engaged as a donor when I received a flyer from the development office about the campaign—I thought I could help with engagement and rally some alums. I decided I wanted to get more involved and joined the Rise Up campaign cabinet as a co-chair. It was a great full circle moment because my first major donation to any organization was to this amazing place that helped develop me into the person that I am.
Why do you continue to donate to SGS?
I want to live in a world with more SGS graduates. Continuing SGS’s great work requires a permanent space and money. You have to show up for the things that you want and that future you want. I know that if I want something to happen, I have to use my voice and influence and work to make it reality—SGS taught me that.
I care about SGS and education for young people, and I care about equity, diversity, and inclusion. Plus, I have an obvious connection because I’m an alum. The STEM/STEAM focus also matters to me—I’m a computer science major and started to get into the field during my time at SGS. All of these factors combined make investing in SGS a no-brainer for me—SGS matters to me, so I show up for SGS.
In your experience as a donor, what do you feel the impact of your gifts and the gifts of others has been on the school?
I don’t see it as a gift, I see it as an investment. I am reinvesting in something that gave a lot to me. The return on the investment is better, stronger, more diverse leadership for the future—which ends up helping everyone, not just me. Investing in SGS also means investing in the Seattle community at large. It’s investing in something that teaches a solid leadership foundation, one that’s rooted in equity and diversity and taking care of your community. This matters now more than ever. We want to teach strong, compassionate leadership. Strong compassionate leaders teach strong compassionate leaders, and there is a lot of that at SGS.
Why is it important for SGS to have a permanent home?
It removes the risk for the school. It’s hard to focus on a mission when there’s doubt that it can continue to exist. When you aren’t sure if your space will be there, you can’t make long-term plans. When a space is permanent, it can truly be a home that students can come back to, something that we can call our own. By committing to a permanent place in the community, we can commit to the permanence of the SGS mission.
What feature of the new building are you most excited about?
The eggs! The little quiet spaces. I’m a huge reader and have been my whole life. The joke of how me and my best friend in middle school met is that she asked to sit by me three times, but I didn’t hear her because I was in my reading zone. It will be nice for students to have a space to take a minute to themselves and think things through. This is important especially with so much open space, it’s sometimes hard to find quiet space to recharge.
Why is giving to SGS important for the school’s future?
We want the school to continue to exist. For now, we are building a school, but going forward there will be more ways and opportunities to invest in the future of SGS. We are securing the future of an institution that we believe will create better leaders for our communities at all levels.
Investing in SGS is a generational investment. You’re telling this generation of students “we believe in your potential, and we are going to give you the tools, skills, and opportunities to make the world a better place because we know you can.”
What would you say to others who are considering giving to SGS?
It doesn’t matter if you’re giving $5, $500, of $5 million—if it’s meaningful to you, then it’s meaningful to us. Any contribution you make is a contribution to the future of the school and our community, and it’s a contribution to a future full of compassionate leaders. You are investing in the belief that our students can make a difference. If you spend enough time with SGS students and alums, you will believe that, too.