Gr4Play1213 1As art, as a branch of literature, the essence of a personality or the atmosphere of an event is recreated. This is the way children approach history with meaning. It has to become a spiritual experience. --Winifred Moore

At Nueva, there are many phrases that we bandy about quite often and assume that everyone knows what we mean. They are phrases that can, to be honest, sound pretty glib if you don't know the depth of thought that lies behind them: phrases such as integrated teaching, theme-based curricula, learning by doing and caring, and teaching the whole child. But what do they mean in practice, how do they affect the day-to-day educational life of your children, and why are they important?

Let's take the fourth grade musical as an example. As some of you may know, it is a Nueva tradition that the fourth graders create and perform a full-length musical play based on their curriculum for their year-end Culmination. What do we mean when we say that the students "create" the play? The students, not the teachers, write every single word of the script, the song lyrics, the melodies, the accompaniments, make their own costumes and props, plan the choreography, do much of the direction, and run the lights and sound. These are truly student-made productions.

MLKintroWhile we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last week, the first grade classes have been learning about his legacy throughout the year. In the first few weeks of school, we read the book Martin’s Big Words to inspire a reverence for the power of words. We collected strong words that resonated for the first graders -- fairness, happiness, peace, friendship, kindness, and understanding. We also collected other important words of our own and created word walls at home. King’s words became a bridge to the power of ideas in our own reading and writing.

peterpicNueva's own Peter Koehler was awarded the Sarah D. Barder Fellowship from the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY). To receive the award, a student who was in a CTY program must nominate a teacher (not in the program) for excellence in inspiring gifted youth. Fifth grader Ethan Y. recommended him. Peter – who helps further lower school children's interests in mathematics -- worked with Ethan from first through fourth grade.

Peter was struck by the thought and effort it took on Ethan's part to nominate him. To recommend him, Ethan wrote an essay, which the teacher found great pleasure in reading.

"He wrote such a wonderful essay about me," Peter reflected while clearly moved.

In the award's 24 years of existence, 400 teachers and administrators have received the honor. In February, Peter will meet with other fellows at a conference in Las Vegas to be inducted and to study together. Congratulations to Peter, a lifelong learner and perfect match for the fellowship.

DSC09700“How many of you like animals?” Hands shot into the air. “Well I get to work with animals, and I want you to meet some today,” said alumnus Leor Friedman (Class of ’00) to Lower School students at the March 15 assembly.

Leor, an animal trainer hailing from Six Flags Great America in New Jersey, used an online connection through Skype to show students some of the animals. As Leor’s co-workers placed each animal in front of the camera for students to see, they exclaimed a collective “Hello!” Leor spoke briefly about each animal and then students asked him questions. He showed them three different macaws, a Flemish giant rabbit, and a baby otter, which Leor helped raise in his bathtub and taught how to swim!

“I guess I got my start with animals pretty early,” Leor reflected to the audience. As a Nueva first grader, Leor and a few peers accompanied their teacher to a farm to get duck eggs, which they hatched and cared for in their classroom. He went on to study biology at Occidental College and through various internships working with animals, discovered his passion for training. Leor also shared his animals with the Nueva community at the annual STEM Fair on March 17.

During the warm spring weather of late January and early February, we found ourselves wanting to work outside. I introduced the children to the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist, who creates site-specific, often transient pieces. On his website he details his philosophy:

“I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and "found" tools -- a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn.”

Together the first graders and I looked at some of his pieces in the book, Passage, and then watched some clips from his documentary film, Rivers and Tides. I highly recommend it if you are unfamiliar with his work. Sitting in awe and incredulity while listening to Andy’s calm voice describe how he “must do this work,” the children became inspired to look at nature in new ways. We took ourselves out to the Kindergarten Lawn during our Thursday Theme Studies time to see what we might find. They explored with small rocks, large stones, long leaves, and fallen flowers, among other materials. Some worked alone, others with partners. One group spent the following week building and rebuilding a stone path lined with camellia petals (and then practiced their conflict resolution skills after finding out that the kindergarteners had been destroying it each afternoon).

GRADES PK-8

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