Question: For Nueva Intersession 2021, how many unique courses were offered for upper school students this week?
In Tuesday’s virtual trivia game for alumni, participants were challenged to answer the above tiebreaker question. Most were in awe when they heard the correct answer. (Scroll to the end of this story to see the answer.)
Even in a year that has been anything but typical, students had hundreds of intersession courses from which to choose, ranging from cooking and art to politics and computer science to improv acting and juggling, and so much more.
Intersession, hosted each year since the upper school’s inception during the first week following winter break, is a time for upper school students—and, new this year, lower and middle school students as well—to engage in interdisciplinary exploration with real-world experts. Many alumni often share that intersession was a favorite time for them during their tenure at Nueva.
“Intersession was created to give students an experience of all that is possible as part of being in our community,” said Upper School Division Head Liza Raynal. “We want to be a school that helps students make choices that benefit the world and this is a way to do that. When intersession first started, it also gave teachers time to invent and plan curriculum.”
This intersession week continues to offer faculty an opportunity for professional development and curriculum planning, which has been particularly helpful this year as the upper school introduces a new term schedule (along with the semester schedule), “and we are working with how we adapt curriculum to the depth a shorter term allows,” Liza added.
Meanwhile, upper school students engaged in courses meant to spark their curiosity. It was no small feat for intersession parent volunteer coordinators Jan Leeman and Eileen Horng to assemble such a large course catalog featuring the same breadth and depth of topics that intersession is known to have.
“We usually begin assembling the course offerings in March for the following year,” Jan explained. “But with COVID, we had to wait until the summer. So we asked ourselves, ‘How can we work with organizations to help us build our courses?’ This year we partnered with three organizations—Wonderfest, Curious Cardinals, and Airbnb—to bring students experiences, many of which lend themselves well to a virtual space.”
Students were taken on virtual tours of far away places, learned how to cook international cuisine from instructors in those locales, and heard from experts in a variety of fields that may not have otherwise been able to come to Nueva for intersession.
Sophomore Hannah D. and her brother, Liam '21, took the Wednesday course, Cook Mexican Street Tacos with a Pro Chef in Spanish. Yes, the whole class was taught in the Spanish language by a woman based in Mexico City.
“We took a trip to Mexico last year and really enjoyed all of the food we ate, especially the street tacos,” Hannah shared. “I really loved figuring out that I can understand a lot more Spanish than I realized. I also learned how to make homemade tortillas, and they are so worth it.”
“I’m taking Intro to Sign Language, and it’s really good,” senior Willow Taylor C. Y. said. “We spent the first couple of minutes of talking about the importance of sign language and the inclusion of deaf people. I think it fostered a good, respectful conversation about what kind of world we want to live in and foster.”
For the first time, alumni were invited to participate in intersession. During alumni chat sessions, recent grads shared their wisdom on making the most of the Nueva experience, life after Nueva, and finding a college that fits. Alumni also had an opportunity to take intersession courses. Isabel Chambers '20 decided to join the course Blind Spots: A Political Analysis on Peru’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“Intersession is a uniquely Nueva thing, which was why I was so open to the opportunity to join a class as an alumna,” she said. “One of my favorite things about the Nueva Upper School was intersession, because it was a time where I could dip my toes into topics I had never heard of before, or dive deeply into classes that were fully designed around my personal interests. It’s so nice to see that intersession is open to alumni, and it's a good way to stay connected with the school.”
It is this sentiment—that intersession allows students to explore topics they have not heard of or to dive into classes around their interests—that drew Interim Middle School Division Head Karen Tiegel and Lower School Division Head Megan Terra to consider introducing intersession to the students in their divisions.
“Over the years, the intersession offerings have been varied and amazing and can often be life-changing for students,” Karen said. “For my son, Jason (who graduated in 2020), taking environmental economics and activism during intersession transformed his thinking about what he might want to do with his engineering degree. I’m really proud we were able to bring a taste of this to our middle school students.”
For the first time, all middle school students have an opportunity to explore a variety of new and unique courses through “A Taste of Intersession,” two days filled with classes including Improv Games and Storytelling, Creating a Documentary Movie, Fashion Design Illustration, and Environmental Justice.
“This is cool stuff,” Karen shared. “Students have four sessions every day so they get to experience some of these course offerings and they also have time to prepare for culmination coming up in a few weeks.”
In the lower school, the new intersession week centered around environmental citizenship.
According to Megan, “Intersession captures so beautifully one of our Nueva values of exploration in learning, and while we prize having cohesive interdisciplinary project-based themes, it is equally important to model for our students to take a moment to dive into something a little different.”
During Tuesday’s kick-off meeting for the entire lower school, Megan shared with students the overarching question for the week, “What does it mean to be an environmental citizen?” Audrey Chin ‘19, who was integral in helping to put together the week’s programming, read the story What Can A Citizen Do by Dave Eggers to inspire students as they spent time in their courses this week.
“As someone who is continually inspired by the outdoor learning I experienced during my time at Nueva—from the forts to Big Basin to Yosemite to Monteverde—I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the strengthening of Nueva's environmental citizenship program,” Audrey said.
Lower school students engaged in courses taught by Curious Cardinals and Nueva Enrichment faculty including Largest Protest in History, Environmental Justice, and Paths of Environmental Stewardship.
“Our goal is for students to come away from this week being reminded of their awe for the natural world and feeling connected and empowered about the ways they can be environmental citizens who have agency,” Megan shared.
“You hope you hit the mark,” Jan said. “You want to expand kids’ view of the world and you want to bring joy during this tough year. That’s why we offer cooking classes, for example, because tiramisu makes people smile. We have offered the tiramisu cooking class four times this week, taught by instructors in Italy, so I hope it becomes the dessert of Nueva.”