Ask a student, teacher, or parent what makes Nueva so special and, more often than not, the answer you will hear is “The community.” This community has demonstrated in ways great and small what it means to come together during a time of great need to support one another, as well as the greater community around us. There have been more than a dozen initiatives spearheaded by Nueva faculty, students, and parents—everything from making personal protective equipment and creating COVID-19 related art to hosting togetherness Zooms and fundraising.
Early on in San Mateo County’s shelter-in-place order, three members of the Nueva extended leadership team—I-Lab Director Angi Chau, Social Justice and Equity Director Alegria Barclay, and Director of the Innovative Teacher Program Allen Frost—began to talk about the ways Nueva students could get involved in COVID-19 support and outreach.
“There were students reaching out to the I-Lab, and the I-Lab team recognized that they had the tools and equipment needed to get to work on some of the community’s personal protective equipment (PPE) needs,” Alegria said. “While talking with Angi, we decided to join forces because not everyone may be interested in making, so we wanted to provide opportunities for students with varying interests and skill sets.”
Echoing Alegria, Angi said, “When the three of us talked about ways we could get involved in the efforts to fight COVID-19, we all realized we were hearing from Upper School students who wanted to participate.”
So, on April 9, Angi, Alegria, and Allen hosted a Community Support Planning meeting for Upper School students. During the meeting, which was attended by 32 people, students and faculty discussed a number of ways they could help with these efforts.
“It’s so inspiring to see students and colleagues,” Allen said at the start of the Zoom meeting. “I am so moved to be part of the Nueva community during this time.”
I-Lab and Maker Initiatives
Angi’s team is currently overseeing efforts that exploit Nueva’s I-Lab resources and expertise. When she met with her team prior to the Community Support Planning meeting, she posed the question, “What can we do to give students a sense of agency in effecting change?”
Her team took off with answers to that question. George Jemmott, Upper School I-Lab engineer and machine shop manager, has spearheaded an initiative to make face shield parts using 3D printers. He partnered with Maker Nexus, a nonprofit organization focused on maker education, which had put out a call to hospitals and determined there was great need for face shields. He coordinated with interested students and has provided them with all of the materials needed to print parts. To maximize the number of parts Nueva can produce, the school has loaned out some Nueva 3D printers to students who wanted to get involved but did not have a printer.
The Nueva team is focused on printing reinforcement clips. “This is a simple part to print and we can produce 100 to 150 of them each day,” George said. “Maker Nexus volunteers have been printing the other key components of the face shield, but there was a bottleneck to completing each one because of the need for reinforcement clips. I am proud to have recognized this bottleneck so that we are more effectively helping this effort.”
Thus far, Nueva students and faculty have produced more than 2,700 reinforcing clips for face shields.
Senior Amelia M. and her freshman siblings, Huxley and Selina, joined George’s efforts early on.
“Before we started 3D printing PPE, we were all going more than a little stir-crazy in quarantine,” Amelia said. “While it made sense that we just had to stay inside, it seemed bizarre that the most helpful thing we could do in a pandemic was . . . nothing. It’s so amazing to be able to contribute to the cause. We’ve all been in much better spirits knowing that we’re lending a hand in these unique times. And it’s really been such a team effort here, which is even more rewarding since we’ve been so isolated. My siblings and I teamed up with Cevi B. to keep printers running almost around the clock (averaging around 20 hours per day). It’s kind of crazy to think that these tiny plastic pieces are making a real difference in people’s lives, especially because we don’t follow their journey much further than our front porch. I think I finally realized the impact of 3D printed PPE when George sent us the words of a New York ER doctor.”
Another effort being spearheaded by a member of the I-Lab team is making masks. I-Lab engineer Rob Zomber has worked tirelessly since week 2 of shelter-in-place to put together mask-making materials.
“The intent of this project at the beginning was different from what it has turned into,” he said. “Originally, students in my engineering and fabrication class wanted to get involved, so I thought I could get them some sewing machines and have this be part of our class. When students started sharing what they were doing, I began hearing from other students, as well as faculty members and parents. It really snowballed and I now have a list of 70 people who are sewing masks.”
Once the masks are complete, Nueva volunteers can either donate them to people and organizations they know are in need, or they can send them back to Rob, who is coordinating donations for local organizations.
I was feeling this great disparity between my own lived experience sheltering at home and what I was seeing and hearing on the news, because where my life felt stagnant, I knew others’ lives were full of turmoil and uncertainty. Sewing masks was my way of reconciling the way I was feeling, and the privilege I have, with my desire to help those less fortunate.
— Alyssa H. '22
“Rob and I aligned our efforts,” Alegria said. “I have been working to support vulnerable populations, and it became clear that they are in urgent need of face masks.”
So far, Rob and a team of faculty volunteers have assembled enough mask-making kits to make 1,500 masks.
Sophomore Alyssa H. has been involved with this effort sewing masks. She said, “I decided to get involved because I wanted to help out in some way, and the opportunity to sew masks felt accessible and productive. I was feeling this great disparity between my own lived experience sheltering at home and what I was seeing and hearing on the news, because where my life felt stagnant, I knew others’ lives were full of turmoil and uncertainty. Sewing masks was my way of reconciling the way I was feeling, and the privilege I have, with my desire to help those less fortunate. It was something concrete I could do, and thanks to Rob’s and Alegria’s organization, something I could trust would be received by those in need.”
“I love seeing the completed masks because usually when I sit down to sew, I'll make 10–15 in one sitting,” sophomore Anya P. said. “It's definitely super rewarding to see how many you've done and then start the process all over. I've also enjoyed teaching my brother how to sew. It's really fun because we just get to hang out, listen to music, and sew.”
Not only are these mask-making efforts helping a variety of people and organizations in the community, they have also proven to be opportunities for families to spend time together.
“Since the beginning, Mason (eighth grade) was trying to figure out how to help, what he could do or what we could do together as a family to help others during the pandemic,” said Nueva parent Julie Choey. “We’d heard that a friend was making masks to donate to local hospitals to wear over N95 masks so that the masks can be used for longer. We were surprised that there was such a need for homemade face masks. We suddenly felt the urgency to make them quickly, and we set up an assembly line in our rec room, with my husband Mark and younger son Griffin measuring and cutting while Mason and I sewed on the machine, finished by hand, and ironed. We’d catch up on the day, listen to music or podcasts, watch TV or just work in silence. The days on end sheltering at home have been tough but we’ve enjoyed the time as a family working on a project together.”
Christine Braun, Middle School I-Lab engineer and shop manager, has been printing face shield visors and assembling face shield kits for Xinampa farmworkers. She has also organized a group of Middle School students eager to get involved in a variety of COVID-19 related efforts, including putting together the components of the face shields so that they are ready for distribution.
Freshman Clay M. is working on a completely different maker project, one that is also much needed in the community.
“I’m fermenting ethanol, concentrating it, distilling it, and combining it with hydrogen peroxide, glycerol, and aloe gel to make hand sanitizer,” Clay said.
Using a five-gallon bucket secured with an airtight lid and an S trap airlock, sugar, wash, and yeast, Clay has been able to successfully make a one-liter batch of hand sanitizer. The key to effective hand sanitizer is making sure the ethanol is above 60 percent of the total solution
Clay added, “To test that the hand sanitizer truly works, we will grow bacteria in petri dishes and once we have visible colonies, we will apply some of the hand sanitizer to the dish and view it under a microscope to make sure the pathogens are dead.”
Clay hopes to ramp up his operation to be able to have two to three batches of ethanol concentrating and distilling at the same time, so that he can produce three liters of hand sanitizer a week. The finished products will be donated to LifeMoves, an organization that provides temporary housing for the homeless population.
"I saw an opportunity to make a difference and help communities during this time, and I'm able to leverage my knowledge and experience in chemistry to make an impact,” Clay said.
Documentation of the Pandemic
Allen Frost “was thinking about how we can give students a creative outlet for their own feelings and responses. One of the things that Alegria and I teach in our senior seminar, Rage, Romance, and Resilience: A Cultural History of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic, is the importance of documenting and recording what people are feeling.”
Students are recording oral histories; photographing empty streets, boarded-up business, and social distancing signage; writing poetry and short stories; and creating art related to the pandemic. Jennifer Paull, director of the Writing and Research Center, is collecting and posting Quarantine Diaries of members of our community, “to share and archive what people are creating during the shelter-in-place,” she said.
“Creative expression can be just as sustaining and empowering as things that ‘look like activism,’ and can oftentimes suit students’ skill sets more,” Allen added.
Supporting One Another in the Nueva Community
Nueva parents have always supported the school and its faculty and staff. That has more true now than ever, as they have come together to raise critical funds and to share their appreciations.
The NPA site says, “The Digital Appreciations Project provides an easy way for students and parents to share digital appreciations with Nueva faculty and staff. Notes, artwork, photos, quick videos, and other appreciations are submitted through Google forms and collected in a Google Drive folder which is shared with the recipient. This will provide a digital collection of expressions of gratitude for the recipient to keep.”
These acts of kindness have had a deep impact on both faculty and staff.
“The impetus for these initiatives was wanting people to know they are so appreciated and to make people feel loved,” said NPA Co-president Eileen Horng. “There are so many things that Nueva is doing for the outside community, and the NPA wanted to make sure that those in our own community receive some of that love.”
Upper School Spanish teacher Jo Newman said, “It was lovely in the busyness of the day to read an appreciation that makes everything that I’m doing seem so even more meaningful.”
The NPA also gave each faculty and staff member a gift card to further show their appreciation, using funds that would have otherwise gone to spring events.
“We used funds that would have been unused otherwise and thought this was the perfect way to use those funds to show our appreciation for the faculty and staff, who made a Herculean effort to pivot to remote learning,” Eileen said.
Another area of parent-driven support has been the Nueva Faculty and Staff Support Fund, which has provided needed funds for faculty and staff to weather the storm of financial hardships they have encountered.
“Many of you have asked how you can provide additional support in light of the new circumstances faculty and staff are facing because of these changes,” Head of School Diane Rosenberg wrote to the community on April 1. “Seeded by the generosity of several community members, we are establishing a special fund to help faculty and staff with the expenses resulting from this transition.”
In the six-day campaign, parents demonstrated what Nueva means to them by donating more than $200,000 to the fund. “We have a number of faculty and staff whose spouses have been laid off,” Diane said. “Rather than having two incomes, they now have one. This fund has supplied ongoing help with food and rent. It has also helped provide WiFi upgrades to support teaching and learning.”
Students have also stepped in to spread joy and appreciation, through the Student Council (StuCo) philanthropic effort Appreciations for Nueva.
“To bring together our community in this new remote-learning world, we invite students and teachers to share any appreciations for Nueva that they may have for the school under the new circumstances,” StuCo leaders Colin C., Anton P., and Camille C., wrote in an email on March 25.
For every student submission, StuCo is donating $3 to Second Harvest Food Bank. Their goal is to donate $700. To contribute an appreciation, click here.
Middle School students are also working with Lower School Division Head Megan Terra and Middle School Division Head Liza Raynal to create a Lower School/Middle School buddy program. Middle School students would pair up with Lower School students to offer them social time with a Nueva peer.
The Upper School Kindness Club, led by senior Maya M. and junior Gavi G., make it their mission to spread joy and kindness in the Nueva community, and they wanted to keep the spirit alive even if they couldn’t physically meet as a club.
“Most of our traditional projects—such as Appreciation Flooding, lollipops, and the Wall of Appreciation—are difficult to implement remotely, so Gavi and I discussed ways that we could continue to brighten people’s days,” Maya said. The christingWeekly Fluff newsletters were the product of those discussions!”
The Weekly Fluff email, sent to all Upper School students, has a section about ongoing projects the club is leading—the collection of small wonderful things and appreciation flooding—as well as Wonderful Happenings and a Calendar. Some of the Wonderful Happenings submitted anonymously to the Kindness Club include:
- “Rob and the rest of the I-Lab team making and providing kits to help us make masks for PPE! Now THAT’s community!”
- “I ran over 12 miles for the first time.”
- “I worked really hard on a drawing and I think it looks really good!”
- “I played Scrabble with my dad and our combined score broke 600 points.”
Through this project, “we also wanted to make sure that we still realize and appreciate that we are a community, to combat the social isolation that many of us may be feeling,” Maya added. “Having a weekly uplifting email sent out to the whole Upper School helps everyone feel connected to each other as we imagine sharing the same laughs and smiles with our friends, no matter where they might be.”
Faculty and staff have also been connecting with one another during this time, through the creation of the Togetherness Committee. Led by Alegria, Allen, Joy Gao, Nicole Miller, Jim Morrison, Jen Paull, and Elizabeth Rossini, this committee has organized a variety of events, activities, and connections to help bring colleagues together.
“We met early and brainstormed ideas for connection,” Allen said. “We were mindful of the fact that for many faculty and staff, their social circles revolve around the people they work with. We wanted to give people a way to continue to be social.”
Activities and events organized by Togetherness Committee include letter writing, a happy hour cantina (“Bob and Diane came in costume,” Allen said. “It was amazing!”), a spring break zoom hour around the theme of “campfire stories,” and a trivia night.
When Middle School students met with Christine on April 29, they brainstormed ways they could help support the community. Out of that meeting came the idea to support seniors in the community through the creation of fun, entertaining videos. They are exploring fundraising opportunities to purchase PPE for the homeless population in San Francisco.
“In 20 minutes we’ve covered an awful lot of ground,” Christine said to close the meeting. “That was amazing.”
“Not everyone is as fortunate as we are, and they are not able to stop working for long periods of time,” eighth grader Olivia C. said. “I want to help try to keep people safe, because lowering the COVID-19 count will help everyone get back to work.”
“Not everyone is as fortunate as we are, and they are not able to stop working for long periods of time. I want to help try to keep people safe, because lowering the COVID-19 count will help everyone get back to work.”
— Olivia C., eighth grade
Sophomore Humza R. has led efforts to raise critical funds for restaurants in his neighborhood. Humza decided in mid-April to gather some of his Palo Alto–area friends to raise money for two local restaurants: Kirk's Steakburgers and Sancho's Taqueria.
“We organized this fundraiser as part of our organization, HERO Swim, which we started three years ago,” Humza said. “We host a swim-a-thon fundraiser every fall to raise money for different causes around the world, but we felt like this was a really important time to help out those in need, which is why we put this effort together.”
Junior Matthew S. is organizing Nueva benefit concerts, which he hopes will not only bring the joy of music to the Nueva community, but also raise funds for efforts fighting COVID-19.
“It’s difficult to maintain normalcy in our lives in these unpredictable times, but playing and enjoying music is a constant no matter the time, place, or circumstance,” he said. “That’s why I’m asking all musically inclined members of the Nueva community to record a video of themselves playing or singing a piece of music. It can be any length, any genre, and any instrument; as long as that piece of music is meaningful to you in some way, I’d love for you to record it.”
Matthew plans to compile the videos he collects and livestream them as benefit concerts in order to raise funds for those most impacted by COVID-19.
“I wanted to find a way to use music to strengthen our interpersonal relationships and feel connected as a community even while we are physically separate and I wanted to help raise funds for those who are put in the most jeopardy by this pandemic. This benefit concert project was my way of bringing those two objectives together into one project,” he said. If you would like to submit a video for the Nueva benefit concerts, click here.
The NPA has also supported the greater community through a fundraising effort titled “Protecting Our Front Lines Project.” Through monetary donations, the NPA was able to purchase 10,800 surgical masks, 332 N95 masks, 230,000 pairs of nitrile gloves, 60 face shields, 1,650 gowns, and 400 caps for California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), Kaiser San Jose, Mills-Peninsula Hospital, Seton Medical Center, and Stanford Hospital.
After receiving a donation of PPE, a director of one of these hospitals wrote, "I just wanted to thank you all for your heartwarming support. These have been challenging times for us all. But you all have given me new hope, and my heart brims with joy knowing that we have a community that cares. We appreciate you all. I am crying tears of joy."
Are you doing something to support the Nueva community or greater community? We’d love to hear from you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your story.