From cooking classes to guest speakers and art projects to field trips, Nueva Travel Week has offered students a variety of experiences designed to immerse them in places or themes close to home and around the globe.
As Colin Tribble, seventh-grade dean, noted in the deans’ roundtable conversation last week, “Travel at Nueva is an extension of our curriculum. We don’t go somewhere because it’s a cool place to visit; we choose places to go because they provide worthwhile learning and experiences for our students.”
While the majority of travel week experiences this year have taken place virtually, one thing is certain: all of the trips have been infused with the core pillars of the Nueva experience, namely social justice, social-emotional learning (SEL), and design thinking.
“Travel is often associated with open-mindedness and the capacity to open people’s minds to other lived experiences,” said Director of Social Justice and Equity Alegria Barclay. “By nature, I think travel can lend itself to empathy, and empathy leads to deeper understandings of social justice and equity.”
I-Lab Director Angi Chau was excited to explore elements of design thinking in this year’s trips.
“Design thinking is not about what we do exclusively in the I-Lab,” she said. “It’s a mindset about seeing what exists and learning about different systems and products that have been designed. When students embark on trips, whether in person or virtually, we want them to look at the people they meet and experiences they learn about from a design perspective. Then, when they hear about challenges or problems, they will know that anything that has been designed can be redesigned. There is an amazing opportunity for changemaking.”
Middle school SEL teacher Alison Williams saw meaningful ways to incorporate SEL into the 2021 trips program, as faculty chaperones and grade-level deans in previous years have successfully implemented SEL skill-building into the itineraries ways that translated well for this year (Alison noted, ”When I traveled with the 11th graders to Charleston, South Carolina in 2018 and 2019, we built in time for us to reflect and process the days together by beginning every morning journaling and ending the day journaling, processing, and sharing appreciations.”).
“SEL is so interconnected to travel in many ways,” she explained. “Our trips give students a chance to stretch their comfort zones and learn more about themselves in an independent way. Trips give students a chance to practice their empathy in working with their peers and our travel partners and learning different lived experiences. All of this year’s trips incorporate time for self-reflection and journaling, which will help develop students into global citizens.”
The seventh-grade trip provides a really great example of how these three pillars have been woven into the experience. All week, seventh graders have been engaged in an environmental justice-themed week of learning and exploration, in which they have taken a deep dive into understanding two areas in California with water-focused environmental justice issues: Bayview-Hunters Point and the LA River.
Alison and Angi partnered on a session called, ‘Design Thinking an Environmentally Just Future,’ in which students reflected on what they had learned so far about environmental justice through guest speakers and other activities, and then imagined who would need to be involved to move towards a more just future. The design thinking element challenged students to think about what the many parts of the system involved in environmental justice are (using systems thinking).
“Many times in design, we tend to focus on a single part—like a product or a specific policy—and try to improve just that part,” Angi said. “We wanted to expose students to the idea that many of the larger issues in our society need to be considered on a systems level and consider not only many parts but also how these parts interact in a complex web. We ask, ‘How might one change in one part of the system percolate throughout the system?’ and ‘How many parts of the system needs to be included to effect real change?’”
In addition to specific sessions focused on these pillars, the themes have also been incorporated throughout each day in many sessions. For example, students have dedicated time for self-reflection and to grapple with essential questions, an exercise that allows them to use SEL skills.
Alison added, “We have also made sure to integrate social justice and SEL when we talk about how to integrate hope in our thinking about environmental justice. We want to stay grounded in hope, and we have done this by introducing students to people who are doing this work.”
In the upper school, many of the trips are centered around specific themes rather than places in the world. Thematic trips include Asian-American Experiences, AIDS Movement, Food Cultures, and Spirituality. In Alegria’s trip—co-chaperoned by Director of the Innovative Teacher Program Allen Frost and art teacher Rachel Dawson—11th graders have explored the AIDS movement, with an eye towards understanding universal elements of how activist movements work.
“In addition to making these connections about activist movements, this trip is a powerful examination of different things, which are all connected: grief, activism, community, and family,” Alegria added.
Alegria noted that a number of other trips have a specific focus on social justice, specifically highlighting the Asian-American Experience trip, an 11th-grade trip led by Sushu Xia and Jasmin Miller. Their trip focused on social justice, especially in light of the recent violence.
“It’s such a great trip,” Alegria said. “The students who signed up for this trip really wanted an opportunity to learn more and talk about what has been going on. Sushu and Jasmin have done a great job curating artists and activists and speakers.”
Across fifth through 12th grade, students are immersed in travel week experiences that allow them to dive deeply into interdisciplinary studies that combine writing, math, history, science, and so many other topics, all rooted in these Nueva core pillars of social justice, SEL, and design thinking.
Alison added, “I think ultimately the goal of this week is to provide students an opportunity to have time in community together, and I hope they feel like they are connected in a way I think only trips can facilitate.”