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Catching Up with . . . Karen Tiegel
Jim Morrison, director of student outreach and special projects

About one month into this unprecedented 2020–2021 school year, we sat down with new interim head of the middle school, our own Nuevan Swiss Army Knife, Karen Tiegel, to hear her thoughts about the start of the year, learn a bit more about our continuously evolving middle school electives program, and provide a space to reflect on moments—both past and still to come—that are at the heart of her Nueva experience.


Jim Morrison: Under any circumstances, the start of a new school year is full of challenges and surprises—the same can be said of taking on a new role. Over the past few weeks, what is something you have experienced working with our teachers, students, and community members that has helped ground you in the moment and mission of Nueva?

Karen Tiegel: I’ve been really impressed with the creativity of the teachers and the way that they continuously innovate to meet the needs of our students. The math team, for example, is piloting work with OneNote, so that students can turn in electronic notebooks. The sixth grade physics teams put together cool kits so students could do experiments with gravity at home. Teachers are meeting to talk about ways to combat Zoom fatigue and offer a “menu” of ways that students can demonstrate engagement in their classes.  

JM: Obviously, a large part of the Nueva experience is the opportunity our students, and teachers, have to chase their passions and explore unique avenues of study.  A quick glance at the line-up of our current middle school elective offerings puts those choices and diverse interests into focus. 

What are some of the offerings that jump out to you? What aspect of the elective program are you most excited about? The program has gone through some iterations over the past year or so, correct? 

KT: Over the past year, we made electives available to fifth through eighth graders. Electives run over four quarters of the year, which allows students to explore a range of topics over the course of the year, or dive deeply into their work over two or three quarters.

I always love whatever classes Rachel Dawson teaches, especially Tableau Vivant, where students both prepare and paint a canvas and place themselves (via Photoshop) into the painting. This year, Rachel sent home kits with easels, paints, and canvases so the students could work on these amazing art pieces at home.

Evan’s Escape Room elective is also highly popular, with students creating their own escape room puzzles and challenges. A new elective this year is Tim Varga’s Wilderness Awareness class, where students learn to identify plants and animals in the outdoor spaces they have access to.

And I always have to give a shout-out to the music electives: Groove Workshop, Science Rap, Steel Drums, Introduction to Music Production—as challenging as it is to teach a music class remotely, these classes always produce incredible music and videos, and the teacher have been incredibly innovative in finding ways to engage students online and move their musical (and production) skills forward.

And please be sure to mark your December calendars for the Musical Theater production! Although the musical will be fully remote and created using green screens, the enthusiasm and commitment of the actors cannot be underestimated!

JM: I think that all of us—parents, students, teachers, staff, and administrators—are managing a lot of right now personally, professionally, academically, socially, and environmentally. Finding peace of mind, let alone fresh air, can be challenging. 

What is something you are doing to help you move forward and stay afloat?

KT: I have a weekly hike with a good friend. That time outside in nature when I am breathing fresh air and noticing the changes in the leaves and trees gives me some space to just focus on the path ahead of me and enjoy some face to face social time on the trails. 

JM: You have worn many hats over your time at Nueva:teacher, parents, admissions team member, dean, chaperone, steel drummer.

If you were to close your eyes and place yourself back in any moment from your time at Nueva, what are your top-three, prototypically Nuevan moments? 

KT: I absolutely love Recital Night (and not just the ones where my own kids showed their incredible work!). I love seeing how the students develop a project and deeply engaged in the process. They often surprise themselves as they work through the process and see the project change and iterate over time. The mentorship that they experience can also be life-changing as well.

This sounds silly, but the moment in the airport when the students see their parents at the baggage claim area as we return from our trips. There’s that incredible feeling of success—we did it!—and relief (we’re returning the kids safely to their parents!), and also the knowing that there will be a billion conversations that night sharing all the experiences the students had on the trip, all the insights they had about the trip, and the parents’ acknowledgment of how much their children grew in just that week or so.

The first day of school (every year!) stands out. It was really difficult this year being on campus and not getting to feel that vibrating excitement that occurs on the first day of school. You hear it in the shouts of the kids as they see their friends for the first time in a few months: the way the sound fills the GCC as everyone catches up, notices new haircuts, or learns about an exciting trip taken or camp attended or book that’s been read. There’s all the hopes and anticipations of a fresh new year. This year, we tried to capture that in an all-division online assembly, and there was definitely some of that same excitement as students came on the call and saw one another and talked over each other on Zoom. We shared some of our excitement and anticipations on white boards during that assembly.

JM: When you close your eyes and project yourself in the future, what are you most looking forward to, once we are all able to be back together again in person?

KT: I can’t wait for those moments of just having little conversations with students and teachers that happen in the hallways or on the sports court while walking to class. Since I’ve been working on campus this fall, I run into teachers and staff members, and I love just catching up in person—seeing people as a whole person, instead of just inside the Zoom boxes. I can’t wait to experience that on a larger scale. 

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