Next week, Nueva middle and upper school students will be transported around the world via Zoom, as they meet with an array of experts to explore museums, cuisine, history, and current events. These trips will all center around each grade’s unique year-long studies and the overarching theme of diaspora.
Nueva’s grade level deans, along with travel week coordinators, Hillary Freeman and Cynthia Kosut, have worked extensively to find speakers, design experiences, prepare trip kits, and schedule the more than 100 unique events being held over the course of the week.
We “sat down” with a few grade-level deans for a roundtable discussion about their hopes for the week, events they are looking forward to. We also learn about the intentionality behind planning the week's itineraries to ensure we preserve the values of this important part of the Nueva experience.
Jim Morrison: Can you each share a little bit about your grade-level trip?
Dalton Lobo Dias: For the sixth-grade trip, we are seeking to amplify the stories of marginalized communities in America, and the changemaking that members of these communities and their allies have done, and are doing, to fight for their rights, justice, and equity. This theme builds on our students’ studies across their classes, particularly in humanities and writing. With this theme in mind, our team designed a travel week to broaden our students’ horizons and awareness about key historical and current social justice issues.
Colin Tribble: This year, the seventh grade will be engaging in an environmental justice-themed week of learning and exploration. Over the course of travel week, students will be learning about two areas in our home state of California with water focused environmental justice issues: Bayview-Hunters Point and the LA River. We have selected these locations because they provide excellent opportunities for students to dive deeply into interdisciplinary studies that combine writing, history, chemistry, design thinking, and social-emotional learning.
Jo Newman: Ninth grade will be traveling to Peru this year. We will break into seven groups to explore a much wider geographical area than in previous years, visiting Lima, Cusco, the North and South coasts, the Amazon, and the Andes. While all the trips are interdisciplinary, each group has a theme driving the week’s exploration: Diaspora, Adaptations, Communities, Art and Memory, Diversity, Commerce, and Adaptations and Mentalities. Students will be guided by an amauta (‘wise teacher’ in Quechua) and a team of experts, to learn about and connect with the area's history, geography, and of course, its people. From archaeological visits, to dance and music classes, interviews, nature walks, and student exchanges, each trip will be a unique and eye-opening experience.
Michaela Danek: Tenth graders travel to Costa Rica this year, exploring and learning through a variety of experiences taking place all over the country, from Cahuita to the cloud forest. There are seven different groups in the 10th grade, all of which will travel through the same experiences—ranging from learning about Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity to conservation efforts to nuances of culture.
JM: What are your hopes for travel week this year?
DLD: We want to broaden our students’ horizons, to hear voices of social justice, and to give students an opportunity to learn from activists, artists, and engineers who are working towards equity and justice.
CT: 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.
This year, we hope our students have the ability to do experiential, hands-on learning around environmental justice (which is an extension of our spring nature study in humanities) and the theme of water (which ties into chemistry). As such, we have chosen two different locations with water-related environmental justice issues: Bayview-Hunters Point and the Los Angeles River.
Another hope I have for the week is that students understand the past that has led to current, local environmental injustices, see the action and continued impact of these issues in the present, and then work to collectively imagine what an environmentally sustainable future might look like for each of our locations.
JN: For ninth grade, my hope is that everyone will get to experience a much more nuanced understanding of Peru, its people, and culture.
We often learn a great deal about ourselves when we travel, and so, I hope that through this experience students will be able to reflect on and question their own beliefs and assumptions in order to better understand themselves and the world.
And of course, I hope students will have the opportunity to continue to make new friends and deepen the friendships they have already made. This is so important for ninth graders, who have had such an unusual start to their high school years and are still making connections!
MD: It’s a time when students expand their horizons and connect deeply with other cultures. It’s also a great time for students and faculty to connect (or reconnect) through the experience of “travel.” In a time when people feel isolated and disconnected, I am hoping the trip will offer some solace for everyone.
JM: In the weeks leading up to trips week, what were your top priorities in terms of planning?
DLD: We were finalizing our workshops and lesson plans, and booking our special guest speakers. Once that was completed, we created the preparation and debrief work for students around our guest speakers’ visits.
CT: Finding speakers! We know that we need to learn about these communities from people who actually live in these places and experience them. This is not so much about community service as it is about community learning––when it comes to issues of environmental justice in traditionally marginalized communities, we have an obligation to be listeners first and approach these topics with humility. We were working to finalize speakers from Bowtie Youth Council (in LA), who are working on opening a new park along the LA river. We were also working on getting a speaker to come in from Greenaction, a Bay Area-based organization doing excellent, community-based work in Bayview-Hunters Point.
JN: Our top priorities in the weeks leading up to the trip were finalizing itineraries and making some adjustments to make the most of the fact that we will be able to be on campus together two days during the week. We also offered lunchtime workshops, in which students dyed yarn and then used that yarn to learn traditional weaving techniques. In previous years we always visited a weaving cooperative during our trip but students never got to dye the yarn or learn to weave themselves. It is thanks to John Feland and May Wilson that these workshops came to life. Finally, our kits arrived from Peru so we were busy getting these distributed to students. Our partner in Peru traveled throughout the country to gather many of the items! Each kit is unique to each group, reflecting the history and culture of that area!
MD: We were busy organizing kits and prepping classrooms, Zoom links, and schedules. There are a lot of moving parts that can really impact the success of the trip! It’s been a little challenging to know what is or is not clear to students and faculty in our communications because I don’t bump into people in the halls and have as many casual experiences.
JM: What are one or two planned experiences you are most looking forward to?
CT: I am excited for the two projects students will work on. The first is a digital environmental justice map of each location. Using Google MyMaps, students will make a map showing the environmental benefits and burdens present in each location.
The second project is a physical mural. We will be creating two large murals––one focused on each location––which will depict in three scenes the past, present, and imagined environmentally just future in the LA River and in Bayview-Hunters Point. We will add powerful quotations from the speakers we hear to these murals.
To facilitate this we are bringing in professional muralists from Precita Eyes Muralists, located in San Francisco, to work with our students as they create these art pieces.
JN: It is hard to choose just one or two, as there are seven different itineraries, all with unique opportunities!
What is most exciting to me is that this year is, rather than focusing only on Cusco, students will get to experience a much wider geographical area, view the beauty and diversity of the country, and learn about the fascinating and, at times, challenging history.
In my own group, I'm really excited to learn about the geoglyphs of the Nazca desert in southern Peru. They were made simply by making depressions in the desert floor and they have remained for about 2000 years!
MD: They’re all great! We are able to cover so much more of the cultural pieces of Costa Rica through the virtual trip. One session students will engage in is getting to know Alcides Elizondo (really cool guy advocating for reclaiming indigenous land in CR) and some other members of the Maleku indigenous community of Costa Rica. Alcides, who is one of the community leaders, will share about who they are: their culture, history, beliefs, native language, lifestyle, and education.
I hope students will be excited for these novel learning opportunities!