Lower School News

A Fairytale for Us: First Graders Reimagine Cinderella
Mitzi Mock, digital storyteller/videographer


How do our cultures shape the stories we tell? This was the starting question first graders in Emily Mitchell’s class explored when they read and dissected eighteen interpretations of the fairytale Cinderella from across the globe. In doing so, students had the opportunity to challenge traditional fairytale themes and ask themselves, “How would I tell the story differently?”

“For me it's about giving them something they know, which is the skeleton and bones of the Cinderella story, but giving them the freedom to take it where they want to go,” said Emily.

After reading Cinderella tales that emerged from countries as diverse as Turkey, China, Ireland, and the Philippines, students examined what was universal about these plots. They found that each story had a central character, a family, a major event, a magical element, a test for the protagonist to face (often in a time window), and a resolution. Beyond those elements, students found that the Cinderella story could be told many different ways.

 David L. shares his story idea with the class.

For example, in The Irish Cinderlad, the protagonist is a young boy and it’s the princess who spends the story searching for the owner of a missing boot. In Sootface, a Native American interpretation of the story, nature is not just the backdrop but a theme woven throughout the story. In American author Rebecca Solnit’s feminist reinterpretation, Cinderella Liberator, Cinderella empowers people to be their authentic selves.

“Students have realized the original story is limited and narrow,” said Emily. “I love that students are feeling emboldened and empowered to bust it open.”

Avery F.-D. imagined a story that takes place in Africa, focused on a cheetah named Cheatahrella, who takes first place in a race, but misplaces her medal. The lion prince spends the story looking to return the medal because he is so impressed with Cheatahrella’s speed.

Ellie C. was inspired by seeing her own Chinese culture represented in the Cinderella-style tale, Yeh-Shen. When she wrote her own interpretation of the story, Ellie took inspiration from the Chinese fable and traded the anonymous fairy godmother we know from Disney’s “Cinderella” for the spirit of the protagonist’s mother. 

Corben S. talks through his story idea with associate teacher Alexandra Holterman. 

Emily found that as students began to reimagine who could be at the center of the story, what can motivate the characters, and how the resolution can unfold, they naturally began to “debunk the stereotypical fairytale storylines.”

“Sometimes you can look beautiful, but not be beautiful on the inside,” said Annelise B., after Emily asked the class to reflect on what they learned about beauty from the different stories. “I liked the Egyptian Cinderella story because the prince wasn’t taken by her beauty first.”

In addition to reimagining characters and plotlines, Emily invited students to think about the ways they could infuse their own values into the morals of their stories.

For example, Laila v.-G., inspired by the nature themes in Sootface, centered her story on two black bear siblings who are orphaned after their mother bear is killed by a steel trap. She wanted readers to understand that human actions have an impact on animals.

 Annelise B. shares her Tigerella story with Emily Mitchell. 

“This type of project allows for a lot of low floors and high ceilings,” said Emily, meaning that every student has enough understanding to engage with the rewriting process, but each student can take the work as deep and as personalized as they want to. 

Few examples demonstrate this as exuberantly as Faeren R.’s interpretation. He decided to infuse his love and extensive knowledge of the tennis world in his story, which centers on tennis star Rafael Nadal in the Cinderella role and other famous tennis stars as supporting characters. In the climax of the story, Rafael loses his magic tennis racket in the final set of the match and proves to himself that he can win on his own merit.

Students will share these Cinderella-inspired stories and more with their families during the first graders’ June culmination.

Read More

Building a Present Tense of the Ohlone People

Second graders spent weeks researching the Ramaytush Ohlone to understand their culture, history, and impact on the land before culminating their learning by writing their own land acknowledgements and turning them into posters to be displayed around the Hillsborough campus. 

Fourth Graders Perform La Bohème with San Francisco Opera Singers

On Thursday, Nov. 3, melodies from the opera La Bohème reverberated through the Hillsborough mansion ballroom, as fourth graders took the stage alongside SF Opera singers for an abridged performance of Puccini’s most famous work. This performance was a showcase of one of the central themes of the lower school music program: the voice and body as musical instruments.

A Day in the Life of PreK

PreK teachers David Robinson and Claire Wasserman-Rogers share what a day in the life of pre-kindergarten students might look like. “While there is structure to our daily schedule,” they said, “no two days in preK are quite the same.”

Sharing Identities Helps Second Graders Build Class Community

As part of creating a beloved community, students in lower school classes begin the year by creating sets of class agreements and sharing things about themselves with their peers. In the second grade, students participate in an identity project, reflecting on who they are and what is important to them before creating their own self-portraits. 

A Fairytale for Us: First Graders Reimagine Cinderella

How do our cultures shape the stories we tell? This was the starting question first graders in Emily Mitchell’s class explored when they read and dissected eighteen interpretations of the fairytale Cinderella from across the globe. 

Third Grade Religious Studies Unit Provides New Perspective into Culture

The study of culture is deeply embedded in the third grade curriculum. As part of this exploration, third graders learn about two distinct civilizations: the Mali Empire and ancient Egypt. It was through these two studies that Erin and Priscilla initially recognized the need to include a study of religion to help students better understand their cultures. The religious studies unit has blossomed into an exploration of the foundations of the five major world religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

Catching Up with . . . David Robinson

PreK teacher David Robinson joined the Nueva community in 2019. In this Q&A, David shares the benefits of emergent curriculum, how he consulted on an Emmy-award winning show, and his approach to anti-bias education in the pre-kindergarten setting.

Third Graders Present Service Learning Fair

Last Friday, third graders hosted a service learning fair, where they presented their research and solution statements on topics of interest, including public health, environmental issues, and the criminal justice system.