Middle School News

New PE Electives Invigorate Grades 7 & 8
Mitzi Mock


“On the count of three, we’re going to howl,” says PE teacher Zubin Mobedshahi to a group of 12 seventh- and eighth-grade students crouched on the Tanihana trail at the edge of the Hillsborough campus. “One, two, three…”

At the third count, students erupt into wolf-like cries, a playful welcome to nearby kindergarten students immersed in scientific exploration. For the Middle School students, these howls signal the start of today’s PE class — a hike in the woods.

This year, seventh and eighth graders have a new way to experience their physical education; they have their choice of several new PE electives to choose from. New offerings include activities like dancing, hiking, rock climbing, yoga, strength and conditioning, racquet sports, and even an off-site squash class. The change comes on the heels of larger shifts in the structure of the Middle School schedule. Under the new system, seventh and eighth graders now spend the final 75 minutes of every day in an elective of their choice — two days in a PE elective, two days in electives that cover arts, music, and more, and one flex day.

“By the time students are in seventh and eighth grade, they have an idea of what works for them,” said Alyssa Richards, Lower and Middle School Athletics and PE Coordinator. “We want to support them in doing something they enjoy.”

“When you play a team sport, you feel pressure to win. I can’t ‘lose’ hiking,” said seventh grader Daniel R. of his preferred PE elective. “You can take in nature instead of being stuck in a building. You socialize with your friends. And we’re sweating at the end.”

For student athletes who crave time to hone specific skills, the shift to a PE elective at the end of the day has offered them the opportunity to start practice during the last block of the school day.

“I’m on the swim team, and now that we finish practice an hour earlier than last year, I feel a lot less time pressure when I get home,” said eighth grader Kate J. “That’s an extra hour in the evening to take care of homework. Plus, we actually get more time at swim practice.”

To support student athletes (and families counting on a later end time), the athletics program is also piloting an “Athletics Study Hall,” where students can get homework help between the earlier end of practice and their pick up time.

New changes in the schedule and the breadth of electives has offered Middle School faculty outside of the PE program a chance to design elective courses.

Before Kelly Ward ever taught humanities and writing, she spent 13 years studying dance (everything from modern dance to the dance traditions of Burkina Faso) and taught tap and ballet to young children.

“Dance is the place where athletics meets creativity,” said Kelly, who has already asked each student to choreograph a four-count dance move to teach the class. “Students are breaking off into groups to create pieces using our new shared dance vocabulary, and interpreting it in any form that they choose.”

“I love music, and I love musical theater,” said Winnie C., grade 7. “I’m so excited that I get to incorporate that into PE!”

“Before students share their choreography, we work on avoiding any prefacing like, ‘This is probably going to suck…” said Kelly. “I want them to know that the way they move has a place, and it’s OK to be yourself.”

“I can only imagine that for Middle School students, especially seventh and eighth graders, it’s a really challenging time in terms of early adolescence,” said Zac Carr, Assistant Head of Middle School. “Finding the spaces and activities that they feel most comfortable engaging in — we don’t want to miss out on that.”

While growing the PE offerings, the athletics program wanted to be sure that the key fitness pillars of Nueva’s physical education program — strength, endurance, conditioning, speed, and agility — were still woven into every class. Like any elective, teachers will do evaluations to capture students’ progress.

A middle school student plays racquet sports.

“The most frequent question I got was, ‘How do I know if a student is improving?’” said Alyssa, who worked closely with teachers outside the PE program to understand the developmental milestones for students’ fitness in seventh and eighth grade. “We talked about self-assessment techniques they can use with students to track their effort like rating their perceived exertion and tracking their heart rate during class.”

To that end, teachers hope the new PE electives will ultimately support the most important fitness measure — a lifetime of active living.

“We know that the highest predictor of future engagement in athletics is enjoyment, self-efficacy, and self-esteem,” said Zubin, who offers multiple hiking trail options to meet the unique physical fitness progression of each student. “Students being active into their 70s — that’s the real goal.”

Daniel has already made the connection for himself.

“To start hiking, I don’t need a team or a ton of strength, just a trail. I can keep doing this into adulthood,” he said.



Read More

Remotely Together: Sharkbytes Build a Robot in a Remote Environment

While FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team captain Lucy D. was building the chassis, build team lead James T. was working on the flywheel launcher, Jason C. was busy creating the intake, and Howard L. and Anton P. were building the wobble arm. This was life for the Sharkbytes, who worked together remotely to design, build, and program a robot for the 2020–21 FTC competition.

Colors of Nature: An Eye-Opening Course—Or, How Environmentalism & Racism Are Intertwined

In the new fall 2020 elective “Colors of Nature,” seventh- and eighth-grade students explored the notion that people of color have different access to and privileges in the natural world. Through class discussions and creative journals, students reflected on how environmentalism and racism are intertwined. Eighth-grader Jax C. shares an introduction, and three students—Anika G., Kayla L., and Anjuli M.—reflect on their experience in this course. 

Catching Up with . . . Christine Braun

Viewing the world with an artist’s eye. Creating projects rooted in empathy. Empowering students with iteration and innovation. 

Throughout the past year, I-Lab engineer and Hillsborough shop manager Christine Braun has been a fixture on the Hillsborough campus, using the I-Lab as her home base while teaching, leading, and planning for design thinking-related initiatives. She is also a lit club facilitator for a seventh- and eighth-grade lit club.

Fifth Grade Earth Science “Rocks” in Remote Setting!

Toward the end of October, fifth-grade Earth Science classes completed the fall study of Earth’s composition and the rock cycle. To help students solidify their learning and set it in stone, students created models of the rock cycle using upcycled or ephemeral materials found in their homes. 

“Poem-Worthy Noodles” Connect Community to History and Each Other: Jennifer Lin-Liu, Author of On the Noodle Road ‘Visits’ Nueva

After school on Thursday, October 21, about 40 students and teachers gathered on Zoom to enrich and extend their current interdisciplinary study of the Silk Road. They were participating in a noodle-making workshop by author and restauranteur Jennifer Lin-Liu that covered centuries of history and was generations of cross-continental journeys in the making. Organized by Jennifer Paull in conjunction with the seventh- and eighth-grade humanities teachers, this event is one of many the new Humanities Center will showcase in the years to come.

Catching Up with . . . Sarah Powell

We sat down with Sarah Powell, middle school student support specialist, to hear about her passion for supporting gifted students, particularly during this challenging time. In this interview, Sarah shares how she helps to create pathways for students’ academic development, and she provides insight into the importance of relationships between parents, teachers, and students—and superpowers!—in our middle school support program at Nueva.  

Nueva Students Welcome Families to the Mid-Autumn Festival

This month, students in Weixia’s class celebrated 中秋节 or zhōng qiū jié (the Mid-Autumn Festival), a traditional event celebrated by many East and Southeast Asian people. With their parents, students watched the full moon, recited an ancient poem, and gave their parents a handmade card of appreciation. These activities were part of their process of immersing themselves in Chinese culture, an important part of learning the language, and they also offered an opportunity for students to share their learning with their families.