Upper School News

The Power of Student Agency
Rachel Freeman, communications/website manager

The invitation for Wednesday’s roundtable event “Divestment: The Million Dollar Question” noted, “In response to student activism, the Nueva Endowment Committee is considering the divestment of its holdings in fossil fuel companies for the first time.”

This was very exciting news for students because for at least the past four-to-five years, the student-run Nueva Divestment Team has been working to convince the Nueva Endowment Committee of the need to divest. 

“Zack Herlick, the chair of the endowment committee, asked us to gather survey data about how the community is thinking about divestment, so that the committee can make a decision that aligns with what the community believes,” shared Andrew C. ‘22, a member of the Divestment Team and upper school student council co-lead. 

Wednesday’s event, and special upper school programming on Tuesday, were designed for students, faculty, and parents to hear about the research this team has conducted, learn about the divestment movement, and formulate their own opinions on the subject. 

Tuesday’s special programming offered all upper school students and faculty an opportunity to learn about divestment and to hear from alumni and current students who are deeply involved in climate change-related work. Alumni Max Gotts ‘20, Celia Malone ‘19, Dylan Taylor ‘20, and Kayla Wagonfeld ‘19 joined current students Daniel A. ‘21 and Sian B. ‘21 to share advice about how to get involved in environmental advocacy work.

“My advice to you is to find a fight that pulls you and see how you can make a difference,” Max shared.

For Julia K. ‘22, this is her fight. She is a member of the Divestment Team and co-lead of the Nueva Environmental Society. She said, “I view this issue [of divestment] with a lot of clarity and simplicity. I want other people to also see it that way, because I think it can get really complicated. I want everyone to think, ‘If I started my own institution, would this be how I want to spend my money?’” 

By all accounts, they succeeded. In a poll of audience members following Wednesday’s roundtable, 73 percent of respondents said they are now more likely to consider divestment in their own personal financial portfolios. The survey results were also “really great,” Julia shared.

My advice to you is to find a fight that pulls you and see how you can make a difference.

— Max Gotts '20

This was the first roundtable event in which the Roundtable leaders partnered with a student-led club. The Roundtable Club was founded at the beginning of last year to offer students and faculty an opportunity to engage in complex social science discussions, ones that often begin in the classroom. 

“We saw a need for students wanting to talk more about social science issues that would come up in class and to engage in more in-depth conversations,” said Alyssa H. ‘22, co-founder of Roundtable Club.

“The Roundtable Club is about providing diverse perspectives and getting the audience to think about these issues,” said Anna I.-M. ‘22, co-founder of Roundtable Club. “We don’t want to be a lecture, but rather a conversation.”

These two events exemplified Nueva students’ deep desire and value in looking at complex issues through community discussions.

Nueva parent George Phipps remarked, “I have been in similar conversations with institutional investment firms and investment committees where the discussion hasn’t been nearly this mature or insightful.” 

One of the panelists, senior staff editor for ETF.com and ETF Report Lara Crigger, posted on her Twitter account, “I've been covering ESG for 10+ years, and these kids asked better questions and had more insightful takes on sustainable investing than the vast majority of investment professionals I've spoken to. I'm blown away. Congrats, @nuevaschool. Your students are truly special.” 

“The event was amazing,” said Patrick Berger, Nueva Environmental Economics teacher and roundtable panelist. “I was blown away. I have been working with this Divestment Club for awhile now, and even though I know these students well, it completely blew my expectations away. Many years ago, Nueva first graders convinced Nueva to alter their building plans to respectfully accommodate for the importance of a few trees. We have institutional history in caring about the perspective of students, particularly on environmental issues.”

The Divestment Team is now working to create a coalition of high school students at Bay Area independent schools that will work with their respective boards to encourage divestment, noted Adrienne P. ‘22, member of the Divestment Team and co-founder of the Roundtable Club.

“Another way for our impact to spread is through this coalition,” she said.

“This experience has taught me that it’s really great for students to jump in and take action,” Andrew reflected. 

Julia said, “This has required a lot of patience, but it took 10 years for the UC system to divest, and we feel pretty close right now. It’s really cool to feel like you’re making change.” 

Click here to watch the recording of Wednesday's roundtable.

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