Middle School News

Pressing Pause: Media Night Supports Comprehensive SEL Program

On November 7, in the Hillsborough Library, nearly 50 parents joined Nueva’s technology director, Ed Chen, middle school social-emotional learning (SEL) teachers Abby Reider, Janelle Spanier, Alison Williams, and counselor Christine Tam, for an informative parent education night focused on the healthy use of media.

The program, entitled "Kids and Tech...Now What? Navigating Teens and Their Tech World," included presentations by the Nueva team followed by expert discussion from My Digital TAT2 founder Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet, LCSW, PPSC.

Nueva’s SEL team framed the discussion for the evening, covering objectives, classroom curricula, and their observations around this important topic. Abby, excited about the opportunity to connect with parents, shared, “Every year, our SEL program engages students in lively lessons and conversations about digital citizenship and the role of technology in our lives. An evening like this further opens our dialogue with parents, enriching our three-way partnership and helping all to navigate these challenges and opportunities.”

Shaped by results of a pre-meeting survey of Nueva parents, Gloria’s presentation focused on deciphering healthy vs. unhealthy technology use, strategies for creating limits around technology use, and developing ways to help students focus while online. She emphasized the importance of having cooperative and collaborative conversations with students. Parents participated in the evening by sharing about their own technology use, their concerns, and the ways they strive for balance.

Gloria provided observations accumulated from years of working with thousands of students around their technology use. A few of the highlights included:

  • Middle school students still accomplish all the tasks of growing up today that they faced in the pre-technology days: developing sense of self, establishing relationships and striving to be accepted, and establishing a sense of independence from parents.
  • Students bring their vision and creativity using technology in ways not previously imagined, creating both “the power and the challenge.” “There is no online or offline for them—they are always on,” said Gloria.
  • Developing students’ critical thinking about their uses of technology creates enormous long-term benefits. It gives students the ability to step back and observe their own behavior, to “press pause,” and to actively design their usage.

Part of a Comprehensive SEL Curriculum 
Technology and media literacy are two elements of the full breadth and depth of Nueva’s SEL curriculum for students in grades 5–8.

Designed to meet students where they are, the program helps students develop five main competencies, as identified by CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Students meet weekly and practice skills through group work, discussion, reflective writing, improvisation, role-playing, visual arts, and cooperative games. In Open Session, a hallmark of the program, students ask questions of their peers, getting support about personal decisions, friendship struggles, and the normal stresses of growing up. In turn, students practice active listening, ask clarifying questions, and offering support, encouragement, and practical advice. Facilitated by faculty, this activity deepens trust among the students and expands use of their “SEL toolkit” and problem-solving skills.

Topics covered in SEL are sequenced and developed in response to the specific and unique needs of each class or grade. As developmentally appropriate, topics range from communication skills and interpersonal relationships, to health and nutrition, puberty education, mindfulness, and identity exploration. Substance abuse education is added for seventh and eighth graders, and is integrated with students’ studies in science.

As a founding principle 50 years ago, SEL is deeply ingrained in Nueva’s culture, and shows up everywhere in the lives of the students. Whether students are practicing empathy as part of a global food systems investigation, or discussing what to expect from their first middle school dance, SEL is ever-present in conversation and in practice.

“It’s so valuable that there is dedicated time and structure at Nueva for students to focus on their emotions and their challenges, especially in middle school,” observed Jennifer Carolan, mother of a Nueva seventh grader. “Nueva has this deeply integrated, not only in SEL, but in its philosophy. It shows up in the way teachers relate to students, give feedback, and empower students to pursue knowledge. It keeps the light of learning shining.”

The SEL curriculum is also deeply integrated with the Trips Program, ensuring students are equipped with the necessary skills, support, and resources to participate with confidence. By middle school, students gain increasing independence as trips go farther afield. Whether backpacking in Yosemite or traveling abroad on their immersive eighth grade trip, they carry their SEL skills and techniques with them. Jennifer said, “It’s in the school’s DNA that the staff is so attuned to SEL issues wherever they appear. When it comes to trips, the faculty are very thoughtful and caring, planning ahead, and helping students develop strategies for success while traveling.”

Connected to Students
The SEL team loves working with middle school students. Abby teaches grades 7–8, while Janelle teaches grades 5–6. They are joined by Alison Williams, who splits her time between SEL and the Social Justice and Equity Program. The SEL team is also supported by two wonderful and experienced counselors, Carmen Chow, Director of Counseling Services, and Christine Tam, Middle School and Upper School Counselor.

“We believe that the multilayered support network at Nueva, including SEL, advisory, counselors, coaches, and caring and SEL-trained faculty, creates a fabric that allows students to feel connected to adults,” described Abby. “We want them always to feel like they have trusted adults who support them.”

Mindful Mondays and Wellness Wednesdays
“Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a place to do yoga, take a nap, or just color?” Janelle overheard her fifth and sixth grade students talking about their need to have some downtime and quiet during their lunch.

In response, the SEL team started opening the middle school SEL room on the second floor of the mansion for “Mindful Mondays” and “Wellness Wednesdays.” This has given students a place to unwind, relax, and take a break from school work in the company of their peers. “It’s a mini “wellness center,”" said Janelle. “We’re committed to providing a space for kids to practice self-care, relax during a busy day, and feel safe and comfortable.”

Inviting students to the SEL room also gives them an opportunity to check in with one of the SEL teachers in a more relaxed way outside class. As students have other places available to go to do work, this is a "no work zone.”

The teachers have been delighted that students have chosen to spend their lunches doing yoga, Zentangles, drawing, listening to music, chatting, or just hanging out. They have contributed wonderful ideas for future lunches, including journaling, games that promote SEL skills and connection, mindfulness activities, exploring wellness practices of other cultures, and designing areas of the room, like a “Zen corner.”

“I love Nueva’s SEL program because it prepares students for the most difficult and enriching part of our lives — human relationships and understanding ourselves,” shared Arvind Sharma, father two Nueva students. “It helps students get concerns out of their heads and gives them perspective and confidence.”


 November 22, 2017

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