Upper School News

Countdown to Culminations: Upper School Electives
Director of Communications Antonia Ehlers, Editorial Manager Rachel Freeman, Digital Videographer/Storyteller Mitzi Mock, & Digital Communications Manager LiAnn Yim


This month, we’re spotlighting our winter electives culminations—evening events that showcase the projects and learning our students have been developing over the fall semester.

Last week, we spotlighted electives at the Middle School. This week, we bring you an inside look at a few of our Upper School electives; these projects and more will be on display at the Upper School culmination at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, December 18. 


Students Tackle Real-World Problems Using Social Action Research 

Have you ever wanted to change a race-based mindset? Make somebody care about anxiety? Have you ever wondered how to effectively communicate complicated topics? Have you ever wanted to improve yourself using scientific methodology, examine questions of impact on society, or become a powerful communicator? 

Students in Luke De’s science elective Social Action Research are tackling questions like the ones above to learn more about the Nueva community and how to make meaningful change. 

“Action research is a science-backed methodology that allows people to affect social change in a way other than through protesting,” Luke explained. “Students investigate how to change ideas through social research. They identify a problem and develop questions that lead to a solution for that problem.” 

For example, junior Ana I. posed the question “How do students feel about hearing and making insensitive comments?” Senior Piper H. asked, “What is the effect of Nueva support on the dyslexic community?”

“What I really like about this work is that you get to see a lot of patterns that you would never expect,” said senior Camille G. “It’s been interesting to see how the data is not going the way we thought it would, and that’s actually been super cool.”

This is the first semester the course has been offered. It was inspired by a conversation Luke had with senior Quincy A. last year. Quincy organized a movie viewing in the Upper School community of “13th,” which explores the history of racial inequality in the United States. “I wanted to know how effective the viewing was and what people’s attitudes were following the viewing,” Quincy said “Luke and I started talking, and that conversation led to this class. I like that we do research on real-world problems.”

“Students are sitting down with people who hold opposing viewpoints, and they’re using data to talk about the issues,” Luke added. “The goal of this class is to make an impact, and our students are well on their way to doing just that.” 


Introduction to Mechanical Engineering

For the first time this fall, the Upper School offered an introductory mechanical engineering class — the type of course typically found at the college level.

“Last year, I noticed that several students wanted to build Quest projects with advanced mechanical systems,” said instructor and I-Lab engineer John Feland. “I want them to walk away from this class with knowledge they can use in their own projects.”

Students began the semester by crafting strandbeests, small mechanical structures propelled by wind or spring power. Integrating their knowledge of math and physics, they explored free-body diagrams, advanced kinematics, and linkages. In the second half of the semester, they studied bridge design and modeled proposed structures to connect the Upper School’s second-floor, outdoor walkway to the new Rosenberg Hall. 

“There are many design courses offered at Nueva, but this was the only course that truly involved mathematics and physics in design,” said junior Brian U. “I have to initially push myself forward to learn the topics that haven’t been addressed in my physics class.”

“Everybody is loving all the projects that we do, which makes the learning environment fun to be in,” said junior Molly D., who transferred into the class a week late after hearing rave reviews from her classmates.

Junior Austin J. fell in love with the class before it even started. 

“When I saw this class on the course spreadsheet, I knew instantly that this is a class for me,” he said. “All of these elective options allow me to pursue my interests.”

Watch Austin’s strandbeest come to life!



Step into May Wilson’s Printmaking class and it’s a feast for the senses. Students are immersed in color, texture, and unusual materials as they create their unique masterpieces. Through three very different projects, they learn about the intricacies and various elements of printmaking.

First, Nueva artists enjoyed learning intaglio, a texture-based process using the etching press. 

“They brought in a variety of materials — such as netting from orange bags, aluminum foil, plants, and faux hair,” said May, who took a relief and intaglio class when she was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. “They inked up the pieces and created compositions on paper.”

After intaglio, art students moved into a text project. Some students hand-cut text images out of duralar (clear plastic), while others used a laser to cut their text pieces.

“They did a lot of brainstorming about content,” May noted. “Some of it was about climate change, and some were humorous — almost like concrete poetry.”

The final project was a small-scale, lino-cut activity, where students carved shapes out of soft linoleum. Reflecting on a gift theme, the artists shared their thoughts about gifts from various stories and cultures.

“They focused on making four pristine prints,” May explained. “They brainstormed and worked in their sketchbooks to solidify their ideas. I love teaching art to high school students because they’re still very excited to experiment. There’s not very much fear around the process. It has been such a fun, collaborative learning process, and our students are excited to experiment.”

The high school artists enjoy the versatility and graphic nature of printmaking. According to senior Max R., “It’s hard to paint the same thing twice, but printing the same thing multiple times is a nice bonus!”


Tales of Monsters and Monstrosity

How do we define and classify monsters? How do monsters reflect the fears, anxieties, and desires of their societies? How and why does a monster’s significance shift across time? How do monsters reflect various identities and cultures? How can literary theory help us interpret texts?

These are some of the questions that propel the conversations in Tales of Monsters and Monstrosity, one of the courses available to seniors as their English elective. Taught by Allie Alberts, the course investigates the division between monsters and humans — a division that is sometimes clear and sometimes nebulous. What makes someone (or something) monstrous? What separates monsters from humanity?

The class feels like a college-level seminar on critical theory. 

“Today is the day that I teach you what I learned in 10 years in one day to make your lives easier,” Allie announced at the start of one class. “This is the chunk of the text that drives all of my interrogation of any text. I’m giving you to you as a gift.”

Senior Jason H. first started reading monster stories in ninth-grade English with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dante’s Inferno. Close reading and conversations stemming from those texts dealt in large part about what those monsters can teach readers about humanity.

“It’s interesting to look at the spectrum of monsters in classes here — from monsters to humans who are monsters — and thinking about what they tell us about monstrosity as a construct,” Jason said. “I think those are really interesting questions. We’ve gotten into monsters being what people fear, but there’s a lot more nuance that we’ve been unpacking this semester.”

Drawing on texts that feature such monsters as werewolves, vampires, corrigible criminals, and untamed women, the readings move from ancient Greece to present day so students can examine how perceptions of monstrosity change or remain constant. The seniors consider how elements such as race, politics, and disabilities have been used to define monstrosity, and how monsters embody and reflect the fears of their particular societies. Their texts often are paired with a study of visual representations of monsters in manuscripts and films.

“One of my favorite parts of the class is how everyone interprets the monsters in their own way,” Jason said. “People have totally different experiences when they’re thinking about each monster in a different way. That's really cool and it makes it more personal.”

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