Nueva Way



The Nueva Way, refined over 50 years, is an educational journey designed and constantly refined specifically for gifted learners, one which day by day ignites and inspires passion for lifelong learning.


Learning at Nueva looks, feels, and is different. It is:

  • interdisciplinary
  • progressive, constructivist, project- and inquiry-based
  • student-centered
  • led by expert faculty
  • grounded by our Nueva principles

The Nueva Way is how we deliver on our mission, vision, and values, every day, for every student, PreK–12. Each word and phrase above has a particular and specific meaning in the life of a Nueva student.

Sam Arndtsen

Nueva Middle School Faculty

“The ideal learning environment is one that is so immersive that the boundary between the classroom and the world outside is blurred to the point where students step through it without knowing. It is an environment in which students can’t help but formulate their own connections between what they are studying and what they observe in the world.”


Learning Is Interdisciplinary: This Is Real Life. 

At Nueva, learning reflects life. We educate the whole student, preparing them to live in today’s deeply integrated and complex world.

No matter what their age, gifted learners need to grapple with relevant and meaningful problems, discover ways to address them, and reflect on their own growing capabilities to do so. Interdisciplinary learning makes this possible. When students launch inquiries that span various traditional school subjects, they view and experience the world as naturally interconnected.

In the Lower and Middle Schools, students are engaged in thematic investigations that offer engaging, dynamic learning paths with broad and deep study possibilities. For example, the second-grade theme is Immigration, yet faculty weave a curriculum that also involves human rights and social justice, ethnobotany, ancient number systems, music archaeology, physics of sound, the Ohlone, history and historiography, word study, and much more.

In the Upper School, teachers develop courses, curricula, and assignments that integrate across subjects, and students have the freedom to develop project ideas and study themes that are deeply meaningful to them.

The Nueva curriculum is one of skills, and the content used to teach those skills varies widely and is a means to an end, an end that includes both exceptional skill acquisition and passion for learning. Our students become great readers, writers, problem solvers, researchers, investigators, designers, explorers, and critical thinkers, all while using their growing knowledge and skills to make sense of the world around them.

Sound theoretical? It’s not. We put our philosophy into practice every day. The Nueva Way, refined over 50 years, is an educational journey designed and constantly refined specifically for gifted learners, one which day by day ignites and inspires passion for lifelong learning.


Interdisciplinary Learning

Eleventh-grade students discuss representations of women in poetry, film, and television for their panel on Feminism and Media at the spring American Studies Conference. Students prepare for this deeply interdisciplinary presentation by researching literary texts in English, and exploring links to political and social movements in their history classes.

Collaborative Environment

Third graders sold homemade goods at the annual Farmers' Market, raising $1,200 to donate to St. Jude's Research Hospital. This event was the culmination of more than a month of study, integrating work in mathematics, language arts, social studies, science, and social-emotional learning.

Real-World Experiences

Each year, Kindergarten classes take a deep dive into letter-writing, in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. The students design and run their own post office to deliver their Valentine’s messages to one another, assuming roles of postmaster, delivery person, mail cancellation clerk, etc. In addition to practicing skills such as collaboration, writing, and mathematics, this is a study of systems: Students learn that everyone’s job is important, and that the effectiveness of their system relies on the efforts of all of them.

Nueva PreK students gather around a parent as they demonstrate how to change a car tire.

Teachers took students’ fascination with cars, and planned extensive explorations including demonstrations like how to change a tire. Student questions and interest drove learning throughout the study, which included reading books, studying photographs of cars, field trips to the parking lot to make hypotheses, and ultimately designing and constructing models of their own dream car.

Progressive, Constructivist, and Project- and Inquiry-Based: What does all this mean?

What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing.

— Aristotle

We follow the progressive model, championed by educational pioneer John Dewey: every Nueva student is engaged in developmentally appropriate, project-based learning by doing. Projects are framed by real-world questions or challenges, and students have time to plan, select, and shape their investigations — to hypothesize, to research, and to create.

They use their senses, gather data, reason, and draw conclusions in order to discover principles, ideas, and concepts, and to reach ever deeper levels of understanding. They take chances, make mistakes, get messy. Along the way, they construct meaning. They are delighted, challenged, strengthened; their learning is alive.

Nueva students develop solutions, products, presentations, or performances that illustrate their learning journey and they regularly share these with faculty, classmates, family, and community at periodic culminating events throughout each school year.

Their work is authentic and purposeful. They learn that mastery of skills, knowledge, and concepts are all integrated and worthy goals in themselves, but ultimately just wayposts on the journey to understanding and wisdom. At Nueva, they come to love learning.

Karen Tiegel

Middle School Division Head

“With the Nueva Way, teachers recognize each student for who they are and help each meet their potential. Teachers can inspire students to be their best selves, to take risks, and to feel safe making mistakes and trying again.

With our project-based, interdisciplinary approach, we create an environment that allows us to push students just outside their comfort zones. They become so immersed and excited about their studies that they hardly notice how much they’ve grown and the many skills they’ve acquired. Upon reflection, they realize the rewards of their investment, and become owners of their learning.”

Making Choices Is as Fundamental as Breathing

Choices are the hinges of destiny.


Life is the sum of all your choices.

Albert Camus

One of the most profound lessons all Nueva students learn is that life, passion, character, values — nearly everything in the human world — consist of choices, and that those choices have both immediate and long-term consequences, for ourselves and for others. This evolving understanding begins in the earliest grades with emergent curricula — that is, curricula built from the interests, passions, and choices of the students — and persists throughout each day and year until commencement.

We believe that interest is a powerful motivation for learning, and engagement and intrinsic motivation are derived from our students’ sense of self-efficacy and personally meaningful experiences. Therefore, at every grade, choice is deeply embedded in our teaching practices to  enable students to direct their own work. They have voice in class themes, influence their own study topics, and choose their language of expression in both product and materials: they can script a play, make a movie, write a paper, sculpt a piece of art to demonstrate their learning. They are given time to explore new interests or dive deeply into their passions.

We are guided by the principles of our SEL program. In all grades, students work in groups, which requires a constant series of decisions, discussions, votes, compromises, debate, and consensus building. And in their collaborative relationships with their teachers, students know they are thinkers: their beliefs, attitudes, passions, and talents are valued as part of the curriculum, and their emerging theories and important questions about the world are worthy of pursuit.

Making choices and understanding consequences are part of Nueva’s founding principles. This framework of developmentally appropriate opportunities enables students to learn how to make choices that benefit themselves, their communities, and the world.

Students have time to pursue passions.

Nueva students have an abundance of choices.  Below are examples of dedicated time they have for deep study in areas of passion or emerging interest:

Choice Time — Students in grades 1–3 have a period each week called Choice when they decide what interest, passion, or new idea they would like to pursue from a selection of classes offered by teachers and parents. In fourth grade, students have time for Choice activities whenever they have finished their assignments.

Choice Homework — Nueva teachers periodically offer students the opportunity to design their own homework by picking something they would like to learn, planning how they will pursue it, and determining how they will present their learning to the class. “Invent Your Own” assignments are exciting opportunities for students to both direct their learning and to demonstrate learning in creative ways.

Intensives — Several grades offer a week or two of special courses, taught by teachers and parents, and chosen by students.

Academies — A selection of cross-grade, six- to eight-week courses are offered every Friday afternoon to students in fourth through eighth grade.

Electives — Beginning in seventh grade, part of each student's schedule consists of courses they select, and by ninth grade the choices offered are extensive. Electives are as rigorous as any class at Nueva while giving students opportunities to develop passions or explore new areas of interest with experts in the field, often with deep exposure to complex topics of study. 

Passion Projects, Recital Projects, and Quest — Passion projects exist in many grades; Recital Projects in eighth grade, and Quest in each year of Upper School, are yearlong courses of study initiated by each student.

Faculty bring the Nueva Way to life.

Nueva faculty are exceptional. The Nueva Way is both an exciting and demanding educational model for faculty. Our teachers understand the level of intellectual challenge they must provide for our students. Gifted learners need exceptional teachers who understand and can provide the level of intellectual challenge these children need and crave, who love guiding student curiosity and passion in ways that enable them to go as far and as deeply into each study as their talents and energy can take them.

Nueva teachers are guides, coaches, facilitators, collaborators, and learners.

  • They are in a continuous process of refining the craft of teaching to keep it responsive, adaptive, and dynamic.
  • They develop thematic and integrated curricula for their classes and, working across disciplines, craft exciting investigations that enable discovery and demonstration of knowledge in layered, interdependent ways.
  • They are close observers of Nueva students and how they learn, providing feedback and coaching toward clear goals.
  • They create a climate of inquiry in which they assess deep understanding through performance, demonstration, and the imaginative use of knowledge in diverse contexts.
  • They are learners, in partnership with fellow teachers, students, and parents, engaged in the active construction of new understandings.

Our teachers are the very best from across the country and around the world. We give them freedom to create, and support them in the classroom and with professional development opportunities. Our extensive Innovative Teacher Program develops Associate Teachers through a rich course of hands-on experience, mentoring, and seminars.

Our Pillars Serve as Our Essential Tools

Social-Emotional LearningDesign ThinkingSocial Justice, Equity & Inclusion; and Global Citizenship are explicit program tools that are deeply rooted in the culture and context in which we think and act daily. They shape our beliefs, interactions, and practices. Students become critical thinkers and problem solvers while learning to understand themselves, their relationships with others, and their ever-expanding connections to the world.

Community-building, shared decision-making, service learning, and respect for and embracing of diverse cultures link our students to the broader global society. Working collaboratively in open discussion of many points of view is essential for them to become citizens in a democracy.

The Nueva Way

How to Care for an Adolescent in the Year 2021

In Amber Carpenter’s upper school creative writing class, students have been exploring flash storytelling. They wrote three vignettes or fragments that provided instructions on how to care for an adolescent in the year 2021.

Math Circle Explores Machine Learning at Bay Meadows

Room 245 in the Writing Resource Center was packed to capacity on Saturday afternoon, February 10, for the inaugural Bay Meadows Math Circle. Students from Nueva and other Bay Area high schools, along with many parents, flocked into the classroom and clustered around the tables, settling in for one of the two 70-minute Introduction to Machine Learning sessions taught by Nueva computer science teachers Jen Selby and Carl Shan. It was the first time that computer science was featured as a topic at a Math Circle.

Students Lead March on Campus for Kindness, Peace, and Love

In these uncertain times, Nueva students are the tides of change, leading the next generation to be kinder than the one before. On Monday, February 5, dozens of lower school students raised their colorful, handmade signs in a Kindness March to spread love and compassion around Nueva.

Nueva’s Beloved Forts Revitalized

Nueva’s forts are a treasured play area near the Mansion, once an old olive grove. Beautiful in their simplicity, they draw lower school students into imaginative and social play outdoors.

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.