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.
We understand that social justice is at once a process and a goal requiring both the capacity to envision the world we wish to see and the conviction and commitment to build it.
At Nueva, our vision for that future world is rooted in the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who boldly declared, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
This concept of the Beloved Community frames all of our equity and inclusion work at Nueva as we seek to make the changes—individual, institutional, and ideological—we need to fully embody Dr. King’s vision of a world “tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
Our institutional commitment to anti-racism is an extension of the work of building the Beloved Community. Considering the profound ways in which we are interconnected also requires us to examine in what ways we inhibit, deny, or break those connections due to our perpetuation of multiple systems of oppression. This examination of ourselves is both painful and powerful as we peel back the layers of pedagogy, practice, systems, and structures that have enabled some students to thrive and other students to struggle. That struggle manifests in multiple ways—from a sense of isolation to not seeing oneself reflected in the curriculum to microaggressions and outright discrimination—and is deeply impactful on the social, emotional, and psychological health of our students and faculty of color.
As we continue on this path and process of quantitative and qualitative change, we find ourselves grappling with profound questions of purpose and praxis:
- How do we create an abiding sense of belonging for every member of our community?
- How do we decenter whiteness in favor of the rich and varied complexity of our multiracial and multicultural community?
- How do we respond to harm while embracing the capacity of each of us to transform?
Our work for years to come is to find our way to the answers of these questions.
As Maya Angelou said, 'Do the best you can until you know better. And once you know better, do better.'
The spirit of her words describes Nueva’s iterative approach perfectly—we investigate and change accordingly. Clearly, now that we see the pernicious effects of racism within our community, it is the Nueva way to do better.
– Lee Fertig, Head of School
Following his recent reelection to the California state legislature, Assemblymember Rob Bonta commemorated Filipino American History Month at an event organized by Nueva’s Filipino Club. Bonta shared how his identity as a Filipino American influenced his political career, which has been devoted to promoting social justice, inclusion, equity, and opportunity. As I listened to Assemblymember Bonta share his perspective on what it means to be Filipino, I reflected on my own Filipino identity.
Part 5 – Activism and Moving Forward
Ingrained in all of the teaching and learning around anti-racism at Nueva—in programs and projects built over the years, as well as new ones introduced this year—is a message of hope: hope for this next generation of young people, hope for the future of Nueva, and hope in creating a more anti-racist community at Nueva and within our broader communities.
November is Native American Heritage Month, a fact that often gets overlooked in the midst of parent-teacher conferences and Thanksgiving holiday planning. This year at Nueva, we wanted to focus more intently on Native American history and, specifically, our relationship to the land that Nueva rests upon and our responsibility as an institution to bear witness to the history of this soil.
Part 4 – History
Understanding the past in order to better understand the present is an important way for students to learn about racial and social justices issues in the United States.
“We start in the present, then go to the past to help inform what we know about the present,” said Sam Modest, sixth-grade humanities teacher.
Part 3 – Science and Math
Examining data is another tangible way for students to understand and talk about racial and social justice issues.
Part 2 – Literature
Books are oftentimes one of the best ways to introduce students to the themes of identity, social justice, and anti-racism. They also help facilitate conversations, build empathy, and provide a launching point for important and difficult conversations.
Part 1 – Identity
As activist Leslie Mac said, “Being anti-racist is a verb—and it requires consistent action.” This story is part one of a five-part series exploring the ways in which Nueva is striving to be antiracist in the classroom.
My connection with my Latino heritage is very meaningful to me; however, this connection was one that I had to work to find. My grandparents did not always involve my parents in aspects of our Latino culture because it was often looked down upon in schools and in the world. With my parents being left out of many traditions, it made it harder for them to share this aspect of our identity with my sister and me. Part of this disconnect feels inevitable, as being third or fourth generation Americans means we associate more with our American history.
Founded in 1982, the Nueva Lit Club curriculum has provided middle school students with many opportunities over the years to practice reading strategies and literary analysis. This year, students have been faced with a challenging and changing world—in all of their classes, Nueva students have engaged in complex conversations and have raised important questions about race and social justice issues that were reignited this past summer.
What does a community look like? What does it take to build a community and what are the difficulties that might arise? These questions serve as the foundation of the new curriculum in ninth-grade Science of Mind (SOM). Developed by Director of Social Justice and Equity Alegria Barclay, the revamped curriculum focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Beloved Community. The course is very much about antiracism, Alegria said, and antiracism is woven into all aspects of the course.
Following the murder of George Floyd in May, we began to talk about how to ensure we were communicating on Nueva platforms in anti-racist ways. We put out a statement, like many other institutions, affirming our school’s belief in the importance of antiracist work and working toward racial justice. But we knew that one statement one time was not enough; this was going to be ongoing work in which we needed to engage, a lens through which all of our work was put.
Questions abound in our lower school classrooms, and student inquiry is the driving force behind the yearlong theme in kindergarten. This theme of investigation provides a through line for a number of explorations that kindergarteners will engage in over the course of the year, the first of which is a focus on identity.
A new addition to the upper school schedule this year is a block for special programming on Fridays. For the first in a series of special guest speakers, Dean of Student Life Hillary Freeman invited Black Lives Matter activist and local Bay Area native Kenan Moos to speak. In a conversation moderated by student council equity and inclusion rep Fiona T. ’22, Kenan shared not only his background and life experiences, but also how he became an activist and how Nueva students can step up to take action.
How do those in power positions who have not wrestled with and understand the African American plight feel the need, have the desire, or become motivated to make changes for justice’s sake.
“One of the learning goals for our study of the Civil Rights Era has been for my students to see examples of young people making change and for them to realize they are never too young to effect change,” said sixth-grade humanities teacher Evan Bartz.
After learning about the rise in anti-Asian discrimination, Joshua K. wrote a song to remind us that we're "All the Same."
Upper School Spanish teacher Francisco Becerra recently invited two guest speakers into his Spanish 401 class, both of whom shared stories from their lives related to units of study the students have completed this year.
Coming together as a community is critical in combating any kind of discrimination, particularly when it arises from fear and ignorance. As Asian American activist groups began to respond to this current manifestation of racism, I focused on new ways I could stand up for my community, against ignorant or hateful acts targeting Asian Americans.
The eighth-grade writing class is another example of how Nueva teachers are thinking outside the box in order to add a splash of excitement and fun to remote learning. The graphic novel unit uses the Canvas platform, and our eighth graders are enjoying a different form of storytelling.
Nueva first graders are learning to be kind, compassionate, empathetic citizens, as they are currently studying ableism.
A small team of Nuevans recently attended Pollyanna, an anti-bias conference for schools aimed at promoting community-wide growth.
On February 13, Middle School students packed 132 boxes containing 28,000 meals of soy, rice, vegetables, and vitamins for children in other countries in a student-organized community service learning day.
The second grade embarked on a research field trip to Angel Island and the former immigration center, which perfectly tied into the humanities theme of the grade: Bay Area history through the lens of immigration.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 20, students engaged in a variety of programming focused on the life of Dr. King and his legacy as an activist.
In fourth grade, students explored the intersection between social justice and architecture.
The Visible Learning Project aims to document learning for the Nueva community. It provides students, teachers, parents, and campus visitors with a dynamic, informative space to celebrate and reflect upon learning at Nueva.
Over 300 students, families, and faculty enjoyed an afternoon of math on Saturday, February 9 on Nueva’s San Mateo campus. In every corner, attendees celebrated mathematics, challenging themselves, working together, and making new friends.
Clarence B. Jones, the former personal counsel, advisor, draft speech writer, and close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., visited the Nueva Upper School campus on Tuesday, January 15 – what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday – to share his life experience and inspire students and faculty. Dr. Jones assisted Dr. King in drafting the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” and his iconic “I Have a Dream,” speech of 1963.
Throughout February, Nueva celebrated Black History Month with a series of special assemblies, performances, and discussions focused on the rich contributions of African-Americans in our community and beyond.
Last Tuesday, guest speaker W. David Ball, an associate professor at Santa Clara University Law School who teaches in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, sentencing, and corrections, spoke to Nueva eighth graders in conjunction with their study of A Lesson Before Dying, a novel by Ernest Gaines. David possesses an extensive background in prisons, reentry, and criminal justice operations, and in November of 2016 he participated in the White House Convening on Criminal Justice Reform. He spoke to Nueva students for an hour about the challenges and possibilities of reform in the criminal justice system.
Events honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were held at Nueva’s Middle School and Upper School last week. Through purposeful programs including assemblies, panel discussions, advisory meetings, and workshops, student’s developed their understanding of the meaning of the word “solidarity” and explored ways to translate solidarity from an abstract concept into action.
Seventh-graders are busy learning about the significance of names and writing vignettes about their own lives as they read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros in their writing classes.
“We encourage students to push themselves and think deeply,” seventh-grade writing teacher Lauren Yavor said. “Students are writing pieces about their own lives that are beautiful, authentic, and mature. Their vignettes about their own memories demonstrate they’re able to reflect on what’s important to them and use the poetic devices we’ve been learning about.”
Nueva is taking steps to ensure students are socially conscious about important issues facing the United States today, including racism.
Upper School students recently viewed the film I’m Not a Racist…Am I?, a documentary about how the next generation is going to confront racism.
Thanks and Giving (November 20)
Reaffirmation of Our Anti-racist Commitment (August 26)
The philosophy in early childhood education is to combine subject areas. We don’t say, ‘This is math time,’ or ’This is writing time.’ We combine many subject areas. I think it’s the same with anti-bias and antiracist education. We don’t have ‘anti-racist time.’
— David Robinson, preK teacher
At our core, Nueva is dedicated to possibility, creative potential, and the power of human empathy. What better time than now to imagine who we want to be and who we want to become as we confront the challenges that lie before us?
– Alegria Barclay, preK–12 director of social justice and equity
I think it's really incredible that Science of Mind is a class in Nueva. A class devoted to talking about injustices is really powerful. I'm grateful that it exists so that we have experience talking about these issues.
– Kaden K. '24
The fact that we have committed to having all of the Lit Club books be related to anti-racism, social justice, and building tolerance is huge. This is a very tangible way I see the school committed to anti-racism in our practices and in our teaching.”
– Sam Modest, Lit Club facilitator and sixth-grade humanities teacher
We want to provide students with mirrors and windows: stories that offer all of our students, especially our students of color, a chance to see their own cultures and identities reflected, as well as stories that allow students a view into someone else’s experience.
– Erin Longo, third-grade teacher
I want my students to learn that from a mechanistic level, the best way to approach conversations around race is through kindness and empathy, because it doesn’t provoke the anxiety system in our brains.
– Luke De, upper school biology teacher