We have all learned over the past year that while virtual learning can be done well, it can never replace the experience of being on campus. Lower school students have been back on campus since late October, and this spring they have been learning to care for silkworms and chickens, an experience that could not be replicated during virtual learning.
In dynamic classrooms, our students develop academic and problem-solving skills and engage in exciting explorations and hands-on experiences. Our environment fosters creativity, resilience, and self-efficacy.
Our students are at home at Nueva. They bring their whole selves, follow their passions, and feel a strong sense of belonging in our community.
Hallmarks of the Lower School
- Listened to, trusted, and empowered to affect their learning
- Known and understood
- Connected to nature through our working garden, forts, and forested trails
- Independent and collaborative
- Resilient, self-reliant, and supported through our social-emotional learning curriculum
- Deeply intellectual with many points of entry and no ceilings
- Open-ended and child-centered
- Full of rich arts experiences such as drama, visual arts, creative play, chorus, instrumental lessons, and the Menuhin-Dowling Performance Program
- Enhanced with curriculum-based grade-level study trips
- Collaborative through cross-grade opportunities
EXAMPLES OF PAST THEMES IN THE LOWER SCHOOL
PreKindergarten: Human Body, Cars, Transformation
Kindergarten: Mystery, Evolution of Flight, BIG History
First Grade: Building, Community Partner Connections
Second Grade: Immigration
Third Grade: Cultures, Ancient Egypt, Farmers' Market
Fourth Grade: The Path of the Hero
At its heart, the Lower School is a place where children still climb trees and build forts in the woods, compose original music, write and stage their own plays, and build robots and machines that perform all sorts of tasks. We encourage students’ questions and inquiries and foster their curiosity.
Why Should You Choose a Gifted Program?
We believe it is essential that young gifted children are in a learning environment that celebrates their gifts and understands their specialized needs. Young gifted learners insatiably curious with an innate passion for life and learning.
Because they are young and often have capacities beyond their years, the youngest gifted students have the most asynchronous development and can be the most vulnerable. When their gifts are not supported or nurtured, their questions not welcomed, or their needs not met, they quickly learn to hide their gifts and thus don't reach their full potential.
Nueva is the ideal environment for children who love to learn and don’t want to hide it, a place where the gifts of mind and spirit are cultivated in an inspirational environment of mutual respect. We understand that giftedness is more than intellect: Nueva teachers are experts in feeding students' need for intellectual challenge while addressing their social-emotional and physical needs.
Our Lower School program is designed to teach to their many strengths as well as their growing edges, providing a level of differentiation unavailable in a traditional school environment.
"Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences."
Social-Emotional Learning: the Foundation of Our Culture
Gifted learners have deep attention and instincts, and can also be highly perceptive and sensitive. Our teachers are attuned to their social and emotional needs, guiding their development as they navigate each day. Our Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) program, a foundational pillar, is infused throughout our program, with faculty and Social-Emotional Learning specialists teaching and modeling practices that develop student awareness of self and others.
The important work of Social-Emotional Learning begins as soon as students arrive on campus, and is part of a student’s life in and out of the classroom. As in all three divisions, Lower School SEL occurs through formal instruction, integration in other subjects and activities, partnership with parents, and responsive support. SEL specialist and classroom teachers help students successfully work through challenges common at each developmental level.
Design Thinking and Engineering Are Built on a Foundation of Empathy
Design Thinking – empathy-centered design – asks students to put themselves into someone else’s shoes in order to understand their needs and create meaningful solutions. This gives students tools and mindsets to embrace new challenges, unleash creativity, and develop a strong sense of self-efficacy, all starting from a place of empathy.
And because developing empathy in our students is a core principle of our foundational Social-Emotional Learning program, the overlap creates natural synergies, building students’ capacity to look beyond themselves.
At Nueva, teachers creatively integrate Design Thinking into their curriculum and projects in ways that are developmentally appropriate for each age group. As early as PreK and across the grades, students cycle through the full process, and zero in on a particular element, e.g., brainstorming, growing their repertoire of skills. By fourth grade, they embark on a full-scale, 16-week Design Thinking challenge to build an LED lamp for someone in their lives who needs light.
Last year, the first grade students used Design Thinking in their Community Partner Project and collaboratively developed this definition:
"Design Thinking is thinking about someone or something, using empathy and kindness, to brainstorm and prototype a solution for them."
Global Citizenship Starts in Lower School
Equipping our students with the tools, empathy, and confidence to become responsible global stewards begins in PreK, where students launch inquiries into their environment and community.
From their first days on campus, we foster good citizenship, community awareness, and democracy. Our Lower School students are introduced to these concepts by first thinking locally, beginning with their classroom, classmates, and their families. In ever-increasing boundaries as they grow, this initial orientation of incorporating the external world into their lives expands.
Students PreK-fourth grade are active community members, attending meetings where they initiate campus improvements and support the needs of their classmates. They are are stewards of our spaces, empowered to take ownership of how we use our resources, being mindful about our handling of food and waste, and advocate for reducing our footprint. They frequently draw upon their SEL skills as they develop awareness of their needs and their impacts on others.
Parents Are Essential
At Nueva, parents are our partners, playing an integral role and participating in the educational process. The early elementary school years are a particularly unique time for parents as they come to understand the needs of their gifted child. To assist, we provide resources and extensive parent education, and we offer a welcoming and inclusive community where parents are immediately connected to a cohort that supports one another.
Parents are invited to be involved in the daily life of the school in ways that are personally meaningful to them by leading classroom experiences, like leading a Lit Club and providing important feedback about how the learning comes home.
Lower school science teacher Kasey Wooten only moved into her new classroom in the Science and Environmental Center (SEC) a few weeks ago, and already this move has already brought with it new curricular possibilities.
“Good afternoon, Lisa. I’m so glad we could take a break from painting to join this kindergarten class.”
So began Paul’s and Rashida’s kindergarten class just before Thanksgiving break, one that took students all the way back to 15th century Florence to meet Leonardo da Vinci (Paul) and Mona Lisa (Rashida).
Kindergarten associate teacher Carrie Stouffer has been named Nueva’s first lower school environmental citizenship ambassador. The role of the environmental citizenship ambassador evolved from the school’s desire to build strong, responsive, and effective relationships with faculty and division heads in all three divisions.
PreK students have been our pioneers of hybrid learning! Watch scenes from their life on campus and hear more from students about their experiences this year.
As the lower school plans to return to campus came into greater focus late last month, Lower School Head Megan Terra felt strongly that she needed to find an extended amount of time for her teachers to plan, discuss, and put in action all that is involved with welcoming students back to their in-person classrooms.
Lower school teachers were incredibly grateful for the time Megan and our Mavericks Days programs afforded them. They used the time to prepare, create, and discuss every aspect of the upcoming return to campus.
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.
With the move to remote learning, and the challenges teachers face of being able to meet one-on-one with their young students, reading specialist Liza Zassenhaus introduced the lower school faculty to Literably, a reading assessment tool that provides teachers with information on student accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.