On Thursday, Nov. 3, melodies from the opera La Bohème reverberated through the Hillsborough mansion ballroom, as fourth graders took the stage alongside SF Opera singers for an abridged performance of Puccini’s most famous work. This performance was a showcase of one of the central themes of the lower school music program: the voice and body as musical instruments.
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.
PreK teachers David Robinson and Claire Wasserman-Rogers share what a day in the life of pre-kindergarten students might look like. “While there is structure to our daily schedule,” they said, “no two days in preK are quite the same.”
As part of creating a beloved community, students in lower school classes begin the year by creating sets of class agreements and sharing things about themselves with their peers. In the second grade, students participate in an identity project, reflecting on who they are and what is important to them before creating their own self-portraits.
How do our cultures shape the stories we tell? This was the starting question first graders in Emily Mitchell’s class explored when they read and dissected eighteen interpretations of the fairytale Cinderella from across the globe.
The study of culture is deeply embedded in the third grade curriculum. As part of this exploration, third graders learn about two distinct civilizations: the Mali Empire and ancient Egypt. It was through these two studies that Erin and Priscilla initially recognized the need to include a study of religion to help students better understand their cultures. The religious studies unit has blossomed into an exploration of the foundations of the five major world religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
PreK teacher David Robinson joined the Nueva community in 2019. In this Q&A, David shares the benefits of emergent curriculum, how he consulted on an Emmy-award winning show, and his approach to anti-bias education in the pre-kindergarten setting.
Last Friday, third graders hosted a service learning fair, where they presented their research and solution statements on topics of interest, including public health, environmental issues, and the criminal justice system.
For their recent poetry slam, fourth graders took on a challenge: make the ordinary extraordinary. Enjoy highlights from their performances!
For the lower school community meeting on Feb. 17, members of the Black Student Union and BSU advisors Rashida Blade and Shelby Divan shared what Black history means to them with lower school students. We invite you to hear what they said!