One of the ways Nueva faculty members help students meet their potential is through assessments. Just as our approach to learning keeps our gifted students at the center, so too does the process for how teachers assess—and then communicate—how students are meeting the learning objectives and where they have opportunities for growth. This week we highlight middle school.
At Nueva, the middle school years are an exciting time, when students in grades 5–8 find their voice and discover how they can impact the world. This is a gangly, growing, gleeful time. This is a period of their lives characterized by enormous expansion of their view of themselves and their place in the world.
Signature Elements of the Middle School
- Interdisciplinary studies and applied learning
- Dynamic electives
- Competitive athletics teams and PE choices
- Social-emotional learning program focused on resiliency and self-reliance
- Design engineering, computer science, visual arts, performing arts, and music
- Weekly interest-based classes offered in all grades
- Literature discussion clubs
- Curriculum-based, grade-level study trips
- Eighth-grade Recital Projects for deep inquiry in areas of interest
- Grade-level advisories build community and support students
Projects are explored through open-ended, essential questions:
How might the world sustainably feed itself by 2050?
What are the ways we come to understand the world? What constitutes evidence?
How do we determine objectivity and subjectivity?
What is justice and how does a community uphold it?
Nueva isn’t just a school—it is a place of growth. During middle school, I was pushed outside my academic comfort zone more times than I can count. I made friends who supported me through thick and thin, and I also became a better friend myself. I traveled to places that challenged me to redefine my worldview and also helped me discover my own place in our community. I know the curiosity and spirit I gained here will follow me through everything I do in the future.
– Alex S., Nueva Alumna
Supporting Students’ Transition from Childhood to Adolescence
Middle School students thrive in community. We believe it is essential for them to feel connected to and valued by their peers and adults, and to practice kindness and care for others. Within this support network, they can enjoy the freedom to follow their passions and try new things.
A rich advisory program serves as the backbone of the Middle School community structure. It is uniquely suited to adolescents and allows them time to develop their identities in small groups with an advisor who serves as advocate and mentor. During the year, advisories spend time together each week building friendships, working through challenges, and sharing experiences such as camping trips and Community Service Learning projects. In addition, time is set aside for entire grades to gather, learn together, and build community.
Middle School is an especially important time for students to participate in the social-emotional learning program, as they navigate the transition between childhood and adolescence. To meet students’ need for increased independence as well as to grow their increased capacities for metacognition and self-direction, Middle School SEL provides a balance of structure and exploration. Using caring and support, SEL specialists and Middle School faculty encourage students to step outside their comfort zones to stretch their academic and SEL skills and to reflect on themselves and their actions as they mature.
Global Citizenship is a core pillar at Nueva — we want all Nueva students to positively and profoundly impact the world. In and out of the classroom, we foster good citizenship, service, and community building. Students use Design Thinking and draw upon their SEL skills in their role as community stewards.
In Middle School, they discover how different disciplines come together in life. Here, vital to developing their view of themselves as being part of the larger world, is the integration of humanities, world languages, trips, and community service learning days. From studying the Silk Road and globalization to defining their own cultural identity, they begin to expand their comfort zones as they address real-world, compelling issues.
Through inquiry and authentic research projects that span multiple disciplines, Middle School students develop a keen understanding of exactly how connected the world has become.
In advisory, in grade-level meetings, and across disciplines in their classrooms, students will prepare for their culminating trips. They practice teamwork and conflict resolution skills in SEL, and they explore historical topics in humanities, writing, and art.
We believe there is much students can learn and gain from traveling outside school. Area field trips to parks, museums, and universities throughout the year provide students with rich hands-on learning experiences. In the spring, their experiential learning culminates in trips to various destinations, as they participate in deep-dive investigations on the ground.
“We challenge our students with complex interdisciplinary experiences. They come to understand that reading, writing, literature, and music are infused in science, math, and language so that in their adult lives, they bring forth all their resources to solve problems. We want them to see the world, and their place in it, as an interconnected whole. They are not just taking a trip or practicing a language — during the year, we are setting the stage for them to notice and fully grasp why there are differences, customs, practices, behaviors. They see academic disciplines come together vividly on their travels and they're ready for it.”
One-to-One Laptop Program
Every Nueva student in sixth grade and older will receive a laptop during each school year. Use of laptops will not be new to these students; technology is integrated into the curriculum by teachers in all grades in age-appropriate ways to support inquiry, creation, collaboration, and in-depth learning. Launched in 2007, the One-to-One Laptop program provides access to powerful computing and creative tools.
While our technology platform provides great opportunities, Nueva’s social-emotional learning faculty use this environment to educate students to become knowledgeable and discerning digital citizens. The SEL team developed a multiyear approach to educating students regarding online behavior to help them establish both a code of ethics and sense of self-control.
Each year, seventh graders experience the Drama Conservatory, a treasured part of the Nueva Middle School experience. Beginning in February, students study twice a week with professional directors and actors from around the Bay Area. After rigorous work honing thespian skills ranging from character study to stage combat, students divide up and dive into various productions including improvisation, Shakespeare, or contemporary and classic works. After performing for the Nueva community, the grade travels together to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where they experience professional performances of shows they just completed.
Middle School Stories
From fourth grade through eighth grade, every student takes classes in the Hillsborough campus I-Lab, where they practice hands-on prototyping, use tools and machinery, and learn coding and computer science—all within the framework of design thinking.
“Our guiding principle,” said I-Lab Director Angi Chau, “is that the core computer science curriculum is meant to be accessible to everybody, whether or not they have done a lot of coding before.”
Emily Goldberg began at Nueva in March, joining our community as the middle school counselor. We chatted with Emily about her hopes and goals in her new role, her path to Nueva, and what she loves about working with middle school students.
For the first time since November 2019, middle school students are returning to the stage to present a musical theater performance in front of a live audience.
Stepping into Tim Varga’s middle school biogeochemistry class feels like entering into a graduate-level course. For months, these middle school students have been working to quantify the carbon cycle for the Hillsborough campus, with different students responsible for different parts of the project to help create the whole picture.
Cliff Burke joined Nueva at the start of the 2020–2021 school year and teaches writing in the middle school. We sat down with Cliff to discuss his teaching practice, collaboration with his teammates, and the experience of joining the community at such a unique and challenging time to be a student and educator.
To honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day, middle school students spent their grade-level time on Friday, Jan. 14 watching the PBS documentary, Soundtrack for a Revolution. This programming is part of a new Friday pilot program in the middle school designed to give students an opportunity to dive into both social justice topics and areas of deep interest.
A new middle school elective this fall challenged students to explore how they can take their learning outside.
A new middle school class is providing students with a hands-on, interdisciplinary learning experience rooted in nature.