What does it mean to build the courage to imagine and craft solutions to challenges? How can design thinking, systems thinking, data science, computer science, and design engineering be used to address societal issues around social justice and equity? In Design with Impact (DWI), a core course in ninth grade, students engage in projects that help them bridge the skills in these five key areas and design for others.
The Nueva Upper School reinvents the high school experience as four years of inquiry-based learning, collaboration, and self-discovery.
A Nueva education develops creative, resilient, thoughtful leaders and collaborators who are ready to solve problems and have an impact on the world.
The Nueva Way at the Upper School
At the Nueva Upper School, the students’ experience — their courses, interests, and passions — is at the center of everything we do. We nourish their love of learning by providing each student unparalleled opportunity to chart their own pathway through high school. With support from advisors, students select from more than 100 electives that satisfy graduation requirements and allow them to dive deeply into exciting subjects.
Embracing the interconnectivity of the world, teachers build courses with global relevance and connections across academic disciplines. Assignments center around authentic, real-world challenges, and are flexibly structured to allow students to be creative and incorporate their personal interests. Surrounded by a community dedicated to intellectual pursuits, collaborative projects are dynamic and thought-provoking. From examining historical trends through unique lenses to writing code for mathematical processes, Nueva students are capable, adaptable, interdisciplinary thinkers.
Nueva Quest, the in-depth pursuit of a field of study during each year of Upper School, is another way students are empowered to follow their boundless curiosity. Students are mentored by experts, feel the joy of creating something from nothing or delving into an area of interest, and practice Design Thinking skills that will serve them well into the future.
Opportunities for personal growth, collaboration, and exploration abound beyond the classroom as students participate in extensive co- and extracurricular opportunities. Advisories, activities and clubs, rich arts offerings, and athletic programs are an important part of every student’s Nueva experience.
When you’re in an environment that encourages mistakes, when you’re not in an arms race to add the most points to your GPA, when your school doesn’t make you compete for award after award and instead makes space in your schedule to investigate topics that fascinate you, this is when you are truly able to be collaborative, creative, to take risks in classes or new subjects, to celebrate others’ successes, and to learn from your failures.
Our Culture of Kindness
Nueva’s 50-year history of social-emotional learning (SEL) and commitment to developing students’ social and emotional acuity play an essential role in the learning atmosphere of trust, community, and inclusion at the Upper School. Nueva’s environment of caring and layered system of support ensures each student feels truly seen, heard, cared for, and valued. With formal training in SEL, faculty make themselves available for questions and conversation, supporting students in self-reflection, observation, inquiry, and the development of attitudes, behaviors, and skills that will serve them and their communities well into adulthood.
Each year during pre-term, the upper school community welcomes and integrates new and returning students through grade-specific fall orientation trips. These camping retreats in the California wilderness give students time and space to build relationships with faculty and classmates, and give them shared experiences to bring back to campus.
Design Thinking and Engineering
Nueva upper school students quickly become adept at design thinking process, practices, and mindset. Extensive offerings in design Thinking, engineering, computer science build skills through human-centered design challenges, ensuring all students have hands-on experience with the design thinking process and the ability to use computational thinking and problem-solving. Students also become confident, safe, and responsible at creating with the vast array of tools available in the I-Lab.
A wide array of electives enables students to dive deeply. Examples include Design Engineering for Social Good, Machine Learning, Engineering and Fabrication Workshop, and many more, all of which are taught using the Nueva Way philosophy emphasizing real-world context for learning.
Across the classes, students identify needs, prototype, obtain feedback, and create and test solutions, while gaining both knowledge and skills along the way. With experience, students have ready access to the design thinking tools: it ceases to be “a process” and becomes the way they think. They are empowered changemakers, prepared for a future where resilience is key and translating ideas into reality is essential.
We prepare Nueva students to succeed in their interconnected world. They are encouraged to use Design Thinking skills to learn about the world through active participation, identifying situations where they can make positive changes and developing the personal and collaborative tools to take action. Students bring their SEL skills to bear as they engage with different cultures and diverse perspectives.
School trips, from nearby Oakland to countries around the world, provide immersive, inspiring learning experiences. Community service learning is woven into the curriculum and given special focus through service learning days, projects, and events.
Through our cross-disciplinary focus on environmental learning, we’re developing strong leaders who will build a more sustainable future.
The Nueva Internship Program places our students in one- to eight-week engagements with more than 50 different Bay Area organizations spanning the fields of technology, research, politics, medicine, publishing, fine arts, and more.
We believe that applying to college should be a personal journey to the best fit, not a process to fear. Nueva’s college counseling team works with all students, starting in their junior year, setting each on an individual path of self-reflection, dreaming, and strategic planning. We help students think about who they are, who they want to become, and map the best way to get there.
It’s a rare occurrence for it to be sunnier in San Francisco than in San Mateo, but upper school students in Chelsea Denlow’s Postcolonial Latin America history class experienced sunshine and blue skies, which made the vibrant colors of the Mission District pop as they visited the neighborhood last week.
On the final day of the fall semester you could hear the sounds of a waltz, smell freshly-baked crumpets, and see a top hat—or three!—in room 1109 of the San Mateo campus.
Betsy Madden, upper school physics teacher, is in her second year at Nueva. In this conversation we learn about Betsy’s time working for the Red Cross and how teaching has provided a place for her interests and experiences to be put into practice.
Jonathan Quick, in his second year at Nueva, teaches upper school English and is the ninth-grade co-dean. In this conversation, we hear about Jonathan’s unique path to Nueva, the importance of reading with his family, and his love of National Parks.
On the morning of November 17, students in the upper school spent time hearing about the experiences of nearly 70 Nueva student interns who took part in 35 unique internships and partnerships during summer 2021.
The last time the Nueva girls’ volleyball stepped on the court, they were competing in the 2019 California Interscholastic Federation Division V NorCal finals. The season culminated in a CCS quarterfinals playoff match against Castilleja on Nov. 2, after they earned an eighth-seed berth and defeated ninth-seeded Santa Catalina in their opening playoff match.
As the sun began to set, upper school students and teachers settled into the couches and armchairs of the Writing and Research Center last Thursday evening.
Wes Chao joined the upper school I-Lab team in 2019. We sat down with Wes to discuss his path to teaching, the role his outside interests play in his professional life, and to hear more about some projects our upper school students are currently working on in computer science.