Middle School News

Civil Rights Activists Inspire Sixth-grade Humanities Class
Rachel Freeman, communications/website manager

“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.

On May 15, students in Evan’s class welcomed two guests to their class: civil rights activists Judy Richardson and Courtland Cox.

“I had the opportunity to attend professional development over Zoom two weeks ago through the Zinn Education Project, and heard Judy Richardson and Courtland Cox speak about their experience being a part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC),” Evan said. “It was an incredible experience to hear their stories.”

Evan immediately recognized the power of Judy and Courtland’s words and their stories’ connection to the current focus of his class. His sixth-grade humanities class has been learning about the Civil Rights Movement as part of a larger conversation around student activism. 

“We’ve talked about systems of oppression and how throughout history certain people have either supported or dismantled these systems,” Evan explained.

During the May 15 conversation, Judy and Courtland shared brief stories of hope and perseverance that they experienced during their time as part of SNCC and then took questions from the students. Judy shared a story about a time she was jailed for her involvement in demonstrations and she was in a cell beside activist and leader Annie Pearl

“It was 2 a.m. and really, really cold, and I’m lying on the cement floor,” Judy said. “Suddenly, I hear Annie Pearl whistling Nina Simone’s song, ‘Since I Fell for You.’ Now I hear this and I think, ‘OK, Annie Pearl is here.’ It was like fear had just been lifted from me. It was the music, and the sense of a SNCC band of brothers.” 

Courtland spoke about a number of experiences that helped form his political values—“the same values I have today,” he said. 

He recalled the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, when he was just 13 years old.

He said, “There was a sense of burden lifted on the community. People felt it; people talked about it. Even though I didn’t understand it fully, the adults were all talking about it.” 

Both guests shared a number of other stories that resonated with Evan’s students. 

One student shared, “I was surprised at how brave they were, doing the things they were doing. You could tell that they were still angry at the injustice back then, still fighting, but also still sharing funny or happy memories of that time as well. I was surprised that they could see all the good in that horrible time.”

Another reflected, “I appreciated that they were very truthful with us, and they told us their true feelings.”

Middle School Division Liza Raynal, who joined the class as an observer, told Judy and Courtland, “Thank you so much for joining us. I’m so moved by you being here, and our students getting to learn from you is such a gift.” 

Judy replied, “We owe it to the young people now to share our stories. People did the same thing for us. We would not be who we are if a whole group of people hadn’t done this for us. An older activist once told me, ‘Do nothing, and nothing changes.’ I may not see all the changes that I’m working for, but I’m doing this for my kids and grandkids so that they don’t have to go through the same things I did.”

In addition to hearing stories about SNCC from past members, students also researched and presented about three key issues SNCC actually had to tackle during the Civil Rights Era: direct action vs. a focus on voter registration; whether SNCC should have allowed 1,000 white volunteers to demonstrate with them; and whether SNCC members should carry guns. 

“I am a huge believer in inquiry-based learning,” Evan said. “Every unit I teach begins with a question and ends with a question. That my students were able to share their presentations with Judy and Courtland lets them know that their learning really matters to the greater community.”

“I did not recognize how involved the students were in the movement,” one student shared. “I had thought that they were part of it, but when I heard Judy and Cortland sharing stories from when they were in eighth and ninth grades, I realized how the movement was really made possible by the students, and that was very inspirational.” 

Evan added, “I feel so empowered as an educator to be teaching this to my students. They are getting a more accurate picture of history —a history that makes space for people’s stories who we don’t traditionally hear from.”

Read More

Fifth Grade Earth Science “Rocks” in Remote Setting!

Toward the end of October, fifth-grade Earth Science classes completed the fall study of Earth’s composition and the rock cycle. To help students solidify their learning and set it in stone, students created models of the rock cycle using upcycled or ephemeral materials found in their homes. 

“Poem-Worthy Noodles” Connect Community to History and Each Other: Jennifer Lin-Liu, Author of On the Noodle Road ‘Visits’ Nueva

After school on Thursday, October 21, about 40 students and teachers gathered on Zoom to enrich and extend their current interdisciplinary study of the Silk Road. They were participating in a noodle-making workshop by author and restauranteur Jennifer Lin-Liu that covered centuries of history and was generations of cross-continental journeys in the making. Organized by Jennifer Paull in conjunction with the seventh- and eighth-grade humanities teachers, this event is one of many the new Humanities Center will showcase in the years to come.

Catching Up with . . . Sarah Powell

We sat down with Sarah Powell, middle school student support specialist, to hear about her passion for supporting gifted students, particularly during this challenging time. In this interview, Sarah shares how she helps to create pathways for students’ academic development, and she provides insight into the importance of relationships between parents, teachers, and students—and superpowers!—in our middle school support program at Nueva.  

Nueva Students Welcome Families to the Mid-Autumn Festival

This month, students in Weixia’s class celebrated 中秋节 or zhōng qiū jié (the Mid-Autumn Festival), a traditional event celebrated by many East and Southeast Asian people. With their parents, students watched the full moon, recited an ancient poem, and gave their parents a handmade card of appreciation. These activities were part of their process of immersing themselves in Chinese culture, an important part of learning the language, and they also offered an opportunity for students to share their learning with their families.

Middle School Students Explore Social Justice in Lit Clubs

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. 

Catching Up with...Karen Tiegel

About one month into this unprecedented 2020–2021 school year, we sat down with new interim head of the middle school, our own Nuevan Swiss Army Knife, Karen Tiegel, to hear her thoughts about the start of the year, learn a bit more about our continuously evolving middle school electives program, and provide a space to reflect on moments—both past and still to come—that are at the heart of her Nueva experience.

The Great Nueva Zoom-School Plant Project 

Eighth-grade biology students have dived straight into an exciting study of genetic variation. One of the major themes of eighth-grade science is to understand humanity’s relationship with the living world. So, the teachers asked their students to grow Wisconsin Fast Plants to discover for themselves why plants produce offspring with variation. This led to a discussion about how humanity has modified species for food and other purposes. 

So What is the Nueva Middle School Tutorial?

Nueva middle school teachers are excited about student-led tutorial sessions this year. Introduced last fall to help students to get caught up after absences, ask questions about assignments, and ask for more challenging extensions on their work, tutorial has expanded to offer far more during remote learning.

Middle School Assembly Celebrates the New School Year

For more than two decades, Nueva's lower and middle school students have gathered together weekly during assemblies to share ideas, entertain each other, and be entertained. While assemblies look different in remote learning, Division Heads Megan Terra and Karen Tiegel still see great value in assembling together. So during the first week of school, they made sure their students gathered on Zoom.