Middle School News

Criminal Justice Expert Answers Students’ Questions, Connecting Literature Study to Life

Last Tuesday, guest speaker W. David Ball, an associate professor at Santa Clara University Law School who teaches in the areas of criminal law, criminal procedure, sentencing, and corrections, spoke to Nueva eighth graders in conjunction with their study of A Lesson Before Dying, a novel by Ernest Gaines. David possesses an extensive background in prisons, reentry, and criminal justice operations, and in November of 2016 he participated in the White House Convening on Criminal Justice Reform. He spoke to Nueva students for an hour about the challenges and possibilities of reform in the criminal justice system.

Ernest Gaines’ novel chronicles the unfair persecution and eventual execution of a young black man in 1940s Louisiana. According to eighth grade writing teacher Jennifer Perry, “Careful use of vivid imagery and implied comparison allows Gaines to show that not much had changed for the poor blacks in this community since the antebellum days. The opportunity arose to bring in an expert on the current state of criminal justice reform in the United States, and it seemed the perfect enrichment to bring us into the present.” 

From the outset, David was immediately excited about speaking with our students, and was keen to tailor his speech to their interests, offering about 15 possible topics. Jennifer polled students and provided the most popular topics to David. Additionally, to prepare for the presentation, students dove into the details: they practiced visual literacy skills by analyzing data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (1997), watched a TED Talk by Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of Equal Justice Initiative, and read and responded to two different blog posts from samefacts.com, where David Ball regularly contributes.

David focused his talk on subjects selected by students: racial injustice and the death penalty, children and the criminal justice system (both as juveniles in the system and as children of the incarcerated), criminal justice reform in the Trump era, and the very low percentages of arrests that actually get tried (about 5%). David devoted the second half hour to answering student questions. Having done so much preparation for the talk, students were readied with numerous insightful and thoughtful questions on topics such as racial profiling, recidivism, prison guard unions, private vs. public prisons, school to prison pipeline, and more.

The depth of understanding David shared on these topics made it clear that the visions of our criminal justice system students see on television do not come close to the truth. The real facts can be truly daunting. Jennifer said, “After their study of literature in writing class and their pre-talk preparation, our eighth graders were able to listen to David’s observations with an astuteness and maturity beyond their years. It was clear from our classroom debrief after David’s talk that students appreciated his unique insight into the complexities of our system.”

Not at all disheartened by the harsh reality of many of his facts and statistics, David ended his talk with a call to action and encouragement. “If, in your future, this is something that interests you, get involved. There’s lots of work to do. I am optimistic — there are very serious problems in the world, but it is easy to sleep at night if you are working on things that you care about,” he said.


February 10, 2017

Read More

Colors of Nature: An Eye-Opening Course—Or, How Environmentalism & Racism Are Intertwined

In the new fall 2020 elective “Colors of Nature,” seventh- and eighth-grade students explored the notion that people of color have different access to and privileges in the natural world. Through class discussions and creative journals, students reflected on how environmentalism and racism are intertwined. Eighth-grader Jax C. shares an introduction, and three students—Anika G., Kayla L., and Anjuli M.—reflect on their experience in this course. 

Catching Up with . . . Christine Braun

Viewing the world with an artist’s eye. Creating projects rooted in empathy. Empowering students with iteration and innovation. 

Throughout the past year, I-Lab engineer and Hillsborough shop manager Christine Braun has been a fixture on the Hillsborough campus, using the I-Lab as her home base while teaching, leading, and planning for design thinking-related initiatives. She is also a lit club facilitator for a seventh- and eighth-grade lit club.

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.