IMG 6497 2During the new faculty upper school orientation, students and alumni spoke about the impact of their Nueva education as a way to welcome new teachers and give them an insider’s perspective on Nueva’s “secret sauce.” Representing the alumni perspective were Morgan Ome — class of 2011 and rising twelfth grader at Burlingame High School — and Caleb Jones, class of 2006 and recent graduate of Swarthmore College with concentrations in Political Science, Economics, and Islamic Studies.

The new upper school faculty were eager to hear from alumni and current students alike to understand what the students appreciated in their education and what stood out to them about Nueva.

When asked what distinguishes Nueva from other schools, Morgan spoke about the freedom she enjoyed to explore and pursue her interests along with the opportunity to capitalize on a plethora of elective and extracurricular options. Caleb agreed that freedom at Nueva made a huge difference, allowing students to enjoy flexible and personalized learning. He then recounted the time his sixth grade teachers assigned a project where every student had to write their own creation story.

“I wrote a surreal, stream of consciousness piece similar to the book of Genesis. It was deeply unlike what the teachers were expecting,” he said laughing. The follow-up assignment originally planned for the project did not fit with Caleb’s narrative, so the teachers developed an entirely different assignment for Caleb to take his work to the next level. He really appreciated the flexibility of his teachers in allowing independence within the classroom.

Beyond freedom of course work is a commitment to integrating student learning across disciplines. Morgan explained to the new Upper School faculty how her Nueva teachers would not only provide opportunities for interdisciplinary work but also encouraged students to take academic risks and make those connections themselves. When she was a member of the afterschool club Future Problem Solving, Morgan used her knowledge of biology to inform her team’s solution to a technology and science problem.

Cross-disciplinary integration finds many structured as well as organic manifestations at Nueva, an interdisciplinary exchange, which — Caleb said — is facilitated by the small size of the school and the classes.

This rich milieu of intellectual freedom and integrated learning opens doors to a wide world of perspectives. Whether through language learning or the humanities, Caleb praised the many viewpoints students are exposed to over and above the perspectives present just in American culture. “At Nueva we were really exposed to foreign cultures at a personal level,” he said.

Morgan faced some adjustments when she graduated from Nueva and entered high school. One big adjustment was the use and prevalence of textbooks. Her history teacher asked students to write an essay about the causes of World War I, so Morgan took what she knew from class, analyzed the information, and wrote her essay. She did not realize, however, that the teacher meant for students to write about the four causes of World War I listed in the textbook and was therefore marked down on her essay.

“The teacher didn’t say my essay was wrong; she told me, ‘You can’t do that,’” said Morgan. “It was kind of frustrating.”

Like other alumni, both Caleb and Morgan have flourished post-Nueva even in the midst of minor adjustments. They both felt equipped for these changes because of the way Nueva supported them.

While here, Morgan grew not only academically but also developed personally. She used to be really shy, but in Nueva’s safe and accepting environment Morgan quickly became comfortable. “Nueva instills confidence in students to express their ideas, and even now in bigger classes at a different high school, I still feel comfortable participating in class.”

Caleb reflected on his personal development which was largely influenced by SEL, then called “Self-Science” when he was at Nueva, and identified it as the main feature that distinguishes Nueva from other similar schools for talented students. “I can’t understate the importance of SEL in my Nueva education. A lot of really smart people don’t know how to work with others, but that ability is so key at every stage in life.”

Citing examples of how students learned to resolve issues among themselves, Morgan said, “Nueva helped me become a kinder person. There is no tolerance here for discrimination or bullying.” This was possible, she explained, because the faculty had set the tone for conduct which then trickled down to students.

“You learn to get along with others and you learn to understand yourself,” Morgan said. “Nueva nurtures the student as a whole — body, mind, and soul.”

 

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