Flipping the script on what teenagers are capable of doing
Twelfth grader Lucy W. stood before a microphone and a crowded gymnasium on Thursday, April 5, to recite from "It’s Because of the Antlers," a short story about a young protagonist who endures a cosmetic procedure to implant decorative antlers onto her head. Lucy read, “I was taking care of myself, giving myself the special treatment I deserved. I ended up changing my profile picture on various social media accounts... and everyone was very complimentary.” The story is a commentary on social media, adolescence, and pop culture, the three flags frequently raised against today's youth. Lucy’s project was one of 340 projects presented by Nueva’s upper school students during Quest Expo 2018.

Nueva Quest gives students the unique opportunity to pursue their own interests. Students work with teachers, mentors, and advisors to identify and craft their own in-depth inquiry into an area of their choosing. Some students choose to explore a field of study across all four years of high school, while others enjoy investigating something new each year. The Nueva Quest is an extension of the eighth grade Recital Project, established more than 20 years ago. Recital Night this year took place on Tuesday, April 3.

“Recital Night is my favorite night of the year because it flips the script on what we believe teenagers are capable of," said Middle School Head Liza Raynal. "The national narrative is that teens are self-centered and weird, navel-gazing and uninterested in the world. Tonight disproves this hypothesis. Recital Night is a celebration of passions, process, small failures, iteration, and learning."

Recital projects require students to choose a project area and make a plan, recruit an adult mentor in the field of study, write a research paper and practice project management techniques, and design and implement a "bettering the world" component to educate society or raise funds for an organization. Design thinking is practiced throughout the project to help students brainstorm and evaluate different options at each stage. Some of this year's Recital projects included: Rajeev S.’s Adventures in Type 1 Diabetes, Anya P.’s Two Techniques: Observing the Impact of UV Light Exposure on Bacteria, Jack T.’s DART — Detroit Area Regional Transit, and Vedant K.’s RideShare for Seniors.

In discussing his project, Vedant said, "Through my recital project, I attempted to resolve two main issues for seniors. My rideshare application will give them the ability to carpool and communicate with other seniors helping them get to events that they want to go to.”

"These eighth graders give me great hope," said Liza. "I imagine the seventh-grade students looking at these projects are also inspired and thinking, I hope I can do something like that next year."

Nearly 1,000 students have completed some variation of Quest or Recital projects, some even building on prior projects or continuing their exploration beyond school. Nueva alum Kylie Holland began her Quest project, "Here Comes the Dragon Wagon," as a high school sophomore and it became the catalyst for her business, A Girl and Her Dragon Pizza. Kylie attended a conference devoted to mobile pizza ovens and consulted with local COO’s and restaurateurs to become the youngest person in the country to start a mobile catering business. She is now in her first year at Stanford University, and her third year of running A Girl and Her Dragon Pizza.


Maddie M., an eleventh grader, started doing bioinformatics at age 15. Her Quest project centered on her research at the Sean Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research where she partnered with Dr. Maya Kumar to learn genotyping, dustmiting, harvesting, imaging, and staining. Their shared focus was to use mice to understand how a person’s airway responds to a particular allergen, with the later goal of targeting asthma and allergy drug design.

Maddie, who has always been interested in immunology, found her partnership with Dr. Kumar to be a perfect fit, “It’s rare to find a physician willing to take in a 15-year-old student and mentor me in the same way that she mentors PhDs.”

Many students partnered with Bay Area experts in preparation for their Quest projects. Connie H. a ninth grader who focused on creating layered laser-cut art, partnered with Oakland artist Gabriel Schama.

At its core, Quest is about instilling the “can-do” philosophy in students. Ninth grader Austin J. designed and fabricated a Stirling engine, complete with piston. “My old school didn’t have a machine shop; he said. "I’ve wanted to work with CAD.” Ninth grader James T. created “Boomshoes," a pair of sneakers hooked up to speakers, because he “wanted to make something to make life a little bit more enjoyable.”

The Nueva Quest program has doubled in size since 2015. View a list of this year's Quest offerings.



 By Julia Barzizza, Digital Content Specialist and Jim Morrison, VLP Director

April 18, 2018




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