Spend enough time on the Hillsborough campus and you will inevitably hear whispers of “the forts,” an old olive grove that now serves as an outdoor play area where students can build, climb trees, invent games, and explore unbridled nature.

On a Tuesday morning, after a long week of vacation, fourth graders pulled on their gloves and took out their tools for a few hours of hard work in the Nueva Garden.  In honor of Earth Day and in accord with their current study of ecosystem science, the students weeded and mulched and planted a beloved piece of our campus with the help of parent volunteers and Nueva teachers.

For many, the Magic School Bus book series was a welcome addition to our home or school libraries. The main character Ms. Frizzle was our tour guide on dozens of exciting adventures that took learning into worlds far beyond the classroom walls.


Students in first grade have launched into their Community Project, which is an exciting opportunity to both meet and get to communityprojectknow some of the people who make Nueva such a vibrant place. The goal throughout the project is to learn about the community in which the students play and learn, as well as about the integral role each person plays.

“We aim to investigate the ways each community member is connected to us,” said teacher Emily Mitchell in her blog.

The class ventured out to numerous offices and classrooms around Nueva to observe and ask questions. Whether it was speaking with those who they know well, such as Lower School Head Emily Kolatch, or others they may have never met before, the class was able to see how everyone’s job is part of a larger puzzle with one common goal.

The students were also particularly excited to visit with Head of School Diane Rosenberg, who equally cherished her time with the students.

Another highlight was spending time in the I-Lab watching Steve Westwood teach.

“Sam commented to me how wonderful it was to walk into this space and not immediately know where the teacher was.  What a testament to constructivist education to see that the learning is always going both ways!,” Emily said.

Emily also invited individuals to come to her classroom and speak. One of these individuals was Upper School Head Mark Schoeffel, who spoke about the various roles he has on both of Nueva’s campuses. Many expressed an interest in meeting more Upper School faculty following his visit.

The Community Project is also a way to show students what is to come in their experience at Nueva once they leave the first grade. An exciting introduction to another grade was when the class visited Zachary Carr’s Japanese room. He greeted the group of students in Japanese with a bow, and welcomed them into his classroom that was beautifully decorated with lanterns and Japanese print.   

Showing students what other roles exist within the Nueva community that don’t necessarily take place in the classroom was another important aspect to the project. One of these visits was to the Business and Advancement Offices, where the group learned about many exciting responsibilities and upcoming events including the Nueva Benefit Auction.    

The next step of this project will be selecting one community member to study in depth. Each student will list three members they are interested in and will be paired with one community partner.  They will exchange two sets of “getting to know you letters,” and then will have time to observe their partners in their natural environments.   

“Much like Jane Goodall when she studied chimpanzees, we hope to build our learning by watching unobtrusively. We hope to catch our partners in their working life and try to imagine what it feels like to walk in their shoes.  We will sketch and take notes in our wonder books and start to learn about our community member’s role in the larger picture of Nueva, “Emily said. “Community members always feel incredibly excited to be chosen by a first grader for this project.  For many, it begins a relationship and connection that last for years.”

Emily added that in conjunction with their building theme, this project will provide students an opportunity to learn about sustainability and being “green” at Nueva.   

Through Design Thinking and interviewing their community partner, they will learn about the ways they are already “green” and ways to be “greener."  Caroline in the garden has already begun helping the class look at the ways in which we handle waste at Nueva, and this integrative project will allow us to bring sustainability to the forefront.   



It started off with a simple question during their Monday morning meeting in Emily Mitchell's and Sam Modest's grade 1 class sammodest1stgraderootwordsas students began creating their calendar pattern.

“Wait, why is it FebRuary?  Why is there an R in the middle?” a student inquired.

Sparking the class’s curiosity, students launched an investigation into the root meaning of the days of the week. They began theorizing with why “Sunday” is called “Sunday” and why “Monday is called Monday.”    

“It’s Sunday because it’s the sunniest day,” one student said.

“Maybe it was the first day the sun rose?" “The word Monday is like moon, maybe it was the first day with a full moon?” two others questioned.

“Monday is like 'money,' and maybe it’s because Monday is the first day the bank is open each week!” another exclaimed.

As students continued to hypothesize, they found the connection that the days of the week include parts of the names of gods and goddesses. Sam elaborated on this idea through a story about the history of the days of the week.   

The story began with ancient Rome, and with the help of some maps, took the students on a linguistic-geographic journey of the days of the week, through to the collapse of the Roman Empire.  The students learned that the Anglo-Saxons substituted their gods for the names of the Roman gods when the Romans left modern-day England. For example, the day to worship Mars, the Roman god of war, was renamed after Tiw, the Norse god of war, thus giving us Tuesday. When the Anglo-Saxons got to Saturday, though, they did not have any gods left, so they kept the Roman name for the day named after Saturn.

This story then opened up a larger discussion about whether the English language is “pure,” as prompted by one student’s excited exclamation, “English is corrupt!”  (The student went on to clarify that English seems to be influenced by so many different languages and to have been controlled by so many different people).  What arose from this discussion was the beautifully nuanced understanding of the fluidity of English words and their meanings.

With this understanding, the students were challenged to move history forward and rewrite the days of the week.  Just as the Anglo-Saxons replaced the Roman gods with their own, students replaced the current days of the week with their own values.  Each student brainstormed the seven things that are the most important to him or her, and then creatively adapted each into a day of the week.

Cultural keystones such as the days of the week are communally determined, however, so it was essential that the students compare and compile their individualized personal interests.  Some of the most universally recognized values included “Mommy (Momday)”, “Daddy (Daday),” and “Candy (Canday).”

Interestingly, many students chose “Friends” as one of their core values.  Their collective appreciation for friends allowed them to keep "Friday” on the updated calendar. Friday is, after all, named after Friga, the goddess of love and friendship. Just as the Anglo-Saxons preserved the Roman “Saturday” when they rewrote the days of the week, so did our students.  It looks like history DOES repeat itself!



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