Every unit in Sam Modest’s sixth-grade humanities class begins with a discussion about a current event. The most recent unit began with an article about California Governor Gavin Newsom adopting a law to study and develop proposals for reparations and the final project turned students into activist-experts to improve a fictitious reparations bill.
At Nueva, the middle school years are an exciting time, when students in grades 5–8 find their voice and discover how they can impact the world. This is a gangly, growing, gleeful time. This is a period of their lives characterized by enormous expansion of their view of themselves and their place in the world.
Middle School is an important transitional time for any student, and we understand and embrace gifted learners who are curious, thoughtful, and adaptable.
Nueva provides them with an experience that meets them where they are, turning the forces at work on their bodies and minds into creative energy that unleashes ideas, passions, and most importantly, the confidence to become resourceful thinkers, problem-solvers, and intellectual risk-takers. This occurs in a community that values inclusion, empathic collaboration, and supportive care of all members.
The Nueva Way at the Middle School
The Nueva Way — Nueva’s constructivist, project-based approach — engages Middle School students with authentic, real-world, and interesting problems to solve. Teachers collaborate extensively across subject areas to deliver rigorous intellectual challenges that students crave. As the semester unfolds, Nueva faculty are always adding or amending lines of inquiry or projects in response to students’ interests, passions, and needs.
Concepts deliberately span traditional academic disciplines, offering students opportunities to make connections. Students have flexibility to shape their hands-on projects and choose how they will demonstrate their learning. Instead of final exams, students participate in culminating events throughout the year where they share their knowledge and expertise with the Nueva community.
"The power of student choice in learning leaves a lasting impact and, at Nueva, Middle School is a time to expand one’s experiences, think big, and have a voice in one’s intellectual pursuits."
Students Learn Best When
They Are Given Choices
Choices abound for Nueva Middle School students, and as they grow, they take increasing ownership of their academic experience. Our extensive offerings give them a lot of freedom to explore topics that interest them.
Interdisciplinary project work allows students to develop their own topics and projects in humanities, writing, math, science, art, and world languages. Design Thinking, engineering, and computer science offer flexibility in project creation and expression, as do open hours of unstructured I-Lab access. All Middle School students also participate in Academies that meet for 90 minutes every Friday.
Beginning in seventh grade, students choose two electives each semester from a wide range of topics — music, visual, performing, and literary arts, programming, robotics, and innovative courses spanning disciplines such as Science Rap Academy and Light, Sound, and Motion with Arduinos. The eighth-grade Recital Project is a six-month capstone project in a passion of their choosing.
During lunch and after school, students can choose to take part in student-created clubs, extracurricular activities, or athletics.
“Nueva isn’t just a school — it is a place of growth. During middle school, I was pushed outside my academic comfort zone more times than I can count. I made friends who supported me through thick and thin, and I also became a better friend myself. I traveled to places that challenged me to redefine my worldview and also helped me discover my own place in our community. I know the curiosity and spirit I gained here will follow me through everything I do in the future.”
Supporting Students’ Transition from Childhood to Adolescence
Middle School students thrive in community. We believe it is essential for them to feel connected to and valued by their peers and adults, and to practice kindness and care for others. Within this support network, they can enjoy the freedom to follow their passions and try new things.
A rich advisory program serves as the backbone of the Middle School community structure. It is uniquely suited to adolescents and allows them time to develop their identities in small groups with an advisor who serves as advocate and mentor. During the year, advisories spend time together each week building friendships, working through challenges, and sharing experiences such as camping trips and Community Service Learning projects. In addition, time is set aside for entire grades to gather, learn together, and build community.
Middle School is an especially important time for students to participate in the social-emotional learning program, as they navigate the transition between childhood and adolescence. To meet students’ need for increased independence as well as to grow their increased capacities for metacognition and self-direction, Middle School SEL provides a balance of structure and exploration. Using caring and support, SEL specialists and Middle School faculty encourage students to step outside their comfort zones to stretch their academic and SEL skills and to reflect on themselves and their actions as they mature.
Through inquiry and authentic research projects that span multiple disciplines, Middle School students develop a keen understanding of exactly how connected the world has become.
In advisory, in grade-level meetings, and across disciplines in their classrooms, students will prepare for their culminating trips. They practice teamwork and conflict resolution skills in SEL, and they explore historical topics in humanities, writing, and art.
We believe there is much students can learn and gain from traveling outside school. Area field trips to parks, museums, and universities throughout the year provide students with rich hands-on learning experiences. In the spring, their experiential learning culminates in trips to various destinations, as they participate in deep-dive investigations on the ground.
“We challenge our students with complex interdisciplinary experiences. They come to understand that reading, writing, literature, and music are infused in science, math, and language so that in their adult lives, they bring forth all their resources to solve problems. We want them to see the world, and their place in it, as an interconnected whole. They are not just taking a trip or practicing a language — during the year, we are setting the stage for them to notice and fully grasp why there are differences, customs, practices, behaviors. They see academic disciplines come together vividly on their travels and they're ready for it.”
One-to-One Laptop Program
Every Nueva student in sixth grade and older will receive a laptop during each school year. Use of laptops will not be new to these students; technology is integrated into the curriculum by teachers in all grades in age-appropriate ways to support inquiry, creation, collaboration, and in-depth learning. Launched in 2007, the One-to-One Laptop program provides access to powerful computing and creative tools.
While our technology platform provides great opportunities, Nueva’s social-emotional learning faculty use this environment to educate students to become knowledgeable and discerning digital citizens. The SEL team developed a multiyear approach to educating students regarding online behavior to help them establish both a code of ethics and sense of self-control.
Each year, seventh graders experience the Drama Conservatory, a treasured part of the Nueva Middle School experience. Beginning in February, students study twice a week with professional directors and actors from around the Bay Area. After rigorous work honing thespian skills ranging from character study to stage combat, students divide up and dive into various productions including improvisation, Shakespeare, or contemporary and classic works. After performing for the Nueva community, the grade travels together to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where they experience professional performances of shows they just completed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.