Questions abound in our lower school classrooms, and student inquiry is the driving force behind the yearlong theme in kindergarten. This theme of investigation provides a through line for a number of explorations that kindergarteners will engage in over the course of the year, the first of which is a focus on identity.
In dynamic classrooms, our students develop academic and problem-solving skills and engage in exciting explorations and hands-on experiences. Our environment fosters creativity, resilience, and self-efficacy.
Our students are at home at Nueva. They bring their whole selves, follow their passions, and feel a strong sense of belonging in our community.
- Understanding the needs of gifted students
- Carefully crafting The Nueva Way of teaching
- Pioneering curriculum in social-emotional learning
- Empathy-based and action-oriented Design Thinking philosophy and process
- Intentional focus incorporating citizenship and stewardship of one another and our world
Why Should You Choose a Gifted Program?
We believe it is essential that young gifted children are in a learning environment that celebrates their gifts and understands their specialized needs.
Young gifted learners bring their many gifts to school. They are insatiably curious with an innate passion for life and learning. They have great potential to think and reason, to plan and create, to dream and strive.
Because they are young and often have capacities beyond their years, the youngest gifted students have the most asynchronous development and can be the most vulnerable. When their gifts are not supported or nurtured, their questions not welcomed, or their needs not met, they quickly learn to hide their gifts and thus don't reach their full potential.
Nueva is the ideal environment for children who love to learn and don’t want to hide it, a place where the gifts of mind and spirit are cultivated in an inspirational environment of mutual respect.
We understand that giftedness is more than intellect: Nueva teachers are experts in feeding students' need for intellectual challenge while addressing their social-emotional and physical needs. Our Lower School program is designed to teach to their many strengths as well as their growing edges, providing a level of differentiation unavailable in a traditional school environment.
"Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences."
The Nueva Way at the Lower School
The excitement of discovery and exploration comes to life within the classroom and across the sprawling Hillsborough campus. With teachers as their guides, Lower School students are offered intellectual challenges that ignite their passion for learning.
In Lower School, learning takes place through thematic studies, and faculty shape the student-centered curriculum aligned with The Nueva Way philosophy. Teachers and students choose these themes collaboratively. Students have an important voice in the classroom and school community, and teachers have the freedom to craft curriculum that captivates their students’ interests. Invited to think critically and to ask why, students become truly excited about learning.
Students apply high-level thinking skills, forming the foundation for lifelong learning. Our faculty are thoughtful and collaborative planners, weaving together humanities, math, sciences, and the arts into intricate, thematic curricula, all the while ensuring that students acquire essential academic skills at each grade.
EXAMPLES OF PAST THEMES IN THE LOWER SCHOOL
PreKindergarten: Human Body, Cars, Transformation
Kindergarten: Mystery, Evolution of Flight, BIG History
First Grade: Building, Community Partner Connections
Second Grade: Immigration
Third Grade: Cultures, Ancient Egypt, Farmers' Market
Fourth Grade: The Path of the Hero
Social-Emotional Learning: the Foundation of Our Culture
Gifted learners have deep attention and instincts, and can also be highly perceptive and sensitive. Our teachers are attuned to their social and emotional needs, guiding their development as they navigate each day. Our Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) program, a foundational pillar, is infused throughout our program, with faculty and Social-Emotional Learning specialists teaching and modeling practices that develop student awareness of self and others.
The important work of Social-Emotional Learning begins as soon as students arrive on campus, and is part of a student’s life in and out of the classroom. As in all three divisions, Lower School SEL occurs through formal instruction, integration in other subjects and activities, partnership with parents, and responsive support. SEL specialist and classroom teachers help students successfully work through challenges common at each developmental level.
Design Thinking and Engineering Are Built on a Foundation of Empathy
Design Thinking – empathy-centered design – asks students to put themselves into someone else’s shoes in order to understand their needs and create meaningful solutions. This gives students tools and mindsets to embrace new challenges, unleash creativity, and develop a strong sense of self-efficacy, all starting from a place of empathy.
And because developing empathy in our students is a core principle of our foundational Social-Emotional Learning program, the overlap creates natural synergies, building students’ capacity to look beyond themselves.
At Nueva, teachers creatively integrate Design Thinking into their curriculum and projects in ways that are developmentally appropriate for each age group. As early as PreK and across the grades, students cycle through the full process, and zero in on a particular element, e.g., brainstorming, growing their repertoire of skills. By fourth grade, they embark on a full-scale, 16-week Design Thinking challenge to build an LED lamp for someone in their lives who needs light.
Last year, the first grade students used Design Thinking in their Community Partner Project and collaboratively developed this definition:
"Design Thinking is thinking about someone or something, using empathy and kindness, to brainstorm and prototype a solution for them."
Global Citizenship Starts in Lower School
Equipping our students with the tools, empathy, and confidence to become responsible global stewards begins in PreK, where students launch inquiries into their environment and community.
From their first days on campus, we foster good citizenship, community awareness, and democracy. Our Lower School students are introduced to these concepts by first thinking locally, beginning with their classroom, classmates, and their families. In ever-increasing boundaries as they grow, this initial orientation of incorporating the external world into their lives expands.
Students PreK-fourth grade are active community members, attending meetings where they initiate campus improvements and support the needs of their classmates. They are are stewards of our spaces, empowered to take ownership of how we use our resources, being mindful about our handling of food and waste, and advocate for reducing our footprint. They frequently draw upon their SEL skills as they develop awareness of their needs and their impacts on others.
Parents Are Essential
At Nueva, parents are our partners, playing an integral role and participating in the educational process. The early elementary school years are a particularly unique time for parents as they come to understand the needs of their gifted child. To assist, we provide resources and extensive parent education, and we offer a welcoming and inclusive community where parents are immediately connected to a cohort that supports one another.
Parents are invited to be involved in the daily life of the school in ways that are personally meaningful to them by leading classroom experiences, like leading a Lit Club and providing important feedback about how the learning comes home.
With the move to remote learning, and the challenges teachers face of being able to meet one-on-one with their young students, reading specialist Liza Zassenhaus introduced the lower school faculty to Literably, a reading assessment tool that provides teachers with information on student accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.
Since remote learning began, students have been faced with a multitude of challenges that are unique to the times. Dedicated weekly social-emotional learning (SEL) classes for students in 1st through 12th grades (SEL is integrated into the curriculum in preK and K) have proven to be particularly valuable during this time, equipping students with the tools needed to develop resilience, confidence, and well-being.
In the spring, lower school SEL specialist Lisa Hinshelwood noticed there was a need for third and fourth grade students to develop executive skills, such as skills around organization, planning, and prioritization.
Although they couldn’t actually roast s’mores and camp under bright stars last Thursday, Nueva Lower School students did the next best thing—they Zoomed in to participate in Campfire Night.
Each week, Lower School Division Head Megan Terra sends out a Lower School newsletter, which includes student-written articles. Read more to see a sampling of their work.
The Lower School STEAMlet Expo was originally scheduled to take place March 13, the first day of Nueva’s campus closure. While the event could not be held in person this year, it did move into a virtual space.
At Nueva, you can travel the world. From ancient Egypt and Mali to Suva, Fiji, we are constantly exploring. The fourth graders, on April 8, traveled back approximately 3,000 years ago to the School of Athens.
Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) is the scientific investigation of words. This approach to language instruction has been integrated in the Nueva curriculum for many years, and SWI coach Rebecca Loveless has taught young Nuevans about words for the last seven years.
Our Nueva teachers have worked incredibly hard to bring the “Nueva Way” educational experience to our students across all divisions in this new remote learning space. Kindergarten teachers have not only approached remote learning as student-centered, they have also approached remote learning as parent-centered.