Lower School


Nueva’s Lower School is a haven for young gifted learners. This is an environment that is intellectually engaging with dynamic classrooms, exciting explorations, and hands-on experiences. It is age-appropriate, incorporating the powerful and joyful elements of early education: play, kindness, friendship, community, and essential connections to the outdoors.

Our program is designed to delight and inspire PreK-4 students. Each day, our faculty brings to life curriculum founded on our pillars to provide an unparalleled educational experience:

  • Understanding the needs of gifted students
  • Carefully crafted 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

We listen to the passions of our students, and our teachers and mentors provide deep content knowledge to intellectually empower students to boldly explore. We see them as capable and trust them, and they learn to trust themselves.

At its heart, the Lower School is a place where children still climb trees and build forts in the woods, compose original music, write and stage their own plays, build robots and machine that perform all sorts of tasks. We encourage their questions/inquiries and foster their curiosity.

Why should you choose a gifted program?

Even the youngest gifted learners bring their many gifts to school: their great potential to think and reason, to plan and create, to dream and to strive, and their passion for life and learning. We believe it essential they are in a learning environment that celebrates their gifts and understands their specialized needs.

Because they have some of the most asynchronous development, the youngest gifted students 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 suffer in silence.

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 the needs of gifted learners 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.

Annemarie Roeper
Author, Educational Consultant, and Activist for gifted children

"Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and 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 curriculum in student-centered ways that upholds The Nueva Way philosophy. Teachers and students choose these themes collaboratively. This is a key element of learning at Nueva: students have an important voice in the classroom, 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. 

The high-level thinking skills asked of Nueva students at all grades form the foundation for lifelong learning and fulfill the gifted students’ intellectual needs. Our faculty are thoughtful and collaborative planners, weaving together humanities, math, sciences, and the arts in intricate ways, all the while ensuring that students acquire essential academic skills at each grade.


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, Farmer’s 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. Guiding their development as they navigate each day, our teachers are attuned to students’ social and emotional needs. 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, as the 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’s shoes to understand needs in order to create effective solutions. At Nueva, we teach empathy-centered design to preK-12 students in ways that are developmentally appropriate for each age group.

As early as PreK, students are practicing elements of the Design Thinking process. Teachers will zero in on a particular element, e.g., brainstorming, so students practice and grow a repertoire of skills. By fourth grade, students embark on a full-scale, 16-week Design Thinking challenge to build an LED lamp for someone in their lives who needs light.

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.

Teachers creatively integrate Design Thinking into their curriculum and projects, and through hands-on experience, students construct their understanding. Last year, the first grade students used Design Thinking in their Community Partner Project and in the process developed this definition:

First Grade Student

"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, when students begin developing openness through launching inquiries into their surroundings.

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.

Lower School Nueva News

Lower School Art Teacher Reenie Charriere leads a group of Nueva students through SFMOMA

Nearly 150 Nueva community members came together to enjoy contemporary art at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) on Saturday, March 10. Families attended a special weekend tour with Lower School Art Specialist Reenie Charrière, a practicing artist and former museum educator who guided them through the retrospective entitled Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules.

Not Just Playing with Clay: PreK Art Inspired by Brazilian Artist

With a deep conviction for the importance of learning through art, Carolee Fucigna, Nueva prekindergarten teacher, developed an opportunity for the prekindergarten students to connect their artwork to that of a renowned Brazilian artist, Anna Maria Maiolino.

Students Lead March on Campus for Kindness, Peace, and Love

In these uncertain times, Nueva students are the tides of change, leading the next generation to be kinder than the one before. On Monday, February 5, dozens of lower school students raised their colorful, handmade signs in a Kindness March to spread love and compassion around Nueva.

A Ten-Minute Walk: Wednesday Morning in the Lower School

On Wednesday morning in the Lower School, our students were deeply engaged in reading, composing, illustrating, and problem solving.

Working individually and in groups, students in kindergarten through fourth grade were in full mid-week stride as they tackled new challenges, put finishing touches on their creations, and shared their learning with teachers and classmates.

Nueva Students Join an Hour of Code

Last week, Nueva first and third graders joined millions of students around the world for an Hour of Code, a global movement to demystify computer science. As part of the worldwide Computer Science Education Week, the Hour of Code aims to broaden participation across gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups to show that computer science can be fun, creative, and accessible for all ages regardless of background.

Nueva Book Fairs Delight Diverse Community of Readers

Since 1985, the Hillsborough Book Fair has been an annual weeklong celebration of books and the rich literary environment here at Nueva. With a variety of fiction and nonfiction books hand-selected with Nueva readers in mind, the Hillsborough Book Fair is one of the most carefully curated book fairs in the country.

Nueva’s Beloved Forts Revitalized

Nueva’s forts are a treasured play area near the Mansion, once an old olive grove. Beautiful in their simplicity, they draw lower school students into imaginative and social play outdoors.

Brown Bag Concerts Conclude a Wonderful Year


A beloved Hillsborough tradition, Brown Bag concerts provide opportunities for students to perform for one another in a fun and relaxed setting.

Students sign up in advance for these concerts, which are held in the Ballroom once or twice a month on Fridays during lunch. Concerts can feature 12–15 short performances by a variety of student musicians and sometimes include selections from the likes of Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin.