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.
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.
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.
Eighth-grade biology students have dived straight into an exciting study of genetic variation. One of the major themes of eighth-grade science is to understand humanity’s relationship with the living world. So, the teachers asked their students to grow Wisconsin Fast Plants to discover for themselves why plants produce offspring with variation. This led to a discussion about how humanity has modified species for food and other purposes.
Nueva middle school teachers are excited about student-led tutorial sessions this year. Introduced last fall to help students to get caught up after absences, ask questions about assignments, and ask for more challenging extensions on their work, tutorial has expanded to offer far more during remote learning.
For more than two decades, Nueva's lower and middle school students have gathered together weekly during assemblies to share ideas, entertain each other, and be entertained. While assemblies look different in remote learning, Division Heads Megan Terra and Karen Tiegel still see great value in assembling together. So during the first week of school, they made sure their students gathered on Zoom.
In the spring of their seventh-grade year, students dive into a semester-long humanities study of nature. They explore nature and adventure, nature and connection, nature and commodification, and nature and activism.
Every year, Nueva eighth graders participate in the Recital Project, in which students investigate and learn about a passion of their choosing. For his Recital Project, Owen Y.-L. wrote a musical based on a traditional Chinese folktale.
“One of the learning goals for our study of the Civil Rights Era has been for my students to see examples of young people making change and for them to realize they are never too young to effect change,” said sixth-grade humanities teacher Evan Bartz.