Michaela Danek teaches science at Nueva’s upper school. She brings her diverse teaching experiences to Nueva in designing learning opportunities that are accessible to all learning styles, while making science content relevant and meaningful to the community.
Nueva opened its doors to a new cohort of Peninsula Bridge 6th and 7th grade students, hailing from local middle schools in Fall 2016. Michaela is co-coordinator of the site.
What intrigued you about teaching Peninsula Bridge students?
As a teacher, Peninsula Bridge offers an opportunity to teach a new community of students who come from different backgrounds but bring so much of the same enthusiasm as Nueva students. It is a chance to meet brilliant young people and encourage them in their academic path.
Describe a day in the after school program.
Every Monday and Thursday, about 3PM, shuttles drop off groups of students at the Nueva Upper School campus. Within minutes you will see clusters of students all around, choosing how to spend their snack/homework time: some students will be busy working on homework, others will be play games, some will be taking part in a Design Thinking elective lead by a high school TA, while other will be playing a casual game of soccer on the field. All these activities are student-run or lead by high school TAs.
The program has two main components: initial snack/homework/decompression time that takes place in the Cafe and then academic enrichment of Math and English Language Art classes.
What is your impression of the students?
Peninsula Bridge students are tenacious learners, with a strong work ethic and critical minds. In the after school program, in addition to Social Emotional Learning (SEL) time, students build concrete academic skills.
Students take a math class that deepens and extends what they learn in class, and an English Language Arts course that builds academic skills while engaging with questions of identity as Americans. The skills Peninsula Bridge students develop while at Nueva help them in their classes currently and surely will continue to serve them as they go on to high school and college.
In math, they’re developing and deepening their understanding of concepts they use at school. Currently, they’re practicing fractions, percentage, and linear relationships by creating budgets. In English language arts, the curriculum gives students a chance to develop reading and writing skills, however, this semester students are diving deeply into the question of immigration to the US and the identity of an American. Not only are students reading, annotating, summarizing, presenting, and applying the content to creative work, they are also having important conversations of their own identity, considering many of them are first generation Americans.
Peninsula Bridge students are developing important academic skills that will serve them in high school and college, but what they’re also grappling withidentity, community, and belonging.
How would you characterize the benefits of the program to both Peninsula Bridge students and Nueva?
The partnership with Peninsula Bridge is another way that Nueva opens its doors to the community. I think it is a beautiful thing to be able to welcome so many young and brilliant minds. During their time at the Nueva Peninsula Bridge site, students not only engage with the space, but also have a chance to dive into their own rigorous academic curriculum.
Facilitating this rich learning environment gives Nueva high school students a chance to facilitate learning and growth for our Peninsula Bridge students. TAs bring a wealth of ideas, energy, and creativity that fuels our continued evolution. It is exciting to see TAs take their experiences from Nueva classes and try to recreate them for the Peninsula Bridge students. It’s also worth pointing out that our Peninsula Bridge students love the Nueva TAs and think they’re totally cool. It’s just a win-win all around.
As tired as I am after a day of teaching my classes at Nueva, I find myself rejuvenated and ready to keep teaching. It is exhilarating to be part of a partnership that supports more brilliant students having a chance to dive deeper into their learning. It is this kind of work that brings another facet of significance to my work at Nueva that is absolutely integral to the mission of being a teacher.