NSA expands offerings for students

Published 6:41 pm Thursday, September 15, 2022

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Having navigated a pandemic, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy head of school Debbie Russell said school officials are excited for everyone to be back with few COVID-19 restrictions as it expands its programming in the current school year.

“We are hopeful that this will be a normal year for our students, faculty and staff,” Russell said, “and are looking forward to hosting many events and activities throughout the year to reconnect with our community.”

Among the additions this school year — a new global connections program in the lower school and the expansion of the sixth-grade language arts program.

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NSA also has a partnership with Pursue Languages that had started prior to COVID-19 but was delayed due to international travel restrictions. It also has a partnership with Constellation Learning to allow upper school students to take elective or world language classes online.

The school added a student mentor program for new students in the upper school and made renovations to its fitness center.

The lower school’s global connections program is centered around four concepts — form, belief, perspective and connection — and through inquiry-based learning, students will learn more about the attributes, beliefs and values of those with different traditions and cultures. It’s intended, she said, to take a thematic approach, with most units focusing on a topic as classes will then explore how different cultures relate to that topic.

“In our lower school, we saw the need to expand our curriculum to offer our students a more global perspective and the ability to explore other cultures,” Russell said.

The expansion of the sixth-grade language arts program was intentional and based on students’ needs now and in the future, she said. Students will be exposed to a variety of genres, and while reading whole class novels, they will continue with independent reading to grow their reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. And through focusing on Greek and Latin roots, she expects students to improve their vocabulary.

“The language arts program in the sixth grade is designed to spark students’ interest and enhance their knowledge in reading, writing, listening and speaking,” Russell said.

Through the Pursue Languages partnership, seven students from Spain will be attending NSA this year, and middle school students will have the opportunity to take part in a three-week immersive global experience through the Independent Schools Cultural Alliance.

The partnership started as an exchange program in 2019, when the school hosted 12 students from Spain for two weeks. NSA students had been scheduled to visit the same students in June 2020, but the pandemic forced the postponement of the trip.

At the end of the current school year, a group of NSA students will go to Spain for two weeks, and in the future, Russell said, they want to offer students the chance to spend a year abroad in Spain.

The school this year also is hosting students from China, Brazil and Germany.

Students can also build their language skills through NSA’s partnership with the Constellation Learning Institute. Russell said the program allows students with scheduling conflicts or who have an interest in a class the school doesn’t offer to take a language class led by teachers from other independent schools.

Russell said it was an idea from a few upper school students to have a more formal student mentor program, and they worked with upper school administration to develop and implement one.

“The program has already proven to be very helpful to students,” Russell said, “and we are extremely proud of our student mentors for all of their hard work and leadership.”

The changes in programming and campus enhancements, she said, align with NSA’s Saints Values of character, community, excellence and discovery while it “further(s) our mission of engaging, inspiring and empowering our students.”

The school, with 927 students from pre-K through 12th grade — 277 in grades nine through 12, 192 in grades six through eight and 458 in pre-K through fifth grade, which includes both its Main Campus on Pruden Boulevard and its Harbour View campus in North Suffolk — is experiencing “a greater demand for enrollment” and has seen increases across grade levels.

She said the school has taken steps to become more inclusive since the summer of 2020, when a group of current and former NSA students and board members, known as the Anti-Racist Saints, called on it to acknowledge its past history and origins as a segregationist school and its contribution to injustice.

Russell said the school surveyed the NSA community on matters of inclusivity and multiculturalism and hired a consultant to work with members of the school community “to develop a plan, implementing a plan with specific initiatives to further our work in this area, further diversifying our board, faculty, staff and student body as well as providing training for our faculty, staff and trustees, among other initiatives.” It also has a page on its website that highlights NSA’s efforts in areas of inclusivity and multiculturalism.

The school is also working to navigate its way through proposed rezoning for the Port 460 Logistics Center project. Russell said the school “will continue to work with all parties to mitigate any potential concerns as a result of the possible development.”

As an independent school, it has been able to “pivot and adapt” the curriculum based on data and trends in student achievement and development. She said its staff continues to work on identifying students’ academic and social-emotional needs to eliminate learning barriers.

“We are committed to the intellectual, physical, emotional and social development of each student,” Russell said. “Our curriculum balances expectations for excellence and a sensitivity to individual differences and learning styles.”