Illustration by Mel C.
The date is August 29, 2014, and Bay Meadows is undergoing a monumental change. Head of School Diane Rosenberg stands behind a blue ribbon, the only thing stopping a crowd of 160 freshmen and sophomores from sprinting through the doors of the newly-constructed Bay Meadows campus.
“Thank you for turning possibilities into reality. Today is your day,” says Rosenberg, and with these words she cuts the ribbon, releasing a torrent of students and parents into their new campus.
Soon, the empty halls, the unused classrooms, and the yet-to-be-laminated gym floor are filled with starry-eyed students, stepping foot into their new home in Bay Meadows from their previous campus at the College of San Mateo.
When the new Upper School campus first opened, Bay Meadows News headlined it as “A dream come true” for the neighborhood. The article commended the opening of Nueva, citing the school’s transit-oriented sustainability, interdisciplinary training, and discussion-based learning, declaring that “Bay Meadows is thrilled to have such forward-thinking youth and educators as an integral part of our growing community.”
Over the course of six years, the San Mateo campus has grown from its original size of 160 students to a robust 422. Students crowd the train platforms, play basketball on the neighborhood court, skateboard and scooter around the park, and patronize the local restaurants. It’s undeniable that Nueva’s student presence has permeated and transformed Bay Meadows throughout the neighborhood. However, times have changed. Ever since the state-wide shelter-in-place order of March 20, the restaurants and parks of Bay Meadows are empty amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The students that used to roam the neighborhood streets now remain at home. With Nueva so disconnected from its community in the Bay Meadows neighborhood, many students miss the routine behavior of the school week.
“I have debate practice every week and it’s become a weekly tradition for me to walk to either Habit or Whole Foods for dinner,” Spencer B. ’21 said. “It feels surprisingly weird to have school still but not do that.”
His sentiment is echoed by Miles F. ’22, who mentioned the Friday night robotics dinner that the team held in the neighborhood as one of the rituals he missed from pre-quarantine times. Their attitude is reflected by the larger community, who have also shared their nostalgia for their interactions with the Nueva Students at Bay Meadows.
Stefanie, a General Manager at The Habit who did not disclose her last name, echoed this sentiment.
“Now with all the high schools closed, along with everything else, it makes me miss the presence of people,” Stefanie said. “I used to have a dining room of people. In the afternoon I used to have a lot of kids that came after school for a quick bite. Now, there is no one.”
After six years of having a campus in Bay Meadows, students have integrated themselves into the community. Stefanie mentioned one experience with a Nueva student that stood out to her.
“I went to the bathroom and put my phone on the toilet paper dispenser but forgot about it. About 10 minutes later, a high schooler came to the front and returned my phone to me,” she said.
The walk to Caltrain is the greatest signifier of Nueva’s presence in Bay Meadows. The students passing through the neighborhood is one of the most visible and loudest events of the day for many of the surrounding businesses, so it’s no surprise that it gets so much attention. Every person that was interviewed, from police officers to startup workers, had mentioned the student migration that bookended school hours. Beverly Picardo, an instructor at LIFT exercise near the train station, credited student presence as having a positive impact in the neighborhood.
“The school brings great energy to a neighborhood that would otherwise be pretty blasé,” Picardo said.
Student’s connection to the community is still visible, even during the shelter-in-place. Whole Foods market is a quick walk from the campus, a fact that many students took advantage of before the pandemic and still do. Sam, a manager for Whole Foods, mentioned the volume of students remained stable during the shelter-in-place.
“Students work here, they shop here,” he said. “They want to be here. It’s great.”
Though this article was unable to contact many local businesses—attempts were made to interview Blue Bottle Coffee and Tin Pot Creamery to no avail—the many community members that were reached all had positive things to say about the school and its students. Christine Rimer, VP of Customer Experience at SurveyMonkey, recalls something that she had heard her friend and President of SurveyMonkey Tom Hale say about Nueva students.
“He would always try to get a seat near Nueva students,” Rimer said, “he loved the [intellectual] conversations students were having on Caltrain.”
Six years later, did Nueva fulfill the dream of Bay Meadows? The best way to tell may be to simply look at what all the community members are saying. From company presidents to Whole Foods employees, from The Habit managers to LIFT trainers, the people of Bay Meadows have praised and appreciated the student presence in the neighborhood. Students should be pleased to know that even while they’re stuck at home, unable to return to school, the Bay Meadows that they left behind still remembers how they’ve transformed the community.