We helped mitigate learning
loss over breaks by creating
a new academic calendar.


The New School is a public charter school in San Francisco founded on the principles of inquiry-based education, equity, and personalized learning.

As Team Lead for graduate student-run Studio Nü, I was responsible for leading a group of four designers throughout the design research and consulting process.

Role: Team Lead
Team: Zi Wang, Wilson Wu, Monica Poddar, Kush Dave
Timeline: February 2020 - December 2020


When students are away from teachers, their education suffers.

Even before school closures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, our team began consulting with the New School on how redesigning a century-old academic calendar could reduce summer slide and increase academic equity. When schools closed in May 2020, the challenge to keep students learning at pace became even more critical.


How can we help mitigate the learning loss that occurs when students are away from teachers?


The existing traditional academic calendar compared to our new year-round calendar.


While New School was familiar with the concept of a year-round calendar, they needed help conducting research specific to their learning style and goals, and assessing how teachers and families might respond to the shift. I was responsible for project management and research plan development. 

— 2 campus visits

— 3 comparative case studies of other year-round schools

— 1 generative exercise with school leadership

— 2 focus groups with staff

— 12 individual interviews with teachers, academic experts, and parents 

Design research with New School constituents and stakeholders.

A New Calendar

We planned to redistribute three weeks of the existing 10 week summer vacation time throughout the school year. 

California mandates that students have between 175 and 180 days of instruction per year. Our calendar maintained 175 days of official instruction, and redistributed break time in alignment with New School's curriculum learning arcs.

One of our primary insights was about intersessions — strategically using the mid-sized breaks throughout the school year to make sure students were up to speed, instead of trying to retroactively fill in gaps with a hail mary summer session.

Not only is this approach in line with New School's principle of individualized learning, but it allows teachers to course correct (when needed) with shorter, targeted projects over one to two weeks. 

Traditional calendar breaks
Our balanced calendar approach. Animation by Kush Dave.

More than a calendar

As we were developing the new calendar, COVID-19 was changing absolutely everything about how New School operated.

We proposed a take home package system to supplement virtual learning. We also hoped the packages could be a prototype for hybrid learning during intersessions in future school years. New School moved forward with the take home packages and developed a drive through system for families to safely pick up packages while saying hi to teachers and friends, to the delight of students.

Take home package proposal and implementation.

Results + Reflection

New School plans to implement our custom year-round calendar in the 2021 school year, as part of a long-term effort to mitigate learning loss brought on by distance learning and the COVID-19 crisis.

On a personal note, I strongly believe that quality early education is the foundation for a better future. As a designer, I’m learning that systemic change does not come easily or quickly. Making even one distinct change, like a school calendar, requires months of research and reflection...and we’ll still need to roll with the punches as we implement. This work expands my ability to facilitate, communicate, and iterate as a designer, and I will continue to be an advocate for equitable education as a result of this experience.


"Team Nü is incredible. They have thoughtfully used design thinking to address some of our largest and most complex educational equity dilemmas resulting in dynamic and creative solutions. They have literally changed the course of our school's trajectory and our most vulnerable students will experience more success and the hardest to reach families will be better informed.

A million thank yous for all of your hard work, dedication, passion and ingenuity. You have left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of our New School community and your contributions will last for many years to come - that's legacy!"

Shernice Lazare
Director of Curriculum, New School of San Francisco
© Tess Hannel 2021