Middle Schoolers Choose Adventure

Friends Rahul Iyengar, an Eighth Grader, and MJ Seitz-Yañez and Nina Oren, both in Ninth Grade, met a year ago when they all were part of the Middle School Future City team. A hands-on, cross-curricular interscholastic competition that brings STEM to life in Grades Six through Eight, Future City asks students to imagine how to make the world a better place and challenges them to envision a city that solves a major sustainability issue. Middle school teams from across the globe contend locally for a chance to reach the Future City Finals in Washington, D.C.

The Colorado Academy team’s city concept, “Caelum,” cleverly tackled climate change by addressing issues such as urban poverty, water availability, food security, and energy production, and their effort won first place in regional competition, qualifying them for a trip to nationals. And even though the team earned only twelfth place at the national level, the journey to get there, according to Rahul, was worthy of celebration from start to finish.

“I joined Future City for the challenge,” he explains, “but I stayed for the family that grew out of the experience.” A year later, the Future City family remains intact in many ways: MJ, last year’s region-winning general project manager, has handed that role over to Rahul, and the three competitors have stayed close through emails and texts. Though their connection now stretches across two divisions at CA, the thrill of envisioning the future remains a strong common thread.

“I love being surrounded by people who share similar interests and are as enthusiastic about things as I am,” says Rahul, whose passion for all things math, science, and engineering is infectious. “It was definitely exciting to be in a room full of people like that with Future City. That’s what I love most about CA—the ability to apply what I’m learning in classes to something that I really, really enjoy.”

That excitement sustains MJ and Nina, too, though in a different way in their first year of high school. For MJ, moving from the Middle School to the Upper School has meant more opportunities to branch out to explore music, theater, and especially athletics. “CA has sports that I’d never even heard of, like ultimate Frisbee,” she says. “My goal now is to try as many as I can before I graduate.”

Nina, too, has dived in deeper than ever. “The performing arts at CA are my whole life,” she proclaims. “The teachers in the theater and choir programs are just amazing—I’ve improved so much in a short time. I feel so comfortable being able to express myself here and just have fun with it.”

All three former teammates point to social studies as the place where their love for sharing ideas with peers feels most tangible at the moment. When the war between Israel and Hamas broke out in October 2023, scheduled debates in the Ninth Grade Global Perspectives course were postponed so students could learn about the history of the conflict and the latest news from the region.

MJ recounts, “I found I was trying to immerse myself more in global news—what’s going on in the world? What’s my impact on the world? How are my experiences different from someone else’s? How are they the same?”

In the Middle School, an open lunchtime forum gave students the opportunity to ask questions about the situation in the Middle East, from wondering about the background of the conflict to imagining the potential for a wider international war. “Everyone walked out knowing much more about the different sides of the issue than they did walking in,” says Rahul.

At CA, explains Nina, there’s a “Choose your own adventure” quality to each day: You might go from a voice lesson to a debate about current events, and then to a sports practice, theater rehearsal, or Mock Trial prep session. “Taking advantage of all those opportunities opens your mind to a lot of things.”