TNCS Celebrates Chinese New Year!

The Chinese Lunar New Year is always a big event at The New Century School, a time to reflect on all that has happened during the prior year, connect with family and friends, and eat delicious foods, all to start the new year off in a positive way. This year is Year of The Fire Monkey, and it starts Monday, February 8th. To gear up for this special occasion, TNCS elementary students attended a presentation on China On Friday morning.

Given by a TNCS parent volunteer, the presentation was intended to not only celebrate Chinese culture and customs, but also to invite the elementary attendees to compare and contrast what primary and secondary education looks like in China to their own experiences here as U.S. students. Please excuse generalizations (of both schooling styles), which were made simply for the purposes of the exercise and not to pass judgment on either.

Although at first glance, Chinese and U.S. schools looked pretty similar to the audience, with lots of smiling faces and a happy sort of hubbub going on around campus, the differences became more evident once inside the classroom. Discipline and respect are highly prized in the Chinese classroom, meaning that kids are not permitted to fidget and must sit quietly—on their hands, in point of fact—until called on by the teacher. TNCS students, by contrast, are given the license to sit, stand, or recline where and how they wish at many points during the day so long as they demonstrate that they can handle this freedom and attend to their scholastic pursuits.

Advantages and disadvantages are evident in both approaches. TNCS students get to relax a little as well as not have to constantly fight their very natural instincts to move around, but the Chinese way allows up to 50 students per class to attend to a lesson without potential distractions from surrounding students.

Another point that TNCS students were asked to consider involved what are called “specials” at TNCS and include The Arts and physical education. In China, students are asked to replicate crafts and artwork from a model as well as exercise in perfect unison, and they are held to a very high standard of performance. This can mean that they are not given much opportunity to be creative or exhibit individuality in a given school day, although the skills they master are certainly impressive. U.S. students, by contrast, are frequently encouraged to find their unique identity and then express the heck out of it. However, they may not develop technical mastery of what inspires them at as young an age as do their Chinese counterparts. So, again, one approach might work for some, another for others.

The outcomes of these different approaches are, in some ways, “worlds apart.” While it’s certainly true that Chinese students command a large body of information and demonstrate their capacity for retention at test time, some of their teachers commented on their inability to think for themselves in non-academic environments. Many Western students experience nearly the exact opposite, following their individual paths of inquiry wherever they might lead and employing critical thinking and creative problem-solving to get them down the road. However, the United States ranks far below China (and 20 or so other countries) in measurable scholastic skills like math. This might matter a lot to some, less so to others, but once more the point is in exploring the two styles. Ultimately, it’s probably true that neither educational approach is perfectly ideal across all settings or contexts.

Nevertheless, TNCS students enjoyed teasing out both the differences and the parallels, and it was gratifying to see them imagining themselves in the shoes of a Chinese student. Their observations were insightful and even sometimes incisive. It’s a good bet that many of them would like to visit China for themselves in the near future.

In the meantime, they can content themselves with the video below of the slides presented today in addition to turning their thoughts to the approaching lunar new year, which Li Laoshi and Yangyang Laoshi are sure to help them celebrate with a bang! We hope that this Monkey Year brings you and yours health and happiness!

TNCS Parent Workshop: Making the Transition from Pre-Primary to Primary

This week’s Immersed post is a very special one, brought to you by TNCS Primary Teachers Maria Mosby (main author, photographer) and Lisa Reynolds (main photographer), with additional contributions from TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali and Pre-Primary Teacher Yu Lin.

Their topic? The New Century School‘s Pre-Primary Parent Workshop held January 21, 2016, which was in itself something a little different, focusing on how to make the transition from the pre-primary classroom to the primary classroom a smooth one for our 3-year-old friends. It’s quite a big step for such small children, and many parents experience considerable anxiety about how their child will handle it—a baby in diapers in spring, to a self-possessed student of a multilingual Montessori classroom come fall? Impossible! Yet this is exactly what occurs each year, to the amazement of parents, the delight of the kids themselves, and with knowing smiles by the teachers. And so without further ado, here’s how they do it, as written by Ms. Mosby as well as an excerpt from Lin Laoshi!

The purpose of the Parent Workshop was to give parents an overview of what their child’s experience would be like once they move up to the primary classroom, as well as answer any questions, and perhaps help alleviate any anxiety they might be feeling. It began with Lin Laoshi talking about the difference between the pre-primary and primary classrooms, with the focus being more on independence in primary:

The TNCS pre-primary program is a language immersion program, focusing on foreign language enrichment. Children are exposed to the language 100% of school time. They learn languages through singing fun songs, playing games, doing hands-on activities, and attending cultural presentations. The classroom setting relies mainly on group work with the guidance of the program teacher.

The TNCS primary program is a mixed-age Montessori program, which encourages students to be independent, explore freedom within limits, and learn to establish a sense of order. They are encouraged to choose any activity from within a prescribed range of options and do their work independently most of their school time.

In order to bridge the gap between the two programs, students in the pre-primary program are gradually encouraged to do more things by themselves to enhance their abilities of self-awareness and self-control.”

Mrs. Danyali then gave the parents insight into the placement process and an overview of the primary program, while I walked them through a typical day. From there, it became more of an open discussion and question-and-answer session.

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A quiet, cozy moment with a friend in the peace corner goes a long way to making children feel comfortable and at ease.

What particular challenges the children will face was a big part of the discussion. Separation tends to be the biggest issue in my experience. Even though these students have been to school before, they are entering a different environment with new teachers, new friends, and new routines. That’s a lot for a young child at once. We try to make the transition as gentle as possible, and make them feel at home.

Another difficult aspect for the new children can be understanding that not all of the Montessori materials are available for them to use just yet. Everything is so new and enticing—in fact, the Montessori materials are specifically designed to call to the children. However, a new 3-year-old, though very excited by the movable alphabet or bead cabinet, is most likely not quite ready to use these materials. That’s why it’s so important to go over preliminary lessons, or the “ground rules” of the classroom, several times in group and individual situations to kindly but firmly give reminders to all.

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This group Spanish lesson on rainforest animals shows that little kids really can focus . . . even it means keeping their hands otherwise occupied!

Another point to remember is that we make sure each individual child is ready for this transition. Our administrators are very skilled at making sure that children who move up are both physically and emotionally ready. In the rare cases in which a child has shown signs of not being comfortable in the new environment, we worked with the parents to help the child become more independent and develop the skills he or she needed to feel secure in the primary classroom. Consistency and partnership between home and school is, thus, vitally important, as is respect for the child and his or her individual needs.

The photos below (picturing kids who just moved up to primary this school year) erase any doubt that young children are eager to embark on journeys of independence and self-exploration. They learn by doing at this age, and allowing them this opportunity does wonders for their self-esteem, let alone their physical and cognitive development.

The take-away message is, parents should be reassured that this transition needn’t be a scary experience, and there isn’t much special preparation* necessary. We are set up to welcome all children as they are, and the primary classroom is the next step in the work that they’ve already been working so hard at in pre-primary—developing self-help skills, socialization, motor skills, and working within a community.

*Here are some practical tips for parents to familiarize themselves and their children with the exciting changes to come.

  1. It’s great for parents to prepare their children for the transition by talking about it in a positive way, perhaps choosing new items together for the new school year.
  2. Talk about it—but not too much too soon. Constantly discussing the transition, especially when it might be months away, may create anxiety for your child.
  3. Slowly begin introducing more opportunities for independence (allowing your child to dress himself with support, help to pack lunch, etc.). However, I don’t advise rushing toileting or to cause children think there is a “deadline” for them to be ready. This may have the opposite of the desired effect.
  4. Visit the primary classrooms and read up on Montessori theory. A great introduction is A Parents’ Guide to the Montessori Classroom, by Aline Wolf. It’s a quick read and gives an overview of philosophy and materials. Lin Laoshi also recommended the book, Mindful Discipline, by Shauna Shapiro, PhD. Additionally, Mrs. Danyali provided a Reading List that includes these and other very helpful titles.
  5. Come to the “Back-to-School Meet and Greet” with your child at the beginning of the school year. It’s a great opportunity for your child to meet his teachers, new friends (and likely some old friends!), and become acclimated to the new environment.
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This sweet smile kind of says it all.

 

 

TNCS Elementary Walks back through History with Frederick Douglass!

February marks Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, the annual celebration of notable achievements by African Americans as well as a time to reflect on their critical role in the history of the United States. This period of recognition dates back to 1915, 50 years post-emancipation, when historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). This organization went on to sponsor a week dedicated to Americans of African descent during the second week of February, which coincides with the birthdays of two of the most important figures in all of U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Since 1976, that week has expanded to embrace the whole month of February, and each year the sitting U.S. president has established a different theme for Black History Month. For 2016, that theme is “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories.”

Elementary students at The New Century School learned last week that Baltimore can be counted as one of these hallowed places in U.S. history. Although Maryland upheld the constitutionality of slave-holding from 1715 through 1864, the city of Baltimore was a hybrid of northern and southern proclivities. Being so close to the Mason-Dixon line, it was a stopover point for escaping slaves headed north to abolitionist states or Canada. It was also home to many freed former slaves, one of whom was Frederick Douglass himself.

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TNCS Elementary students explore Fell’s Point, an area steeped in history and human endeavor.

TNCS students got to experience a walking tour of Baltimore through the eyes of none other than this humanist visionary, hearing how he escaped from slavery to become one of the greatest and most influential abolitionist leaders, among all of his other celebrated accomplishments, including being the first African American to hold a high government office. Brought to life by teacher, historian, blogger, and self-styled “griot” Dr. Brian C. Morrison, “Frederick Douglass” mesmerized the kids with his life story. Pointing out places where he lived and worked as they walked, he explained how he escaped both actual bondage as well as broke free of the less tangible shackling of 19th-century U.S. society, in which even free people of color were not accorded the rights to education, voting, land-holding, etc. of U.S. citizens.

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Intellectual and influential speaker Frederick Douglass, as played by Dr. Brian C. Morrison.

Dr. Morrison supports the William J. Watkins, Sr. Educational Institute, which was established “to ensure that ALL children, especially those in under-served and under-resourced communities receive the best education possible.” In this way, he not only inhabits the character of Frederick Douglass but also continues Douglass’ legacy as an advocate for civil and human rights, the pursuit of education, and free debate.

The walking tour culminated at the Frederick Douglass | Isaac Myers Maritime Park & Museum located overlooking the harbor on Thames St. in Fell’s Point, where Frederick Douglass took a few questions before they visited the exhibits. TNCS students asked questions that got to the heart of the matter: “How can one man own another?” for example.

The learning didn’t stop there. Elementary Language Arts and Global Studies teacher Kiley Stasch always finds ways to connect her dual subjects, so, on returning from their walking tour, TNCS students were asked to compose a narrative from a runaway slave’s point of view. “I set up a simulation in which they rolled a die to see where they might wind up after fleeing the plantation they started from,” said Ms. Stasch. “It was the luck of the dice to see where they went next at each step of the journey.” This showed the students that so much of a slave’s chance of successful escape was completely out of their own control: “They saw how much uncertainty and difficulty a slave would likely encounter.” After they had the blueprint of their stories, they were asked to reflect on the journey along the Underground Railroad and the outcome—some made it to freedom and some did not—and then write about them.

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Abolitionist poster.

“They were completely captivated by this interactive experience,” said Ms. Stasch, “and I got really great feedback from them about this unit.” She has other activities and possible field trips planned throughout the upcoming weeks related to Black History Month, but TNCS elementary students will not soon forget their encounter with Frederick Douglass or with what it was like to follow the North Star with the fervent hope of reaching a better place.

Meet the Teachers: Wei Li and Yangyang Li!

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In a true blending of cultures, Li Laoshi and Yangyang Laoshi enjoy some Mexican food . . . with chopsticks!

Although neither Wei (Vivian) Li nor Yangyang Li is exactly new to The New Century School, they have each adopted larger roles within the language department for the 2015–2016 school year. Having first joined the TNCS community in summer 2015 as one of the Lead Teachers on the 2015 STARTALK team, Li Laoshi is now heading up the Mandarin department as Director of the Chinese Language Program and Lead Mandarin Elementary Teacher. Yangyang (first name used to avoid confusion with Wei Li) Laoshi’s first experience at TNCS was as Mandarin Assistant Teacher in the 2013–2014 school year, followed by teaching in the 2014 TNCS STARTALK program. She is now serving as the Primary Mandarin Teacher as well as helping Li Laoshi run the Mandarin department.

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Li Laoshi is ready to take on the world!

Both teachers are eminently qualified to teach Mandarin. A native of China, Li Laoshi  moved to the United States and dedicated herself to personal development and education after having taught International Business at the Hunan Vocational College of Science and Technology for over 9 years. Interested in enhancing her teaching experience, she earned a Master’s Degree in Education: Teaching Chinese as a Second Language from the University of Maryland, College Park in the spring of 2015 as well as a Maryland State Teaching Certificate. Before coming to TNCS, she completed an internship at the Baltimore International Academy, a full language-immersion elementary school. Li Laoshi is experienced in program design, curriculum development, lesson planning, classroom materials preparation, and assessment.

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Yangyang Laoshi and her cast of STARTALK characters!

Yangyang Laoshi is from Chengdu in the Chinese southwestern Sichuan province. She has a Master’s degree in teaching Chinese to speakers of other languages from Sichuan University, which is one of the Top Ten universities in China, as well as a Certificate of Accreditation for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. Before she came to TNCS, she worked as a Chinese teacher in the Chengdu American Center for Study Abroad and the Sichuan University Overseas Education College for 1 year, teaching students from New York State University. She also worked as an English Teaching Assistant in a Private English Training School, assisting British teachers with their classes of preschool children ages 3–5 years. Yangyang Laoshi also has the very special distinction of being an accomplished pipa musician.

Qualifications aside, what makes them true educators is their approach to teaching. Seeing them in action is to understand that teaching is their life’s calling, not just a job. They guide, they coax, they laugh—learning is interactive play. They are rarely—if ever—not smiling. No wonder TNCS students respond to them so readily! They have these qualities in common with the other TNCS teachers, and it’s nice to see how disciplines and departments have meshed so well this year. And, to maintain continuity with what and how students have learned in past years, they have regular contact with Xie Laoshi (Jewel), who remains a vital part of the Mandarin program, albeit in a behind-the-scenes capacity.

As such, they have devised a curriculum that is:

  • National standards guided
  • Theme based
  • Age- and language-proficiency appropriate
  • Relevant to daily life
  • Integrated with culture
  • Student centered (what Li Laoshi considers most important)

See examples of some of their past months’ lessons in these links: September, October, and November. As you can see, body parts, family life, and food comprise a large part of these lessons, which makes sense given their criteria in the bullets above. What could be more relevant to kids this age than those three topics? And, see for yourself how easily they connect to these topics, which translates into ready fluency. This video features a Primary student, who had never encountered Mandarin Chinese before enrolling at TNCS this academic year reading Chinese characters aloud about the hours of the day. She is developing her English language skills at the same time. These students are also able to write some of the characters they read.

With only 45 minutes per class, the Chinese teachers nevertheless work in a lot of practice with the language—which is the only way students are really going to be comfortable speaking it. So, they incorporate card games and other games, role-playing, songs, and body movement, based on the proven effectiveness of Total Physical Response (TPR)*. In this video that employs TPR, you can see it in action. (I love my [insert family member.])

Older students additionally take on larger projects, such as “making” and “selling” food. This provides ample opportunity for learning vocabulary related to various foods and cooking as well as working with Chinese currency, the yuan. They “earned” their money by answering questions correctly, a built-in incentive to demonstrate their proficiency.

A similar project was test-run in last summer’s STARTALK, and it was a runaway success. The kids could not stop talking about their “Night Market” and felt excited and proud by what they accomplished. The genius of this kind of project, in which the kids completely lose themselves, is that they are conversing and interacting completely in Mandarin, almost effortlessly. Contrast this with more traditional language classrooms in which students commonly feel self-conscious and struggle to overcome their reticence. “Students feel happy in my class,” said Li Laoshi. “They are enjoying learning; they don’t feel it’s a burden—even the shy ones and those who have never learned Chinese,” she said, even confessing to nearly crying with joy at their achievements. “The Chinese language is totally different from English and Spanish,” she continued. “Because it’s so complicated, the first step is to get the students interested, to motivate them. Then, they really open their hearts.”

Yangyang Laoshi agrees. “I search for games that relate to our lessons,” she said, “but if the kids don’t like them, we find something else instead.” This ability to organize and plan outside of the classroom but adapt and be flexible within the classroom has allowed them to easily meet their goals of cultivating happy, engaged, Mandarin-speaking students. They say their Chinese friends and colleagues are thoroughly impressed by how good the students’ speech is, including some of whom have previously known these children, such as dear Fan Laoshi, who interned at TNCS last year and who remarked on their clarity of pronunciation.

An abiding love for teaching and for their TNCS students is what they attribute their current classroom happiness and success to. “That’s why I came back here from China.” said Yangyang.

Speaking for the TNCS community at large, we are certainly glad to have you both at TNCS!

 

*Total Physical Response (TPR) was developed in the mid-1960s by Dr. James Asher as a method of learning a second language. Asher noted that the conventional approach to learning second languages differed dramatically from how infants learn their first language. Infants learn to communicate by internalizing language, a process of protracted listening and absorbing. TPR is a technique that replicates that process for learning second languages and beyond by giving a command, modeling the action described in the command, and then having the student imitate that action. Students are not initially asked to speak, but to comprehend and obey the command. Understanding is at the root of language acquisition, according to Asher. This makes a lot of sense when you consider how babies learn to respond to increasingly complex utterances before ever verbalizing a thought.

Research demonstrates unequivocally that brains work more efficiently when the body is also engaged. In fact, neuroimaging shows that during movement, more brain areas are lit up, meaning that more of the brain is active and in use. Language acquisition via TPR takes full advantage of this “powered-up” state.

Excerpts from Exercising that Mind–Body Connection, from the Immersed archives

Meet the Teacher: Kiley Stasch Joins TNCS Elementary!

As the elementary program at The New Century School expands to accommodate its growing elementary student body, so too grows the elementary staff who guide and help educate them. For the 2015–2016 school year, TNCS welcomed Montgomery County native turned Baltimore resident Kiley Stasch as the new Language Arts and Global Studies teacher.

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Elementary Language Arts and Global Studies teacher Kiley Stasch in her TNCS homeroom.

“I’ve taught a broad range of areas in both public and private education,” said Ms. Stasch, all of which was part of her search to find the right fit. She graduated from Goucher College in 2012 with an Education major and a minor in Spanish. Since that time and before joining TNCS, she did lots of substitute teaching across Baltimore, such as at Roland Park Elementary and The Friends School to get the feel of both types of schools. Before deciding where she ultimately wanted to lead her own classroom, however, she went back for a Master’s Degree in teaching at-risk and diverse learners at Goucher. Then, being fluent in Spanish, she taught English in Peru over the past summer. “So being at a school like this is really exciting, to be able to find that bilingual connection and be in an environment that supports my speaking Spanish in the classroom,” she said. That sealed the deal for her.

Her bilingualism has not only been fun for her to use among classrooms full of students who share her ability to speak both English and Spanish, it has also allowed her to guide a (now formerly) non-English-speaking student who joined TNCS this academic year through the process of acclimating to unfamiliar surrounding amidst a new cohort of peers.

She spent the first weeks of school meeting in small groups to see where each student was in terms of reading and writing status so that she could differentiate instruction both among class levels and within each 2nd- through 5th-grade class itself. “Because we are able to do four separate small groups,” she said, “each student can be placed exactly where they should be and then challenged appropriately at that level.”

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The Daily 5.

As her main classroom focus is reading and writing, her students do the Daily 5, as they did  in previous years with Mrs. Duprau, but they reduce it to four daily rotations. “I decided to give the students a little more time with each of four components every day rather than squeezing in all five in the same day, so each day they get a break from one of the components and don’t get too tired of what they’re doing.” The Daily 5 components are:

  1. Tech Time with RazKids or SuccessMaker followed by comprehension questions
  2. Work on Words with Wordly Wise with accompanying assessment activities
  3. Work on Writing, which includes free writing such as letter-writing and regular, long-term formal assignments such as research on all things presidential (in preparation for their fall-term field trip to the White House)
  4. Meet with Teacher, which is shared chapter book–reading (of their choice, e.g., Bridge to Terabithia, Esperanza Rising, Because of Winn-Dixie, etc.) that they treat like a book club of about four or five students with group discussion
  5. Read to Self, which can be continuing to read the group book but independently, followed by the opportunity for reflective writing, or reading a book of their own choice

IMG_7142“Some students avoided writing at the beginning of the year, but now they are enjoying their assignments and looking forward to writing, which is huge progress,” said Ms. Stasch.

Global studies, the other subject she teaches, integrates well in the Language Arts classroom and invites independent and group inquiry as well as getting out of the classroom and into the world. A TNCS parent who works in government was able to arrange a special White House tour, so they headed to Washington, D.C. this past November. They also visited various museums depending on what particular unit they were studying. The 4th and 5th grades, for example, when to the National Museum of the American Indian to deepen what they had been learning in class about the First Americans.

In her first few months at TNCS Ms. Stasch has settled in quite well. “I’m happy with how things are going,” she said. “The first couple of weeks were focused on routines—getting into the flow of things. Now I think the students are in a more secure place and understanding what’s expected of them.” Teaching the diverse student personalities and learning styles—not to mention mixed-age classrooms—has also been a rewarding experience for her. Her past work experience includes teaching from Kindergarten through 7th grade, but “differentiating instruction when the grades are all together is quite different,” she said. “I’m enjoying that; it’s a lot of fun to be able to see all the different things I can do within classes and across levels.” It has served her well in other ways, too. From her student teaching and her substituting background, she thought she had settled on her ideal age-group of 2nd- and 3rd-graders. “But teaching 4th and 5th grades has been eye-opening,” she said. “I didn’t think I wanted to go that high, but the independence of the older group is great and allows us to take on more advanced projects. The older group surprised me.”

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Planners keep TNCS elementary students on task and on track.

That last statement has a somewhat wistful note, as some of those students will be moving on to Middle School soon, regarding which Ms. Stasch says she has been working hard to get the students ready for this transition. “What I’m focusing on is building skills, responsibility, organization, accountability. This grade level represents a fairly large jump in academic responsibility from what they were doing even last year, so they need to be prepared.” She has the 4th- and 5th-grade students use planners and be more self-motivated about completing and turning in their homework assignments, rather than relying on parents to organize them.”

Regarding homework, she has struck a nice balance between not overburdening students each night and creating assignments that can be augmented by parents should they feel their kids need more practice in certain areas. All of these things can be communicated via the planners, which also act as a conduit between Ms. Stasch and parents.

With 2015 behind us, Ms. Stasch has the winter and spring of 2016 brimming with engaging and inspiring academic explorations. Stay tuned to see what great new things TNCS elementary students will be doing!

 

 

Vote for Your Favorite Post of 2015

Happy New Year, TNCS Community! What a great year 2016 promises to be for The New Century School!

Immersed would like to take a trip down Memory Lane with you to find out what was your favorite post of 2015. This is not only a fun chance to reflect on all of the exciting school happenings that took place last year, but it’s also your chance to help us tailor content to what you really care about.

Please cast your vote for one of the posts from each month that were among the month’s top hits. Alternatively, you can fill in your own if you don’t see it in the list. Either way, please vote!

 

TNCS Middle School: Opening the Window of Awakening

As we approach the end of 2015, our thoughts naturally turn to what lies ahead in the coming year. For The New Century School, one thrilling near-future event looms very large: the opening of the TNCS middle school in fall 2016.

One of the more unfortunate American societal trends is that middle school–age kids are in a slump. Forgotten in the interstices between elementary school and high school, these kids are victims of what has been termed the “lost years.” Multiple factors contribute to this problem, but a key issue is that kids are still maturing yet are confronted with the many pressures and challenges of young adulthood. Many do not yet have the tools they need to face down these challenges and become confused and overwhelmed, which all too often leads to poor decision-making with potentially life-altering consequences, such as teen pregnancy or drug abuse. Another unfortunate consequence is that kids show less interest in learning, with correspondingly lower academic performance.

The good news is, these problems are preventable, and TNCS is leading the charge to revolutionize middle school education. Rather than view the middle school years as inevitably unproductive, TNCS sees them as a Window of Awakening—flipping the entrenched notion that kids at this age are a lost cause on its head. Middle school becomes an opportunity, not a wasteland. A juncture, not a dead zone.

So how will TNCS make middle school a positive experience for students? Of course, the scholastic piece will maintain continuity with TNCS’s core identity as a progressive, inquiry-based learning institution that emphasizes global citizenship and community spirit. TNCS administration is in talks with a middle school curriculum expert to ensure that the curriculum will be rigorous and engaging, meets or exceeds state standards, and is relevant and therefore meaningful for students ages 10–14 years. Mixed-age classrooms, individualized instruction, and language acquisition will remain vital components in effecting this specialized middle school curriculum.

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The real difference will be in embracing the oft-squandered opportunity that these years present to keep them invested in their learning. It’s an opportunity to really set them up for success in high school and beyond with the explicit practical skills they will need. These include physical and mental organizational skills (e.g., keeping track of materials; time management) and developing the habits of successful students (to study smarter, not harder). And, more than that, it’s an opportunity to guide them in their search for their identity to who they really are—to help them actualize their innate potential and goodness.

Akin to the preschool years in some ways, during the middle school years, kids need parents more, not less. Despite their kids’ outward physical growth and the biological changes that seem to propel them to adulthood, parents retain more influence over kids at this age than they might realize. Although kids test out rebellion and throw up opposition every chance they get, these might be requests for attention and help. They are navigating a huge new world, and sometimes they want their hands held along the way.

TNCS is a small, close-knit school. Many among the student body have known each other since toddlerhood. While many preteens and teens are crumbling under peer pressure, pressure to conform, and the pressure to make good choices about huge decisions with their as-yet limited knowledge and experience, TNCS middle school students will benefit from being a part of this protective community where they will be free take things at their own pace.

At the same time, an integral school value is the courage to take risks—not to be confused with condoning risky behavior. This risk-taking is about creativity. Problem-solving, conflict resolution, trying new things, innovating . . . all of these are hallmarks of happy, successful, self-possessed individuals. TNCS middle school will create frameworks for possibility, in the words of The Art of Possibility, a groundbreaking book comprising 12 practices for bringing creativity into any endeavor.

True to TNCS’s mission, fostering compassion and its logical consequence, altruism, the middle school will broaden and deepen the mentorships begun in the younger divisions such as elementary students reading to the pre-primary and primary students. Here, these mentorships might take the form of actual instruction, which will benefit both groups, the younger  kids by the content of the instruction and the older kids by the act of instructing. The “Learning Pyramid” posits that we retain 90% of what we learn when we teach it to someone else. Leadership skills will be further cultivated through proposed formation of a student government.

They will reach out to the larger community as well with targeted “service learning.” In the words of the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, service learning is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” The possibilities for specific programs are endless, but partnering with Habitat for Humanity is one example of ways TNCS middle school students might participate. Maryland, by the way, was the first state to require service-learning hours as a condition of graduation from high school. (Click here to read some of the many academic, personal, and social student benefits of community engagement.)

Field trips will also take on a service-oriented hue. The upper elementary students are already taking excursions with teachers Kiley Stasch and Dan McGonigal that are connected to their in-class study. By applying what they have learned to the real world, they are then invited to reflect on their experience to reinforce the link between their service and their learning. Given their status as ever-maturing young people, these trips may take them farther afield than where they have so far gone, in keeping with TNCS’s global vision.

Why a middle school? TNCS Co-Founder/Executive Director said it best: “At the end of the day, what we want for our kids is for them to be happy with who they are and what they are doing.” And that’s what TNCS middle school will be all about.

Happy Holidays, TNCS Community! See you next year!