Back-to-School Traditions from around the World!

The first day of school is this Monday, August 31st for students of The New Century School and other Baltimore City schools. School accounts for a very large share of a child’s daily life—it’s a really big deal. And that is just as it should be. To celebrate this very special time in your child’s life and to give that first day back its due, Immersed is sharing some very lovely and unique back-to-school traditions from around the world (proceeding in alphabetical order, of course).

Germany: Schultütes


This 1st-grader was presented with her “sugar cone” after a very successful first day of school.

Austrians and Germans make quite a fanfare over students entering Grade 1. Parents and grandparents fill decorated paper cones called schultütes with school supplies, trinkets, and candy and present these “sugar cones” to their first-graders on their very first day of school.

India: Praveshanotsavam


The first day back to school in India has a festive atmosphere, where learning is considered a gift.

Indian students celebrate “Admission Day,” by exchanging gifts, such as balloons, candy, and books. But because this day falls within the Indian monsoon season, umbrellas are by far the most popular gift to give and receive!

Israel: Aleph-bet


Israeli older students form an archway that 1st-graders symbolically pass through to an important new era in their lives.

Israeli kindergarteners are reminded that learning the Torah is as sweet as honey when they begin to learn the letters of the aleph-bet. These letters are drawn on a chalkboard with honey, and student gets to lick away each one they correctly identify. Older students create their own style of fun by releasing balloons out of schoolhouse windows on the first day of school. They also congregate to greet 1st-graders in a special ceremony outside the school.

Japan: Nyugakushiki


Students pose outside the school on the first day, about to embark on an important “new beginning.”

Coinciding with the blossoming of the cherry trees, school in Japan starts in April. For the Japanese, Spring symbolizes new beginnings, and what more appropriate new beginning to get off on the right foot than the academic year? During nyugakushiki, a ceremonial greeting to new students and their parents, the children wear new uniforms and their parents dress in their best, often including mothers in traditional kimonos. For students entering their first year of schooling, the big memento is a backpack, or randoseru, traditionally in black for boys and red for girls. These backpacks might be passed down through generations or purchased new, but either way, the Japanese believe this tradition will get their children off to a successful start.

New Zealand: Powhiri 


In the Maori tradition, first encounters must be done properly to ensure a smooth future.

New Zealanders start school in February with a welcoming ceremony called a powhiri or “encounter,” which reflects the indigenous Maori culture. Including speeches, songs, and stomping and hand-clapping (called haka), this ceremony welcomes students, staff, and families alike to the new school year!

Russia: День Знаний

In Russia, the school year typically begins September 1st. On this “Day of Knowledge,” students wearing white ribbons either on their school uniforms or in their hair present fresh flowers to their teachers to honor these vital personages. The school year officially starts with the ringing of a bell—but no ordinary bell-ringing! A 1st-grade girl carried on the shoulders of a 12th-grade boy through a crowd of spectators rings a special bell as loudly as she can in this charming and symbolic ceremony.


The departing generation passes on the baton to a new generation of learners, symbolizing progress.

Other countries have their special traditions, too, from adorning student smocks in Italy with ribbons that correspond to their grade level to bouquets of flowers in Kazakhstan classrooms to represent the growth and progress students will make during the school year. Whatever your back-to-school tradition may be, whether commemorated with colorful balloons, sweet treats, flowers, or new school supplies, make this year count. Welcome to the 2015–2016 school year, TNCS community!

Meet the Newest Addition to TNCS’s Administration!

tncs-new-admissions director

Welcome to TNCS, Ms. Sanchies!

This summer, The New Century School welcomes Dominique Sanchies to the vibrant and dedicated administrative team. Ms. Sanchies will adopt a somewhat new-for-2015 “combination role”—she will take over as Admissions Director (the position recently vacated by Robin Munro as she returns to the Biology classroom) as well as becoming Assistant Head of School to support current Head of School Alicia Danyali.

Ms. Sanchies and her husband moved to Baltimore in March from Portland, Maine, a move she expected to be a bit of an upheaval. Instead, she says, “We love it here. In fact, Fell’s Point is a lot like Portland, which in turn is a lot like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which is Fell’s Point’s sister city.” Good to know! So far, they are glad to see the cobblestones, which remind them of home, but are still acclimating to the notorious Baltimore accent (“hon”). Also, hailing from the “Pine Tree State” as she does, she notes that we have a lot more deciduous trees, whereas Maine features largely coniferous varieties.

She arrives at TNCS with quite a diverse background, experiences that will serve her well in her new multifaceted position. Her degree is in Communications, earned at the University of Southern Maine. After graduating from college, she first worked in the television industry as Affiliate Relations Manager for Resort Sports Network (RSN), an independent cable sports network now known as Outside Television. In addition to traveling all over the country and getting the chance to “ski in some really wonderful places” she negotiated contracts between RSN and their more than 30 affiliate networks in all of the key U.S. destination skiing and golf resorts.

After 6 years with RSN, she became an account executive for a local Portland network where she fortuitously encountered a former colleague who was starting up her own local production company. Ms. Sanchies was hired as Director of Sales for Bohler Productions, a lifestyle television network with multiple Emmy-award-winning shows to their credit. “We sold nontraditional television media to area businesses,” she said, for such shows as Maine Home and Design and The Best of Portland. “Instead of traditional commercials, we sold 90-second spots that told the story of the business.” What emerged was basically a showcase of the best area spots for dining, shopping, lodging, etc., which was a very effective approach to advertising, a testament to Ms. Sanchies’ ability to innovate.

“From there,” she says, “I went corporate!” She became a Senior Analyst with the Fortune 500 insurance company UNUM, adjudicating claims in the long-term disability department, which she says was a surprisingly nice experience. “I had been accustomed to working for small companies, so to go to a major organization where I was pretty much just a number taught me the value of accountability and giving really clear expectations to not only myself but also to the people I was mentoring and managing. So, it brought a lot of formality that was kind of new to me but that I grew to love.”

The experience showed her that the right systems can be actually liberating rather than confining. Here at TNCS, she hopes to help the team implement a similar structure with upcoming initiatives and future school planning, “so that we work smarter, not harder to realize our new goals” she said.

While certainly dynamic, Ms. Sanchies’ résumé is nevertheless unified by a common thread. “I’ve been a relationship manager the whole time. If I were to distill selling media, for example, or working as a long-term care analyst, it all still comes down to relating to people,” she said. It’s this capacity for civil collaboration that will make her the ideal fit for her new position at TNCS, in which she will interact with teachers, other staff members, families, and, of course, students from ages 2 to 12.

Oh, and by the way, she’s multilingual—yet another plus! She grew up in a bilingual French/English household with most of her relatives from Québec, Canada speaking only French. She also picked up some Spanish along the way as she put herself through college working as a group representative for EF Foundation for Foreign Study, a foreign exchange student company headquartered in Switzerland. Her role was initially to find host families and teachers for her group of 22 Spanish students, but she ultimately traveled to Madrid, Spain to teach English as a second language there.

As if this impressive portfolio wasn’t enough, she is also a musician and has spent time as a part-time preschool music instructor—yet another boon for music-loving TNCS students! She describes the music in her two albums as “Cheryl Crow meets Dave Matthews.”

So what are her initial impressions of TNCS? “It’s summertime, so I haven’t gotten to meet all of the teachers—let alone the students—but what I’ve seen during the summer session is a charming place with lovely little people and a really dedicated staff,” she said. “So far so good!” She thinks the multilingual approach is “brilliant” and speaks from firsthand experience. Scientific research (see Immersed‘s Resources and Links pages) demonstrates that TNCS students are at the perfect age to learn languages because their nimble young brains are so nimble. “It also wards off dementia in old age and is really good exercise for the brain,” she said. (This phenomenon is known as “cognitive reserve”; read Ellen Bialystok and team’s fascinating research here.)

Pine TreeIn closing, Ms. Sanchies says she is “looking forward to meeting all of the students and families and really getting into her new role. And from what I’ve seen so far, the staff is invested on such a deep level.” Of course, there’s aways a bit of trepidation associated with taking on an entirely new endeavor, so perhaps to make Ms. Sanchies feel more at home, TNCS could debut a “Pine Tree Classroom” for the 2015–2016 school year. That would make a lovely addition to TNCS’s growing arboretum of Lemon Tree, Apple Tree, Pear Tree, Gingko, Oak, etc. classrooms :)!

STARTALK 2015 Campers Get a Taste of Taiwan!


The “costume room” at TECRO was filled with all sorts of interesting artifacts!

For the second year running, The New Century School is honored to be hosting STARTALK, the renowned language immersion program for students across the United States. As a key component of the program is cultural exploration, on Tuesday, July 14th, the lucky STARTALK campers traveled to Gaithersburg, MD to visit The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) Cultural Center.

TECRO is the Republic of China (ROC)’s principal representative office in the United States and maintains and develops bilateral relations between Taiwan and the United States. There are 12 satellite offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Guam, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, but the Gaithersburg office is the main center. Its mission is to provide ROC expatriates and the locals in the greater Washington, D.C. area with an opportunity to learn more about Taiwan’s culture.

From decorative art, to dance, to cuisine, STARTALKers experienced Taiwanese culture firsthand! After exploring the displays of fine ceramics, figurines, and beautiful puppets, campers watched several dance performances. As the campers learned, China has 56 ethnic minorities, each of which has a culture that is characterized by (among other features) a unique folk dance. Each ethnic group’s folk dance reflects the particulars of that group’s geography, culture, and history through choreography and costumes. Although not all 56 groups were represented, STARTALKers certainly got an idea of the breadth of Chinese folk dance, from the Tibetan Xie Dance, to the Han Lantern Dance, to the Dai Peacock Dance, and more. They were understandably in awe of the talented young dancers!

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Authentic Chinese cuisine was served for lunch, which the kids devoured—and this was no “American” Chinese restaurant fare. Fried egg with spinach and tomato over rice, meatball with cabbage, and five-spice chicken made up the meal, and it was so good that some kids asked for another, to go!

The visit ended with some physical activity, as the kids learned how to perform the ribbon dance themselves, a welcome treat. Each camper also got a poster and a CD of traditional Taiwanese music to take home. Xièxie, TECRO, for a super day! 谢谢!

TNCS-Approved Resources: Avoid the Summer Slide!

Since its inception in 2010, The New Century School has annually offered resources to families to help prevent the “summer slide” phenomenon that can happen to kids over summer break when they might be less academically engaged than during the school year and lose scholastic ground as a consequence. Although this problem disproportionately affects underserved communities, it is nevertheless felt to a certain degree across the board, as teachers find themselves re-teaching concepts that were learned the previous year and then forgotten. Some research has shown that students can lose as much as 3 months of reading and math achievement over the course of just one summer. (See Making Summer Count for more details on relevant studies.)


Enoch Pratt’s Summer Reading program awards prizes to kids who fulfill a specified reading requirement and also offers the chance to “read down” your library fines!

The best way to slow the summer slide, according to the research, is to provide students with resources and educational activities. For summer 2015, TNCS’s elementary teachers compiled their own special set, curated especially for TNCS students. They also remind parents that summer is the ideal time to take trips to museums and libraries, get involved in organized activities, and making sure kids have access to books. In fact, Enoch Pratt library offers a wonderful summer reading program to incentivize kids to read, read, and read some more during summer. See Summer Reading Program for more information.

Language Arts

After TNCS students have worked very hard on their reading and comprehension all year long, to keep these skills sharp, try to read with your child each day and ask questions or talk about what you have read together. Here are suggested lists of unforgettable books, differentiated by grades*:

*The TNCS elementary team says: “Please remember, each child’s reading level develops at different rates. Some of these titles or authors may seem too easy or too difficult for your child. If your child picks a book you think may be too hard, have him/her read a full page aloud to you. If there are five or more mistakes while reading, the book is probably too difficult. If there are fewer than 5 errors, the book seems to be a good fit!”

Another list comes from 4th- and 5th-grade TED-Ed Club Members, who shared the books that they’ve recently read and want to recommend to other kids their age: “TED-Ed’s Summer Reading List: 31 great books for students, chosen by students.”

TNCS students have also been introduced to multiple easy-to-access language arts websites. The students will be familiar with their log-in information, having spent time on them throughout the prior school year. These include:


Math skills can also be lost without regular practice. Here are websites that TNCS students can use during the summer months:

World Languages

To keep current on both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese skills, your kids can visit the following websites (they will already know their log-in information for some of these):

The TNCS elementary team looks forward to seeing their students back for the 2015–2016 school year, refreshed and ready to hit the ground learning!

Help TNCS Support Pratt’s Summer Reading Program!

The New Century School is pleased to be helping Enoch Pratt Free Library and Pratt Contemporaries get the word out about their summer reading programs to prevent the loss of academic ground known as “summer slide” that can occur when school is out and students lack scholastic materials to stay engaged with. “In 2014, more than 38,500 kids participated in Pratt’s summer programs, with more than 15,800 children enrolled in the cornerstone Summer Reading Program. According to last year’s records, kindergarten through 5th-grade participants logged more than 5.2 million minutes of reading, and teen participants read over 8,000 books,” said Pratt’s Deputy Director of Institutional Advancement, Shelly Terranova.

Studies show that reading helps reduce the academic loss that is “nearly impossible to make up, compounds over time, and particularly impacts children in underserved communities.” (Read more about summer slide in Making Summer Count—Weekly Camps at TNCS.) Pratt’s 9-week Summer Reading Program encourages kids to keep reading during the summer months by making it fun with incentives (see below) and an annual theme. This year’s theme is “Every Hero Has a Story.” Participants are treated to performances by musicians, dancers, magicians, storytellers, authors, illustrators, and cartoonists. The program runs through August 8th.

Says Pratt Contemporaries board member and TNCS mom Jung Lieu, “Our focus is on funding children’s programs at the library and promoting child literacy. Many Baltimore city libraries serve as a safe haven for children, especially in underserved communities.” For just $60 each, you can sponsor one or more children for a whole summer’s worth of library programs. Footage from last year shows just how wonderful this program really is.

This year, however, brings even more compelling reasons to become a sponsor. “I think the Summer Reading Program campaign this year is very timely because of recent unrest in Baltimore city, and this is a way for us to be able to have a positive impact in these children’s lives and promote education as the solution,” said Mrs. Lieu. TNCS will be coordinating various community outreach efforts on an ongoing basis, but in the meantime, please consider sponsoring one or more children this summer.

Another great way to participate is by registering your own pre-K to rising 5th-grade children, who can win prizes (not to mention keep their brains fit) just by reading! Visit for details on how to register at your local library branch, see what fun prizes your kids can win, access suggested reading lists, and download a free tracker to chart your child’s progress. Got library fines? You can even read them away!

Finally, here are Tips for reading as a family from Baltimore City Schools for promoting reading as a daily activity.

TNCS Elementary Attends Healthy Harbor Report Card Release!


TNCS upper elementary enjoyed their last field trip of the year that was fun and educational. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Record.)

On June 4th, The New Century School‘s upper elementary class took a walking trip to Harbor East to attend Baltimore’s annual “Healthy Harbor Report Card 2014 Release”. This field trip was the culminating event of STEM teacher Dan McGonigal’s yearlong in-class exploration of our local waterways—how to keep them clean, why they are so critically important, and what responsibility Baltimore citizens individually should assume regarding these bodies of water. It was an ideal theme, inviting exploration from many STEM angles, and it also set the tone for Mr. McGonigal’s extremely successful first year at TNCS. From the STEM Fair, to Earth Day community outreach in the form of storm drain stenciling, to attending the Health of the Harbor announcement, TNCS elementary students have made a deep connection with Baltimore’s very special natural environments this year.

Mr. McGonigal said that in addition to closing out the water theme of the 2014–2015 school year, he also wanted “to make the end of the year productive, but also fun for the students.” Achieved in spades if these photos are any indication!
And it’s no wonder—Baltimore has achieved something unique with its concerted efforts to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020. Swimmable?! Fishable?! You read correctly: Healthy Harbor is an initiative of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, and the Report Card, which is ultimately a tool that helps communicate the swimmable/fishable goal and track progress, is the result of the Waterfront’s partnership with Blue Water Baltimore (whom you may recall donated TNCS’s storm drain stenciling materials).

The water wheel in all its glory—Fun fact: trash picked up by Mr. Trash Wheel generates power for Maryland homes!

To meet this lofty aim, which many once deemed utterly impossible, Baltimore installed the Inner Harbor Water Wheel at the end of the Jones Falls in May 2014 to intercept trash (which everyone who has ever laid eyes on the Inner Harbor recognizes as its biggest current plague). Invented by Baltimore resident John Kellett and his company Clearwater Mills, the water wheel has gained worldwide fame and provided the inspiration for similar water clean-up initiatives to be proposed globally, from Rio De Janeiro to Rotterdam. 


The ingenious design of this water wheel is a “game-changer for trash in urban water bodies!”

“Mr. Trash Wheel,” as the water wheel is now known, has accomplished some pretty extraordinary feats, as his Facebook page and frequent tweets attest (#MrTrashWheel). As of this week, in fact, Mr. Trash Wheel has intercepted 205 tons of trash before it reaches the Inner Harbor in its first year, and a whopping 45 tons from this past Monday’s storm alone! This more than doubles Mr. Trash Wheel’s former single-day record of 19 tons! Read more about the water wheel.


Mr. Trash Wheel’s first year of very hard work was commemorated with the world’s most disgusting-looking cake!

Healthy Harbor showed its appreciation for Mr. Trash Wheel’s hard work at the Report Card Release by celebrating his first birthday with a cake made of refuse—Mr. Wheel’s preferred intake, of course. And there was certainly cause to celebrate, because the Report Card—for the first time ever—showed a passing grade for Gwynns Falls! That the grade, a D–, is only barely passing is not the point. As one TNCS student remarked, “even though things seem bad, they are getting better.” That’s exactly right! Baltimore waterways are moving in the right direction. The plan is working, as presentations by representatives from the various stakeholders, including District 46 Delegate Brooke Lierman, clearly demonstrate.


Featured on the Report Card’s cover, these John Eager Howard elementary students are part of their school’s Green Team and gave a lovely speech on cleaning up the harbor.

Delegate Lierman (and TNCS parent) said of TNCS’s attendance at the event: “Involvement by students, like those at TNCS and John Eager Howard, is instrumental in helping us to ensure that Baltimore residents of all ages are invested in and working together to create a cleaner harbor! I’m so glad that students from both of these schools were able to attend the Report Card Release to learn firsthand about the need for advocacy and involvement to bring about positive change in our City.”

Afterward, Mr. McGonigal voted the walking field trip, “an awesome experience” and was very proud of his homeroom students who were respectful and focused during the speeches and presentations. “We learned a lot about the efforts in place to improve the health of the Baltimore Harbor and other area waterways. We also learned that there is a great effort by many people who are trying to help improve the situation. I hope we as a school can get further involved in projects related to the health of the harbor,” said Mr. McGonigal. He invites your suggestion and ideas for continued work by TNCS students.

In the meantime, you can read the 2014 Report Card here. Need still more good news? It’s here—officially announced just yesterday, Canton may be getting its very own water wheel! Also visit for more information and to donate in support of Baltimore’s second water-powered trash interceptor.

TNCS Elementary Field Trip: A Natural Choice


This is one happy TNCS elementary student!

A big theme of the 2014–2015 school year for The New Century School elementary students has been environmental sustainability. Ever a core school value, STEM teacher Dan McGonigal’s special focus on conservation efforts this year made environmental sustainability the axis on which many elementary projects turned, such as the STEM Fair and storm drain stenciling.

True to his “nature,” Mr. McGonigal organized an elementary field trip to the James and Anne Robinson Nature Center last month, so all elementary divisions headed out to Howard County to visit the state-of-the-art facility. Featuring interactive exhibits on local habitats, wildlife, and the Chesapeake Bay, the center was the perfect destination for TNCS elementary, who love joining learning with fun and also had studied habitats and local waterways in various formats throughout the year. Said Mr. McGonigal, “We chose this trip because it provided our students with exposure to the outdoors in a local environment, which most of our students don’t get a chance to see on a regular basis. The center provided a lot of hands-on experiences that were meaningful for the students and helped them to better understand conservation efforts. They also had several differentiated lessons for the students based on age and grade level. This allowed us to choose topics that better met our areas of study this year.”

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Between the discovery room and the digital, domed nature theater inside and the walking paths alongside native plants and rain gardens outside, the center kept TNCS students happily engaged. Additionally, each of the three divisions (K/1st, 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th) was accompanied by a guide who gave mini lessons, maintained an ongoing dialogue, and directed games and activities. “It was a wonderful experience. The classes were super interactive, the kids loved walking in the woods, and the exhibits were fun. The kids had a blast and learned a lot. It was fun to leave the city for the day!” said another TNCS elementary teacher, Adriana DuPrau.

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The center is also renowned for marrying form with function—it was designed not only to teach appreciation of the environment, but its design itself demonstrates environmentally sound practices! It has earned such awards as “Best Sustainability Project of the Year in New Construction” and Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy Design) Certification, the highest rating from the U.S. Green Building Council—none of which was lost on Mr. McGonigal. “The center uses earth-friendly materials, such as solar panels for geothermal heating, a permeable or porous pavement, green roof, rain garden, and more. Our third and fourth grade students focused on environmental technologies that helped the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem as part of their STEM Fair projects, and they got to see some other projects in action as well,” he said.

“It was a great trip, and our kids seemed to really enjoy it!” said Mr. McGonigal. It was certainly a great wrap-up to a very productive—and environmentally aware—year!

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