TNCS’s Go-Green-for-Earth-Day Raffle!

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TNCS supports and uses green energy!

One of The New Century School‘s core values is a commitment to environmental sustainability, and TNCS demonstrates this commitment in a variety of ways. From serving lunch from homegrown or locally sourced produce, to running recycling campaigns, to powering the school buildings with green energy, TNCS strives to keep its carbon footprint as low as possible for the good of the planet.

In honor of Earth Day 2015, which is Wednesday, April 22nd, TNCS is inviting you to join in and go green, too! As detailed in TNCS Uses Viridian’s Power with Purpose, TNCS sources electricity through green-energy company Viridian, who has helped avoid more than 4 billion pounds in carbon emissions to date. By enrolling with Viridian, you not only opt to affordably supply your home with green energy, but you also earn cash rewards for TNCS without lifting a finger. There is no cost to change your energy provider to Viridian, and all you need is your current utility bill to quickly and easily make the switch.

You Win, TNCS Wins, Earth Wins!

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Why enroll for green energy with Viridian? Reduce your carbon footprint, show your support for socially responsible companies, and raise funds for TNCS!

Many of you have probably been considering signing up with Viridian, but, for one reason or another, just haven’t gotten around to it. Well, now’s the time! To sweeten the deal, TNCS and Viridian are jointly hosting a raffle for enrollees to be held at the April 24th Potluck. Just for enrolling, you receive a TNCS tee shirt, and you will also be entered in a raffle to win a $50 Amazon gift card, donated by Viridian.

How do you enroll? It’s so easy to do, and you have three convenient options to choose from!

1. Register online at: www.viridian.com/newcenturyschool. (Helpful tips include: Use Internet Explorer or Firefox rather than Safari, which is glitchy, and if you are opting for electricity only rather than electricity and gas, make sure to select “Not at this time” for gas on the Step 1 page.)

2. Call Viridian Customer Care at (866) 663-2508 (be sure to mention TNCS!).

3. Bring your current electric bill to the Potluck on April 24th, where TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali will be manning a sign-up table to switch you to Viridian on the spot.

And, regardless of how, when, or where you enroll, as long as you bring proof of registration to the Potluck, you will receive your TNCS tee and be entered in the raffle.

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Viridian FAQs.

If you need more information, please download this informative brochure of FAQs and other details, visit the website above, or contact Viridian at the number above.

This Earth Day—the 45th annual—is going to be a very special one, and some are calling 2015 the the most exciting year in environmental history. With the slogan “It’s Our Turn To Lead,” the Earth Day network is galvanizing countries globally to participate in this great enterprise. Choosing green energy is how we can contribute our voice and our support. With the coming week being Climate Education Week, we can also teach our future citizens the importance of behaving responsibly toward the environment—in fact, Thursday is Renewable Energy Day!

Other resources for your information include Affordable_Energy and Why Go Solar Now?.

Read-a-Thon Opens New Chapter for TNCS Outdoor Activities

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This is the mascot RAT (get it—Read-A-Thon?), who always has his long nose in a book!

On March 22nd, 2015 The New Century School launched its first-ever Read-a-Thon, which ran through Spring Break. To say that the event was an unqualified success is true on several levels. Collectively, TNCS students read about a ton of books, the school earned an impressive amount of funding for playground equipment and greenhouse materials, and the already-strong TNCS community galvanized in an altogether new way.

Before we get carried away with all of the excitement, though, let’s give some well-deserved credit to the mastermind behind this plan—three cheers for TNCS K/1st-grade teacher Teresa Jacoby! Hip hip hooray!!!!

Mrs. Jacoby, who specialized in literacy, says she has experience with the idea of read-a-thons, having put one together for a graduate school project. “I wanted to find something that would make kids interested in learning but also benefit the school, so I put together my own read-a-thon.” Fast forward to this, her first school year at TNCS, and she has does it again—but this time drew on some external resources. She says she really likes the ease and convenience that readathon.com affords. “Kudos to the people who designed this website,” she said. “Everything has been super easy to initiate and track, and the kids really seem to love it. They are reading, and that’s the important thing.”

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These TNCS students are part of the way through a pre-bedtime 20-minute reading session. The timer really motivated the kids!

TNCS students, indeed, read up a storm. Fledgling readers gained confidence and took off, confirmed bookworms luxuriated in the additional reading time allotted to them, and several readers progressed from picture books to chapter books during the event. Parents logged on with their special child-specific codes, set the timer for 10, 20, or 30-minute sessions, and word after word, sentence after sentence, page after page were hungrily absorbed by the eager readers. It was amazing how happily everyone embraced this endeavor!

In fact, the embrace soon spread. Originally slating the Read-a-Thon as a K/elementary event, Mrs. Jacoby opened it to the primary students once requests from primary parents started to pour in. (Those Montessori language drawers in the primary classes really work!) One key part of Mrs. Jacoby’s involvement was in making sure students had access of plenty of books to be able to read independently. She sent home Reading A to Z books for her students and also increased the number of books students could check out of her classroom library from two to five.

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This is just a small sampling of the outpouring of support TNCS students received from donors. What a great community to be part of!

So how did this all start? Mrs. Jacoby says that TNCS teachers were lamenting that students did not have more games to play outside during recess, and the lightbulb went off in her head. “I think a Read-a-Thon is a good way to raise money. It’s really nice to have friends and family support reading. For example, I just loved the notes that supporters were leaving for participants.” She went on to say that many of her students were on the brink of becoming fluid readers and that the Read-a-Thon represents that little push over the hump they needed to achieve reading ease. So, she brought the idea to an elementary staff meeting and was given an immediate green light. (And also volunteered to handle the project start to finish—win-win!)

From the start, the Read-a-Thon was a hit. Even the other elementary teachers were surprised at how quickly funds began accumulating. Of course, the TNCS community always faithfully supports TNCS initiatives, but perhaps a key difference with this particular fundraiser is that it involved the kids in a very integral way. It’s one thing to ask for donations to help achieve a specific goal; it’s quite another to make that donation contingent on active student participation in the form of learning. Sign us up!

TNCS students will actively participate in another important way: They will have a say in what is purchased with the money they helped raise. Moreover, they are the end-users of whatever outdoor equipment and materials are bought, so they are vested stakeholders in this outcome! “I want the kids to be involved in all aspects of this,” said Mrs. Jacoby,”the reading, the raising money, and what we do with that money.” Ideas so far include a zipline, monkey rings, and some kind of alternative to swings, which TNCS is unable to have in the given space. An outdoor classroom with chalkboards is also being discussed with a possible archeological dig site included (the dinosaur bones, alas, would most likely have to be artificial). And, oh yes, parents, sports and games are very much a part of these brainstorms. We might see something along the lines of an outdoor ping-pong table, but no definitive purchases will have been made until the most effective use of resources has been determined. In addition, Mrs. Jacoby says she would like to see each TNCS class get a raised garden bed to individually tend, with the various beds producing at different times so TNCS students are harvesting year round. Another very exciting idea is to raise chickens. Baltimore City would allow TNCS to keep five at a time, and one of the farms that TNCS regularly orders lunch ingredients from could potentially be asked to overwinter them.

There is no shortage of ideas, she says. “I like that the students will be able to do so much more outdoors, and I also really like that the Read-a-Thon means that TNCS students are reading independently. I hope every year it grows and becomes the ‘Big Spring Thing’.” TNCS teachers don’t like to give a lot of homework over Spring Break, but using that time for the annual Read-a-Thon would keep kids’ minds engaged yet won’t interfere with family time or plans. Books are eminently portable!

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This TNCS student explores the hall library for a new chapter book to read during Spring Break. He also very helpfully provided the following recommendations: “Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions” and anything from the Frank Einstein series.

Annual? That’s right. Mrs. Jacoby spoke excitedly about how each year the funding theme could change. Maybe next year we’ll raise money for the school library,” she said. Here again, TNCS students would act as stakeholders, identifying any gaps in current content coverage, for example, and suggesting topic areas to buy books in. This is a double boon—“Students would not only be looking at and reading all of the books in the library, but they would also be asking us to order what they’re interested in,” she said. Having books that they are interested in makes all the difference, especially for boys, she has learned from experience. “Make it available to them.”

“The more that children are encouraged by everyone around them to read, the less intimidated they will be, and the more they will read,” said Mrs. Jacoby. “I am so grateful that everyone participated!” You can see additional details, such as more parent comments and totals raised ($3,925!) by visiting TNCS’s dedicated Read-a-Thon page at http://www.read-a-thon.com/school/The-New-Century-School_4792.

How To Be an “Askable” Parent

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Originally scheduled for 2/17/15, this presentation was moved to 3/31/15 due to snow.

On March 31st, 2015, The New Century School hosted a community presentation on how to keep children safe from sexual predation. Said Head of School Alicia Danyali: “[How To Be an Askable Parent] is to not create an alarmist mentality, but to inform and educate parents to the realities and practical approach to conversations with your child at any age.” Crimson Barocca, LCSW-C, Senior Forensic Interviewer with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center led the presentation. “It was a great discussion and maybe we can repeat at some point in the future!” she said. This is good news for those who were unable to attend, because this topic—while not the cheeriest—is of paramount importance for parents.

Two myths she dispelled during the talk are that preschool-age children are too young to understand this topic and that children should use euphemisms for their body parts. You can talk to your child as soon as you feel he or she will understand you, and using anatomically correct terms for body parts is actually a means of protection for your child by demonstrating to a potential predator that he or she is educated about this topic and therefore not such easy prey.

What Is an Askable Parent?

An “askable” parent is approachable and listens well. The askable parent recognizes that teaching involves verbal and nonverbal communication, and that your child will learn not only from what you say, but also how you behave and react to situations. Other traits of askability include:

  • Respecting the child (e.g., not laughing when the child asks a question)
  • Realizing that every difficult situation is not a crisis
  • Knowing that the most important part of communication is listening

One primary goal of the presentation was to help parents learn how to decrease kids’ vulnerability. And that again comes down to communication. Ms. Barocca shared lots of helpful tips for how to start talking about this uncomfortable subject. One point she emphasized was that, although it is certainly important to talk about so-called “stranger danger,” it is just as important to talk about people your children know and trust. Most abduction and abuse happens at the hands of people children know very well, not strangers.

But how do you broach this subject with young children without terrifying them? Emphasizing the safety aspect rather than danger will go a long way to preventing or reducing their anxiety. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids (NCMEC) provides Discussion Guides broken down by age group (download them here). The singlemost effective means of protecting your children is communication, because if they know they can talk about their true feelings, they will be more likely to reveal that they have been in an uncomfortable situation. Currently, only about 10% of children who are sexually abused report it.

Ms. Barocca drove home the message that 90% of abusers are known to the child—doctor, clergy, neighbor, family, etc. She also updated the good touch/bad touch metric to safe touch versus unsafe touch to make this concept clearer for children (sometimes what we would consider a “good” touch can feel bad to a child, such as getting a shot, whereas a “bad” touch such as inappropriate tickling can feel good). Using the terms “safe” and “not safe” eliminates this possible confusion. This is a great starting point for your conversation. You can give examples of safe touches, such as well-check exams at the doctor’s office or being washed by parents in the bathtub. Ask your child to give an example of a safe touch so that you can be sure the concept is understood.

Then, inhale, move onto unsafe touches. A sickening fact is that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. Explain what this means (such as an adult asking the child to “play a game” of touching private parts) and, again, ask the child to give you an example to demonstrate understanding.

Next, emphasize to your child that he or she must tell you right away if he or she ever experiences an unsafe touch and keep on telling until you receive the message. The predator has likely commanded the child to keep quiet, so be sure to explain that this is not a situation to keep secret. Finally, two extremely essential parts of this conversation are that 1) make sure the child knows this is not/would not be his or her fault—it’s always the adult’s fault—and 2) reinforce to the child that as the parent, it’s your job to protect him or her.

“Stranger Danger” Rules

Make sure your children understand . . .

  • That you will never send a stranger to pick them up from somewhere. Establish a “code word” that anyone picking them up unexpectedly would know—“meatball,” “pierogi,” etc. Make it something pertinent to your family but that a clever stranger wouldn’t be able to guess.
  • A grownup should never ask a child for help with directions or finding a lost pet. Run away if approached.
  • That if separated in a store or park, to stay where they are; you will find them. Tell them to seek help from another nearby mom.
  • To always ask you before going anywhere and to give you all the details about where they’re going, who is going with them, and when they’ll be back. (For older children.)
  • That it is okay in any situation in which they feel uncomfortable to walk or run away and, if grabbed, to yell, kick, scream, and do whatever it takes to draw attention. Teach them to yell, “This is not my [parent]!” to alert passersby.
  • That they have the right to say no to any touch or actions by others that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. Reassure them that they can tell you anything.
  • The anatomically correct terms for their body parts. Educated = less vulnerable.

For parents to be especially mindful of . . . 

  • Look and listen to small cues and clues that something may be troubling your children. Some children may not be able to tell you when something happens, because they have been threatened that bad things will happen if they do.
  • Pay attention if they tell you they don’t want to be with someone or go somewhere.
  • Notice when someone shows one or all of your children a great deal of attention or begins giving them gifts.
  • Children may be especially fearful of being punished, being embarrassed, or experiencing the loss of the love and respect of their family members and friends. If your children do confide in you, remain calm, noncritical, and nonjudgmental.
  • Be sure to screen babysitters and caregivers.
  • Establish rules and guidelines for computer use for your children (see Netsmartz and Net Nanny).

For additional details, see Immersed’s “Community Conversation: Protecting Our Children.”

List of Resources

In addition to providing some helpful handouts such as a Family Safety plan (download here), Ms. Barocca shared lots of great resources to help us navigate these treacherous waters. Click Recommendations for her list of recommended books.

Hotline

  • 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678): 24-hour hotline or cybertipline for reporting information about a missing child or suspect child sexual exploitation.

Articles

Websites

Video

TNCS Elementary Students Inform through Writing

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Lower elementary students are also given regular writing sessions. This student gets right down to it!

Although The New Century School was abuzz in March with all things STEM Fair related, Language Arts hardly suffered! Amidst the science- and engineering-oriented preparations, projects, and presentations, TNCS upper elementary students were busily working on their Informational Writing pieces.

Language Arts teacher Adriana DuPrau follows the renowned Lucy Calkins writing curriculum, as recently detailed in “State-of-the-Science Elementary Writing Instruction at TNCS.” For this phase of the curriculum, Mrs. Duprau challenged her students to choose a topic they wanted to educate others about and then to elaborate on the topic in a 1- to 2-page cohesive document. They worked on their pieces in “writing workshops.” During most of this time, students wrote independently, with Mrs. DuPrau conferring and guiding as needed. What emerges during these workshops becomes a “mini-lesson,” in which the teacher offers strategies for writing that the student will be able to apply in other writing contexts and in this way continuously cultivate effective writing and communication skills.

“Topics ranged from the Baltimore Ravens to immigrant families,” said Mrs. DuPrau. Her students also presented their pieces to the rest of the class, giving them some important practice in the art of public speaking and boosting their self-confidence in the bargain. (See a slide show of these wonderfully self-possessed presenters below.) Also of note is that the students provided an accompanying illustration, which served both to help convey the idea they were elaborating on as well as to make the topic richer for their own exploration of it. Arts integration has been receiving lots of media attention recently, but this innovative approach to education is nothing new to TNCS!

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Also just in time for the STEM Fair! There was lots of seed planting and nurturing going on at TNCS this spring!

Informational Writing is the age-appropriate curriculum for 3rd- through 5th-graders, but all TNCS elementary students are given writing instruction and ample opportunities to express themselves in writing, right down to kindergarteners. Teresa Jacoby’s K/1st students, for example, also participated in a writing project that took the form of a How-To. Students were asked to explain in stepwise fashion how to approach a given task, such as making a PB&J or planting a seed. These writing pieces, too, were accompanied by illustrations.

Writing in the classroom is an integral part of learning, helping students to communicate effectively; to review and remember recently learned content; to be creative and explore a topic deeply; and to better understand their experiences and, by extension, themselves. Write on, TNCS elementary students! We eagerly await all that you have to express!

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TNCS STEM Fair 2015 Makes a Huge Splash!

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Engineering design process.

The past week at The New Century School was devoted to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Fair, and what an exciting, inquiry-filled week it was! This year’s was the biggest ever, with three classrooms participating—Dan McGonigal’s upper elementary students, Adriana Duprau’s lower elementary students, and even Teresa Jacoby’s K/1st students—each class taking a slightly different approach to their projects, but all loosely unified by the common theme of water.

Mr. McGonigal took the lead on this endeavor, as appropriate, given his specialization in this area. You may recall from a Meet the Teacher post last fall that he is part of the very first cohort in a pilot program at Towson University for STEM certification to earn the new Maryland State Department of Education endorsement, “Instructional Leader—STEM (Pre K‑6)” this spring.

He is passionate about the value of STEM teaching and with good reason. “STEM is an integrated instructional strategy—there are no borders or boundaries,” he said by way of introduction. STEM pursuits will ensure that students develop “21st-century skills”—those skills they need to navigate this exciting new era of globalization, connectivity, and continuous technological advancement. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, these skills include “critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration,” which intersect with social and media literacy, among other critical disciplines. You will see how these features were implemented throughout the TNCS Stem Fair projects as well as how they employed their engineering mantra: Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve, and Ask.

The week started with the upper elementary presentations on a chosen problem facing the Chesapeake Bay and how to act as “better stewards of the environment” by addressing the problem, such as litter or erosion. Taking a very sophisticated approach, these students presented their projects to attending parents electronically. During project execution, in fact, they used technology in various ways to document their process, such as videotaping and recording details regularly via Glogster. Their “glogs” are akin to electronic journals. Mr. McGonigal said, “This was very much a project-based learning experience for the students, who were in charge of their own direction. I was there to help, prompt, and encourage along the way as much as they needed.”

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Mrs. Duprau’s first- and second-graders presented their Life Cycle of a Plant projects on the following day inside the TNCS gymnasium. Their presentations took the more traditional approach with the trifold poster boards used by science fair presenters for decades. Note that these persistent, hard-working students took the “improve” part of the engineering design mantra very much to heart—be prepared to discreetly cover your inevitable chuckles if the kids are nearby. Scientists have feelings, too ;)!

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Finally, on STEM Fair Day 3, Mrs. Jacoby’s kindergarteners and first-graders took over the stage. Not yet being the consummate presenters that their older colleagues are, they used a video directed and produced by Mrs. Jacoby and Señora Tyson to debut their work (there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience; the video is wonderful). Parents were then asked to direct specific questions to the students about their projects. Although this was the first year that kindergarteners participated in the STEM Fair, you will see that they held their own amazingly well!

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Please see Elementary Science Fair and TNCS Elementary Science Fair 2014 for prior years’ STEM/Science Fair projects. and, if you’d like to view Mrs. Jacoby’s masterpiece video, you can do so here: 

Thank you to Mr. McGonigal and the other TNCS teachers who made this STEM Fair such an unqualified success! We are already excited for STEM Fair 2016!

TNCS’s Second Annual Town Hall

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TNCS will host a Town Hall annually to provide a forum for communication of ideas and news to the TNCS community.

On Tuesday, March 10th, The New Century School held its 2015 Town Hall meeting for an auditorium full of eager participants. Admissions Director and Town Hall Moderator Robin Munro said, “We are a young and very ambitious school, so yearly meetings like this are critical. We will provide an annual state of the school update, specifically the K–8th program, and a forum for families to ask questions.” Childcare with dinner and wine and hors’ d’oeuvres were offered, and questions were solicited ahead of time to allow the event speakers to shape the discussion accordingly.

There was an evident unifying thread to this event: collaboration. Mrs. Munro remarked by way of introduction that “the map hasn’t been written to exactly where the school’s destination is and what the steps are along the way.” The implication is clearly that TNCS community input is not only valued and taken seriously but is also helping navigate to the destination. We are writing this map together.

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TNCS parents chat amongst themselves while having a little nosh prior to the start of the event.

Some notable differences from last year’s Town Hall bear pointing out. The biggest is the growth and maturation that the past year has afforded TNCS. Now in its 5th year, TNCS has emerged from the growing-pains phase faced by any new school as a secure, comfortable-in-its-own skin swan. It is owning its unique identity, and that feels good. Another key difference was in the nature of the interaction between the audience of parents and the event speakers (school administrators and executive directors). Parents were encouraged to share any concerns, but criticism was given in an overwhelmingly constructive way. Parents explained their problems but helpfully offered potential solutions to these problems in the same breath. The result was a very positive and productive evening. It felt like we were all in this together, collaborating to help keep the school flourishing and moving forward. Oh, right—that is the essence of the TNCS community!

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Hors d’oeuvres gave attendees time to arrive at a leisurely pace, mingle, and recharge before getting down to business.

Speaker Presentations

In Public Health, the concept of “patient activation” measures an individual’s capacity to manage his or her own health and health care. Does she eat right and get plenty of sleep to maintain health? If he falls ill, does he have the skills to communicate effectively with a physician and to follow doctor’s orders? A correlation can be drawn in the education domain: “parent activation.” The Town Hall audience of parents was highly activated. They participate competently in the education their children are receiving at TNCS, they are knowledgeable about every aspect of their child’s school day, they purposefully sought out the school that best aligned with their own values. Their kids are so much the better off for it. This is not a way to say that TNCS students are simply academically superior. Although that is often the case, academic performance is not the key measure of “success” at TNCS; it’s so much more.

Co-Founder and Executive Director Roberta Faux calls the TNCS community “like-minded,” and she expressed our shared vision beautifully in a couple of personal vignettes. She retold the story of the school’s origins (much of the audience had not heard it last year) and how quickly the 1-room Patterson Park Montessori grew into TNCS today. Then she described a lovely interaction she recently had with one of her daughters, in which her daughter asked her what gifts would she (mom) prefer had been bestowed on her daughter as a baby by a fairy godmother, a là Princess Aurora in the story of Sleeping Beauty. First of all, what an insightful and touching question from such a young child. Both this question and the answer Mrs. Faux ultimately gave exemplify what TNCS is, how it works, and why it is such a phenomenal school. “I took a step back,” she said, “and I asked myself, “as parents and educators, what do we want for our kids?” In the meantime, of course, she had answered her daughter by telling her that she likes the gifts that her daughter already exhibits, such as her kind spirit and enumerating her many other attributes.

“It’s not just about achievement,” she continued. “It’s about being able to find our own happiness, overcome stress, engage in healthy give-and-take human relationships. These are the real-life training skills that we hope our children grow up learning and take with them.” She explained that in the United States, “giftedness” and high IQ are perhaps overvalued. “All children are capable of great things,” she said. But what’s wrong with working hard to achieve goals rather than being able to effortlessly master something? “Grit” is what will allow a person to attain mastery of something otherwise outside of his or her given wheelhouse. At TNCS, students are encouraged to try new things, to explore and to inquire their way into making self-guided discoveries. This takes perseverance, and this stick-to-itiveness will be a resource they can draw on in any circumstance for life. (Please see below for links to the TED talk she mentioned as well as Immersed‘s own handling of this topic.) “Education should not be just about achievement,” concluded Mrs. Faux. “It’s about cultivating the strength to work hard enough to find what you love. For my kids and for the kids here, if they can find that, then we’ve given them so much.”

Co-Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Lawner spoke next to express appreciation of and gratitude for TNCS staff and families, second the ideas expressed by Mrs. Faux, and to share a charming anecdote of her own: “Thinking back to 2007, I remembered how Roberta and I would sit on the sofa in her sunroom and discuss the crazy idea of opening a preschool. Finally, I knew I had to make a decision, so I said, ‘I’ll only do it if we can do language immersion,” and without any hesitation whatsoever she said, ‘well, okay’.”

Based on the topics submitted by attendees, Ms. Munro organized the overall discussion into nine umbrella categories: Space, Curriculum, Staffing, Standardized Testing, Accreditations, Parent–Administration Organization, Scholarship Fund, Short-Term and Long-Term Plans, and Open Q&A. Although not every topic got exhaustive coverage and not necessarily in this order, the following synopsis provides a comprehensive overview of the school and its future direction.

Space: Indoor and Outdoor

The Middle School opens in fall of 2016 and will most likely be housed in the existing Union Box space of Building North. The Co-Founders are in talks with architects and engineers to develop it as a multi-classroom space, which, if all goes planned, will be secured by August. Fall 2015 will see a mixed-age grade 4/5 classroom, mixed-age grade 2/3 classroom, and either two mixed-age K/1st classrooms or a straight K class plus one mixed-age K/1st class.

Last year’s playground redesign experienced some environmental setbacks but is still going to happen in order to create a space that can work for preschool, elementary, and future middle school students. A new geo dome will be erected, and the greenhouse will be moved. Other aspects are less certain, but ideas for improvement flew about the room. Also, Head of School Alicia Danyali just announced that Friday that TNCS mom Tracey Browning has organized another High Five fundraiser at Camden Yards. Funds will go to the playground overhaul.

Staffing and Curriculum

Mrs. Danyali fielded these topics and was visibly thrilled to announce that she will be joined by an Assistant Head of School in August. This will free up much of her time to focus on exploring new approaches to inspire kids to learn and be excited about that learning. The International Baccalaureate is one such program on the horizon. “The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect,” through challenging and rigorous education programs.

Regarding the curriculum, questions here were very specific. Being fans already of the school day scholastic content, parents wanted to know if there will be additional after-school enrichment, sports, and musical instrument instruction. The administration heard them loud and clear—this was perhaps the primary issue of the evening. Proposed solutions will probably involve community partnerships, and this is a good thing on many levels. TNCS is committed to being a responsible and active member of the external community; partaking of community offerings is one way to honor this commitment. Discussions were already underway to expand the relationship with Coppermine Fieldhouse at DuBurns Arena, so giving more opportunities for team sports instruction and participation is a likely outgrowth. The Patterson Park pool could be used for swimming lessons, and the ice skating rink could also be used in an athletic program. Musical instrument instruction will have to be given some more thought, but some creative workarounds thrown out included inquiring about the services of Laura Norris, Director of the Baltimore Chapter of Mando for Kids, a free program that teaches Baltimore City kids ages 6 and up to play the mandolin. Mrs. Norris just happens to live down the block from TNCS and is a frequent guest performer. This video clip features all age groups she currently teaches. Developing a special offshoot for TNCS students is a distinct possibility.

Standardized Testing

“Will TNCS be implementing standardized testing?” was another popular question. “To be in line with the other private schools, it makes sense,” said Ms. Danyali. “We are leaning toward the ERB, but it’s not set in stone yet. We want something that would match this independent, dual-language learning environment.” According to the ERB–Lighting the Pathways to Learning website (ERB stands for Education Resources Bureau), “ERB is the only not-for-profit member educational services organization offering assessments for both admission and achievement for independent and public schools PreK–grade 12. . . With the diverse needs and requirements in today’s academic landscape, ERB takes a customized approach to our services.” Ms. Danyali says she is grateful that TNCS isn’t forced to implement standardized testing, “but students also need to know how to take a test—it’s important to have that exposure.”

Such testing, albeit less pressurized than it would be in a public school setting, will also prepare students for matriculation into secondary school and beyond. Regardless, teachers are never asked to simply “teach to the test.” They have freedom to accomplish their goals how they deem suitable, based on and tailored specifically to the individuals they teach.

Parent–Administration Organization 

Parents were very vocal about their willingness to help tackle existing obstacles to progress. A  suggestion was made was to formalize a PTA-esque parent committee, and another to create an oversight committee to help tie individual committee threads together to more effectively communicate school changes and news. “We are open,” said Mrs. Munro. “If what you want is a formal quarterly meeting, we’ll make that happen.” Thus, again the collaborative nature of this group was felt.

Short- and Long-Term Plans and Q&A

Though we didn’t get the chance to address this one head on, a theme throughout the discussion emerged that could serve to answer questions about how well students will be prepared for the next steps (whatever those might be) in their academic careers and lives. With the attention to whole-child development, the carefully differentiated instruction, the administration policies that ensure that TNCS doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is part of the city and state educational corps, etc. all combine to guarantee not just preparedness but that the TNCS-educated student will thrive in his or her future environs.

The Q&A gave TNCS administrators a clear idea of what parents feel could be done better. These issues were addressed with seriousness and respect and are of immense value to the moving the school forward. Many parents took this opportunity to praise the school and administrators for the zillion things they get right on a daily basis.

Finally . . .

For more information on Professor Angela Duckworth and grit, please visit the following links:

See you next year, TNCS community! In the meantime, keep that valuable and much-appreciated feedback coming!

News for Startalk at TNCS!

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TNCS’s wonderful Chinese staff work hard to make learning Mandarin Chinese fun!

Last month, The New Century School hosted its closing event for the Summer 2014 Startalk Program. That program, “Let the World Be Filled with Love,” ran for 3 weeks in the summer, but to keep participants engaged throughout the year, receptions were held at regular intervals, and a periodic newsletter kept them abreast of Startalk happenings.

The final reception was extremely celebratory in mood, for several very good reasons. First, Startalkers enjoy getting together and chatting in Chinese! Second, the Chinese New Year was fast approaching, and that’s always exciting. Third, this reception took the form of a potluck, and the beautiful variety of dishes was delicious. Fourth, the entire group was eagerly anticipating the results of TNCS’s 2015 grant submission, which they were days away from learning. But we’ll spare you the suspense—will TNCS be hosting Startalk this summer?

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The final Startalk reception was held in TNCS’s multipurpose room, and everyone contributed a lovely dish!

Yes! It is true! Shì zhēn de (是真的)! TNCS was once again awarded funding for a Startalk Summer Program! This year’s 3-week session will run from July 6–24, 2015.

But back to the reception, it started off with a Chinese Immersion refresher class that focused on celebrating and welcoming the Year of the Sheep. (or Goat. Or Ram. You decide.) As students watched in complete absorption, the Chinese teachers gave a mini-lesson to get them back in the swing. Parents lining the side wall got to see first-hand how Startalk works and even picked up some Mandarin Chinese themselves! Startalk operates on the principle of doing, that is, active participation—in this case, doing is talking. Start talking.

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Startalk 2014 participants avidly follow Xie Laoshi and Lu Laoshi as they deliver a mini-lesson on the Chinese New Year fast approaching.

Watching a lesson unfold makes it easy to see why the program is so effective. Teachers pronounce a word or phrase while demonstrating what it represents, repeat their verbalizations continuously, gesture, point, and keep talking the while. Understanding dawns quickly, and the students are expected to put it to immediate use.

 

 

Another Startalk tenet is that content should be meaningful to the students. Why make them learn something they aren’t interested in applying or are unlikely to have a context in which to apply it? Thus, the day’s lesson would involve something that people everywhere would be discussing: Chinese New Year, a celebration full of color, music, firework displays, and plain fun for kids.

The Chinese dragon even made an appearance, a very good omen for TNCS’s 2015 Startalk Program, “China in Baltimore”!

Very special thank-yous go to Startalk Director and Head of Mandarin Chinese Language at TNCS Xie Laoshi, her devoted assistant Lu Laoshi, and to the other caring and committed Startalk staff members. They worked tirelessly to make Startalk 2014 a monumental success and to land the 2015 grant ensuring that TNCS remains at the forefront of Mandarin Chinese instruction in Baltimore. We look forward to an amazing Startalk 2015!

Would you like to learn more about Startalk at TNCS? Here is a link to download the most recent continuing education newsletter in pdf format: Start Talking v1n3. It provides recommendations for practice apps and websites to supplement the Chinese stories and idioms that are also included.
Earlier newsletters can be downloaded below: