Through all of the pandemic-associated upheaval we’ve seen in 2020, The New Century School has stayed true to its mission to challenge students to realize their richest individual potential through progressive, multilingual education and meaningful participation in the world community.
That has been no small feat. TNCS administration, staff, and faculty rallied together and found innovative ways to keep TNCS open and its students flourishing. Many of those ways happen behind the scenes but are no less vital to TNCS’s success. One of these behind-the-scenes heroes is TNCS Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau, who has held this position since 2017. Although a lot has changed since then and also since we last checked in with her in early 2019, Mrs. DuPrau still describes her primary role as two-fold: teacher-facing and student-facing. However, this year she has also taken on a bit more of a parent-facing role as well.
Curriculum Coordinating: Teacher-Facing
Mrs. DuPrau acts as a communication liaison between TNCS teachers and Head of School Señora Duncan, filtering teacher requests and untangles snags they might be experiencing to allow them to focus on their day-to-day teaching. “The majority of my time is still working one-on-one with teachers, either coaching them, or figuring how to make their schedules work, or setting up virtual classrooms,” she explained. Speaking of the virtual classrooms, that’s obviously one of the biggest changes this year. “Teachers are working both virtually and in person, which is stressful for them. I can provide an outlet for them to talk it out.” She validates their feelings but also keeps the conversations constructive by steering them toward finding solutions.
She spent the beginning of the year making sure teachers had the curriculum that they need. She researches all of the offerings out there and tries them out to see if a certain program is a good fit. One example is Word Voyage Vocabulary Builder that is designed to help students in Grades 4 and up build and strengthen their vocabulary. Another is Discovery Education, that enhances global studies and science lessons. In past years, watching the webinars and speaking to the company representatives was something of a shared task between Mrs. DuPrau and the teachers, whereas this year, she took on the responsibility of onboarding these new programs to save teachers’ some time. For their part, they were happy to let Mrs. DuPrau make those decisions this year, even though normally their input is such an important part of the process.
Even with all of the advance vetting she does, adopting something new can still be difficult for teachers. “I’m learning that teachers are already so stretched this year that tacking on new information almost seems like dumping. I’m finding that it’s just a different year in general.”
Another new aspect of the curriculum this year is the social justice component, which everyone is excited about. “I’m finding resources to use and organizing them. I’m taking a really fun course to keep my teaching certification up-to-date, where I’m actually able to learn about these new tools and figure out ways to help the teachers without overwhelming them,” said Mrs. DuPrau.
“I also still try to be in the classrooms,” she said. “Not as frequently as I have in the past because I’m trying not to mix in too much with the cohorts, but I’ll jump in on a zoom meeting or be there in the classroom. We have some new teachers, and I want to be present to see in person what’s happening. In this new learning environment, if I want to be able to make suggestions and advocate for teachers, I actually need to see the difficulties, not just hear about them.”
Curriculum Coordinating: Student-Facing
TNCS students, too, are feeling the stress inherent in pandemic-influenced academic life. By and large, though, those resilient youngsters have adapted remarkably well to all of the changes thrown at them. After some initial student hiccups at the beginning of the year, such as with technology, Mrs. DuPrau has lately been able to concentrate on her real passion–working with students who need extra support. “Whether it be giving them more work or figuring out how to help them keep up, I try to help with all dimensions of student life. How can we work with these kids to make sure they are getting what they need?”
One way she has always helped outgoing 8th-graders is by researching schools—going to information nights or signing up for admissions tests—and ensuring that students make all of the associated deadlines. She also spearheaded creating a virtual hangout for them to share their experiences of applying to high school.
As part of what she calls “student life,” the school store is also up and running, and Mrs. DuPrau says she felt that getting more Spirit Days on the calendar would be a boost for students. (TNCS has t-shirts and accessories on sale for our students, teachers, and families at this link!) Such community events are wonderful ways to maintain student engagement, as are the invitations for safe, on-campus activities for virtual learners to optionally participate in and spend some time in person with their cohort.
Another brand-new initiative Mrs. DuPrau just launched is the K–8 Community Classroom, where all sorts of fun things will take place (via the Google Classroom platform), including a Thanksgiving recipe exchange. The recipes shared here may even be compiled in a TNCS cookbook—stay tuned for more updates on that.
The recipe exchange is intended to bring some holiday fun for students to share with their families, but the forum will offer ongoing community-building activities designed to engage all students.
Curriculum Coordinating: Parent-Facing
As mentioned, somewhat of a new role Mrs. DuPrau has adopted this year is acting as a messenger between parents and teachers, sitting in on meetings, for example, and again always trying to be solution based.
“Parents are also feeling stressed and that stress comes in to play in the way they are feeling about how everything’s going,” said Mrs. DuPrau. Normally trivial problems like a technical glitch can bother us to a different degree. “So, in general, I try to keep everybody positive and looking for the good and making sure everyone’s flexible.”
Bringing It Home
With all of the work Mrs. DuPrau does to support TNCS teachers, students, and families, it’s easy to forget that she, too, has a life! This school year has presented challenges for her also. “I think the biggest challenge for me honestly has just been trying to keep everybody’s morale up,” she said. She finds little ways to provide “pick-me-ups” like passing out Halloween candy to teachers (shhhh . . . our little secret) or offering to cover classes. Having been a teacher for many years, she can certainly sympathize with the difficulties they face during this year of hybrid teaching, but she strongly believes that a solution-based attitude is necessary. Again, though, that’s in itself pressure. “My biggest challenge this year has been trying to keep everybody’s spirits up.” Mrs. DuPrau says her husband and dark chocolate provide the pick-me-ups she needs. A “good morning” would also do wonders to start her day off on the right foot!
Mrs. DuPrau sees the education-during-a-pandemic situation from multiple perspectives. She is sympathetic to teachers (some of whom are understandably concerned about returning to school after the Thanksgiving holiday, when students may have traveled or been exposed to more people than usual), as mentioned, but she also thinks TNCS is overall very lucky to be open. Her husband, who is a teacher, would love to be seeing his students in person, but is instead teaching from home and has a 3rd-grader simultaneously learning form home. Here again, she is also extremely sympathetic to overworked parents in similar situations.
“We’re all on the same team,” said Mrs. DuPrau. “We continue to find new ways to celebrate the TNCS community as we look to the future.”
At The New Century School, parent involvement is one of the key’s to the school’s success. As part of and in support of the larger TNCS community, parents contribute their time and energy in meaningful ways each year. As a way to galvanize all of this good effort toward meeting specific goals, the TNCS Parent Council was established during the 2016–2016 school year.
Five years on, the organization is going strong and continuing to hone its mission. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, TNCS has remained open, and the Parent Council did not miss a beat. That’s due in no small part to the leadership of new Parent Council President, Tilly Gurman.
Ms. Gurman has organized members and operations on a variety of virtual platforms, and meeting attendance has grown now that participants can join from anywhere. TNCS Class Parents are required attendees and report meeting proceedings back to the other families in their child’s homeroom, but any member of the TNCS community may attend, and this even counts toward their requisite volunteer hours. (Have you attended a PC meeting and forgotten to log your hours? Log them here or sign into Blackbaud.)
Mission and Goals
The stated mission of the TNCS Parent Council is to: “Cultivate and sustain community at The New Century School across students, parents, teachers, staff, and the larger community” by:
fostering communication between all TNCS constituencies
providing support to the teachers and administration
assisting with fundraising initiatives that will further foster community
coordinating school events that connect people across TNCS
engaging with the larger Baltimore community
To accomplish these worthy objectives, the PC assembled a group of committees, including Community Engagement, Special Events, Antiracism/Social Justice, and Fundraising—more on those in a bit.
Parent Council 2020–2021
First, let’s dive a little deeper into Ms. Gurman’s vision for the 2020–2021 Parent Council:
I’ve been involved in the Parent Council since we started at TNCS 5 years ago, and until the class parents were involved, there were only three or four of us. So I wanted to find ways to grow participation and engagement as well as make it more inclusive. At the same time, it’s important to temper expectations because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we shouldn’t make too many demands of parents who are potentially already overwhelmed.
She explains that she came to be president as rather a natural consequence of having always been a part of it as well as having experienced the preprimary, primary, and elementary divisions at TNCS as her children have progressed through. When TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan approached her about taking over the PC helm, she weighed the decision carefully against all of her other life obligations but ultimately found it to be the right choice. “I’ve had the experience on the parent side through much of the life cycle of the school so far, and we plan to stay for the foreseeable future so we feel a commitment to the community. It’s such a supportive community, and somehow I’d like to contribute to building on that and strengthening it for even once we’re no longer in the school,” she said.
One thing that is remarkable about this year is the emphasis on human connection. Perhaps we’ve all had less of that since the shutdown, and the PC is one place to enjoy a bit of camaraderie—Ms. Gurman sees to that, starting each meeting with a “temperature check”, which has nothing to do with a thermometer (for once) but is more of a gauge of participants’ state of mind, as well as an ice-breaker activity or two. At the November 11th meeting, she also reminded attendees to be self-compassionate:
We’ll be reporting out about what’s going on in the different committees, but I want to get across the idea that we are at a time when things are likely to change and evolve, especially if another shutdown happens. Let’s be kind and gentle to ourselves, so when this happens, we’re here together as a community. When we’re thinking about the different activities that we’re going to be planning, let’s always link it back to how can the activities that we’re doing bring us closer together as a community, and help us be there for our kids, too.
Another current that runs through this year’s PC is the sheer enthusiasm about the PC. An average of more than two dozen people are attending each meeting and that’s among a pool of fewer than 200 families. Moreover, participants are willing and eager to get to work on planning and implementing the various PC initiatives. Ms. Gurman attributes this to multiple factors: explicit outreach about joining the PC; the already-mentioned convenience of virtual meetings; the increased access to the school’s innerworkings; and, of course, the altruism inherent in the TNCS community driving members to want to make a difference. “It does feel like this year people are more actively volunteering to lead the various activities,” she said.
In the near future, she’d like to have committee-specific objectives and operating procedures drafted that tie in to the overall PC mission so that there’s an infrastructure to support and sustain what she hopes will continue to be robust attendance for years to come.
And with that, let’s see what those committees we keep mentioning are all about!
Parent Council Committees
Would you like to join one of the amazing, purpose-led, and very fruitful TNCS Parent Council Committees? No matter what your strength, there’s a place for you! See the nifty planning calendar at this link for tentative dates and check you Blackbaud official school calendar for confirmed happenings. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or add your name to the list here to join!
Antiracism/Social Justice Committee
Co-chaired by TNCS parents, Jay Golon (who describes the trio as a “happy triumvirate”) Daris Johnson, and Allison Binder, this TNCS PC committee exists to, for example:
Curate a list of children’s books and television shows promoting diversity for the TNCS community
At their first meeting, Mr. Golon explains that they talked about antiracism in general and what it might look like to be antiracist families concerned about social justice at TNCS. “Early in the life of the committee,” he said, “we’d like to conduct a family climate survey about how welcome and included folks feel at at TNCS and then use that to plan some other things. We also talked about creating a resource for all families from preprimary up through middle school of books, movies, and media of any kind focused on anti antiracism and social justice.”
That’s just to start, and Mr. Golon says, “If you weren’t able to join us the first time around, it will be very easy for you to slide right in the second time, so please please join us!”
Community Engagement Committee
Chaired by TNCS mom Amy Hastings, this TNCS PC committee exists to, for example:
Coordinate low-risk activities supporting local non-profits (e.g., preparing bagged breakfasts/lunches for local day shelters, coat and clothing drives for sister school Wolfe St. Academy)
Coordinate Adopt-a-Family for the holidays (through Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance)
Coordinate a clean-up of Patterson Park for Earth Day
“Our goal is to identify ways for TNCS families to engage the community that surrounds the school,” explained Ms. Hastings. “This committee will strive to support local organizations and uphold TNCS values.”
The Coat Drive for TNCS’s sister school Wolfe St. Academy is happening now—please share the warmth with our neighbors in need by donating new and gently used coats, mittens, gloves, hats, scarves, socks, etc. for children and adults of all ages! See our ongoing Facebook event (through December 11th) here.
And stay tuned for an announcement about the upcoming Adopt-a-Family! Note that this is a chance to do double community engagement—make your purchases from local businesses, like aMuse Toys in Fell’s Point, to support them while helping out a family in need!
Special Events Committee
Co-chaired by TNCS moms Debbie Casanova and Isabel Kuoh, this TNCS PC committee exists to, for example:
Generate participation for this year’s TREX challenge (recycling competition with schools across the country) and facilitate culminating Earth Day celebration activity
Orchestrate teacher appreciation efforts
Coordinate other possible events (e.g., Pancakes & Pajamas, bilingual kids’ concert with 123 Andrés)
Ms. Casanova’s teacher appreciation efforts went into effect right away, as she set up a round robin–style Sign-Up Genius for parents to choose a week to shower teachers with gratitude—they have kept our children happy, healthy, and learning all of these long pandemic months, and that has not been easy. Especially when many have to teach both live and virtually!
Describing their first meeting as a committee, Ms. Casanova says:
We spent a lot of our time talking about concrete events that are coming up but also giving some thought to how do we stay connected, how do we create community, and how do we do it in such a way that virtual families feel just as involved as on campus families. We also talked a little bit about how we have to have a few events ready to go in case the school does shut down and we all go virtual, just so we can all maintain some sort of connection and community that’s going to become even more important.
(Or, if you want the Cliff Notes, just start collecting the items shown below and email email@example.com with your tallied weight, then drop the plastics off at Harris Teeter, Safeway, Home Depot, or other locations! Check that location is still participating during COVID-19 restrictions.)
We’ll have lots more info on this year’s TNCS Trex Recycling Challenge and how it will roll out, but in the meantime, start collecting that bubble wrap!
Co-chaired by TNCS moms Lauren Davino and Sarah Andrews, this TNCS PC committee exists to, for example:
Facilitate dining out at designated local restaurants with a percentage going to TNCS
Coordinate silent auction of select items from local businesses
This can-do committee has already pulled off one successful fundraising dinner with TNCS parent–owned The Land of Kush, who so generously allocated some of each TNCS-generated sale on November 11th back to TNCS. See the results for yourself!
Thank you, Naijha Wright-Brown and Gregory Brown!
Another super easy way to earn funds for TNCS is to sign up for educational rewards with Harris Teeter. With their Together in Education program, TNCS earns a percentage of each purchase when TNCS families link their VIC cards and shop Harris Teeter brands using TNCS Code 3528. (Caveat: You must re-link your card each year; it does not automatically update.)
More fundraising dinners are in the works throughout the school year as well as a first ever TNCS silent auction! (Let them know if you’d like to make a donation to the Silent Auction, which will be curated in Arts and Culture, Sports, Spa, and other packages.)
In closing, the 2020–2021 TNCS Parent Council “gives parents agency to feel like they have a role in what their kids’ school experience is going to be like this year,” said Ms. Gurman. With so many uncertainties, it feels good to be hands-on in and possibly even what goes on in their day-to-day lives.
Parent Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Rojas also offers encouragement: “Even if you can’t join monthly meetings but want to share your gifts and get involved, please contact us. Many hands make for light work.”
With autumn leaves falling, cooler weather in the air, and the holiday season imminent, people will likely be spending more time indoors and possibly in larger groups. How do we do that safely during a pandemic? On Wednesday, October 21st, The New Century School presented a special virtual Question and Answer session to answer these questions and many more.
Note to readers: Chances are very good that you’ve had many of the same questions. This post is a comprehensive accounting of the event, so if you don’t want to or are unable to read it in its entirety, skim to the topics that concern you most.
TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux emceed the event, beginning with some relevant announcements and updates.
TNCS Safety Announcements
After zero cases of COVID-19 in Quarter 1 of the 2020–2021 school year and no forced school closings, it’s clear that the hybrid model is working. With Quarter 2 beginning November 5th, in-person attendance will increase. About 60% of K–8 families will be on campus full time, another 23% will be half time (every other week), and about 17% will be fully virtual.
A second announcement was about the community pledge to consider getting a flu shot to keep everyone feeling a bit more comfortable. Of the approximately 149 students and 39 staff, 53% reported getting vaccinated. “We’re hoping to get to at least 70%,” said Roberta, “so fingers crossed.” (Her wish was granted—just a few days later, the rate of vaccination is 75%.)
Finally, TNCS began biweekly “Safety Audits” to check for proper mask-wearing, that the intake/outtake fans are running, and that desks remain 6 ft apart. In general, compliance has been excellent: 3rd- through 8th-graders are consistently 100%, K–2nd-graders are averaging 91%, and preschoolers are ranging between 73%–91%. These statistics are regularly shared with staff to encourage increasing compliance.
After this welcome and updates, Ms. Faux gave the Wellness Team the chance to say a few words each about themselves and encouraged attendees to type in questions in the chat box along the way to make the evening as interactive as possible.
Meet the TNCS Wellness Team!
Drs. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, David Griffith, and Nishant Shah comprise the TNCS Wellness committee. Here are their takes on COVID-19 risk management and best practices, both in and out of school.
Dr. McDonald-Mosley began by explaining her long history with TNCS: “I am a parent to a current 7th-grader at TNCS and a recent graduate. We have been a part of the TNCS community since before it was officially The New Century School, back when it was Patterson Park Montessori. So this community to be honest feels like more of an extended family to me than just a school, and that’s the passion that I bring to this team during the tumultuous last few months.”
She is currently the Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, where she has been navigating health care delivery in these “interesting times,” including implementing COVID-specific policies for seven health centers of about 120 staff and 35,000 patients a year. She is an Obstetrician/Gynecologist by training and also has a public health background, having attended Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“I want to take a second to applaud Ms. Faux and Señora Duncan and all of the staff who’ve been working tirelessly to balance keeping the doors open with keeping everyone safe and all of the work that they’ve been doing there,” said Dr. McDonald-Mosley. “I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to convene with you this evening and hopefully answer some of your questions.”
What Dr. McDonald-Mosley felt was an important topic to discuss is the looming holiday season. “For my family,” she said, “Thanksgiving is the ultimate holiday. For those of you who don’t know, my husband is a chef and the owner and proprietor of Black Sauce Kitchen. At Thanksgiving, we throw down! We get together as a huge family and it’s a huge deal.” But with elderly family members, she described needing to be really thoughtful about exposure during the holiday season and what that will mean.
We don’t want to take actions because we miss our family that could potentially put them at risk of being admitted to the hospital or worse by the end of the year. So, my ‘pearl’ is be mindful, be thoughtful, try to think ahead and make some plans. We all want to spend time with our family and friends but perhaps finding a way to do that more safely and implementing some risk-mitigation strategies during your holiday plans would be my advice. If you have specific questions about your plans, we’d be happy to touch base on those offline.
Dr. Griffith has a kindergartener and a primary student at TNCS. He is a pediatrician and internal medicine doctor with special training in pediatric and adult infectious disease. He works at Johns Hopkins, where he cares for pediatric patients admitted to the hospital, and also at both outpatient adult and pediatric infectious disease clinics. “I’ve been focused clinically on the active disease, and it’s been nice to be part of this group and to think about how we mitigate risk and what we can do to help our school community,” he said. “I also want to echo how nice it’s been to work with the school and administration. As a parent, I feel the messaging has always been very clear and the staff has been really responsive, so I’d like to commend Ms. Faux and Señora Duncan on all the work they’ve done.”
Dr. Griffith brought up the topic of “COVID fatigue.” We’re tired of this thing and yet it’s an important time to check in and discuss the coronavirus because we’re likely going to continue seeing increasing cases. Although we’ve learned a lot over the last 7 months, this is a novel virus, and its transmission and disease course was largely unknown. “We must make sure we’re doing everything we can as a community to keep all of us safe.”
Dr. Shah has a 3rd-grader at TNCS and says he considers TNCS a part of his extended family. They have been in Baltimore for 5 years and love being part of the community. Dr. Shah is a family medicine physician and works with Dr. McDonald-Mosley at Planned Parenthood. Before coming here, he worked in a public health department at the county level in Martinez, California doing infectious disease outbreak investigations. “The language is familiar,” he said, “but this disease is not.”
As the newest member of the Wellness Committee, he thanked the others for the work already done to get us to where we are now and feeling more confident about making decisions.
It’s new to all of us, and I feel like I’m learning something new every day. It’s changing what I’m saying to people and it feels kind of crazy, but I’m doing my best, and my mantra to all through all of this has been ‘safer not safe.’ Whatever I do, I try to make it safer because there’s no way to know whether it’s actually safe or not. So, ‘is there a way I can make a situation safer?’ is kind of the way I think about it.
Dr. Shah got some audience love with his closing statement: “Little by little, things will get better and things will get safer. But winter is coming.” As chilling as any Night King, we’re bracing for what winter will bring.
Parents could submit questions ahead of time or while the Q&A was happening. The topics raised are most apropos—again, you’ll likely be seeking answers to many of these same questions. Committee members handled the issues in a “round-robin” fashion.
How Will We Celebrate Halloween?
With Halloween right around the corner, Dr. McDonald-Mosley recommends using Dr. Shah’s framework of safer and thinking about risk mitigation as we’re wondering how to celebrate Halloween. The CDC and Baltimore City are not recommending traditional trick-or-treating.
So, to be safer, think about other ways to celebrate: you could organize an outside gathering with people wearing masks and kids swap prepackaged treats. You could plan a scavenger hunt or pumpkin carvings or a costume parade in your neighborhood. Think about activities that allow you to recognize the holiday and allow the kids to dress up (if that’s important to you and your family and your culture), but do it in a way that doesn’t involve direct interaction with large groups of people or large numbers of strangers.
Dr. Shah added that it’s okay to back out of a commitment. Have a backup plan and set expectations so you can always change gears if you don’t feel comfortable.
Timeline for Mask-Wearing and Social Distancing?
Dr. Shah fielded this one. “As we’re getting more COVID fatigue,” he said, “we’re all going to start to try to figure out safer ways to see family, to participate in activities, to let the kids do sports or whatever. Even in those contexts, COVID won’t be behind us.” Most scientific communities are acknowledging that COVID is going to be around for some years to come, and even when we have an effective vaccine and better treatments, “effectiveness” just means less rapid spread rather than 100% elimination. “Mask-wearing and social distancing give us the most bang for our buck in preventing transmission,” said Dr. Shah. “I anticipate that those principles are going to stay in place this year and probably the next school year. They might change a bit, but just know that the antibody treatments and vaccinations you hear about on the news are things that even when approved and available are going to be slow to roll out.” Maryland just released their plan for vaccination, and high-risk groups will be first. As vaccines and treatments aren’t being tested in kids, they will not be in the first rounds of vaccinated individuals, so it wouldn’t serve the TNCS community to compromise the safety protocols currently in place until we fully understand what the rollout of vaccines will involve.
Dr. McDonald-Mosley agreed, adding, “We’ve never had a vaccine development at this speed before and at this scale and so many uncertainties surround it. What we do know are that masks and and social distancing help. The vaccine will catch up eventually, but I don’t think we can hang our hats on that being the solution any time soon.”
Are Play Dates Still a Thing?
Dr. Griffith discussed whether it’s okay to have play dates outside of school. “It’s along the same lines of knowing your family’s own assessment of risk and trying to make things as safe as possible,” he said. “I think it’s very reasonable if you are outside with smaller numbers—maybe one other child or family at a time wearing masks and doing activities that allow the kids to be socially distant.” For younger children that’s harder to pull off, but some families are consoled by the knowledge that their children are in school and able to have some time with friends that way. Children in virtual school, however, really need that social connection and to interact with their peers, all of which helps them learn and develop. Unstructured play is likewise important for development. “So, if it’s feels comfortable for your family in terms of your personal risk,” said Dr. Griffith, “I think there are ways to do it safely as I described as well as by choosing families you’re on the same page with. And, as Dr. Shah said, if it doesn’t seem right, you can always leave if you get uncomfortable.”
Routine Testing at TNCS?
Dr. McDonald-Mosley took on the viability of routine COVID-19 testing for students and staff. “This is something the Wellness committee considered over the summer, but back then it was extremely difficult to find a place to get a test within a reasonable amount of time, and then sometimes the results were taking upwards of 10 days to come back back, which essentially made the test useless,” she said. She also explained that for someone who is asymptomatic, a screening test basically amounts to a snapshot of your recent exposure over the last week and not much else. “So, while widespread testing on a routine basis is ideal, at that point it didn’t seem reasonable or helpful, and we would also want to make sure that everyone has equitable access to it if we’re going to make it a requirement.” If cases in Baltimore rise once more, however, routine testing may be something that TNCS revisits, especially as testing has become much easier to obtain and the results are coming back faster. At this point, though, TNCS does not plan to mandate testing, but the Wellness Team can certainly help provide resources for individuals in particular circumstances (e.g., recent travel) who would like to get tested.
Dr. Shah chimed in to point out that testing is not a replacement for standard risk mitigation (i.e., social distancing and mask-wearing) as well as that the tests are not 100% accurate by any stretch.
To Pod or Not to Pod?
With folks desperate for personal interaction, the rise of the pod, otherwise known as a “social bubble,” in which a couple of families agree to socialize with one another but no one else, has staved off insanity for many. Pod families hang out without social distancing but agree to follow recommended social-distancing and mask-wearing rules outside of the pod.
Dr. Shah pointed out that forming a pod has risks and that you must take careful stock of who you are joining with and who they have other contact with such as at work (and vice versa). Another point is to be clear about the purpose of the pod—is it to participate in an activity important to me? Is it so my kids can have social interaction? Is it a school pod? Know your goal and make sure the pod is truly allowing you to obtain it. And it doesn’t have to be a slippery slope—just because you’re podding with three families, doesn’t necessarily mean you expand that number, which exponentially increases your exposure to other people.
“Be thoughtful about each step you take because it will impact the others in the pod as well as other people you come in contact with in your life,” urged Dr. Shah. He also recommends setting ground rules, making very deliberate decisions, and always striving for “safer.” Safer can take the form of parents wearing masks while the kids aren’t required to, for example. Also be willing to pod with people that you’re willing to share your health risks with (in other words, you probably wouldn’t want to share your risks with your grandmother). “Finally, just kind of know that infection is going to happen, and contact tracing will mean that you all have to quarantine for 14 days because members of the pod will all be considered each other’s close contacts. Be prepared with a plan that addresses how you’ll deal with work and with your kid being at home for 2 weeks. Call your doctor know their process for testing,” said Dr. Shah.
Holiday Travel: What Will It Mean?
Thanksgiving and Christmas are times when families traditionally gather. Ms. Faux brought up the TNCS Community Compact and explained that so far, TNCS is not looking to ask for additional requirements beyond what it states, which follow Maryland State guidelines. In essence, if you travel to a place with a positivity rate higher than 10%, get tested or quarantine for 2 weeks. Dr. Griffith elaborated: “Within that state recommendation is that nonessential travel should be reconsidered. I know that’s hard for a lot of families with the holidays coming, but my recommendation is to not travel.”
Nevertheless, if you are going to travel, do it as safely as possible (e.g., drive rather than fly, be outdoors if possible, limit interactions, test before and after) and carefully assess the risk of your particular travel—to where, for what, and around how many people? As for what this means for TNCS, Dr. Griffith again defers to Maryland’s guidance and says to consider testing when you get home even if you don’t go to a hotspot and quarantine until you have a negative result. Despite the imperfections of our current testing model, it’s better than nothing. The kids can switch to virtual learning—in fact, the TNCS Wellness Committee encourages you to switch to virtual if you ever have a concern, which is much easier to deal with than a forced all-school closure.
“Everyone is a part of this community,” said Dr. Griffith, “and our decisions affect each other’s kids and families. What’s important for this committee is what are you doing to help ensure the health of the school. We do think about how it impacts our community.”
And yet . . . those grandparents really need to see the grandkids. Lay ground rules, advises Dr. Griffith, and be prepared to have to enforce, and re-enforce, them! If a visitor is coming to your house, for example, ask them to get a test. “In every circumstance,” echoed Dr. McDonald-Mosley, “ask yourself, ‘is this necessary?’ and ‘is there a safer option?’.”
Winter Is Coming . . . Will TNCS Students Be Outside?
The short answer is yes, although lunch is starting back up November 9th and will be served indoors. (Students must eat at their own desks, spaced at least 6 feet apart and they may not talk while eating.) “As far as how cold is too cold,” said Señora Duncan, “we follow a metric from the MSDE office of child care. We will eat outside, but not in extremely cold conditions.”
Do make sure your student has clothing for colder and inclement weather, however, because part of TNCS’s identity is spending time outdoors. As one parent put it, “we really appreciate that TNCS is determined to get students outside and give them some freedom to move, take walks around the neighborhood, and spend some time away from their desks.” Señora Duncan responded, “Yes! Send those rain boots; send the accoutrements. We do go outside, so it’s really important that the students are dressed for the weather.”
How Are Preschoolers Doing?
A parent who joined TNCS during the pandemic asked how the 2- and 3-year-olds are doing with mask-wearing, and Interim Preschool Director David Sarpal fielded this one: “I’m very pleased to say that whenever we prompt young children to put on or fix their their masks, they respond immediately. They know it’s something that needs to be done in general.” Señora Duncan agreed: “It’s like second skin to them. They don’t really pay attention to it; they just put it on and go!”
What Social and Emotional Learning Is Happening?
Another parent question was about social and emotional support. TNCS teachers are very attuned to what’s going on with students, explained Señora Duncan. The younger ones do various activities during circle time, and the older students do journaling and ELA activities, for example. Teachers have even found ways to have on-campus outdoor activities for all-virtual students to optionally attend so that they can actually be with their in-person classmates safely. Said Señora Duncan:
We don’t have a formal program per se, but we’ve been finding out where our kids are and addressing needs as they arise. It’s such a changing environment, and there isn’t a COVID Social and Emotional Handbook yet. Our students are in such a different place right now, and there’s so much going on in our world with social justice issues, the pandemic, the election . . . Our kids are feeling all of it, so it’s really important that we take stock of those feelings.
Ms. Faux encouraged parents to continue sending questions that the Wellness Team will compile and address in forums and Q&As.
For Dr. McDonald-Mosley, the takeaway message is: “We’re going to need to be flexible as we move through the fall and the disease starts to surge again in our area, as it probably will. Continued communication and flexibility are going to be critically important. Again, I just want to applaud Señora Duncan and all the teachers who, despite all of the uncertainty, pushed through and have continued to provide an excellent educational experience to our kids.”
Dr. Griffith closed with, “I was just reflecting on kind of the first calls we had about this back in March and how little we knew and how much more we know now. We’ve come a long way, but we’re still learning.”
Dr. Shah offered three pieces of advice: “1) If you’re concerned about your kid being sick or you’re not sure what to do, stay home and call us or email us; 2) get your flu shot and start figuring out what you’re going to do if and when someone in your family gets sick; and 3) at some point, TNCS will have to close, so let’s be supportive of each other as a community, whatever that takes and whatever help you need, just ask.”
Señora Duncan said, “We didn’t know how this was all going to go—it was nail-biting and hair-raising at times, but it has been truly wonderful to have the support that we’ve had from all of you to get through this, especially the Wellness Team. Thank you so much; we could not have done it without you. You answered our calls and a billion questions and you answered away. This is just such an amazing and supportive community, and we really appreciate what we have here.”
For more information on what TNCS is doing to protect students from COVID-19, see updates posted regularly on Blackbaud, including additional safety measures, how to talk to students about COVID-19, and precautions for the holidays.
Remember, students can move to virtual classes as needed and everyone should STAY HOME if they are sick!
“Thank you everyone for being a partner. Together, with exceptional diligence we will tackle the upcoming months.”—The TNCS Wellness Team
The New Century School is well known for its tight-knit community of special people who work and study here, united by our strong relationships and common interests. David Sarpal, Interim Preschool Director, joined TNCS for the 2020–2021 school year and seamlessly became an integral part of the family. You’ll immediately see why!
EL Camino à TNCS
Mr. Sarpal currently lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his two sons. Milo just turned 17, and Nathan is 11. He most recently worked as an educator in Washington, DC, but his path to TNCS, though a long and intriguing one, seems almost destined. “How I arrived at TNCS really started with my having been a student at an international school once upon a time,” he explained. Indeed, his early life sounds enchanted.
Mr. Sarpal was born in Medellin, Colombia, where his mother is also from. His father is from the state of Punjab in northern India. Later, in Bogotá, he attended an American school called Colegio Nueva Granada. In the early 1980s, when Mr. Sarpal was in his teens, the family relocated to Spain, where he attended the American School of Madrid. From there, he came to the United States to go to boarding school at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts.
With such a rich international education experience, it’s no wonder that he would seek out an equally diverse professional career. “Once I begin to work in the field of education, I seemed to have landed in places that attract people from different nations and backgrounds,” he said. For example, in Alexandria, VA, he worked for The Campagna Center, living in a part of Alexandria with a high percentage of immigrants from Latin America, Europe, and Asia. “That seems to be where I am most at home,” he said. “From there, I went on to the Washington International School and then the Whittle School and Studios, hence the pattern that has brought me to TNCS.”
In addition, multinational multilingualism is important to him and is one of the things that stood out to him about TNCS. (By the way, he also has a sister currently living in Malta who speaks Spanish, English, French, Russian, and Darija, an Arabic language spoken in Morocco, where she once lived.) He speaks Spanish and English fluently, and he hopes his sons will, too. “Milo has more of an engineering bent and like to ‘tinker,’ whereas Nathan is more sociable and likely to strike up conversations. He is approaching bilingualism at this point, and I wish he could spend more time in Spain because that is a muscle he definitely needs to utilize.”
Why Early Childhood Education?
Of course, the international flavor is not the only attribute that attracted Mr. Sarpal to TNCS—early childhood education happens to be his forte! He joked, “I have had some background with preschool age children, most notably as a father.” He also was a Montessori student in his early years. But, just as his educational journey meandered a bit, enriching his experience as he went, so did his professional one.
I went to business school only to figure out that I really am an educator by vocation. I seem to be a very curious person, and that’s why I’ve tried many different paths; I learn experientially, and education and learning is the path that has most resonated with me. In business school, I realized I was inspiring fellow business students how to innovate. It turns out that what I like the most about innovation had to do with play and playing in general. I’ve always been fascinated with what happens in the brain with play. As they say, ‘education is play; play is education’. What better way to learn more about play then to understand it from an educator’s perspective?
At the aforementioned Campagna Center, he started out as a marketer, advocating for the organization and successfully fundraising (in the middle of a recession, no less). The administration suggested he stay on as a teacher, to which he mentally responded, “Teach? I didn’t go to business school to teach.” One thing led to another, he says, and that’s exactly what he found himself doing. “It was wonderful, because I could really innovate as a teacher in ways that I couldn’t in a business context, where things can sometimes get ossified and paralyzed. You really need to work hard at freeing people’s thinking,” he explained.
So, off he went to Prince George’s Community College for his credential in Early Childhood Education. “That rounded out my understanding of different kinds of educational institutions in this country,” he said. “The community college experience is invigorating because everybody there wants to learn. Those students are lifelong learners. That was inspiring to see.”
Early Child Literacy
Mr. Sarpal was also inspired by the subject he was pursuing in general.
One thing that really stood out from that experience is how fascinating early childhood literacy is. It ties to the acquisition of language in the child’s mind, and there are so many complex developments that take place when they are are in the process of deciphering and decoding letters on a page, sounding them out, and understanding how letters together make up words, how words together make up sentences. I loved learning about that, and I liked seeing it play out in myriad ways.
Relatedly, he adores children’s books and would like to incorporate routine reading sessions with small groups, as he has done in the past. “Children’s books have a real special place in my heart,” he says, “and I love illustrations. A lot of my friends are artists of children’s books. I love delving into those worlds with young children and having conversations about them.”
Play Is the Beginning of Knowledge
Back to what drew him to early childhood education in the first place, Mr. Sarpal is seeing ways to incorporate more play on the playground and in the classroom without disrupting functional systems. “I’m still forming a mental model of what this program is all about, but there are always opportunities to incorporate more play. I don’t believe in revolutionizing programs but offering incremental and sustained effort to build structures that exist and do away with things that may have had a purpose before but no longer serve. I’m not here to re-engineer the program; I’m here to sustain things and support.”
The Pandemic in the Room
Let’s face it, we can’t really talk about anything without referring to COVID-19. Although the associated adjustments we’ve had to make are not without their inconveniences, Mr. Sarpal sees the bright spots. “Right now we are weighing the imperative to be socially distant, but I think that it’s really a gift that we can be together as a community, we can be close to each other without causing harm.” He says he greatly values the rigor with which the school has applied COVID-19 guidelines. “That might not be where a jobseeker starts looking; however, when a community chooses to abide by guidelines that are so clearly stated and so based in science, it shows the kind of compassion and love of humanity that I am interested in seeing in the world.”
Nevertheless, being together means wearing masks, which could slow some things down. “It takes a longer time to get to know people when you have a mask on, so that has implications down the line on how we do everything. It doesn’t mean that we can’t get to know each other, it just means we are operating daily with incomplete information. Likewise, if we were to be all virtual we would be operating with incomplete information because the screen doesn’t show you how I’m breathing, how I’m being receptive to your questions. That’s just what we’re living through,” he said.
El Camino por Delante
And here we are! How has Mr. Sarpal found TNCS so far? “I was ready for a challenge in my own life,” he began, “even while the time we’re living in is so tumultuous and so full of change all around us. I can’t think of a better community to support and to serve then one like this. I find it to be a very welcoming environment, and the staff has been so kind. There’s a lot of kindness around here.”
The work itself is also a source of enjoyment. “The children are so thirsty to learn,” he says. “This is an age that truly fascinates me and tests me and my ability to truly be supportive and engaging. It also makes me want to be rigorous in applying the science of what we know about childhood development, while at the same time forming amazing human beings. You can see it in children’s eyes, and I’m just so glad to be in an environment where I can nurture that.”
There’s yet another way that Mr. Sarpal belongs particularly here, and that’s his altruism:
I am accessible and informal, and I am ready to have a conversation about your children at any time. Even though I am sort of new to this particular line of work, I have been working with kids for some time, and my goal is to support families in every way that I can. Especially right now, I don’t want to get in your way; I want to simply serve with everything that I can give.
I feel that I can meaningfully support the group and serve the community in a way that would be appreciated.
A month into the new school year, The New Century School is adapting and adjusting to the vagaries inherent in having school during a pandemic. As always, TNCS tries to make the most of the opportunity such adjustments may offer. One such change came when TNCS K–8th-grade Spanish teacher Fabiola Sanzana temporarily returned to her native Chile over the summer. And, since we’re smack in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, now seems like the ideal moment to feature Laura Noletto, who took the helm in Sra. Sanzana’s absence.
A Cool New Role
“Sra Lala,” as she is lovingly known throughout campus, has been with TNCS for several years, until now as a Lead Teacher in one of the Spanish Immersion preprimary classrooms. After some reshuffling of classrooms, Sra. Lala found herself in a brand-new role. “For me it’s the perfect time to learn something new,” she explained, “because with the pandemic, anyone can change careers. Nobody knows exactly how the world is going to work, so it’s a good time to switch gears and to learn different things.”
Even so, in the face of such a big transition, some would be easily daunted. Sra. Lala, however, finds comfort in the challenge.
I think because we are all in this together, I have felt very supported. In a way, we are all learning platforms to teach online, we’re learning from the kids, we’re learning from one another, so I feel less intimidated. I feel somewhat nervous, but that’s good because it prompts me to make the best effort. I’m not in this alone, so I took the chance. I’m also not a new face to the kids, and that has helped. This is my 4th year in this community, and I feel very much embraced and taken care of, so that also helps with the challenge.
It’s also not her first big career transition. Back in Venezuela, where she’s from, she taught middle schoolers and even college students. At TNCS, she swung to the other end of the age spectrum and taught 2-year-olds.
Now that she’s teaching K–8, she is finding new kinds of challenges such as adapting the Spanish curriculum to be age appropriate and to meet the needs of every TNCS student without leaving anybody behind. Some students are bilingual and who can already read fluently; others are just beginners, and beginners in just about every division. “So the challenge for a Spanish teacher,” she says, “is don’t leave anybody behind but challenge those who are already advanced.”
Another laudable challenge she has taken on is to help “make Spanish look cool.”
I think that the more the pre-teens and teenagers hear Spanish daily, they’ll loosen up and lose some of their self-consciousness. I want to be the role model they get inspired by. They even reply to me in Spanish sometimes. So, at that age of coolness, I am trying to be as cool as possible to make Spanish look cool, which is one of my main goals. Another is to be a good example of the culture and get them to open up their hearts and minds to the language.
In order to “meet them at their level so they can feel challenged and keep learning,” she has been conducting ongoing individual assessment in an informal way. She might say a letter, for example, and ask her students to write Spanish words that start with it in the Zoom chat. Other assessment activities she uses include games, conversations, hearing a story in Spanish and then describing it, and spelling contests.”The sum is that the older kids are very much more advanced than I expected, and now I just have to adapt the curriculum to their needs. I’m very excited about this!”
The Art of Teaching Spanish
If you know anything about Sra. Lala, you know she loves art, and she incorporates it regularly into her teaching.
I’m working with a methodology designed by the director of education at MoMA called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) that you use works of art to develop critical thinking and observational and conversational skills. For example, to assess their color vocabulary, I asked them to do a colorful work of art and name them in Spanish.
I use art as a tool of teaching Spanish. If your hands are doing an oil pastel or a water color, or you’re doing print making or an art workshop, of it’s easier to learn Spanish art vocabulary. Visual images and art processes are important in the curriculum and also Latin American and Spanish culture, such as carefully chosen authors representative of each country. And, of course, geography and music. Music is so important for Latin Americans, for everybody, but music is very rich in the South American region, so I definitely try to follow in the footsteps of Sra. Sanzana in incorporating rhythm, salsa, meringue, etc.
You mentioned spanish heritage, will there be any kind of spanish heritage night?
Sra. Lala is enthusiastic about how the 2020–2021 school year is progressing so far.
Oh I love it. I love it. I feel more challenged as an educator. I love it because I love early childhood education, but that was like baby therapy for me. I was feeling all the love of the little ones, and I was feeling secure with my little classroom, but now I feel this is very much a step forward, and I’m excited. I have to prepare more because it’s my first year doing this with these students, so there’s this novelty of creating and creating.
She wants parents to feel free to contact her with any concerns or questions but is confident that the year will be a great one for her and her students. “We are all transitioning to a new era of education together, and I feel very proud and honored that TNCS trusts me as the Spanish teacher. Every day, I’m going to do the best I can to keep it up. Sra. Sanzana is a great teacher, so I’m talking to her a lot, and she is helping me.”
How cool is that?
Note: We don’t yet know what an Hispanic Heritage Night (Noche de la Herencia Hispana) will look like this year, but we can at least look back on previous years events and cantar y bailar con alegría!