TNCS’s Second Biannual Primary Workshop for 2017–2018!

At The New Century School, Montessori instruction not only defines the primary classroom for students ages 3- to 5-years old, but Montessori principles are the bedrock on which TNCS was founded. Although only the primary classrooms are classically Montessori, its importance at TNCS cannot be overstated. Students who start at TNCS in their primary years and progress through the upper divisions find that their elementary and middle school classrooms retain much of the Montessori character in terms of mixed-age classes; an inquiry-driven, student-led approach, and an emphasis on courage, compassion, respect, and service to and for schoolmates and staff.

Because there’s a lot to the Montessori method, TNCS hosts two workshops annually to allow parents to get the full picture of how it works. Last fall, primary teachers Lisa Reynolds, Elizabeth Bowling, Maria Mosby, and Yanyang Li hosted the first of these annual workshops, covering many areas of the Montessori classroom, including  the Work Cycle, Practical Life, the Montessori Skillset, and other broader concepts.

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This current workshop focused on the tools and lessons that Montessori students use to learn Geography and Science, Math, and Language as well as their primary vehicle for learning—their five senses: “The senses, being explorers of our world, open the way to knowledge,” wrote Maria Montessori.

20180118_141103Accordingly, the Sensorial component of the Montessori method is purposeful and orderly. It “refines the senses,” “orders the mind,” and facilitates “appreciation of the world.” There are visual, tactile, olfactory, and auditory (and sometimes even gustatory!) materials for children to work with, all designed to establish fundamental precepts for learning. Each material is beautifully designed and appropriate for children during their sensitive periods of learning. They provide the necessary stimulation for children to learn science and geography, math, and language concepts more readily.

In a Science and Geography activity (known as a “work”), for example, a student might put together a globe puzzle, calling on his or her sensorial training to understand sequence, order, and beauty to successfully complete it (with complete absorption, no less), or match Ancient Egyptian names with figures. Cultural awareness also begins to develop here; in Montessori, concepts begin very concretely to enable to child to fully grasp them before being naturally drawn to extrapolate them to more abstract ideas.

This is nowhere more true than in Math: “Process is taught first, and facts come later. Order, coordination, concentration, and independence are experienced by the child using [Montessori math] materials.” The materials are organized into five groups:

  • Group 1 introduces sets of 1 through 10, which prepares the child for counting and teaches the value of quantity. Children begin to associate numeral and quantity with number rods and number cards and will gain a growing understanding of sequence. To reinforce the 1 through 10 concept, a teacher may add spindle boxes, cards and counters, the short bead stair, and other 1-to-10 counting activities.
  • Group 2 involves the decimal system using the golden bead material. Children become familiar with the names of the decimal categories: units of 10s, 100s, 1,000s, and so on. A  concrete experience with each category is represented by beads, and quantity will be followed by symbol and association.
  • Group 3 deals with the operations using the golden bead material. The concept and process of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are presented. Children work with each other and benefit from these exercises using the bank game. Progression then continues using operations with the stamp game.
  • Group 4 consists of linear counting. Quantity is presented using the teen and 10 boards, followed by symbol and association. The 100 board and bead chains develop number concepts and recognition of numbers 1 through 100. The bead chains also introduce the child to skip-counting—5, 10, 15, 20, etc., for example.
  • Group 5 contains activities such as strip boards, the snake game, and memorization of facts. Fractions are also a part of this group. Fraction skittles and insets serve this purpose.

The activities in the math area are not to be implemented at a set pace. Providing students with the materials at precisely the right challenge level will enable them to demonstrate their development to the teacher through their progress. A child who is able to grasp such math concepts as addition and subtraction demonstrates a successful use of the math materials.

“The only language men ever speak perfectly,” Maria Montessori wrote, “is the one they learned in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!” Thus, language is possibly the area of the Montessori classroom accorded the most space, focusing first on oral language and vocabulary, then writing, and finally reading. From birth to age 6, children are in an exquisitely sensitive period for language development. They absorb multiple languages effortlessly and without direct instruction. The latter half of this plane of development is when they exhibit a strong interest in words.

  • The oral language curriculum focuses on activities that enrich the child’s vocabulary and ability to isolate phonetic sounds, such as having conversations, telling and reading stories, playing sound games, and working with vocabulary cards.
  • Children are typically interested in the practice of writing and often learn to write before they can read. The writing curriculum focuses on preparing the mind and the hand for writing activities through sensorial exercises and manipulatives.
  • A child prepared to begin reading will demonstrate this by first blending phonetic sounds. After much work in this area, the child will begin to work with phonograms, digraphs, and finally puzzle words (sight words). All of this work is done using sensorial objects that the child can manipulate and relate to words.
The primary teachers did a beautiful job explaining and demonstrating the brilliance of the Montessori classroom during the workshop, and they also shared their presentation in digital form for anyone unable to attend. To learn more, go to: TNCS 2017–2018 Parents Workshop.

 

Meet the Teacher: Megan Dematteo Joins TNCS Lower Elementary!

Now in its 10th year, The New Century School continues to grow up, with a new grade added each year and an expanding student body. With greater numbers of students comes the need for additional teachers, especially in the elementary division. This year, TNCS welcomed Megan Dematteo to teach one of the four lower elementary classes.

Ms. Dematteo is one of those perfect fits that the school seems to attract, with her varied background, progressive approach to education, and her love of language and culture.

MeganHighRes7 copy.jpgBackground

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and growing up in nearby Harford County, Ms. Dematteo majored in Spanish at the University of Tennessee, with an additional focus on Journalism. On graduating with her undergraduate degree, she sought some real-world experience and joined AmeriCorps. “I volunteered for a year in Southeast Utah, primarily working for a non-profit that mostly served the Mexican community there,” she recounts. “We called ourselves the multicultural center and were open to serving any population, but we did have the only Spanish translation services in town. That’s where I began using Spanish on a daily basis.”

That experience made an impression on her that still informs her approach to education and life today. “I loved that community, and I felt like that was my first opportunity to see how language can open you up to meeting a whole new group of people and learning about them. A different perspective and a broadening world view comes with that,” she said.

After completing her volunteer service with AmeriCorps, she returned to the Southeast in 2015 and pursued a master’s degree in Creative Writing. During this process, she also took up teaching. “I got a job offer teaching part-time to K through 2nd-grade students at a Title 1 public school in Asheville, North Carolina doing literacy in small groups, which was was a skill set I had acquired. That was a lot of fun. I loved teaching and opening kids up to reading and writing,” she said.

The school where she taught had an incredibly diverse community, representing 32 countries ranging from Central and South America to Eastern Europe to the Pacific Islands. She enjoyed both the school and its students and the community surrounding it. She also found the experience to be “eye-opening” insofar as Asheville draws a lot of affluent tourists who do not necessarily reflect the social fabric of the people living there full time. “It was a very interesting place to be a public school teacher,” she explained, “because the public school kids don’t represent the facade that you see.” She realized that being a full-time classroom teacher was going to be her next step.

Although she was originally accepted into TNTP, an alternative credentialing program for public schools that seeks to “reimagine teaching,” in order to teach in Baltimore City public schools, she found herself instead at The Nueva School’s Innovative Teacher Program. Thus, her step turned out to be another big one, taking her all the way to the West Coast to teach at an independent school for gifted and talented students in the San Francisco Bay area. “I wanted to diversify my training,” she said. “That school has a progressive approach to education that I found really exciting, and I loved working with the gifted population. It was just fun. You could throw anything at them, and they would typically rise to the occasion.”

At TNCS

Although that experience was fun, she always looked on it as temporary: “I knew ultimately that I wanted to be closer to my family and be in a place where I could see myself settling down for a while, so California was my last hurrah.” And that’s how she wound up in Baltimore, at TNCS. “I’m only in my 4th year as a teacher, but I’ve tasted every little sampling from the platter of environments to work in, and TNCS is kind of a hybrid of all the different experiences I’ve had,” she explained. “I feel like TNCS is all of those pieces of training put together in one program.”

Things are certainly coalescing—she brings bilingualism, a service orientation, and a focus on reading and writing to the classroom, which are key elements of the TNCS identity. As for ways she integrates her background of creative writing, journalism, and Spanish in the classroom, she says:

We do writing workshop a lot. I think the kids like the opportunity to be creative. We’re going to switch our focus to a little more reading this semester because we got really excited about a writing project toward the end of the year—the kids created their own book. They learned about character and plot, the beginning, middle, and end. The created their own original books, then dictated them to me, and then illustrated them. It really made them come alive. Kids that formerly weren’t super interested in the technical aspects of writing, all of a sudden found that they had a voice and became really excited and proud of the stories they were telling. It was wonderful to see that process.

To bring Spanish in, I read stories in the language, such as Mexican folk tales. I also have a couple of ‘Spanglish’ books that are written in English, but the characters might have Spanish names, for example. The students are sometimes surprised to hear me, an English native speaker, speak Spanish. I like being an example to them of somebody who is bilingual. So, I try to use Spanish in the classroom a little every day, but I am primarily an ELA teacher, and I can’t switch too much because I don’t want to confuse my students.

Ms. Dematteo is glad to see TNCS flourishing as a school and is especially appreciative of the Mandarin Chinese and Spanish language teaching. “They are doing something in Baltimore that’s never been done before, and I think it’s really commendable,” she said. “It’s also a big year as far as reaching a critical mass of students and being able to be fully operational as a pre-primary to middle school. That’s very exciting.”

She and Profesor Manuel share classes, each having 15 homeroom students. Ms. DeMatteo handles ELA and Math for the cohort of 30 total, and Prof. Manuel, Global Studies and Science. “I’m enjoying this,” she said. “It’s good to be back in Baltimore!”

TNCS Students Fill Up with Kindness!

As the third quarter of the 2017–2018 school year ramps up at The New Century School, Head of School Alicia Danyali is introducing a brand-new initiative in character development as part of her invisible curriculum that is one of the distinguishing features of TNCS. Although new, the latest initiative integrates well with other programs she has put in place over the years, especially last year’s four pillars of the TNCS learner profile, in which, schoolwide, students began exploring actively implementing Compassion, Courage, Respect, and Service into their daily school lives. Even as those concepts continue to define TNCS students and inform their academic pursuits, Mrs. Danyali seeks ways to make them more and more concrete as well as apply them in new and meaningful ways.

Grab Yourself a Bucket

So-called “bucket-filling” is conducting yourself in a positive manner with the ultimate outcome that you not only make others around you feel good, but you also feel good about yourself. Mrs. Danyali explains, “the premise is, what are you doing to influence a positive environment that ‘fills you up’? It doesn’t necessarily have to be something tangible like opening the door for somebody or saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’—which should come naturally, of course—but we want to create a community that cares about each other.”

Maybe you’ve noticed some different behaviors at home and wondered what suddenly jumpstarted your child’s development . . . well, there’s a good chance it started in class at school. Mrs, Danyali has brought bucket-filling to each and every classroom at TNCS, sowing bucket-filling seeds among the 2-year-olds all the way up to the middle-schoolers.

“I feel like we’ve done a thorough discussion about character development,” she said, “and it’s time for putting words into practice. Bucket-filling looks different in different age groups, as it should, because I don’t have the same expectations of a toddler as I do of a 6th- or 7th-grader.” As such, she has distributed books and shared the concept in every class in varying length and depth. Younger classes were in a group setting and older classes in circles (see TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices! for her work with circles) that allowed individual student feedback. Overall, such student feedback has been very positive, and teachers are also getting into the spirit by regularly using the language of bucket-filling in their classrooms.

She gives examples during her discussions that they can relate to, to help them understand how they can shift their behaviors and reactions in a positive direction, such as, “Have you ever been at the lunch table and noticed some trash under it that isn’t yours, but instead of saying, ‘that’s not mine,” just going ahead and cleaning it up anyway? Wouldn’t that help make a nicer, cleaner community for everyone? Or, are you ever at the store with your parents and give someone a smile just to be nice?”

Bucket-Filling By the Numbers

For the 3rd- through 7th-graders, putting bucket-filling into practice involves reflecting and responding in journals. They were given notebooks with suggestions for each of 30 days on how to be a bucket-filler, or they could go off script and record their approach.  “It doesn’t mean to be a bucket-filler to everyone you meet,” explains Mrs. Danyali. “But it uses the same line of questioning every day and then asks the student to be reflective. In our follow-up, I’m curious to see how much they share or choose not to share, but they know that there is no specific expectation to be met through the journaling exercise.” In other words, they’ll get out of it what they put into it!

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In other divisions, bucket-filling will take different, age-appropriate forms. At the 2- and 3-year old level, for example, the discussion centers more on, “what would you do?” in a given situation. In one of the K–1st-grade classes, students put a pom-pom in a makeshift bucket each time they did or said something bucket-worthy. In this way, the teacher made the concept less abstract, and students were able to visualize how good deeds literally filled their class bucket. It also demonstrated the value of working together, and even the children who didn’t initially grasp the concept (getting a bit stuck on their beach shovels and pails) came away thinking, “Wow, what a nice class we have!” Others came to the “aha moment” by hearing fellow students share during circle time, such as one child’s story of her twice yearly closet clean-out to donate clothes she has outgrown to needier children.

For the whole school, art teacher Jenny Miller will be creating a giant bucket for the multipurpose room wall so teachers can publicly recognize students who are exhibiting positive behaviors. Nevertheless, Mrs. Danyali is quick to note that acknowledgment is not what underpins bucket-filling: “What I really want them to take away from this is that you don’t always need recognition for doing something kind. Having more of a humble attitude and just knowing, ‘this is who I am and this is built into me’ and modeling positive behavior is the essence of bucket-filling, to my mind.” In fact, a newer concept to emerge from the bucket-filling juggernaut is “putting your lid on your bucket,” which basically means making sure that you are holding on to your positive energy and being sustained by it rather than going through the motions of bucket-filling just to impress somebody else.

Filled with Implications

There are many facets to bucket-filling, and its implications are far-reaching. For example, another component to bucket-filling is taking responsibility for not-so-nice actions, which can also contribute to an affirmative environment and, in that sense, is reflective of restorative practice. Another aspect concerns the Dr. Jekyll of bucket-filling. For instance, if you’re not being an active bucket-filler, let’s hope you aren’t becoming the dreaded “bucket-dipper,” which is consciously subverting classroom rules or refusing to take accountability for a transgression and thereby depleting someone else’s bucket. You can also deplete your own bucket by such a negative attitude. Fortunately, trying to find ways and strategies to turn it around leads back to bucket-filling.

“I’m trying to make us more aware that it doesn’t take a lot to change how we feel,” said Mrs. Danyali. “For example, I said, ‘let me see your best smile,’ and followed up with, “how does that make you feel?’ If we work on self, then it can be better for everyone else.”

What do we want for our kids? We want them to be happy and healthy, and bucket-filling can contribute to those states. If that positive message is given to them and modeled for them consistently by the teachers they love and respect, then there’s a strong chance they’ll adopt the corresponding behaviors. “Sometimes adults need the message as much as students,” said Mrs. Danyali. I ask myself, ‘is what you’re doing today bettering you and benefiting everyone else around you?’ ”

She noted that, so far, bucket-filing seemed to resonate most with students who are already strongly connected to service, but she thinks it’s going to catch on more and more as TNCS students cultivate their character strengths and grow and develop.

Future Buckets

“I’m hoping these conversations are ongoing, and I’ll continue going into classrooms and facilitating,” said Mrs. Danyali. I feel that if a good portion of the kids walk away understanding the concept and implementing it in their community and in the classroom, then it’s made the difference.”

“Becoming a bucket-filling classroom” is a thing, but Mrs. Danyali is hesitant to invite too much fanfare. She prefers to keep it “organic and authentic” to TNCS, which means that it must be differentiated among levels and it will be implemented differently in each classroom. All of the materials are available in Spanish so there may be opportunity for some bilingual bucket-filling. Other schools even make bucket-filling into a competition, but that is something Mrs. Danyali will not bring to TNCS, as competing is diametrically opposed to what she feels is the point of this whole endeavor—which is more or less to become aware of our how our conduct affects our fellows and ourselves.

“This year will be sort of an experiment,” she says. “I’m hoping it creates conversations, and we’ll see where it goes. I can see building on it year after year, like with our core values.”

If you’d like to reinforce bucket-filling at home and elsewhere, resources abound. The website (www.bucketfillers101.com/) provides useful information as well as links to social media platforms including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and more, showing everything from having a positive influence in how we talk, how we bucket-fill at home, and how it can be done in the community at large.

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Writer in Residence Joins TNCS: Meet Ilia Madrazo!

IMG_1209This past November, The New Century School embarked on a new approach to English Language Arts instruction. Welcoming Ilia Madrazo to the faculty, TNCS now features dedicated ELA teaching for 3rd-grade through middle-school students, which allows intensive focus in the all-important skills of enhanced reading comprehension and effective writing.

Although the elementary and middle school  teaching staff had already been established for the 2017–2018 academic year, when Ms. Madrazo became available, new opportunities that were too good to pass up likewise opened for TNCS’s academic offerings. Ms. Madrazo is a passionate educator with over 20 years’ experience teaching ELA, English as a Second Language, and Reading to school-aged students of all levels as well as at the university level. She earned her master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Houston and pursued doctoral level studies in English Linguistics at the University of Puerto Rico. She is a published researcher and has presented at various conferences. In addition to scoring such a credentialed instructor, bringing Ms. Madrazo on as “Writer in Residence” also allowed the other elementary and middle school teachers at TNCS to specialize in their preferred subjects, such as Jon Wallace now being science guru full time.

About Ilia Madrazo

Ms. Madrazo came to Baltimore last March via Houston, Texas but is originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where much of her family including her son still resides. (Her son is currently studying Physics at the University of Puerto Rico with the goal of becoming a radiologist.) She decided to move from Houston (just in time to avoid Hurricane Harvey, she added) because, after 10 years there, she needed a change. Having a brother, sister-in-law, and a nephew here made Baltimore the logical choice. One day in the future, she hopes to move to Spain.

Once here, though, she jumped in with both feet, establishing clear rules and expectations from the outset. She jokes: “So far it’s going very well. I think the kids and I are in the honeymoon period because they are working really well for me.” She immediately implemented “literature circles,” which got students engaged in reading in new and deeper ways—a primary goal of Ms. Madrazo’s. She describes the literature circle as akin to a book club, with a facilitator (her) and a group of students discussing the book theme and associated topics. She also incorporates writing instruction in an innovative way here: “We approach the book not only as the reader, but also as the writer. Good books teach you how to write well. I’m big on non-fiction because it allows students to see the form of the writing, and that can be helpful. Writing is very hard to teach and learn, so starting from another perspective can reduce students’ anxiety about it.”

Despite being Spanish/English bilingual and having experience teaching ESOL, Ms. Madrazo’s preferred medium is definitely ELA. She discovered this while teaching adults during her doctoral studies in Puerto Rico. “Honing in and concentrating on English learners came naturally to me, and I just fell in love with it,” she explained. This came as somewhat of a surprise to her because she did not set out to pursue literature and writing in college. “My bachelor’s is in Psychology,” she explained. “I entered college as a premed, but I wanted to have a life outside of studying, so I thought I would be a child psychologist. I always knew I wanted to work with children, older children.” On graduating, she began pursuing a master’s in Education on her mother’s advice, as something to always be able to fall back on, but marriage and starting a family temporarily interrupted those plans. As mentioned above, however, she did get that master’s and has been a teacher ever since. Her whole family, in fact, even though they study very different disciplines, are all teachers.

Developing her writing skills is another story: “I was never trained to write. So when I got to college, I had to learn how to write a perfect story. I found that I had to do an outline to organize my thoughts and then add the meat to it.” She still uses this formula today to ensure that each piece of writing is coherent, measured, and makes a clear argument.

Writing Program at TNCS

With abundant expertise and experience, Ms. Madrazo has lots of ideas for expanding the writing program at TNCS. Writing is communication, and good communication is an absolutely essential 21st-century skill.  She says: “I want to move writing forward, not only writing a good story but writing a solid essay or opinion piece in which students must give me evidence to support what they’re saying. So, if they’re reading a book, I want them to be able to tell me not only that a character went through a change but also to be able to cite in what paragraph and on what page that change occurred. This practice will be very good preparation for high school and college.”

So far, she is using some of the same materials already in play in ELA, such as Wordly Wise for vocabulary expansion and the Lucy Calkins curriculum for elementary writers, and is also incorporating new ones, like the Just Write series and Words Their Way for 3rd and 4th grades. Middle school students will have an entirely separate curriculum using, for example, Empowering Writers. She will be refining the curricula throughout Quarters 3 and 4.

She is also finding ways to manage the different levels within each group by utilizing the Daily 5 classroom management rotation. This includes “Word Work” in the Wordly Wise website, or SuccessMaker, or Raz kids; a small group that works with her; writing or reading alone, and doing “Word Sorts”—a method of classifying words based on their spelling pattern and phonetics; among other writing and reading-related activities.

“I’m excited to be able to dedicate myself to ELA and really focus here,” said Ms. Madrazo.. “I fell in love when I came to TNCS the first time. Having a greenhouse, chickens, I loved it. The cafeteria is focused on healthy food. I like that the classes are small. I love Fells Point. I also want to thank the parents and administration for embracing me. It’s been lovely so far and I hope to have a great partnership with them.”

If you have not done so already, make time to meet Ms. Madrazo, such as during second-semester Parent–Teacher conferences. Besides being an excellent teacher and writer, in her free time, she enjoys traveling, listening to podcasts, playing board games, and hanging out with her Puggle, Jupiter.

It’s a New Dai for Extended Care at TNCS!

The New Century School is well known for its convenient before- and aftercare programs as well as its robust extracurricular programming. In October, TNCS welcomed Dehojeni “Dai” Cousins as Aftercare Director to oversee and expand on these popular offerings.

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Ms. Cousins came to Baltimore 3 years ago but is originally from San Diego, California.  She first came to the East Coast to attend college in Atlanta, where she earned a B.A. in Mathematics, although she originally majored in Biology with the intent to become a medical examiner. She soon realized that math was her passion, and, upon graduating, arrived in Baltimore to teach math at Vivian T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, a medical high school where students get certified to work in the nursing, pharmaceutical, or EMT fields.

While she was teaching, Ms. Cousins earned two master’s degrees, one in Special Education and another in Secondary Education, all by the time she was 23 years old. She explains why she decided to apply for the TNCS Aftercare Director position, despite having so much education experience: “Teaching was a big time commitment—I didn’t have time for anything else. So I thought I needed something different, but I knew I still wanted to work with children.”

Despite being so accustomed to working with high school–age children, she adjusted to the younger age groups at TNCS immediately. “Younger kids want you to help them, and they want you to talk to them, so it’s easier to try to get them to do something. They’re easier to engage, and they’re just so loving. High school students tend to have more ‘attitude’ and don’t always want outside input,” she said.

Although she came into a program that was already pretty well established, she knows what direction she’d like to take it in from here. Her main focus in the fall was to ensure that students enrolled in before and after care had plenty of opportunities to be creative and active and to basically enjoy being where they are. (Psst—she loves Pinterest!) “I want them to make stuff so they can take home something different. I definitely want to incorporate more activities and a little bit more structure with the students. Some students haven’t learned certain social skills, so I want to help them develop those behaviors,” she said.

As far as extracurricular activities, she says, “I’m still figuring that out. There are already a lot of choices now, so I just need to fill in some gaps. I also want to incorporate more extracurriculars for primary students.”

All in all, for being in a new environment both geographically and professionally, Ms. Cousins is adapting beautifully. San Diego and Baltimore are quite different, for example.  “At first it was an adjustment. The weather, the buildings, just everything about it was an adjustment, especially because San Diego is more of a calmer place, and it’s always sunny. It’s a little colder here,” she said. Back in San Diego, she frequented the beach, helped her younger sister with schoolwork—especially math—and did a lot of volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club. Here, she is developing friendships, loves to cook with her boyfriend, and plans to explore East Coast beaches to see how they measure up. Although all of her family is in California, she goes back at least once a year to visit them, and her mother loves to travel and comes here often. Her work, she says, is going very well. She finds it a fun challenge to design new activities for students in Extended Care to pursue.

Ms Cousins was adamant about one thing in particular: “Even though I’m young, I’m ready for this task.” You may have noticed—the kids adore her!

Baltimore Gets a Special Visitor from the North Pole!

On Friday, December 22nd, something truly special occurred in Baltimore, MD: A Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) flew all the way down from the Arctic to land at Masonville Cove overlooking the Patapsco River, as shown in the photo below (lack of resolution due to distance from the owl).

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“What’s the big deal (and what does this have to do with The New Century School)?” you may be asking. To find out what made this event so extraordinary, Immersed spoke to Jim Rapp, Co-organizer of Baltimore Birding Weekends (scroll below for details) and lifelong aficionado of the natural sciences.

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Jim Rapp, Co-organizer, Baltimore Birding Weekends

Snowy Owl FAQs

First, check out this video about Snowy Owls on Assateague Island that Mr. Rapp filmed just a couple of weeks before our visitor graced us with its presence.

So, what’s all the fuss again? Mr. Rapp explains:

For birders, a Snowy Owl is considered a birding rarity. Although a few usually show up in the mid-Atlantic during the winter months each year, it is such an unusual occurrence that birders will travel for miles to see one, or to add the species to their life list.

Every 4 or 5 years, a natural phenomenon known as an irruption occurs. During an irruption, Snowy Owls fly south into the United States during the winter months following a very successful nesting season in the Arctic. The successful nesting season is attributed to large populations of lemmings, the Snowy Owl’s favorite prey species.

Once in a birder’s lifetime, a “mega-irruption” occurs, when massive numbers of owls migrate south. The last mega-irruption occurred in 2013–2014, when owls made it as far south as Florida and Bermuda.

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Photo Credit: Dave Messick, Hooked on OC/Unscene Productions.

Also read Snowy owls come back to Assateague island.

Masonville Cove: Your Chance to See the Owl!

As to how and why Masonville Cove is temporarily hosting a Snowy Owl, no one really knows, but this is a great chance to see a beautiful creature that you may never again see in your lifetime. According to its website, “Masonville Cove is 70 acres of water and 54 acres of cleaned-up wetlands, nature trails, and a protected bird sanctuary, all soon-to-be protected by a conservation easement and part of the Shores of Baltimore Land Trust.” In partnership with Living Classrooms, this environmental education center (located at 1000 Frankfurst Ave., Baltimore, MD 21226) connects students with the rich habitats and inhabitants of this piece of Baltimore’s biodiverse waterfront.

Mr. Rapp continues:

Irruptions are still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Years ago, the southern movement of Snowy Owls was believed to have been caused by a lack of prey in the north. Scientists thought the owls were leaving in search of food, and were starving when they arrived in the United States. Thanks in part to capturing live owls to study and band them, researchers have instead found that owls wintering in the United States are typically fat and happy. Snowy Owls that winter near the water, such as near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor or Assateague Island, will feed on wintering ducks. The spark that causes the owls to migrate is still a bit of a mystery, but it appears that irruptions are connected to a bounty of food rather than scarcity.

There’s a good chance that the Snowy Owl spotted at Masonville Cove in Curtis Bay on Friday, Dec. 22nd will remain there through the winter months. The open habitat is just right for Snowy Owls, and there are lots of Buffleheads and other ducks on the water. If you choose to go see a Snowy Owl, please remember to obey property rules, and never get so close to a resting owl that you cause it to get nervous or fly away. A calm owl will sit in the same spot for hours during the day, conserving it’s energy for night-time hunting. If you get too close, Snowy Owls will fidget and bob their heads back and forth, and will fly away if really anxious. Surviving the winter is hard enough without being harassed while you’re sleeping, so give our visiting owls a break and keep your distance.

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Says Mr. Rapp, “I love how Snowy Owls connect non-birders to nature. This bird has charisma that extends far beyond the birding world, perhaps due to Hedwig from the Harry Potter books and movies, or simply because these Arctic ambassadors are just so stunningly beautiful. Whenever a Snowy Owl is reported, you’ll find a nice diversity of people willing to bundle up to take a hike just to see one.”

Besides getting this lovely visit from our current friend, Charm City has another special connection with Snowy Owls. A young male owl named “Baltimore” made history in 2015 by revealing more about the routes a Snowy Owl might trace in a year than ever before recorded. In fact, aptly-named Baltimore is the “best known Snowy yet”! This video from NPR tells Baltimore’s story—and follows his amazing journey.

As the video also describes, “to study their behavior in more detail, scientists have partnered to form Project Snowstorm,” explained Mr. Rapp. “Some Snowy Owls that migrate into the United States. are captured and outfitted with small transmitter backpacks. Using cell phone technology, scientists can track their movements in the United States and southern Canada while the owls are in cell phone territory. When they move into the Arctic out of cell service range, the tracking ability ceases to work, but the owls can “blink” back on if they fly south in future years.” For more information, visit www.ProjectSnowstorm.org.

Finally, says Mr. Rapp, “If you want to go winter birding in Charm City with a knowledgable guide–and maybe see a Snowy Owl!–check out the Winter Baltimore Birding Weekend, hosted by Patterson Park Audubon Center. The event will be held February 10–11, 2018, and will include birding field trips at Masonville Cove, Fort McHenry, and boat trips on the Inner Harbor.” For more information, visit www.BaltimoreBirding.com. A second birding weekend is planned for May 2018.


Rare Bird Sightings as Reported on Baltimore eBird

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED