TNCS Elementary Talks Some Serious Trash!

. . . Litter-ally. Last month, Baltimore artist and activist Bridget Parlato, a.k.a., “the RecyQueen,” paid a visit to The New Century School at the invitation of TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali. Ms. Parlato gave a salient and illuminating two-pronged presentation on what trash does to Baltimore neighborhoods and waterways as well as how plastics harm the health of our global environment and the health of Earth’s inhabitants—including us.

Conservation Conversations

Ms. Parlato graciously shared select slides from her presentation to give Immersed readers an idea of what she teaches students. (Click the pause button on each slide to allow yourself time to read all of the alarming but critical facts.)

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Of the event, Ms. Danyali said, “The presentation was wonderful—eye-opening to the realities we face and inspirational.” A few days after the RecyQueen’s presentation, Ms. Danyali visited elementary classrooms to gauge their impressions of the “Trash Talk.”

The “circling” technique she uses in the videos below was detailed in TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices, and you can see it being used here in a novel way, that is, to give students the opportunity to share something they found surprising about the presentation and/or something they found to be inspirational.

It’s abundantly clear that Ms. Parlato’s presentation struck home with them, from the scary new oceanic feature called “gyres” (swirling vortexes of microplastics such as what is found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) to the physical harm and disfigurement done to aquatic animals who encounter plastic trash. The studnets began to grasp how vast the plastic problem is in terms of scale and of impact. The fact that plastic never breaks down but simply gets smaller and disperses more widely (and consequently does greater harm) was something that got them thinking about how to dispose less and re-use more. They learned about the dreaded bisphenol A (BPA) contained in plastics that disrupts the human endocrine system with downstream impairments in neurological, cardiovascular, reproductive, and metabolic systems. (By the way, the recent “BPA-free” label sported by many plastic products these days probably means very little—manufacturers have likely just substituted bisphenol S [BPS], the effects of which are as yet unknown.) These problems do not have quick fixes, which makes the RecyQueen’s crusade to educate children so important. It will take a concerted global effort to prevent further harm.

They learned some good news, too, in that a brilliant young inventor named Boyan Slat has engineered a machine to help rid the oceans of trash through his organization The Ocean Cleanup. And shout-outs were, of course, given to Baltimore’s own water-cleaning wonders Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel.

About the RecyQueen

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Merging her two vocations, Ms. Parlato uses art to convey her important messages about trash and sometimes even uses trash to make art. (And then there’s the royal recycled regalia she designed entirely out of would-be trash—bags and boxes held together by tape, paperclips, and string—that is not only thought-provoking but exquisitely beautiful as well.) She explained that RecyQueen and her community organization Baltimore Trash Talk (BTT) are “offshoots” of her career as a graphic designer/artist at her studio Full Circuit Studio. She also happens to really love nature, so finding ways to protect and preserve it come, well, naturally, to her. She describes how she brings all of these threads together, starting with discovering her inner artist:

Most of my family is creatively gifted in some way. My mother went to art school. My father was a woodshop teacher. However, it was a teacher I had both in grade school and high school that helped direct my life. She even scheduled my interview and loaded me into the car and took me to Alfred University where I got the last spot in my class. I have a BFA and an MFA in fine arts concentrating in graphic design and sculpture (ceramics) as well as minors in writing and literature.

The tools, programs and social media I use as a freelance designer are heavily used for Baltimore Trash Talk. I love the idea and concept end. My past experience in writing is utilized all the time—coming up with campaign themes and writing my own copy for posters and print materials. My MFA in sculpture (as well as past job experience in events) has helped when thinking through installations.

I am also a person who feels like we should always be growing and learning, so as often as time permits, I try new stuff.  I just won a small scholarship and a month of studio time at Baltimore Jewelry Center. It is pretty exciting to think of how I can apply what I am learning about metals to my previous training in sculpture.

One such installation, well known to many in Baltimore was the River of Recycling, which grew out of her keen belief that we should be throwing away less stuff, such as by encouraging “bottle bill legislation.”

I planned and executed two grant-funded bottle deposit events. All the items were assembled into a River of Recycling in Patterson Park and then taken to the recycling facility. The data from my events was used to support a bill that was being considered at the time. Sadly, it died.

But, the River of Recyclables went on to happen at JHU, Artscape, and Loyola University. The JHU River was a partnership with MICA grad Chris Beer for his curatorial thesis. His event was on a work day so drive-up item return was going to be low. We utilized can/bottle drives at area schools for our recyclables. In return, schools got a small stipend and a presentation. Waterfront Partnership/Leanna Wetmore provided the stipends, and I presented at the schools.

Pickups of trash are great but never ending. Hitting trash from top down (legislation) or bottom up (education) is going to have bigger impact. I have had my hands and head in the policy end and continue to do so. In fact, it is through support of bottle bill legislation that the RecyQueen program started. Bottle deposits exist in 10 states—a 5–10-cent deposit is paid on a can or bottle and received back when the bottle is returned.

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“Hey, Let’s Teach More Kids!”: Further Outreach

Ms. Parlato’s cause has so far been funded entirely by BGE, but she has to find more grant money to keep going and must reapply regularly (“keep your fingers crossed!” she urges). In the meantime, though, she is eager to get the word out in as many ways as possible to as many students as possible. “Learning about sustainable practices and how to battle litter and how to keep our water clean can happen in so many ways. Let’s partner,” she says. (Click Baltimore Trash Talk schools to learn what is covered during a BTT school presentation.)

She also is willing to meet students off campus for special tours, projects, trips, etc. She has “canoed and scooped” with students from Bard Early College, taken a trip to Annapolis to support policy with Western High School students, and acted as teacher/student guide to American Visionary Art Museum for a Loyola University STEAM project.

She is actively looking for schools, organizations, or clubs to present to throughout the summer and into the fall. Contact Ms. Parlato if you want a presentation!

She also attends festivals where she educates about litter or makes art out of litter—or both. Got a festival coming? Contact her!

“As a result of Baltimore Trash Talk,” she says, “my freelance work has really become far more cause-related. Purpose is good—not always lucrative, but rewarding in other ways. One particular project that would be really really useful to any of the readers is the Baltimore Clean City Guide. Please check it out—there are all sorts of good pointers in there, from reporting 311 issues to bulk trash to recycling and rat abatement quick guides.”

New Century School (2)In keeping with TNCS’s commitment to community and environmentally related service, Ms. Danyali hopes to welcome Ms. Parlato back soon to work with students: “I thank [the RecyQueen] for sharing her important vision and mission and hope to continue the conversation for possible initiatives with TNCS students before the school year ends,” she said. For her part, the RecyQueen also wants to stay connected with TNCS, saying “Presenting at TNCS was such a lovely experience. What a great school. It really was a great morning and I left feeling really happy. I would love to do something else with the school—let’s think about other projects!”

Don’t forget to like Baltimore Trash Talk on Facebook to see how Ms. Parlato tackles trash problems through political, artistic, and social engagement.

TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices!

There’s a trend emerging in U.S. schools currently, including here in Baltimore and surrounding counties, to improve school culture by fostering healthy interpersonal and intrapersonal dialogue instead of by using the more traditional punitive approach to deal with problems. Restorative practices (RP) gives students concrete tools with which to resolve conflicts with others as well as internal conflicts that might be preventing a given student from realizing his or her potential. RP, thus, “restores” both the community and the individual to wholeness.

Although RP is sometimes associated with schools in crisis or as a last-resort way to redirect students otherwise headed for the criminal justice system, it is more accurately applied much more broadly. RP is useful in any social setting because its primary goal is to promote relationships.

Restorative Practices at TNCS

That’s why The New Century School‘s Head of School Alicia Danyali has begun using RP at TNCS. “Restorative practices has been my focus for the whole year,” she said, “because I think it’s beneficial for any relationship. It has been around for about 30 years as a reaction to chronic poor student behavior. Although we do not have that problem at TNCS, I am very interested in giving TNCS students this tool to take ownership of their words and actions—that’s where the ‘restorative’ comes in.”

IMG_2283During the 2016–2017 school year, Ms. Danyali attended three professional development sessions with the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) to ultimately become a “Trainer of Trainers,” meaning that she is now certified to teach TNCS staff (or anyone else) how to implement RP within their classrooms. She also attended sessions in Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Development (CD) at the University of MD, put on by like-minded educators from Rutgers’ School of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Development (CD) in Schools and After-School Programs. She became familiar with RP through her colleague Barbara Sugarman Grochal, Director of School Conflict Resolution Education Programs, Center for Dispute Resolution at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Said Ms. Danyali:

I’m a longtime believer in restorative practices in education as well as private industries. I read the books; it was life-changing. Hearing [Ms. Grochal] speak is the reason I got so interested in restorative practices. It fits with so many of the other things I was interested in like mindfulness and strong, supportive emotional and social character development. These disciplines all send a similar message but use different tools and strategies to effect their outcomes.

She even brought Ms. Grochal to TNCS as an independent consultant to talk about RP to staff during TNCS’s first professional development day back in October. They learned about the RP ethos and got a “crash course” on how to use RP strategies. Since then, Ms. Danyali has undertaken subsequent trainings, working in small groups as needs are identified to present possible activities that teachers can use. She sometimes works within the classroom herself and other times models an approach for the classroom teacher to start from. Her goal is to have everyone ready to use RP as needed for the next school year as part of an overall increased emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL):

What can teachers do to keep this message of teaching the whole child going? We want our children to be emotionally competent. They are facing things that previous generations haven’t necessarily had to deal with socially. They don’t have that much face-to-face contact, and I think that’s a component that’s missing, to ensure accountability. We live in a society where everybody has a platform to speak their mind. I also want students to know that if they send a message for example on SnapChat airing a certain opinion, they still need to take accountability for that. There is a unifying theme to all of these things I’ve been exploring that I hope will support teaching the whole student. I professionally see equal value in SE/CD for student growth as in the academic portion.

A facet of the “trial run” she has been doing lately is in figuring out how to implement RP in age-appropriate ways. “The research shows that you can plant these seeds very young.” said Ms. Danyali, “If we plant conflict resolution tools even in students as young as age 2, those are not only part of our pillars of what makes a TNCS learner—compassion, courage, service, and respect—but also vital skills that they can use to navigate challenging times in their lives. We’re currently working out how to make it age-appropriate and differentiated, such as with how much time is needed among the various age groups.” Sixth-graders can handle lengthy discussions, but 2-year-olds need a modified approach, such as gauging the pulse of the class during the morning meeting and modeling empathy.

Restorative Practices in the Classroom

Exactly how RP works in application comes down to one essential premise: that we are not responsible for anyone else’s thoughts or feelings, but we can work as a community to raise up a community member in need of support. “We all come from our own personal stories, we take a lot of baggage, but restorative practices reminds us that we’re conditioned to react in a certain way to what goes on around us, while allowing the facts to evolve without the emotion. You may have experienced trauma in one of any number of forms, but that doesn’t excuse treating other people badly. Taking accountability, repairing–it can be as simple as something that happened on the playground when unkind words were used,” explained Ms. Danyali.

Thus, RP can undo the negative stories students might be telling themselves. “It makes us more aware that ‘I’m not only responsible for myself, but when I’m in a community setting, there’s an expectation of how I treat others’,” she said.

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To reinforce the concept of community, RP generally happens in a circle formation. Circles convey inclusion and equality. Said Ms. Danyali:

Circling is probably my favorite tool among the arsenal because you can see everybody. Everybody is exposed, and everybody’s voice is heard. It forces the issue of really listening to others and reminds us that everybody’s voice is important. There are so many valuable concepts that go along with this, and a lot of it is intuitive, but the most important part to me is that there is trust. What we say here in our community is okay, because we care about our community and everyone in it. Restorative speaks to working with students instead of doing something for them or even to them. I’d rather do with because when we’re working together toward the same goal, we’re making real progress. There’s also the sense that my teacher trusts me, or I’m not just here to please others.

For the last quarter of the school year, Ms. Danyali has been regularly visiting elementary classrooms and circling the students for discussions on a wide range of topics and with varying goals. For example, Señora Cabrera felt that the 2nd- and 3rd-graders were not focusing as the end of the year draws near, and in-class work was not getting completed. She was having to constantly redirect them and ask them to refocus. “RP allows you to be transparent about your goals,” said Ms. Danyali. “I told the class what Sra. Cabrera had observed about their high energy and said to them, ‘I just wanted to come around and check in with you. This is your community. Let’s sit in a circle and talk about it’.” This led to a discussion of “norms”; just as norms would be set in the workplace, they also need to be set in an academic environment.

So I said to them, ‘I know you set classroom rules at the beginning of the year—why aren’t they being followed? We’re going to revisit those rules now. I think you know what they are, but we’re going to talk about what our expectations are in a respectful environment, and that’s called norms.’ Everybody gave suggestions and I wrote them down verbatim on a big chart. The next day I followed up with another circle and brought the norms list to take another look at and provide feedback about what we had created now that they had some time to mull it over. There’s always a reflection piece to restorative practices. ‘Never be disrespectful to your peers or to your teachers.’ I asked how they felt about this–does anybody disagree with anything or want to add something? One student replied that she felt the word ‘never’ was too strong. ‘None of us are perfect, and sometimes we mess up. I worry about the consequence if I mess up. And I don’t want to let down my community.’ I thought that was so deep and reflective and accountable. It turns out that everyone wanted to change the wording, so we agreed on new verbiage and we moved on!

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That example embodies how RP works, but, as mentioned, it has wide-reaching applications. She also circled the 4th- through 6th-graders recently to get their feedback and thoughts on how they felt taking the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE®) on an informal basis as well as what they were anticipating during their upcoming overnight trip to Echo Hill Outdoor School.

See those circle sessions here!

Ms. Danyali explains her approach to circling this way:

I set a lot of boundaries to keep things brief and above all respectful. I gauge the attention span and where we are in the day. Something I’ve been using regularly in circles during class time is the ‘talking piece.’ As a teacher, it’s a valuable tool to get feedback and to, for example, rein in some of the excess energy during hard transitions like playground to classroom. In 60 seconds, you can get everybody on the same page—all right everyone, what are your goals for the afternoon, pass the talking piece and let each student speak briefly, and it resets the stage. You’ve said what you’re going to be accountable for, and you go off and do it. I end with community-building questions: ‘Who found out something new about a classmate? Who found they have something in common with someone else that they didn’t know before?’

To respond to challenging behavior, restorative questions might include:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking of at the time?
  • What have you though about since?
  • Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
  • What do you think you need to do to make things right?

To help those harmed by other’s actions, restorative questions might include:

  • What did you think when you realized what had happened?
  • What impact has this incident had on you and others?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

 

Ms. Danyali wrapped up the RP discussion by saying, “I’m not doing this because I feel that our students are headed down the wrong paths but to remind them of what we have to be grateful for. In general, I believe that we have to combine best practices from a variety of sources. There’s so much invisible curriculum in this school already of tolerance and of understanding and cultural understanding—wouldn’t it be nice if we had a really deep understanding of ourselves and be okay with owning up to it when we make mistakes? The main thing I want our community here to understand is that RP is a mindset of coaching.”

Great Things Are Hatching at TNCS!

Literally. Hatching. As in CHICKENS! The long-awaited feathered foursome have arrived at The New Century School!

This initiative has been in the works for most of the 2016–2017 school year. Executive Chef and Master Gardener Emma Novashinski thought having a TNCS school yard roost would be a great way to give students something to responsibly tend as well as provide delicious fresh eggs.

Habitat Construction

Infrastructure had to be in place first, and so elementary STEM teacher Dan McGonigal rounded up a team of students to design and build a chicken run last fall as an after-school project. This habitat will be maintained by the oldest TNCS students, also known as “The Chicken Monitors,” so dubbed by Chef Emma.

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Next, a pre-primary parent volunteer dad put together the beautiful hand-crafted chicken coop earlier this spring, which will soon be inhabited by its future residents. Two other parent volunteer dads helped finish up the enclosure and other preparations.

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Baby Chicks!

But speaking of future residents, that was the third step in this enterprise—incubating and hatching the chicks, for whom we have primary teacher (and veteran bird whisperer) Maria Mosby to thank (see her previous success story here)! TNCS can accommodate up to four very comfortably but started off with the two shown below, hatched just after spring break.

61BjTSW6iqL._SX382_BO1,204,203,200_Many of you may be aware that Chef Emma holds weekly cooking and gardening classes for TNCS students from pre-primary through middle school. Pre-primary children get 20 minutes of each, while older children get 45 of each. As part of this initiative and with help from books like the one pictured at left, Chef Emma provided an introduction to chicken husbandry from the life cycle of chickens; to their daily needs, to a tour of the new run and coop to decide how best to equip them for habitation and make sure they will feel at home. They need bedding, for example, as well as shade, decoration (believe it or not), ventilation, protection (one student suggested getting guard dogs—vetoed), insulation, and waterproofing—and TNCS students need egg access!

(Activities depended on age and division, of course.) But did you know, for example, that most eggs that hatch are males? TNCS students do. They also know, however, that TNCS’s resident birds will all be hens (#noroostersallowed).

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Full Circle

One of the most important messages that comes out of this initiative that has the entire school abuzz is that TNCS is doing it in a beautifully sustainable, full-circle way. “We’ll be feeding the chickens scraps from the kitchen,” explained Chef Emma, “but because we’ll have more scraps than we probably need, we’re going to start composting as well. The compost will break down and turn into fertilizer, which we’ll then spread through the greenhouse to nourish our growing plants. Once the plants are mature, we’ll eat them!” Chicken feeding, composting, and gardening will largely be done by TNCS students. “That’s another kind of life cycle of your role in the school, now that we have chickens,” Chef Emma told them.

A discussion of what is appropriate to use as scraps followed. Pizza, for example, is a no-no because it has flour and dairy. Although these elements would be fine in a non-urban composting situation, their decay and molding in an urban setting would attract decidedly unwelcome guests. Fruits and vegetables will decompose without a similar downside. Another thing to avoid adding is weeds, which would obviously proliferate when spread among the greenhouse plants.

The chickens will also be fed with grains such as lentils, quinoa, and cous cous.

Chef Emma next explained that most hens tend to lay an egg almost daily, for a yearly take of about 345. “Multiply that by 4, and we’ll have plenty of eggs to go around, and we’ll do all sorts of things with them,” she said. Eggshells, fortunately, are a welcome addition to a compost bin because of the valuable minerals they contain. Eggs, being neither dairy nor meat, are also fine to add.

Newest Members of the TNCS Community

“A whole school vote is in the works to decide on the names of our newest community members,” promised Head of School Alicia Danyali. To whet your whistle for this egg-citing development, here are some of the contenders:

  • Skylar
  • Cluckington
  • Chikaleta
  • Chikaemma

Skylar? Anyway, watch for the winner to be announced via TNCS’s Facebook page in the near future! (The chickens will also have last names. Think: There are four chickens . . . what else does TNCS have four of? Post your guesses in comments either on this blog or on FB. Correct answers will earn you clucking rights.)

Hungry Harvest Comes to TNCS!

Last month, The New Century School joined the Hungry Harvest family, a move that aligns with two very important TNCS values. The first is offering students clean, healthy food for lunch, the second, serving our larger community.

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In case you haven’t heard, Hungry Harvest is the phenomenal local company whose tagline, “Produce with a Purpose,” provides just an inkling of all that this force of social and environmental good really does. Not only do they obtain surplus produce and/or “recover” produce deemed not aesthetically pleasing enough to be sold in stores, which cuts down on food waste considerably, but they also donate 2 pounds of produce to help feed someone in need for every delivery they make. Moreover, they partner with local farms to obtain the “harvests” in another important synergy: The farms’ sustainable practices protect the environment, while being able to sell all of their viable produce (not just the visually perfect stuff) allows the farms to stay in business—and in an environmentally and socially conscious way.

Some Sad Facts

To put this in perspective, in many areas in the United States, but certainly here in Baltimore, which has the astronomic “food insecurity” rate of 23% of the population, we are faced with the tragic irony of wasting literally tons of food each year while people who could have eaten that food instead go hungry. Brace yourself. In July 2016, The Atlantic journalist Adam Chandler wrote:

Americans waste an unfathomable amount of food. In fact . . . roughly 50 percent of all produce in the United States is thrown away—some 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually, an amount constituting ‘one third of all foodstuffs.’ Wasted food is also the single biggest occupant in American landfills, the Environmental Protection Agency has found. . . the great American squandering of produce appears to be a cultural dynamic as well, enabled in large part by a national obsession with the aesthetic quality of food. Fruits and vegetables, in addition to generally being healthful, have a tendency to bruise, brown, wilt, oxidize, ding, or discolor and that is apparently something American shoppers will not abide. ‘Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock, or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards.’

(See more heartbreakingly unfortunate statistics on food waste here: https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm.)

unspecified-1TNCS Goes Hungry! (Harvesting, That Is.)

Fortunately, a very smart person recognized that these two problems could quite neatly solve each other. Quoting from the Hungry Harvest website, “Evan Lutz founded Hungry Harvest in the basement of his University of Maryland dorm room in 2014. He began by packing bags of produce himself and delivering to 30 customers. A few months later, Evan’s idea was validated on [the television show] ‘Shark Tank’ when he struck a deal with Robert Herjavec. Now the Hungry Harvest team is up to 11 and delivering across Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.”

Thanks to Head of School Alicia Danyali and Executive Chef Emma Novashinski, TNCS is now part of that delivery route. Said Chef Emma: “Hungry Harvest reclaims food rejected during quality assurance, sells it to subscribers, and uses some of the profit to feed other hungry families. We wanted to be part of this wonderful initiative that uses one problem to solve another.”

Although combination boxes of fruits and veggies are available, TNCS sticks with just fruit through Hungry Harvest. As Chef Emma explained it, seasonal fruit is harder to obtain throughout the year from local suppliers, whereas, in this climate, vegetables of some variety are always growing. So, even if local fruit isn’t always available, such as during winter months, TNCS can get it from Hungry Harvest. And, by ordering only organic through Hungry Harvest, there’s still a nod to sustainable practices. This also allows TNCS to avoid resorting to so-called “conventional fruit,” meaning fruit that might be shipped from a remote region or grown in heavily chemical environments.

“Every Monday, we get four boxes of fruit variety delivered to us, which has allowed us to start serving fruit salads, which the kids are not only really enjoying, but they are also tasting fruits they might have been unfamiliar with, such as pomegranates or persimmons. And, if there’s a fruit in the salad they don’t care for, they can eat the other fruits around it and still get the vitamins and nutrients. Today we had mango, strawberry, and melon, for example.” Last year, Chef Emma more or less had to rotate apples and oranges through the winter months. This year, “we get a crossfade. They get to experience some new things—satsumas, mandarins, pineapples—and they get some old favorites like clementines,” she said. “They are getting more fruit this way, too, which can’t be bad. There’s no peel or pith—it’s already in bite-sized pieces for them.” (By the way, the persimmons were sweetened and cooked down then mixed with Greek yogurt in case you were wondering how on earth Chef Emma got the kids to eat them! Which they did!)

Choose-your-own-adventure options are available, but TNCS lets Hungry Harvest select what fruit will be delivered and provides guidelines for what works, such as no highly perishable items, so single items, etc.

Surely the question on everybody’s minds by now is, “So what about the quality?” In Chef Emma’s experience so far, the produce has been completely edible and delicious, rejected only for visual imperfections such as shape or markings. It’s not soft or mushy, as might be the misconception.

But wait—there are even more great benefits deriving from this partnership! In an online chat, Hungry Harvest Customer Experience Hero & Academic Coordinator Katie Landry explained:

Our school pickup sites operate a really unique program called Produce in a SNAP that allows families in need to use their SNAP/EBT (Food Stamps). We currently partner with Baltimore City Public and Charter schools to subsidize our produce and they can use SNAP/EBT at these sites! Learn more about these sites by following the link below.

Hungry for More?

If you are interested in signing up for a harvest for your family, visit https://shop.hungryharvest.net/summary.php?go=products to see the goods. It couldn’t be easier to do, and you’ll not only be making a social impact and contributing to environmental sustainability, you’ll also have your family’s fruits and veggies conveniently delivered to your door! The online signup experience is a breeze, and super-friendly company representatives like Katie are available to answer any questions in an instant. (And they address you as a hero, so that’s added fun :).)

Pro Tip: Typing “Emma Novashinski” in the referral box earns you a discount as well as one for TNCS! Go reap your harvest!

Meet TNCS’s After Care Director: Aida Abebe!

The New Century School works diligently to provide students with a rigorous but well-rounded academic experience . . . and that same diligence is applied to after school programming as well.

In fact, you may have noticed a striking difference in extracurricular offerings in the last few years. In its infancy, TNCS relied on after school “clubs” designed and run by the after care staff (see, for example, Spaceship Club Elevates Aftercare at TNCS!). These imaginative and lively pursuits have been supplanted of late with sports, music, arts, and other programs offered both onsite at TNCS and offsite at partner organizations around the city to give older students a wider variety of choices in how they spend their after-school hours as well as to expose them to novel activities such as Parkour and FutureMakers.

Most offerings rotate by school quarter to keep the menu of activities fresh, while some perennial favorites such as sports at Coppermine at DuBurns Arena are constants. See the entire lineup of activities that were available to TNCS students this year on the Extracurricular Activities page of the TNCS website. Brand-new this year, students from local schools were invited to attend TNCS’s after school programming and could opt to be picked up from their school by the TNCS van.

Sound like a lot to juggle? Enter Aida Abebe, TNCS’s dedicated After Care Director, who assumed this role for the 2016–2017 school year. Ms. Abebe coordinates with partner organizations to establish programs; oversees all of the to-ing and fro-ing of students and activity providers; and, most importantly, ensures that TNCS students are cared for and happily engaged in that crucial time between school letting out and parent/guardian pick-up.

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Aida Abebe is TNCS’s simply wonderful After Care Director.

Ms. Abebe only just took over as After Care Director on November 1, 2016, but she lost no time in making it fully her own. She says that it was a lot to absorb at first, but she enjoyed the challenge and likes the work. She describes a typical day as including interviewing, hiring, and training staff; making schedules and programs for classes; interfacing with other area schools to spread the word about extracurricular activities at TNCS for non-TNCS students; and overall making sure that the programs are running smoothly, that a robust assortment of programs are available to appeal to a wide range of students, and that the programs are both educational and fun.

Her arrival at TNCS came after staying home to raise her son, now almost 15 months old. She looks forward to enrolling him at TNCS for the 2017–2018 school year. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, Ms. Abebe attended both Penn State and UMBC and now resides in Nottingham, MD. Her degrees are in Psychology and Sociology, both of which serve her well in her current position. She says she has always loved children and wanted to study specifically how the brain develops. Her previous positions include elementary school counselor and preschool teacher. She enjoys kids of all ages—“the toddlers are just adorable, but I get to do a lot more with the older kids,” she said.

Both her parents are from Ethiopia and came to the United States as teenagers; however, they only met in Washington, D.C.—they were not acquainted back home. Thus, Ms. Abebe was fortunate to grow up in a bilingual household, speaking both English and her parents’ native Amharic, a branch of Arabic and Ethiopia’s official language.

Looking forward, Ms. Abebe has already begin devising plans for the future of the After Care/Extracurricular Programs. “One of my biggest goals is to retain a caring and committed group of staff members,” she explained. “After care is not full time, so it can be challenging to find applicants willing to work so few hours each day. They tend to be students, and students are going to be temporary. But we find them!” Another plan she has is to bring back the clubs so that “we have tons of after-school activities going on.”

Each TNCS instructor also lends his or her skills to the lineup. Take, for example, K/1st-grade teacher Kiley Stasch’s cooking class, in which students had a wonderful experience, learned some cooking basics, and expanded their taste horizons. As an end-of-quarter bonus, Ms. Stasch compiled all recipes that the class tackled in this downloadable cookbook: 2016–2017 Cooking Class Recipes.

What are the most popular extracurricular activities? Latin dance, run by Professor Manuel, was the runaway favorite so far this year. “The kids also really enjoyed duck-pin bowling at Patterson Lanes and swimming at the MAC,” she reported. Especially exciting, kayaking debuted for Q4. All of these wonderful and diverse offerings come with administrative strings attached, which Ms. Abebe deftly manages. Minimum enrollments must be met to run certain programs; costs must be monitored to keep programs affordable for parents. When something doesn’t work out for one of those or other reasons, she has a back-up course ready to launch.

Speaking of launching . . .

“I love this school,” said Ms. Abebe. “It’s by far the best school I’ve worked in. There’s such a great staff; they really care about their students. I also love the emphasis on nutrition and time spent outdoors. It’s an all-around great school, and I’m happy to be here.”

And TNCS is happy to have you, Aida Abebe!

March STEAM Madness: Squaring away the “A”!

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math: These are the STEM subjects we hear so much about these days because of their value in getting students solving problems and honing skills. Some believe that the Arts is the Elmer’s glue that holds them all together—turning “STEM” into “STEAM.” This is because studying the Arts enhances students creativity, and visual learning is how many people learn most effectively. Innovating and finding new ways to solve problems are highly sought-after and necessary qualities in this 21st century.

The New Century School curricula never stray far from the Arts, finding ways to integrate all subjects, but perhaps especially the Arts. Students are asked to illustrate pieces of writing, science projects, etc.; adapt books they have read into plays; sing and dance in other languages; and so on. The Arts are inextricable from learning at TNCS as well as discrete subjects in their own right.

Which brings us to another initiative begun last month: Square 1 Art, a fundraiser for school art supplies based on TNCS K through 6th-grade students’ artwork! Brought to TNCS by art teacher Elisabeth Davies, Square 1 Art puts your child’s artwork on an array of products that you can purchase and enjoy while earning money for TNCS (up to 40% of total proceeds).

march-steam-madness-at-tncs--the-arts

Square 1 Art is committed to uplifting the children, families, and communities we serve through promotion and support of the Visual Arts. Our passion centers on putting the students and families first; raising funds for educational communities; creating a sustainable, positive, family environment for our team; and manufacturing quality, long-lasting products in the most innovative way possible. We strive to be the best, most respected educational fundraising company in the United States.

Imagine greeting cards personalized with your child’s amazing art! Potholders, calendars, phone cases, coffee mugs—you name it! These items make wonderful gifts, too (think: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, folks!). Said Ms. Davies:

The way Square 1 Art works is that they send specific papers for the students to make drawings on with very specific instructions so the art would be vivd enough to be picked up on the company’s scanners. We did a practice round first so we understood exactly what was required. The art came out really well and looked very polished. TNCS parents will get to order various household items either on the paper form sent home with students on April 6th or online, featuring their kids’ artwork. We’ll receive our order packets after Spring Break. Then, we’ll use the funds raised to buy art supplies for the school. I liked this option among all of the art fundraisers I explored because students were asked to create a new piece of art instead of using an existing piece, so we were able to make a separate project out of this effort.

Regardless of whether you opt to buy anything from Square 1 Art, your child will receive a free sheet of stickers of his or her piece of art just for participating! If you do choose to order, visit https://shop.square1art.com/ soon—orders are due by April 24th for merchandise distribution by May 11th!

March STEAM Madness: Jumping ahead to the “M”!

True to form, March 2017 blew in like a lion and out like a lamb . . . but this year, a numbers-minded marsupial bounced into the middle—at The New Century School, anyway!

Math Kangaroo Comes to Baltimore

For the first time in Baltimore, TNCS hosted Math Kangaroo, an International Competition for 1st- through 12-grade students whose mission is to:

  • Encourage students to master their mathematical knowledge.
  • Give them confidence in their ability for comprehending mathematics.
  • Help them understand how mathematics applies in nature’s laws and human activities.
  • Develop their ability to derive pleasure and satisfaction through intellectual life.
  • Show that mathematical education is significant in every part of the world.

imgres“Bringing an international math competition to Baltimore has been a dream of mine for a long time,” said TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director and former math teacher Jennifer Lawner.

A challenge for Baltimore as more people are choosing to stay and raise their families here is offering appropriate activities for them that are currently available in the county. Organizations like the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance and Coppermine Fieldhouse have been critical in trying to recruit activities for Baltimore so that we can have our children participate in engaging pursuits and sports leagues, and I think TNCS also helps with extracurricular activities. For me, math competitions are also in the realm of things that Baltimore needs to function as a livable place for families.

Why Math Kangaroo

TNCS hopes to offer the competition annually henceforth, and participation will be open to students from schools city-wide. This first event was somewhat of a trial run, though, before actively recruiting other schools. Ms. Lawner said she wanted to first make sure that the event “lifted students up rather than discouraging them. What we’re trying to do is get children interested in math at early ages so that they might consider intensive study or careers in math-related fields in the future.” Math Kangaroo had the benefit of opening participation in 1st grade, whereas many other math competitions, such as Math Olympiads, start at 4th grade. “They have to be old enough to be able to read the problems and instructions,” explained Ms. Lawner, “but the first and second level exams also offer a lot of visual problems for younger students.”

 

The biggest appeal of Math Kangaroo, however, is the approach to doing math. For example, the problems start easy and get progressively harder so that there will always be enough problems for the individual student to be able to work out and feel successful enough to keep going. “Encountering problems they have never been exposed to before is a really good experience for students,” added Ms. Lawner, “because they have mastered at least enough skills to try, and that’s our primary goal for them—to be motivated to try but be okay with possibly not being able to get it the first time.” TNCS’s regular math curriculum consists of skill-building and problem-solving, but Math Kangaroo provided a fresh kind of problem for students to tackle. Said Ms. Lawner:

The problems are formulated in such a way that, for example, multiplication might be necessary for the solution, but it won’t be immediately obvious that multiplication is required. The student has to fundamentally understand what multiplication accomplishes in order to use it in the context of the problem. It’s not just working through 50 arithmetic problems in a fixed amount of time, as people might imagine. These problems might involve multiple steps, each requiring a mathematical tool that the students have been learning to use, which gets them figuring out how these skills fit into solving the problem. It’s not a repetitive thing; with actual problem-solving, you have to use logic in addition to traditional math skills. The strength of these problems is that they must be understood very deeply to be solved, and that’s really what is being tested.

Math Kangaroo 2015 Sample Questions

In the weeks leading up to the March 16th competition, TNCS teachers worked with students to give them practice breaking down these kinds of problems into discrete steps and organizing their work. Reading the problem carefully is key in problems such as what are listed below. Go on, give it a shot! (Answers are given at the end of the post in case you get stumped.)

Level 1/2

1. Look closely at these four pictures.

image01
Which figure is missing from one of the pictures?

image02

Level 3/4

2. Peter has ten balls, numbered from 0 to 9. He gave four of the balls to George and three to Ann. Then each of the three friends multiplied the numbers on their balls. As the result, Peter got 0, George got 72, and Ann got 90. What is the sum of the numbers on the balls that Peter kept for himself?

image010

A) 11               B) 12               C) 13               D) 14              E) 15

Level 5/6

3. Four points lie on a line. The distances between them are, in increasing order: 2, 3, k, 11, 12, 14. What is the value of k?

A) 5                 B) 6                 C) 7                 D) 8                 E) 9

Level 7/8

4. In a group of kangaroos, the two lightest kangaroos weigh 25% of the total weight of the group. The three heaviest kangaroos weigh 60% of the total weight. How many kangaroos are in the group?

A) 6                 B) 7                 C) 8                 D) 15               E) 20

Level 9/10

5. The figure shows seven regions formed by three intersecting circles. A number is written in each region. It is known that the number in any region is equal to the sum of the numbers in all neighboring regions. (We call two regions neighboring if their boundaries have more than one common point.) Two of the numbers are known (see the figure). Which number is written in the central region?

image018

A) 0                 B) – 3               C) 3                 D) – 6               E) 6

Level 11/12

6. When reading the following statements from the left to the right, what is the first statement that is true?

A) C) is true.    B) A) is true.    C) E) is false.   D) B) is false. E) 1 + 1 = 2

Competition Outcomes

Parents may have been skeptical about the idea of their kids sitting down to take what, in effect, was a 90-minute math exam, complete with answer bubbles carefully filled in with no. 2 pencils, especially because this is something they had not been asked to do thus far at TNCS. But, perhaps surprisingly, the students not only handled it without issue, but actually enjoyed it, more importantly, which was the primary goal. It’s easy to speculate on why—it’s a competition—a game—not an anxiety-inducing test, and kids brought lots of positivity to the experience. The challenge is itself motivating, in the same way sports can be for the physical body. Participation, moreover, is optional.
They also received a T-shirt, a pencil, a tattoo, and a certificate of participation for joining in, so those inducements may be responsible for some of the joie de math.  Another reason, explained Ms. Lawner, “is that children all over the world were participating, so our students felt very special to be a part of this. Mathematics is done all over the world, and Math Kangaroo wants to make students aware of that connection and prepare them for that global challenge.”
One thing that is important to bear in mind about this kind of endeavor is that the score, seemingly paradoxically, is largely beside the point. Because the exam is intended to challenge, many students might not score even above 50%, but, said Ms. Lawner, “the value was that students had the opportunity to step out of the curriculum and face new problems, and they got excited about math. Parents and teachers also got excited and participated. I think the experience elevated the students’ interest in mathematics and awareness of mathematics as an international activity—great benefits, to be sure.”
The primary goals of fun and engagement were achieved, if how excited students were both before and after the event are any indication. Some parents even report being given math tests of their children’s devising. Nevertheless, it might seem counterintuitive for a school that does not adopt standardized tests to go in for this kind of math exam. “The baggage that goes along with the word ‘test’ is a lot,” said Ms. Lawner, “when what we’re really trying to do is give students a period of challenge. It’s not so much a test on material that they’ve learned and are supposed to regurgitate as an experience with challenging problems and what they can do with them.” Another kind of “score,” in other words. “How hard they worked was so impressive,” said Ms. Lawner who was on hand to help out during exam administration. “They used all their time and were so determined to do this thing.”
IMG_1440 1
Even so, students who do score well will be rewarded with prizes. There are medals for the top three students in the country, and ribbons for the top three in the state. Other prizes include books, games, gift cards, and toys. Students who demonstrate high achievement over multiple years are eligible for college grants.

The Future of Math Kangaroo at TNCS

Previous Maryland winners seem to cluster in Montgomery county—“It’s time for Baltimore to challenge that!” said Ms. Lawner. With the inaugural event being so well-received by TNCS students, next year, the hope is to offer two public sessions for non-TNCS students in addition to the in-school exam.
There’s so much talent in Baltimore, in our children, and I would just love for them to be encouraged to come show their stuff. Sometimes all children need is to be asked to participate. It might start somebody down a path that could lead to his or her life’s passion. I think it’s really important to encourage math, especially as students get older and the math gets harder. Our goal here is for students to get a really solid foundation in math so that later they’re able to make choices and that multiple future paths are open to them. A career in engineering, for example, requires a certain level of math skill. So, we always want to promote the possibility that you can do it—you can stare at a problem long enough, given the right tools, to find a creative solution.
Answers to Practice Questions
1. D) image005 2. E) 15 3. E) 9 4. A) 6 5. A) 0 6. D) B) is false.