Catch Up with the Teacher: Lisa Reynolds!

Immersed is thrilled to announce a new series happening for the 2018–2019 school year! Similar to how we interview new teachers who join The New Century School in the “Meet the Teacher” series, starting with this very post, we will be circling back to profile long-standing veteran faculty members, who also deserve this chance to tell readers a little more about who they are. Let’s call this long overdue series, “Catch-Up with the Teacher”!

Getting to Know Lisa Reynolds

tncs-teacher-lisa-reynolds

Lisa Reynolds with the latest addition to her family!

The thing that anyone who encounters Lisa Reynolds immediately notices is that she always seems happy to be where she is, which is in a classroom brimming with the adorable energy of preschool-age children. Ms. Reynolds joined TNCS in 2013 as a primary teacher. After a stint with the preprimary students, she is now back up on the second floor of building south—that is, in primary, and many would say that’s precisely where she belongs. She’s a natural with the 3- to 5-year-old set!

A lifelong Maryland native from Baltimore County, she received her Montessori certification in 2013 from the Maryland Center for Montessori Studies. Calm, patient, and loving, she exemplifies the Montessori teacher.

Inside Ms. Reynolds’ Classroom

tncs-teacher-lisa-reynoldsHer class comprises 19 students, and Xiu (“Nina”) Laoshi is an in-class intern teacher. Their shared goal is to instill a sense of community in their students, to socialize them. “I concentrate on the social aspect of the group,” explained Ms. Reynolds. “I’m seeing how they respond to one another during group activities. I want them to feel like a family—to see themselves as individuals as part of a family, a larger group.”

Such group activities usually involve making things, and, even apart from her innate creativity, there’s a very good reason why, according to Ms. Reynolds. “We do a lot of fun cooking, for example. One of my instructors used to say that the steps in the process really are not the work, but the conversation is, the cooperation. Being able to communicate with one another and work together, that’s the work.” They started with potatoes and plan to make some very communicative, cooperative muffins next quarter.

As appropriate for the Montessori method, her 19 students are a mix of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds. Ms. Reynolds says the mixed ages is going very well. “The children I’ve had for 3 years are really big helpers so they help the younger children a lot. The younger students really appreciate that, and some bonds have become very strong.”

Reynolds classroom.jpg

As reported in a recent post, it’s important that the mixed-age dynamic is bidirectional, so the older students who mentor their younger classmates also get the chance to be mentored, such as when students from upper divisions pay the class a visit to read together.

As mentioned, Ms. Reynolds loves to be creative and finds lots of ways to incorporate art into class time. For special occasions, like the recent Thanksgiving Feast, students make decorations and place settings. And, teaser, mothers of children in her class may see some other beautiful decorations and more this coming May!

Language Learning

tncs-teacher-lisa-reynolds

Students have the benefit of a native-speaking Mandarin assistant teacher. Xiu Laoshi is quiet and soft spoken and prefers teaching one to one or in small groups of students. Chen Laoshi also comes in to assist, and she likes larger-group activities, like making carrot and spinach noodles from scratch.

For Spanish, the class has one-on-one teaching and large-group instruction twice a week. “In the larger groups, they might read a story, sing a song, and have a large group lesson. Then we break down into smaller groups, and they do little individualized lessons based on where the child is at,” explained Ms. Reynolds.

tncs-teacher-lisa-reynolds

Señora Sanzana leads the students in a song and dance around the classroom.

Primary Workshop

At the fall parent workshop, Ms. Reynolds’ topic specialty was the outdoors. She said:

I was basically giving parents ideas about what they can do outdoors. How to focus more on their gross motor skills and letting them explore, for example. Having certain boundaries but not hovering over them and letting them experience the fresh air, the smell of the grass, the sound of the leaves. Being able to absorb all of those sensory aspects of the outdoors and the importance of connecting with nature.

One terrific suggestion she has is going on a scavenger hunt. Collect paint swatches from a building or hardware store and then ask your children to find something in nature that matches the color. Try it during different seasons to show them the spectrum of natural colors and how they shift through the year.

Takeaway Thoughts

“I love my job!,” said Ms, Reynolds. “I love being with the children. It is the best part of my day. I have so much passion for the Montessori philosophy and the care of the children.”

TNCS is so glad to have you as a teacher!

TNCS Middle School Students Learn Grant Writing!

At The New Century School, service to the community is a core value. Dean of School/Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali has integrated service learning throughout the school year in many ways (read last week’s “check-in” with her for more on specific initiatives).

Last month, she  took it to the next level when she invited 11th-grade McDonogh School student Laya Neelakandan to present on her impressive experience with grant writing to support several charitable projects. She learned of Ms. Neelakandan last June after having collaborated with one of Ms. Neelakandan’s teachers (Mary-Catherine Irving) on a service project for her son’s school. Ms. Irving told her about Ms. Neelakandan’s remarkable accomplishments in service initiatives, and they discussed the possibility of a visit to TNCS. “I am excited that the students will have this opportunity, which the 6th- to 8th-grade students can use as a ‘jumping off point’ to initiate their own grant writing to support and fund service,” said Ms. Danyali.

Grant-Writing Presentation

tncs-grant-writing-presentationEven this early in her sure-to-be illustrious career, Ms. Neelakandan has already received 11 grants from five different foundations—she has been awarded every grant she has ever applied for!

After introducing herself, she began her presentation by describing her first grant-writing experience for The World We Want Foundation (WWWF). This organization promoted philanthropy among youth all around the world and was introduced to Ms. Neelakandan by Ms. Irving. Her proposal was designed to teach the importance of giving back at a young age, so she recruited groups of 1st-graders to make blankets, hygiene kits, and bags of trail mix to distribute to Baltimore’s homeless citizens.

tncs-grant-writing-presentation

With her written grant proposal, she was first awarded enough to fund a couple of such projects. She next wrote a follow-up proposal to fund all of her projects and received three $1,000 grants over a 3-year period. This allowed her to expand her philanthropic efforts to include the India Project, which is a school supplies drive for Indian schools. She made and sold friendship pins to buy dictionaries and other supplies that she delivered in person in India.

tncs-grant-writing-presentationAfter a very successful run with WWWF, which closed down in 2015, Ms. Neelakandan went in search of a new project to support and came across Karma for Cara (K4C), which is based in Baltimore and is dedicated to “Empowering Youth to Repair Our World.” Following the online instructions, she applied for and won four $1,000 microgrants. With these, she was able to keep her already successful WWWF projects thriving as well as add a backpacks drive. She continues to support K4C.

She then learned about Disney and Youth Service America (YSA)’s 2017 Summer of Service Organization Grant and, to her surprise, won the $500 grant 2 years in a row. She says the experience “proved that I should be confident in myself and that I can change the world (and you can too!) and showed me that there are people out there who believe in the power of youth.”

tncs-grant-writing-presentation

Ms. Neelakandan’s work has not gone unnoticed. Recently, the Orokawa Foundation (a grant-making organization in Towson, MD) approached her about funding her projects. She is using the money to establish a library at a domestic abuse shelter. TNCS students may be assisting her in this endeavor in the near future.

And—breaking news–in the days since she presented at TNCS, she has been awarded yet another grant in the amount of $150. Kindness Grows Here is a new foundation that awarded its first Annual Kid Kindness Grants this month! “[They] want kids with awesome ideas to submit applications for ways in which they can help spread kindness in their school, community, town, or neighborhood.”

Screen Shot 2018-12-02 at 10.23.10 AM.png

Ms. Neelakandan closed her TNCS presentation with some hard data (which has since been updated, given the new grant she just won):

  • She has raised $10,478 in the 6 years she has been doing these projects.
  • She has delivered over 150 handmade fleece blankets, 800 bags of trail mix, more than 1,200 sweet treats, 750 hygiene kits, and 300 backpacks.
  • She has directly helped over 1,250 less fortunate men, women, and children.

She has also been invited to speak at fundraisers, won awards, and influenced fellow students. With these mantras in mind, this is how she has done it:

  • There is no such thing as a small act of kindness.
  • Find your passion and use it to change the world.
  • Keep applying to different places and never get discouraged if it does not work out.
  • You have the power to change the world, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • Ask questions, be a leader, be kind and empathetic.

Interview with Laya Neelakandan

Because the visionary Ms. Neelakandan had to return to school immediately following her presentation, she kindly agreed to an email interview for this piece, transcribed here.

How did you become interested in grant writing?

“When I was in 4th grade, my mentor, Mrs. Mary-Catherine Irving, asked me if I wanted to lead her class in service projects. She introduced me to the concept of microgrants, and, at the age of 10, I applied for and received my first grant. Since then, I have continued to immerse myself in grant writing to get support for the projects that I make for the homeless.”

Do you plan to go to college? What will you major in, if so?

“I do plan to go to college after I graduate high school. Though I’m not completely certain yet exactly what I want to major in, I’m very interested in English and writing and aspire to be a journalist.”

What future career do you plan to pursue?

“I want to pursue journalism as a future career and use the power of my words to make a difference in my community and highlight social justice causes.” [Ed. note: You go, girl!]

Can you describe your experience of presenting at The New Century School?

“Presenting at The New Century School was an amazing experience for me. I had never presented about my grant writing before, and I loved seeing the students’ earnest and engaged faces as I told them how they have the power to change the world. Their interest shone through especially during the Q&A, where they asked me some of the most intriguing and introspective questions I had ever received, including what inspired me to keep giving back and if my school supports my work.”

Will you be doing additional work with TNCS students?

“The TNCS students are going to be conducting a collection drive for gloves, mittens, scarves, and socks for families at a shelter that I have been working with this past year (this is the Family Crisis Center shelter where I built the library for the children). I am excited to see what other ideas the students come up with.”

What are your hobbies (or, what do you enjoy doing in your free time)?

“In my free time, I enjoy playing piano, classical Indian flute, practicing classical Indian dance, singing, reading, and writing.”

What do your parents think of your work?

“My parents are extremely supportive of my work. They help drive me when I go out to distribute the items to the men and women who need them. They have also instilled in me the importance of using this gift of life to help others.”


Ms. Neelakandan is pictured below right with a woman outside a homeless shelter last January. “I had just given her some handmade fleece blankets. It was below freezing outside,” she explained.
tncs-grant-writing-presentation

Ms. Neelakandan drove home two primary points for TNCS students: First, youth have the power to do good, and, second, write from the heart when seeking a grant—“If you really care about something, it will show through in your writing,” she said.

“She was inspiring and wonderful,” said Ms. Danyali. It certainly will be wonderful to see just how she inspires TNCS students and what great things they will make happen in the coming months!

Time for a Check-In with TNCS Dean of School/Head of Lower School!

The New Century School expanded its administrative structure this year, allowing each team member to fully engage in their respective roles. As Shara Khon Duncan become year-round Head of School, Alicia Danyali became Head of the Lower School as well as schoolwide Dean of StudentsImmersed will do an annual check-in with each Head, and this post represents the first such piece.

Being Dean

IMG_0109As Dean of School, Ms. Danyali’s responsibilities range widely. She circulates through classrooms, teaching and mediating with students as well as advising teachers, all with the goal of maintaining, or, when necessary, restoring, the community. (This is in addition to day-to-day duties like drop off and dismissal and such administrative ins and outs, of course.)

In her 6 years’ tenure at TNCS, Ms. Danyali has always been interested in what she calls an “invisible curriculum,” which is her way of referring to the soft skills (norms, values, and beliefs) that children need to develop to grow as human beings. Nevertheless, as Head of the entire school before the reorganization, she did not have the breadth to undertake as many initiatives as she might have liked. She feels confident, though, that she began “planting the seeds” among the student body, and expectations were established. The TNCS student models the school’s four Core Values, Courage Compassion, Service, and Respect.

With her now more specialized role and inspired by an education conference hosted by the National Network of Schools, she hit the ground running when the school year began, immediately putting some programs in place. “I’m starting some partnerships with and among teachers. For example, I am doing yoga with the K/1st cohort, which is designed to help them understand feelings. We started with the feeling anger, just tensing our muscles and going through some six or seven poses and then talking about how breathing affects how we react to things. That is a really big concept for them and an adjustment, to just sit and breathe.”

Class Partnerships

In preschool, which is also her Head of School focus, she did not launch any big initiatives to allow them the first quarter to settle in and acclimate to their new environment. “We have some plans later in the year when the primary students are a little bit more mature and they can partner with organizations and understand the meaning a little bit more,” said Ms. Danyali. As for preprimary, they will partner up with the primary classes. “They’re not going to do service learning, per se, but they will learn how to socialize in a group—to feel comfortable around other people and pick up on social cues as well as learn how to be a little independent,” she said. Thus, Sra. Lala’s class teams up with Mrs. Bowling’s class, Sra. Salas with Ms. Mosby, and Song Laoshi with Mrs. Reynolds. One example is making hummus as a group (Sra. Salas’s and Ms. Mosby’s classes), mixing all the ingredients and smelling, touching, and tasting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Song Laoshi and Mrs. Reynolds have partnered on a lot of creative initiatives, explained Ms. Danyali. “They’re both extremely creative people and share lots of ideas for making art and decorations, like for the recent Fall Festival. All of the preschool classes came together, and parent volunteers set up different stations, like bowling and face painting and different fun things. It was really nice how the kids have started to notice and recognize each other. The 5-year-olds are really feeling like they are mentoring the 2-year-olds, which is exactly what we want to see.”

The class pairs also had their Thanksgiving feasts together for another opportunity for those partnerships to solidify as well as to bring the parent communities together. “The primary mentors love to be good role models for the younger students. They make decorations together, they set the table together . . . all of those things that are a big part of the Montessori philosophy of practical life—of taking care of self, of taking care of our community,” she said.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of course, the mentor–mentee relationship reaches the other way as well. Thus, the primary classes get their own chance to be taken under the wing of older students. The non-nappers in Ms. Mosby’s class, for example, will join Ge Laoshi’s K/1st students to be video pen pals with a class of Chinese Montessori students, who are taught by former TNCS teacher Yang Yang, who is now back in China. They communicate in Mandarin and English.

tncs-class-partnerships-video-pales

They also get a chance to have stories read to them by their older reading buddies.

Here again, the partnerships will work both ways, with Ge Laoshi’s students also partnering with Ms. Sharma’s 4th- and 5th-graders on a weekly basis, to help take care of the school grounds as well as taking out the trash and the recycling from classrooms. The older students showed the younger ones the ropes and also made sure they stayed safe as they progressed about the campus. They will help make sure the TNCS environment looks its best! Meanwhile, Ms. Shaffer’s K/1st class will work with Ms. Madrazo’s 6th- through 8th-graders in reading groups—in students’ choice of language.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another ongoing initiative is having the middle schoolers act as “Car Line Safeties”—they volunteer for service on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to escort younger students safely into the school. “The little ones are always very receptive,” said Ms. Danyali. “They look at a 6th-grader as really important!”

Ms. Danyali is working hard to instill the deep sense of community that is essential to any successful organization. “We’ll be mixing up the opportunities, so when a student sees someone not in the same division on the playground or around school, he or she has that friendship in place, and the community supports each other as we grow academically and socially.”

Back to that conference mentioned earlier, one thing that Ms. Danyali really appreciated about it was that it included early childhood education. “It’s important that we understand how vital a part of education that is. We’re planting the seeds of who they will become—developing self confidence, taking risks. I’ve sought it out for years, so it was encouraging to see such a big focus on preschool.” The conference also covered how to find what resources are available and how to collaborate with other schools. Ms. Danyali is now networking with other early childhood classrooms that are also language immersed to build some external relationships. “I want to take all of the preschool teachers on a field trip to visit another school to see how other people do it, maybe in the spring. What are best practices at other places and how can we get involved?”

Social and Emotional Learning

As part of the invisible curriculum, Ms. Danyali has been doing workshops on social and emotional learning using nonverbal cues. Pairs of students decide on a sound and a movement they will make together, then they find another pair and combine the two sounds and movements into one. This keeps growing until everyone has been gathered together making one big sound and movement. “It shows how much there is to be said for nonverbal communication and what that means in our place in the world. How we can go anywhere and understand each other if we have a common sound and movement—nonverbal cues,” said Ms Danyali.

“I focus a lot on navigating emotions and feelings and identifying what they are. In the 2nd- and 3rd-grade classes, in particular, the social dynamic has been really interesting. It seems like this is when social cliques start, and exclusion can happen. So, we will really be working on inclusion with them before we set them out into the world,” she said.

Service Learning

In elementary and middle school, service learning really ramps up. In weekly meetings with the older students (Grades 4 through 8), Ms. Danyali discusses possibilities for class partnership activities and wider school initiatives as well as planning for future endeavors. Based on a recent presentation from a student from McDonogh School on her experience with grant-writing for charities (blog post on that to come!), the older group is going to take on their own grant-writing initiative, for example.

Ms. Danyali is not new to service learning, having been the Service Coordinator at other schools, and service itself is an intrinsic value for her. “Service has always a big part of my life personally, and it helps put things in perspective about what’s really important,” she said.

It comes from my parents, my grandparents—that feeling like it’s part of your makeup, that’s just what you do. Of course, it has served me well because I feel like it’s a huge benefit to me to appreciate what I have. I find it really fulfilling when I know it’s made a difference. But I also have a hard time saying no sometimes, so it’s important also to keep a balance.

Two service projects were recently completed: the annual non-perishable food drive for United Way of Central Maryland/Beans & Bread and a collection of men’s socks and underwear for Baltimore Rescue Mission. “The older grades will be helping to organize the items collected, and I asked for a cohort of student volunteers to deliver them. They need to make that connection—this is where it’s going and this is who it’s serving. I want to have those conversations,” said Ms. Danyali. “It just has to be a big part of your life that you’re not just thinking about yourself all the time. And kindness too.”

The 2nd- and 3rd-grade classes did the annual Linus blanket initiative. “That is such an amazing project.”

Being Head of Lower School

“I feel like we’re really off to a great start this year,” said Ms. Danyali. “We’ve had some great workshops and a lot of parent partnership in the preschool. Classes are running like well-oiled machines. The preprimary classes can take a little bit longer, but they are now on a schedule and regimen.”

Another aspect of her position is working with the preschool teachers. “They are so dedicated, loyal, and loving. They really understand the psyche of that age, and I enjoy working with them, planning with them, and supporting what they think is best for their students,” she said. The cohort can be so different from year to year, she explained, keeping the teachers in their toes. “For example, one of the preschool classes has 14 boys, and one of the classes only has 4 students who are verbal, so there’s a lot of navigation, adjusting, and adapting.”

She is pleased that her new role affords her more time with her colleagues, including the assistant teachers. “They are a big part of the equation and our philosophy here because of the language they bring, and I’ve had the opportunity to get to know them better. I have aspirations for them to grow professionally here, and I have been able to give them bigger responsibilities and more structure. They now report to me weekly on how the students are progressing in the language.”

What’s in the Offing

Elementary and middle school students will have quarterly field trips that are service or community oriented in one way or another. The 8th-grade students will embark on the first-ever TNCS international trip, which is still being planned. Book fairs will take place, as usual, including an online Mandarin book fair. These and other school fundraisers will make use of parent and student volunteers, as appropriate. Ms. Danyali also works closely with the TNCS Parent Council who host their own set of initiatives to raise money for the school. Even initiatives with a clear fundraising bent help contribute to the TNCS thriving sense of community.

“I feel really proud that we’re not even halfway through the school year, and we have already done so much as a school community,” she concluded.

Meet the Teacher: Taryn Biancaniello Gets in Key with TNCS 2nd- and 3rd-Graders!

For the 2018–2019 academic year, The New Century School has two classrooms of 2nd- and 3rd-graders, one of which is now taught by Taryn Biancaniello.

Meet Taryn Biancaniello

tncs-elementary-teacher-taryn-biancanielloMs. Biancaniello comes to TNCS by a rather circuitous route. Her extended family is originally from Reading, Pennsylvania, but her immediate family never stayed put for long owing to her father’s job in the government. “I grew up moving around,” she explains. “I was born in Germany and lived there until I was 5 years old. Then we moved to Glen Rock, PA and next to Glen Burnie, MD, where we lived until I was 10 years old.” From there, she lived in Australia until the age of 16, then returned to Pennsylvania for a couple of years. She also experienced several different kinds of schooling, from being home-schooled to attending a Waldorf School and a parochial school. Her family eventually wound up in Hawaii, where she attended the University of Hawaii. for about 5 years. “My dad would tell us what government positions were coming up and apply for them in places that seemed cool, so we kind of had a say as a family,” she said. In what might be a lifetime record stay, she has now been in Baltimore for almost 7 years now!

In college, Ms. Biancaniello studied music, so, again, her line to the classroom zigzagged a bit.

I’ve always loved music and performing. I went to school for piano performance but realized that I did not want to be a concert pianist. Instead, I discovered that I really enjoy teaching while I was still in school, so I started teaching piano. I still teach a couple days a week outside of school. So, I had been teaching piano for years and doing a little bit with voice, when, a few years ago, I decided that I wanted to take the next step—I want to do this full time. I began substitute teaching at Friends School and at Calvert School. After a few years, I felt ready to look for a full-time position, and that is how I arrived at TNCS.

In the Classroom

tncs-elementary-teacher-taryn-biancanielloMs. Biancaniello shares the 2nd- and 3rd-grade cohort with Barbara Sanchez, each having 13 homeroom students. Ms. Biancaniello teaches English Language Arts (ELA), Science, and Global Studies. Sra. Sanchez also teaches Global Studies, but in Spanish, as well as Math and Spanish Language Arts. Li Laoshi handles Mandarin Chinese in daily lessons lasting 45 minutes each.

Ms. Biancaniello feels very much at home at TNCS, even as a first-year teacher. Working with multilevel age groups and acclimating to the differentiated learning classroom can be challenging, but she has found this challenge to be, above all, fun. “I really love teaching, and I feel this is a job that you have to be passionate about. It takes time to adjust to the learning curve, and I find myself getting caught up in planning and losing track of time that way, too. Yet, the more I do, the more I know this is the job for me. It doesn’t seem like work.”

tncs-elementary-teacher-taryn-biancaniello

She also dearly loves working with her students and appreciates TNCS’s approach to education. She attributes this good-fit feeling partly to her varied background: “It’s just so much fun, and, especially coming from a background where I really enjoy being creative, I think this is an awesome school, and I love the inquisitive learning.”

The inquisitive learning she alludes to is exemplified in science class, where students work with STEMscopes, a science curriculum. “It introduces an idea and gets the students thinking about that idea and drawing from information they know,” explained Ms. Biancaniello. “Then they do related exercises and experiments, as I give them more information to draw from.” From this hands-on experience and testing, they learn more deeply and certainly retain more than they would in a lecture format. On this basis, this year’s third quarter Science Fair should be better than ever!

In ELA, her main curricular foci are reading, writing, and spelling. “Because everyone is at different levels, we do the Daily 4 or 5 rotations,” she said. “We’re doing novel studies, leveled reading, different spelling and vocabulary work, and working in Successmaker.” At this level, when students are able to articulate ever more complex ideas, writing becomes particularly important. Thus, they are also working on cursive skills, journaling, and creative writing as well as participating in a whole-group writing workshop.

In Perfect Harmony

Reflecting on her experience at TNCS so far, Ms. Biancaniello credits much of her success to her fellow faculty.

For first-time teachers, it can be a bit overwhelming at times, but they say the successful ones have support. That has been such a huge thing for me because I feel like I’ve had such a good team of people, and I do feel very supported. Sra. Sanchez has been a blessing—she has been with me every step of the way—and Adriana DuPrau has been a fantastic mentor. I feel getting to know this group of people has been really amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better staff to jump in with.

Circling back to an earlier theme, she reiterates the importance of being passionate about work.

I have had so much fun doing this and really do love so much what I’m doing. That’s really important because that’s what makes it fun for the students. The teachers who were most influential to me and had a big impact were the ones who really seemed to care about what they were doing. Those were the classes I was invested in. I particularly love working with these kids, and I hope that’s coming across so that the kids are feeling excited and being inspired to learn. Because, if the drive isn’t there, it doesn’t matter what subject you’re learning. I feel very strongly about bringing the challenge but keeping it really fun, too.

Well said, Ms. Biancaniello! Welcome to TNCS, and keep hitting those high notes!

tncs-elementary-teacher-taryn-biancaniello

Meet the Teacher: Leslie Shaffer Joins TNCS Lower Elementary!

This fall, The New Century School welcomed Leslie Shaffer to teach kindergarten/first-grade for the 2018–2019 school year. Immersed had the pleasure of interviewing her recently and brings you the highlights in this post.

Meet Leslie Shaffer

tncs-k-1st-teacher-leslie-shafferMs. Shaffer is originally from New York state and graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York in 2015 with concentrations in Government and English. She went on to get a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education at Bank Street College of Education in New York City.

Once she was out of college, Ms. Shaffer moved to Connecticut to take a position teaching pre-K and kindergarten at Greenwich Country Day School, in what she says was similar to an apprenticeship program. After 2 years, she returned to New York City to teach kindergarten at the all-girls school Sacred Heart and reports that she thoroughly enjoyed that 1-year experience.

So far, she has not merged her undergraduate Government concentration into her teaching, because once she realized later in college that reading books for fun could be a major, she was hooked. “I took an English class by accident and wound up loving it. It’s now something I use a lot in the classroom, and I’m so excited that I get to do so,” she said.

This past summer, she moved to Annapolis to be closer to family, who have a business on the Eastern Shore. When asked what inspired her to apply to teach at TNCS, she says: “I think a lot of it was the neighborhood. I knew I didn’t want to teach in Annapolis, even though I would be living there. Having just come from New York, I wanted to be in more of a city environment, with more going on. I wanted a little bit of excitement. Annapolis is a lovely place, but it’s not a city.”

The 15 students in her homeroom class plus the 14 students she co-teaches from Pei Ge (“Ge Laoshi”)’s homeroom are contributing to that excitement Ms. Shaffer enjoys. “I love it here,” she said. “I really do. I think what I’ve liked most is that the parents are so interesting, and so the kids are, too. Everyone is traveling to different places, has family in different countries . . .  I think it’s fascinating.”

Ms. Shaffer’s primary subjects are Math and English Language Arts, and she does the Daily 3 or 4 rotation for both (including a snack rotation). Her homeroom students spend the first 1 1/2 hours of the day with her, and then they move to Ge Laoshi’s classroom for Global Studies and Science. The two classes also switch for part of the afternoon. Many of her first-grade students came up through the TNCS primary program, and many of her kindergarteners are new to the school, but everyone has adjusted beautifully, thanks to the built-in differentiation that rotations afford. Says Ms. Shaffer:

I think my favorite parts about being a teacher have always been the small group work and working one on one with a student. I think that the day lends itself so well to having rotations, and although I enjoy my time with them, I make sure they stop at a good amount of independent stations, too. But also there’s always one more, and that’s just with me. I love that part of it.

English Language Arts Class

“In ELA, differentiation is crucial,” explains Ms. Shaffer, “because some of the students coming in could not yet identify all of the letters of the alphabet, while many of the 1st-graders can completely read on their own.” Thus, her ELA class will typically have a rotation that includes her reading with a small group in the “library” (pictured below) and another with her listening to a student reading independently as well as various exercises involving more intensive focus on individual letters. “For those who are still working on letter recognition,” she said, “each week we focus on a letter. For those who can read on their own, this becomes more like coming up with a list of how many words they can spell with the letter of focus.” Most of the books in the K/1 classroom are “decodable,” meaning that there are no tricky sounds or silent letters, to give young learners the chance to gain some confidence before encountering the many exceptions to the rule that comprise the English language.

The best part of the day for Ms, Shaffer takes place in ELA class, with her students circled around her:

My favorite part of the day is always doing a read-a-loud, which, for the past 2 months, has been a Marcy Watson book. They are chapter books, which seems like a lot for kindergarteners to listen to, but because the books are so funny, the students are really, really attentive, even from the beginning of the year.  I think it’s been a good place as well for the kids who are very comfortable reading. Every once in a while, they’ll want to read the next chapter, and the other students still listen to them, which is so nice.

Math Class

The Math curriculum for all TNCS elementary students is Singapore Math. For K/1 students, many who are transitioning from preschool, math class includes manipulatives, but, albeit quite similar, these are from Singapore Math rather than Montessori materials the students would have used in primary.

“The students have mainly been using the base 10 block so far, explained Ms. Shaffer. The 1 is represented by a tiny cube, 10 is a stick, 100 is a block of 100, and 1,000 is a cube. “This system works really well, especially for the 1st-graders, who are doing addition and subtraction, but also for the kindergarteners who are just starting to figure out what the numbers represent.” She is also incorporating bead rings, another way to represent smaller numbers, as shown below.

“They’re doing very nicely,” said Ms. Shaffer, “and we had a professional development training in Singapore Math earlier this year that really helped us understand how to use the materials most effectively.” (More on that in a future post!)


Ms. Shaffer is very much at home at TNCS, and her fascination with people and culture—and learning—makes her an ideal fit for the school. There is one aspect of the day in which her students have the upper hand over her: “They love it when they come back from Chinese class, and they know all these words that I don’t,” she laughed. But even here, she is picking up vocabulary and enjoying the fun of learning right alongside her wonderful students.

Welcome, Ms. Shaffer! Huānyíng (欢迎)!

TNCS Preprimary Workshop, Fall 2018

If you were unable to join the Fall Preprimary Workshop or if you are interested in learning more about the preprimary language immersion program at The New Century School, this blog post is for you!

Head of Lower School/Dean of Students Alicia Danyali describes the program in this overview:

Our youngest students at TNCS are immersed in Mandarin or Spanish all day by native-speaking educators who are passionate about sharing their language and culture. In the preprimary program, the child is the curriculum. The classroom offers an environment that includes a balance of structure, play, and social development.  Students are given daily opportunities to use their imaginations to create with age-appropriate materials as well as to strengthen their fine and gross motor skills.  Milestones, such as “toileting readiness” are supported throughout the school year.  Partnership with families is critical at this stage in development.

Preprimary Focus

The key point here is that language is the program focus and is hands down what sets the TNCS preprimary program apart from other preschools. But let’s back up a step—why is learning a second language important at an age when most children are still learning a first, in the first place? Language acquisition actually remodels the brain in ways that ultimately improve cognitive function. This article describes how language-learning supports brain function: Why Multilingual People Have Healthier, More Engaged Brains. You’ll see how this flows naturally in to the primary curriculum and how intentional is the interplay between the two divisions.

And now, on to the business at hand. “The workshop went really well,” said Ms. Danyali, ” and we had about 30 families in attendance.” She led the presentation and discussion with support from the three preprimary teachers: Donghui Song (“Song Laoshi”), Laura Noletto (“Sra. Lala”), and Elizabeth Salas-Viaux (“Sra. Salas”). Each teacher additionally has two or three assistants and one floating assistant. She first explained what TNCS does have in common with other preschools: “Your child will still get circle time, nap, playtime, snacks . . . but the format will be in the target language.” She also explained the importance of parents sharing enthusiasm for the program and for the child’s experience in it. “If you’re enthusiastic; they’ll be enthusiastic,” she said.

Another important message she wanted parents to come away with is to not expect your child to be speaking fluently on a timetable. They will develop at their own rate, as appropriate, and quantifying their language-learning is not the point at this stage—it’s brain development. “If they are responding appropriately to instructions, they are demonstrating comprehension, and, not only is the first step in learning, but this also transfers beautifully into the primary Montessori program, which focuses on ‘the absorbent mind’ and the taking of the next step—how you apply what you’ve learned.” (The focus of the primary program is on gaining independence: how teachers can encourage independence and what it looks like at school and at home.) Teachers know when a child is ready to transition to the primary program when he or she can demonstrate the ability to focus for brief periods. Back to that notion of interplay between the two curricula mentioned above, one of the ways that multilingualism reshapes the brain is to equip it resist distraction (read more on how in the article linked above).

Making the Transition to Primary

The Spring Preprimary Workshop will delve into this topic as well, but the moment your child enters the preprimary classroom, teachers begin the process of readying them for their next steps. They learn about structure and the rhythm of the day, for one thing. They learn how to participate in a community, even if they are still nonverbal. “Creating those boundaries throughout the day provides young children a sense of security and a sense of what comes next,” said Ms. Danyali. Once they feel secure, their confidence grows; from there, the desire to branch out and take (healthy) risks is possible, and that’s how true learning happens.

There are different milestones that students should have attained, such as toileting, but there are other aspects as well. Importantly, they will learn so much from making and subsequently correcting mistakes. (The “self-correcting” nature of the Montessori method will be covered in an upcoming post on the Fall Primary Workshop.) Thus, they have to demonstrate a willingness to take some risks, meaning to show the beginnings of what will blossom into independence.

The primary classroom is partial immersion in addition to following the Montessori method. Language-learning is still very much in evidence, but the goals for the primary program are on developing the ability to sustain focus. The ratio of teacher to student grows a bit wider, too, from 1:6 in preprimary to 1:10 in primary.

How Can You Support the Language Experience?

Whether you speak more than one language or not, you can readily incorporate language and model your support: Express your “likes” about the language environment they are experiencing, and avoid having expectations that student will speak immediately in the target language. “Know that the environment will support your child, and the learning will happen organically,” said Ms. Danyali. To facilitate your ability to engage in some of the activities below, use the resources (see bulleted list) to reinforce vocabulary your student is learning in class. Also, says Ms. Danyali, “The preprimary teachers make it really easy to extend learning at home by outlining what books they have been reading in class and what songs they have been singing as well as tips and suggestions in their weekly communications.” Here are some activities you can try:

  1. Play music in the language at home or in the car; combine with dancing.
  2. Experience the culture by exploring its holidays, food, and traditions.
  3. Watch short (2–3 minutes), age-appropriate videos in the language.
  4. Read story/picture books, especially about relevant topics for the age group (e.g., identifying feelings, understanding social settings).
  5. Play games and role-play with puppets in the language.

Books, Websites, and Resources for Your Family’s Language Journey

Finally, Ms. Danyali feels it extremely important to help dispel the pervasive myths about bi- and multilingualism. These “fast facts” are taken from The Bilingual Edge.

Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 3.41.50 PM.png

Closing out the preprimary workshop, Ms. Danyali said, “On behalf of TNCS’s preprimary team, we look forward to continuing the immersion discussion and your continued partnership.” A preprimary Observation Day will be scheduled for spring 2019 to give you the chance to see all of this beautiful learning taking place in your 2- and 3-year-olds!

MD Secretary of State Visits TNCS!

On Wednesday, October 17th, The New Century School welcomed some very illustrious guests. Maryland’s Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith, Director of International Affairs Mary E. Nitsch, and intern Rosanna Mantova (Intern, International Division, Maryland Office of the Secretary of State) visited the TNCS campus to see the Mandarin Chinese program firsthand. Secretary Wobensmith met TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux earlier this year, who told him about TNCS. Based on her description of how Mandarin Chinese is taught at TNCS, he was eager to see it for himself. As part of the Maryland Sister States Program, Secretary Wobensmith and his team find ways to promote the connection between Maryland and Anhui Province of China, and education is a key area.

Ms. Nitsch explains:

Anhui Province, China, is one of 20 Sister States that Maryland has around the world. It is also the state’s oldest Sister State partnership, having been established in 1980. The program was established to provide a forum for the promotion of international cooperation and understanding. Through broad-based citizen participation in a wide variety of exchanges in areas of mutual interest, like education, arts, and culture, and economic development, the Sister States Program offers countless opportunities to develop partnerships around the world.

Mandarin Chinese Program at TNCS

It was easy to showcase TNCS’s program, owing to the amazing teachers and students who participate. The members of the Office were met at reception by Ms. Faux, TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, TNCS Dean of Students Alicia Danyali, and staff member Monica Li. After a brief welcome, the group began a tour of the school, starting from the ground up with Donghui Song’s preprimary classroom of 2- and 3-year-old students. Song Laoshi’s class is immersive; students are spoken to in Mandarin Chinese throughout the day. They are expected to understand and respond with the appropriate action to instructions given in Mandarin—and they do so beautifully. Not long after entering the classroom for the first time, they begin speaking a few words and singing songs.

The group next visited Lisa Reynolds’ primary classroom on the second floor. At ages 3 through 5 years, primary students are no longer in an immersion environment but are taught both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish (in addition to the Montessori curriculum representative of the primary program) and have native-speaking assistant teachers rotating through the classrooms and conversing with and instructing students in their native languages. At these ages, students are not just responding to instructions but are rapidly increasing their verbal skills. They demonstrate perfect intonation and pronunciation. They begin to recognize Chinese characters.

They charmed the visitors, saying “hello” and “welcome” in Mandarin.

Hope to see you again!

The group continued their climb through building south, headed next to Pei Ge’s kindergarten/1st-grade classroom on the third floor. The members of the Office of Secretary of State were very impressed by what they witnessed here. The entire classroom was bubbling with eagerness, a testament to Ge Laoshi’s teaching skills, and their Mandarin is nothing short of amazing.

Throughout the tour, Ms. Faux explained details about the school and its approach. “It’s less about being a linguist,” she said, “and really more about becoming a global citizen.” Thus, culture is an important emphasis and taught alongside the target language. So the visitors could get the full picture, the group also visited Barbara Sanchez’s 2nd-/3rd-grade Spanish classroom. These students also learn Mandarin, but, at the mid-to-upper elementary level, core subjects are partially taught in the target language, so, in addition to Spanish Language Arts, Sra. Sanchez integrates Spanish into her Math and Global Studies lessons.

Ms. Faux gave a quick powerpoint overview of the school, including the background, history, and overall ethos, and then the group finished up their classroom tour in Wei Li’s middle school lesson. Li Laoshi led the 6th- through 8th-graders in a conversation in Mandarin, then had them write sentences using Chinese characters and finish by making a presentation.

The group wrapped up the tour in TNCS’s beautiful Union Box space inside building North, which provided a chance to talk about the history of St. Stanislaus Cathedral and the Mother Seton Academy, and how they became part of TNCS’s campus.

Said Ms. Nitsch in a follow-up email: “One of the nicest parts of my job is having the opportunity to personally experience so many of the wonderful international programs and projects that are taking place around the state. As a former ESL teacher, I truly appreciate how important multilingualism and multiculturalism are to our state and country’s future success. And, as a Baltimore resident, it’s inspiring to know we have such wonderful resources like TNCS here in the city.”

For his part, Secretary Wobensmith declared himself “totally smitten” with TNCS. “Your enterprise. . .  is a remarkable effort, and it struck me that you have done it exactly right in all aspects. Congratulations!” he said. When he asked Ms. Faux about the possibility of expanding to other locations, she thought for a moment and then replied, “We have built a very strong community here, and that might be hard to replicate somewhere else.” It’s true—that foundation of families, teachers, students, staff, and everyone else who is part of the TNCS community is integral to the school’s continued success.

The visit by the members of the Office of the Secretary of State will not soon be forgotten. TNCS will cherish the memory of this great honor!

md-secretary-of-state-visits-tncs-mandarin-program