Valentine’s Day at TNCS is about Spreading Love to the Community!

For Valentine’s Day 2020, students at The New Century School made a “wholehearted” push to spread some love. Compassion and service are two core values at TNCS and, along with respect and courage, are part of the day-to-day “invisible” curriculum. Nevertheless, this winter, students in all divisions have come together to put those values in practice in meaningful ways. From service-learning initiatives led by Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali, to student-led charitable collections, to extracurricular activities focusing on kindness, these kids are showing our community within and beyond the campus walls what’s in their hearts.

Before we jump in to all of the great acts of loving kindness TNCS students engaged in, let’s look at why this kind of engagement is so beneficial to their social, academic, and emotional development. According to research by Edutopia, “A schoolwide focus on cultivating traits like self-discipline, courage, and perseverance helps students meet high expectations.” This focus also stretches beyond the classroom, preparing students to contribute to the world as adults.

So many great things were happening all over the school, so the following account progresses in sort of let-the-love-flow-from-the-ground-up order!

Preprimary Service Initiatives

The preprimary division of 2- and 3-year-olds has been doing their part for the NexTrex challenge and have already filled a box—which is pretty impressive for this age group. Ms. Danyali is careful to restrict their service initiatives to what will be meaningful to them. So, they practice kindness in the classroom among one another and participate in those schoolwide initiatives like NexTrex that they can understand.

Primary and Lower Elementary Service Initiatives

The primary through 4th-grade classrooms (primary, K/1, 2/3, and 3/4) have collaborated on comfort kits for Baltimore’s homeless population. They realized that after the end-of-year holidays pass and the new year has begun, charitable donations taper off, which sadly coincides with the time of year those in need most require support and warmth. “We felt really strongly that we want to keep the giving going,” said Ms. Danyali. So, she reached out to Baltimore Rescue Mission and Karis Home (exclusively for women), who will take and disperse the kits TNCS students lovingly assembled. “We have an overflowing box of hygiene items, which is so great. It started kind of slowly and then really caught on. I’m amazed by the abundance our community has donated” said Ms. Danyali. The hygiene kits will be distributed at the organizations’ mobile shower unit.

Although the collection was originally supposed to end on Valentine’s Day, the  TNCS community has expressed interest in extending it, and Ms. Danyali is receptive to that idea.

In the coming weeks, K/1 will visit the Ronald McDonald House to prepare lunches for the residents/families getting treatment in March/April. Immersed will follow up on this important initiative!

Lower and Upper Elementary Service Initiatives

BluWater Baltimore is another partner organization with an upcoming service project. TNCS 2nd- through 4th-graders will stencil storm drains around the Fell’s Point neighborhood to remind passersby that what goes into those drains has a direct conduit to out precious local waterways. TNCS students have done this in the past as part of a science unit, but this time, their stencils will be in both English and Spanish! “We want to remind people in a pleasant way to not throw trash down the storm drains,” said Ms. Danyali, “because the repercussions are huge long term.” Visit Blue Water’s Storm Drain Art page to learn more.

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Another possible project with Blue Water Baltimore is to design and paint two rain barrels, one to keep and one to raffle off. Again, this is something TNCS has done in the past, but it was such a huge hit among the community that revisiting it a few years on with a different group of students seems like a no-brainer. (Visit Blue Water’s Harvest Rainwater page to learn more.) “It will be a nice feature to have at school with spring coming and the greenhouse reopening,” said Ms. Danyali. Raffle tickets will be on sale at TNCS Parent Council’s annual upcoming Earth Day celebration, and a portion of proceeds will fund additional student enrichment initiatives, while some funds will go back to support Blue Water Baltimore.

In the 5th- /6th-grade classroom, students have become more and more aware of homelessness in Baltimore. Ms. Danyali partnered with Live with Purpose to have students assemble Kindness Kits, which are similar to the Comfort Kits made by the younger students, except that these are intended to be distributed by students and families. The kits include basic essential items and toiletries that participants are encouraged to give out as they drive or walk around and encounter someone experiencing homelessness. This resonated so deeply with students that many asked if they could enhance the kits by adding special items not already included in what Live with Purpose provided. “That’s really where I wanted them to go with this,” said Ms. Danyali. “We also talked about homeless statistics—there are more than 3,500 people living on the streets in Baltimore on any given night, totaling more than 30,000 per year, and an even larger number seeking a return to a home—but we did not go into the roots of these problems. That’s overwhelming. But we talked about the potential impact of  everyone doing this little bit, given the degree of need. It created a really great discussion.” Discussion questions included:

  • What are some thoughts you have when you encounter someone who is asking for help on the street?
  • If you were no longer able to live in your current home, where would you go?
  • What are some injustices that you see in the world?
  • How can you commit to intervening to address these injustices this year?

(Note the socks, which are one of the most needed and least frequently donated items for individuals experiencing homelessness.)

New for Q3 2020 at TNCS, is the ECA Project Kindness for 3rd- through 8th-graders, led by Upper Elementary and Middle School ELA and Global Studies instructor, Daphnée Hope. On Thursday, February 13th, the “PKers” took it upon themselves to scour the multipurpose room and then decorate it with positive messages.

Middle School Service Initiatives

In the 7th- and 8th-grade classroom, Ms. Hope has incorporated mediation and yoga as stress relievers. “I’m very excited about this,” said Ms. Danyali, “because they are developing tools for better listening to each other without judgment, feedback, or anything else—just listening. That cohort already has a nice community feel, but they got a lot of out of this and showed even more kindness toward each other as a result.” That  will certainly translate into day-to-day social intelligence.

They’ll also soon be going back to the William S. Baer School for their Baer-a-Thon, and Immersed will keep you posted on that.


February is a big month for showing that you care. On the heels of Valentine’s Day comes Random Acts of Kindness Day on Monday, February 17th. Show your love!

TNCS Has NexTrex Recycling Challenge in the Bag!

Logo_with_tagline3Environmental sustainability is a key message at The New Century School, and TNCS students in all divisions learn the importance of protecting our natural world as well as regularly engage in various initiatives that actively support it. Being “green” is part of our identity—just look at the school logo!

That’s why, when TNCS Parent Council member Tilly Gurman heard about the NexTrex school challenge, she immediately thought it was ideal for TNCS students to join and brought her idea to the committee and to TNCS administration in November. “I thought, what a great opportunity to combine our Earth Day activities with this challenge,” said Ms. Gurman. “Whether or not we win, it’s just also getting people involved and doing more recycling and thinking about all of the waste we generate. It bugs me that in my own household we generate all this waste that I know can’t be recycled, and it kills me to just put it in the trashcan every time. I do everything I can to avoid those ziplock kind of bags, but at least now they can be recycled with this challenge. I can now actually do something about all that stuff.”

Although TNCS initially had a “soft start” (November 15th, America Recycles Day) to get through the end of the year, now it’s time to swing into full gear!

NexTrex School Recycling Challenge

We’ll explain more about the company and how it works, but first, let’s explore the details of the school challenge itself and get the need-to-know info up front.

What Is the Challenge?

Screen Shot 2020-02-01 at 12.08.42 PMTNCS will compete in the NexTrex Recycling Challenge through April 15th. The challenge is simple: Gather plastic grocery bags, bread bags, ziplocs, bubble wraps, case overwraps, dry cleaning bags, and newspaper sleeves and bring them to TNCS to be recycled. Wait—those items aren’t recyclable, you’re thinking? Normally, no, but this program takes many such plastics that most recycling programs (including ours in Baltimore) do not take. NexTrex, on the other hand, turns them into decking material and outdoor furniture (more on that below).

This is probably a good spot to clarify what qualifies as recyclable for this program. Basically, it’s down to #2s and #4s. Also, download a handout here.

 

So, bring plastic packaging materials to add to the pile at TNCS—got it. Then what? TNCS students are all in and will take it from there. Each classroom has a collection bin and has implemented an individual system for next steps. But, basically, once that initial bin is full, they weigh it and combine it with other classrooms’ loads in one of three NexTrex bins set up around the school. TNCS Facilities Manager Mike Horvath, who is overseeing the operation to ensure compliance with the NexTrex rules, then takes the combined load to Harris Teeter on a monthly basis for an official weigh-in and tallying.

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To back up for a second, the enthusiasm with which TNCS students embraced this challenge is critical to its success. Children are especially sensitive to environmental issues, perhaps in part due to their still very intimate relationship with the outdoors. When they get wind of a way to protect it, every adult in their sphere is suddenly on notice! This is exactly why the NexTrex school challenge works, explains Ms. Gurman:

In my research on behavior change, we know that when children ask for acute action from their parents at home, they encourage that specific behavior change. We can put up all the posters we want around the school, but your kids at home saying, ‘Are you really going to throw that away, mom?’, will probably more effectively get your attention. When they get excited about a thing, they really push it. When I told my 2nd-grader that we were starting this at TNCS, he started looking at every piece of trash to identify whether it might be a 2 or a 4!

So, get the kids excited and check every single item that goes in the trash (kidding)—got it. Then what? Well, it is a competition, as mentioned. In our case, the competition is two tiered: TNCS is up against other mid-Atlantic schools (with comparable student body sizes), and we are also doing an intraschool competition—classroom à classroom! (Preprimary classes will combine as one class.)

benchFor the Mid-Atlantic contest, we could win very special prizes from NexTrex such as our very own park bench made from NexTrex recyclables! Due to TNCS’s small size and mixed-age classrooms, we are able to compete as an Elementary contender in the 0 to 350 student body category and will face off against other MD schools as well as schools in Washington, DC; Delaware; Kentucky; Ohio; Virginia; and West Virginia. Every school that participates gets an award.

For the TNCS class-to-class contest, prizes are to be announced. Go teams!

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In the meantime, every TNCS student gets a NexTrex magnet that’s not only fun (because it’s a magnet!) but also acts as a visual cue to remind us to recycle. Winners of both contest tiers will be announced on or around Earth Day!

And Now, About NexTrex

According to its website, the Virginia-based Trex Company, ” . . . [makes] Trex® eco-friendly composite decks from an innovative blend of 95% reclaimed wood and plastic film—that’s almost the whole thing. On top of that, [they use] some of the most earth-friendly manufacturing processes in the country, reclaiming factory waste and eliminating the use of harmful chemicals. Trex offers consumers a truly environmentally responsible choice.”

How Does Plastic Film Packaging Become Decking or Furniture?

Plastic film is near-ubiquitous in manufacturing for the convenience it offers in packaging and transporting of products that make their way to us consumers, but it’s certainly no good for the environment. Converting it to usable NexTrex materials (which are 95% recycled)  significantly lessens the environmental impact.

To Earth Day, and Beyond!

“My hope is that this kind of becomes a yearly thing,” said Ms. Gurman. Indeed! Even if we don’t win this year, a huge buzz has been generated, and we can hit the ground running on November 15, 2020. We can even start collecting before the next challenge officially kicks off! Either way, many pounds of would-be non-recyclable material has been diverted from landfills to do some good in and for the world. That’s a big win for Planet Earth and its resident Earthlings!


Note: Even after Earth Day and the NexTrex School Recycling Challenge has come and gone, the giving back doesn’t have to stop! We can continue to collect plastic film and bring it to a partner location. In Maryland, these include Food Lion, Giant Eagle, Giants, Harris Teeter, Kohl’s, Martins, Redner’s Markets, Safeway, Target, and Weis.

TNCS Celebrates the Lunar New Year 2020!

The Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival in China, is always a much-anticipated event at The New Century School, but this year is even more special. For the very first time, TNCS hosted a Lunar New Year Night—an evening of songs, dances, performances, and delicious Chinese cuisine for the TNCS community! Put together by TNCS’s amazing Chinese teachers, including Li Laoshi, Ge Laoshi, Hao Laoshi, Joan Laoshi, and Cui Laoshi as well as our beloved interns Manman and Victoria. Extra support in the form of, for example, cooking, decorating, and musical accompaniment, was provided by Monica, Mrs. Hope, Ms. Klusewitz, Ms. Anebo, and Sr. Cueva, and Señora Duncan. It was truly a group effort!

Xīn Nián Kuài Lè (新年快乐 )!

Before we get to the performances, let’s take a moment to reflect on a couple of things: First, what Year of the Rat means.

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Ms. Sharma’s 5th- /6th-grade homeroom is basically a “mischief” of rats, with many of those students having been born in 2008. Here is what we can expect from them in the future: “Because of their independence and imagination, they are suitable for creative jobs. These include authors, editors, and artists. . . Rats also pay attention to fine detail. They are fit for technical work, such as engineering and architecture.”

Second, we cannot celebrate the new year without sending some warm thoughts and well wishes to our friends in China facing a lethal outbreak of the 2019-nCov virus. This virus has infected thousands of people in China, and its ill effects have been felt right here at TNCS. Due to travel restrictions, our annual visit by Chinese university students had to be canceled in everyone’s best interest. TNCS hopes to welcome the six female and one male Chinese university students from Shanghai, who were scheduled to be here from February 4th through 18th at a future date to share their talents, gain meaningful American experiences, and participate in a cross-cultural immersion.

We hope for a speedy resolution to the Coronavirus crisis for all.

Lunar New Year Night!

This event was extremely well arranged, which paid off with enthusiastic attendance. Even better, students wore beautiful ethnic costumes ordered from China!

And now to the performances!

First up, grades 2 through 8 performed “Descendants of the Dragon” (合唱: 龙的传人) with piano accompaniment by TNCS 3rd- /4th-grade teacher Taryn Klusewitz.

Next, K/1st-grade students presented a Chinese Ethnic Costume Show (中国少数民族服装秀) with an introduction by TNCS 8th-graders.

Next, 2nd- /3rd-graders presented a play “The Story of Nian” (“年的故事”), preceded by an introduction by a 5th-grader and followed by a quiz from said 5th-grader.

A dance came next, performed by 5th- through 8th-grade girls. “Dance of the Jasmine Flower” (“茉莉花”), introduced by TNCS 4th-graders, was a real treat!

Next was a choral performance of “12 Zodiacs” (“十二生肖”) by 3rd- /4th-grade students. This song was introduced by 8th-graders and followed by another quiz.

Kung fu (中国功夫) performed by 5th- through 8th-grade boys was up next.

In the penultimate performance, K/1st-grade students returned to the stage to sing “Congratulations” (“恭喜恭喜”).

For the Grand Finale, all TNCS elementary and middle school students took the stage to sing a joyous “Happy Chinese New Year” (“新年好”)!

Said Li Laoshi after the event:

新年快乐!(Happy Chinese New Year—the year of the rat!)
Our school’s first Chinese night was a huge success!. The performance was very diverse, including songs, dance, a costume show, a play, and kung fu. All of these programs strongly present Chinese culture. It also was fun and educational, especially the question part, offering a wonderful chance to get all parents involved. We feel so proud of our TNCS community, having amazing students and very supportive parents and colleagues. We looking forward to next year’s Chinese Night!

Feedback from parents has been extremely enthusiastic about TNCS’s inaugural Lunar New Year celebration! Here are some comments:

“Thanks again for everything you do to help the kids learn Mandarin while exploring Chinese culture in an engaging way.”

“Thank you so much for all of your work on this event, it was creative and engaging and a wonderful mix of song, dance, humor, dramatics, and interactive education of the parents.”

“I wanted to take a moment to share the delight of my family and largely everyone with whom I spoke regarding yesterday’s program! Wei Li, the staff and students did a tremendous job showcasing the cultural significance of the occasion. TNCS is so fortunate to have Wei Li on staff – her consistent dedication and gifts are evident in her teaching, student and parent interactions and she truly does the school community proud.”


Wishing you great happiness and prosperity, TNCS community! Gong xi fa cai (恭喜發財)!

Meet Funke Sholola—TNCS’s New Receptionist!

At The New Century School, positive attitudes matter. When you walk into the school building, Funke Sholola makes sure to greet you with a warm smile before efficiently handling the business you arrived to take care of, whether that’s picking up a student, making a special campus visit, turning in a form, or meeting with a staff of faculty member.

Funke-ShololaTaking over from Hannah Brown, who is now at the helm of After Care and Summer Camp programs, Ms. Sholola is TNCS’s new Front Desk maven. She comes from Gaithersburg, MD, although her family is originally from Nigeria, her parents having emigrated here in their young adulthood. Ms. Sholola’s full name is Olufunke, which is Nigerian for “given by god to be taken care of.” Her name suits her—she radiates calm and contentment (though by means complacency, as we’re soon to learn).

Road to TNCS

Ms. Sholola is a very recent graduate (May 2019) of the University of Maryland, where she majored in criminology and criminal justice. She focused on the social rather than the law enforcement aspect of criminal justice, finding that economic disparity plays a large role in why people might commit crime. So, how did she wind up in Baltimore at TNCS,  you ask? The route is actually pretty straightforward.

She currently lives with an older sister in Timonium because Montgomery County was not practical in terms of cost of living and commuting to first school and now work. She has another older sister who is a researcher at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

“What brought me here is that I do have a background of working with kids; I am certified as a teacher,” she explains. She obtained this certification in 2012 after taking a 3-year child development program for ages 0 to 14 years in high school. “It gave me an opportunity to figure out what I want to do and whether I really wanted to go into education. I got insight into what it takes to become certified, especially getting CPR and first aid certified, which some child care providers don’t have.” She enjoys working with younger age groups because not only are they still open and friendly, but she also gets to observe their milestone achievements.

When she saw that TNCS was hiring, Ms. Sholola researched the school and was immediately drawn to two aspects in particular: the language component and the diversity of the school community. “I noticed that we have people from multiple countries and they speak in different languages, and I like we are giving children this head start. I took Spanish for 3 years in high school, but it wasn’t habitual, and I wish I had taken it more seriously. Being able to speak another language is such an important skill to have,” said Ms. Sholola. Another TNCS characteristic she appreciates is the small classroom size. “I learned early on that I’m easily distracted,” she said. As with many if not most students, movement and sounds made by other classmates, in particular, could disrupt her work. When other students in class are not focused on their work, this effect is amplified. She says she was able to make better progress in college classes that had smaller class sizes.

Student of Life

So far, Ms. Sholola feels quite at home. “I like it here,” she said enthusiastically. “Because I’m a student of life, I like to learn new things and challenge myself. I’m happy to be starting to put faces with names. And, what I learned when I was a restaurant hostess in college is that if I pick up the phone and smile, it actually makes my voice sound warmer. That’s coming in handy. Also, everyone is so kind and welcoming as well as willing to assist and answer questions,” she said.

Ms. Sholola has lots of future goals, both personally and professionally. On the personal side, she says she wants to learn her parents Nigerian languages. She also hopes to travel to Nigeria this December, not having been since she was a small child in 2004. Another personal goal she has is to pursue a Master’s Degree perhaps in  business. She is looking into a part-time program at the University of Baltimore.

As for work goals, she says, “My one goal for the job is to be familiar with everything to help things run smoothly.and also just being of service to the people who are here—being a welcoming face and interacting with them.” She is still shaping her long-term, professional goals:

Yes I majored in criminology and criminal justice, but I don’t really see myself doing that long term. I noticed during my internships and that family life didn’t work out well for women in the field. Either they were still single, or they waited too long to have children. I want a happy balance between my personal life and work. I don’t want to be the person who puts work first all the time and then find myself with nothing to show for it at the end other than a career. I want to come home to children.

In the meantime, she gets her fill of cuteness from TNCS preschoolers and on up. For final thoughts, she says, “I’m here, say hello when you see me. Please bear with me when I ask questions because I’m still learning.”

And that’s a very good thing, Ms. Sholola! Welcome to TNCS!

 

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Head of TNCS Lower School Alicia Danyali Attends Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education Presentation!

The New Century School cares about nothing so much as quality education, so when the “Kirwan Commission” was established in 2016, TNCS took note. In fact, just last week, Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali, who is involved in advocacy for this initiative, attended a presentation and was motivated to share her thoughts about what she witnessed.

“Dr. Kirwan worked with the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). to identify building blocks of high performing schools around the world for 1 year,” said Ms. Danyali. “During his year with NCEE, he researched gaps in Maryland, which led to the Kirwan recommendations.”

What’s the Kirwan Commission? 

Kirwan 2The Maryland Legislature established the Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education in 2016 to improve Maryland’s school system to world-class status. This commission has become known as the “Kirwan Commission” after its Chairman, Dr. William E. “Brit” Kirwan, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Maryland and nationally recognized authority on problems in education. With a long and illustrious career in education, starting in the classroom and working his way up to multiple university presidencies and chancellorships, Dr. Kirwan nevertheless calls this Commission, “the most difficult and important work of [his] life.”

Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) puts it like this: “The Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education is a multi-year initiative to research and develop major funding and policy reforms to improve the quality of Maryland’s public education system to benefit all of the more than 790,000 students, which will in turn benefit the State’s economy and quality of life for all Marylanders.”

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Key Policy Areas

The Kirwan Commission has a two-pronged goal: 1) Make policy recommendations that will improve Maryland schools performance overall, and 2) propose changes to current funding formulas for schools.

KirwanThe Commission has targeted five key policy areas to achieve their goal: Early Childhood Education, High-Quality and Diverse Teachers and Leaders, College and Career Readiness Pathways, More Resources to Ensure Success of All Students, and Governance and Accountability.

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Interim Report

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 10.53.36 AMAlthough the Commission was supposed to submit its final report to the legislature by December 2018, it ultimately took another year to work out how to achieve the necessary funding (known as the “Thornton formulas”)—a whopping $4 billion (a small fraction of which will come from casino revenues). The Commission issued a comprehensive Interim Report in January 2019.

Benefits for All Marylanders

That price tag—sounds like a lot to ask? Not when you consider the potential return on investment (ROI) study done by Strong Schools Maryland and the Sage Policy Group. along with David Hornbeck, another Marylander with a stellar career in education. “Mr. Hornbeck is gathering facts and statistics to support getting this bill passed,” said Ms. Danyali. For example, 12% more moms would return to the workforce if preK were more widely available. With a well-educated population, prison expenses as well as Medicaid expenses drop, because individuals are employed. The bottom line is, by 2046 the ROI is projected to be $6.3 billion—that’s a lot more than the initial outlay.

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Educating youth, starting at very young ages, and valuing educators has multiple advantages: individual empowerment; healthy, more sustainable communities; and a robust statewide economy. (Read the full Executive Summary.)

Kirwan’s Presentation

IMG_0949Said Ms. Danyali: “Through his social justice advocacy group, Dr. Kirwan is committed to high-quality schools and especially early childhood education (ECE), with mandatory pre-K4 statewide and expanded offerings for ages 0–3, which is why I got involved. He spoke a lot about Judith P. Hoyer Center Early Learning Hubs, also known as “Judy Centers,” that provide resources and support for ECE in every county in Maryland.”

Some of Dr. Kirwan’s speech really resonated with Ms. Danyali:

This is the right vision and focus to match needs and prepare students for the current work world and for the future. We have to be as good as the best. There are many good schools and superb teachers, but not enough—47% of MD teachers leave the profession after 2 years due to lack of compensation and support. Students need to perform at a grade 10 ELA and have completed algebra 1 to graduate, but only 40% of MD students meet this criteria. We can’t allow this to stand. It’s unacceptable. We need to make education a high-status profession. If we do not shift this point, there is no point.

Want to Take Action?

The 2020 legislative began Wednesday, January 8th, and there will be multiple opportunities to make your voice heard. Here are a few:

Join StrongSchoolsMaryland in Annapolis: http://bit.ly/AnnapolisSignUp
Join the StrongSchoolsMaryland email list: http://bit.ly/ssmsignup
Get your voice counted for fixing the funding gap: https://www.strongschoolsmaryland.org/email-your-leaders

The legislation goes to vote on April 6th, and this is it. Another such commission will not be possible within this decade and maybe even the next. The time is now to stand for great education for all Marylanders. “It doesn’t matter if you’re public or private,” said Ms. Danyali. “This is going to affect every school in some way.”

‘Tis the Season for Service at TNCS!

Untitled-2Service is a Core Value at The New Century School, and Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali always has multiple initiatives going including by class/division, schoolwide, and community targeted. (To read more about TNCS Core Values, click here.) What better time of year to take a look back at how TNCS students have given back in the first half of the 2019–2020 school year?

It has been a busy semester with lots going on, so, in no particular order, let’s just jump right in!

Flashcards for Hope

Live with a Purpose reached out to Ms. Danyali in October because the Esperanza Center expressed a need for English/Spanish flashcards for their afterschool program for children new to the United States who are learning English. So, students in Ms. Lee‘s classroom made 60 packs of flashcards to assist them in learning some of the basics, like numbers and colors.

“Creating these materials also reinforced for TNCS 2nd- through 4th-graders the importance and the benefits of helping others, especially immigrants that need support when they move to a new country,” said Ms. Danyali. “The fact that our students could be supporting other kids who are learning other languages was very important to me. If the shoe fits, we’re going to wear it.”

Bake Sale for Shelter Animals

“For the older students, I prefer that their service initiatives be student led,” explained Ms. Danyali. So, the 7th- and 8th-graders held a bake sale alongside their October 23rd coffee and lemonade morning. They broke up into four groups, each researching a different organization (three were for animals and one was for support for the homeless). As part of their assignment, they were required to submit a needs assessment and what the organization does. After narrowing the organizations down to two, they then had to make a presentation about their preferred organization to be chosen, ultimately deciding to donate their proceeds to the Baltimore Humane Society. They baked their sale items with Ms. Danyali. Altogether, they made $40, which isn’t bad when you consider that their baked goods were priced at only $1 each. Based on wha the photo below shows, that’s a steal!

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Reading Buddies

The always-popular Reading Buddies program provides mutual benefits to younger TNCS students paired up with older TNCS students and vice versa. Ms. Klusewitz’s and Sra. Salas’s classes comprise one pair, and Ms. Sandkuhler and Ms. Hope’s classes another (among others). “They’ve really been sticking to it,” said Ms. Danyali. “It’s so great to see.”

Biscuits (and More) for BARCS 

Ms. Klusewitz’s and Sra. Salas‘s classes also partnered on an initiative for BARCS (Baltimore Rescue and Care Center). Ms. Klusewitz’s class baked homemade dog treats with Ms. Danyali, and Sra. Salas’s class decorated holiday gift bags. The two classes came together to stuff the bags with biscuits during a recent reading buddy morning.

Although it turned out that BARCS cannot accept comestibles that are not factory sealed (for the safety of their animal charges), the exercise in partnering up with older/younger friends to do some good in the world was not for nought. A 4th-grader and her family who regularly support the organization volunteered to “be ambassadors on behalf of TNCS to deliver the holiday cards and cheer to BARCS,” as Ms. Danyali put it.

Said Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Rojas: “The cards were a hit and they definitely felt the love from the students! All the students should be proud—they were extremely generous in picking this organization, that helps so many animals each year!”

Ronald McDonald House

IMG_3394 copyBack to the Core Values for a moment, Ms. Danyali has been focusing on those with with lower elementary students and asked teachers to create an area in their classrooms where the Core Values can be prominent and interactive. Students might attach a slip of paper to the wall, for example, that starts with “I show courage by . . . ” to both remind and encourage them to exemplify TNCS’s Core Values.

Compassion goes hand in hand with Service, and Ms. Danyali wrapped up a unit focusing on those two words together in Ms. Sandkuler‘s and Ge Laoshi‘s kindergarten and 1st-grade homerooms. “We have started a service project to partner with the Ronald McDonald House to do an on-site visit and activity to help the families they serve after the winter break,” said Ms. Danyali. “To make this meaningful for that age group, we are making cards with compassionate messages. The messages were very mature, and they really internalized what compassion is.”

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Not surprisingly, a “kindness wall” has evolved over the last few months in Ms. Sandkuhler’s classroom.

Giving Tree

The class partnerships are fluid and often mix ages. For example, Ge Laoshi and Ms. Lee’s homerooms spearheaded a “Giving Tree” drive to collect scarves, mittens, and hats for fellow Baltimore students at a nearby school. Other collections were also ongoing.

Adopt-a-Baer-Student

Ms. Hope‘s 7th- and 8th-grade homeroom adopted a student for the holidays from the William S. Baer School in Baltimore City that serves severely physically or developmentally challenged students from ages 3 to 21. TNCS middle schoolers brought holiday gifts for their “adopted” student, Rachel, then went with Ms. Danyali on a field trip to tour the school and understand how students are supported there. They also got to meet many of the staff members and students.

IMG_1798“Our students were deeply moved by the experience and would like to return to the school in the spring when they host the school Baer-athlon,” said Ms. Danyali. (More on that in 2020!)

Looking Ahead

Additional service learning initiatives are planned for quarter 3 in early 2020. Ms. Klusewitz’s students, for example have broken out into groups to research an organization of interest and present their ideas to Ms. Danyali.

Linus Blankets will be ongoing as well—in fact, you can register your child for the upcoming quarter 3 ECA! The postcard below is a thank-you for blankets TNCS made this fall.

“As long as it’s meaningful and helpful, and it supports our local community, then I’m board for it,” said Ms. Danyali.


Did you know? The amazing TNCS Parent Council has a Service Committee that you can join to partake in some service of your own! Sign up here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/30e0b4faea823a0fd0-parent

Or, you can get involved with planning a Community Event or a Fundraiser to enhance the TNCS community experience. Either way, we appreciate you!

TNCS Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali Joins Multilanguage-Learning Professional Development Cohort!

Integral to the curriculum as well as the identity of The New Century School is language learning. We are by now well aware of the many kinds of social and cognitive benefit that multilingualism confers (but check out our Resources page if you’d like a refresher!). However, as Head of TNCS Lower School Alicia Danyali understands, staying abreast of the best practices in teaching language is critical.

tncs-head-of-lower-school-alicia-danyaliThat’s why she attended a cumulative 5-day training called “The Can Do Philosophy and the Guiding Principles of Language Development” that took place at the Johns Hopkins School of Education in Columbia, MD from November 4th–6th and December 4th and 5th in order to learn more about how practitioners observe, document, and analyze observations to promote dual (or, in the case of TNCS, triple) language development. The training was provided by WIDA, whose mission is, “Helping multilingual learners—and their educators—reach their potential.” The WIDA acronym stands for World-class Instructional Design and Assessment, but everyone knows this group as “WIDA.” They are headquartered at the University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research in Madison, but they have satellites all over the United States. tncs-wida

Ms. Danyali says she found out about the opportunity from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) weekly newsletter. “I’m so nerdy that I actually read it,” she joked. It’s a good thing she did. The WIDA Consortium is a member-based organization “dedicated to the research, design and implementation of a high-quality, standards-based system for K–12 language learners”—and they offer tons of amazing resources for educators. Says Ms. Danyali, “I noticed that this organization is very interested in dual language learning in the early childhood environment. I thought, ‘I have to look into more about that!’ They’re partnering with MSDE on how to better support family–school partnerships with dual language environments.”

She explains that, even though she isn’t coming from the public school sector, she nevertheless wanted to know what supports are out there and what new advancements in language education have been made. They were separated into three groups to role-play as a Parent, Educator, or Administrator. “This is the first time—and it is exciting to me—that it has been looked at at the early childhood level, which has always been something I feel very strongly about, capturing that age of language acquisition. So, I applied to be part of a cohort and submitted a blurb about TNCS and how we start at age 2 with a full immersion setting,” she explained.

“A big portion of the conversations with the cohort I was in—and it was people from all walks of education, from professors to para-professionals, was about receptive and expressive language. That’s really what we do here at TNCS—develop the ability to understand words and speech, which is the receptive part.” For example, Song Laoshi will say, “Line up” in Mandarin a thousand times to her 2-year-olds the first 2 weeks of school and she’ll model that instruction. One student will figure out what she’s doing and what she wants the class to do, and then slowly everyone else starts to get it. It’s the most beautiful thing.” But how are the teachers able to measure how well that’s happening in the preschool environment? Participants were given worksheets to guide them on how to effectively gather that feedback.

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In expressive language, the student communicates their wants and needs, speaking, not just gathering from their environment. So, back to the example of Song Laoshi’s 2-year-olds, eventually, they will start to talk about what is happening, building on  receiving instruction and being able to act on them.

“Another thing we discussed in our cohort,” says Ms. Danyali, was how to “appeal to young students’ learning styles, which is a lot more difficult in a prescriptive public environment, and how to go off the cuff and meet the students’ needs.” In Maryland, Spanish is the fastest growing language in Maryland and Urdu is the second, which is almost as prevalent. “So we’re not looking necessarily at how we can support Spanish speakers in an ESL environment, which has always been the standard, but more of just how do we support language development?”

What Does This Look Like at TNCS?

Even though the WIDA consortium is primarily about how to support students who speak English as a second language, flipping that the other way around and applying their evidence-based practices to any multilanguage-learning environment makes perfect sense. Accordingly, Ms. Danyali has implemented a program in the primary classes for assistant teachers to provide monthly status reports on each student’s progress with language:

It has been quite a game-changer and very helpful, but I also understand as a former educator that introducing new things sometimes feels like having more added to an already-full workplate. But this is actually so supportive and in line with how we think about how our students obtain language. I tell them, too, ‘I want you to grow in your career. This is the one thing that threads our whole school together. We have language from age 2 through grade 8. The common message that sets us apart is our language program, and you’re driving that, so I want your feedback.’

Another important aspect of language at TNCS is the concept of proficiency versus fluency. At the younger ages, it’s really very important that students are hearing language being spoken, no matter what the language. Definitive milestones are not important here. This process is more organic.

Fifty years ago, when immigrants came to the United States, they were instructed not to speak in their native languages so as (as the thinking went) to assimilate into U.S. culture more quickly. “This created major deficits in their lives,” explains Ms. Danyali. “The mindset is now changing, fortunately, and we want our teachers and assistants to speak their native languages.” The WIDA Consortium wants to move away from “English” and talk more about language development to be more inclusive. In fact, the state of Maryland supports over 100 languages in terms of having translators available for free to translate documents, meetings, conversations, etc.

In the near future, Ms. Danyali will incorporate the Can Do Descriptors and Promising Practices she was trained on into the TNCS curriculum. To be proficient in a language, a speaker must be able to Express Self, Recount, and Inquire.tncs-wida

“The preschool component is really our heart and soul for engaging in language for the long-term student. We attract families who know that language is important. So, all of this will factor in to how I roll out what I’ve learned at TNCS,” said Ms. Danyali.

I walked away feeling very fortunate for the environment we’re in. We don’t have stand-alone teachers in a class of 37 kids who need a lot of support. But I found a lot of compassion among the cohort. Some families do not reach out to avail themselves of services because of the current political climate, but the MSDE was there to confirm that they do not turn over that information to anyone. Everyone was on the same page in this cohort to find ways to help and that education can bridge perception gaps.


Here are some WIDA publications you might find interesting: