Taking Time Out for Peace at TNCS

“Let us all work together to help all human beings achieve dignity and equality; to build a greener planet; and to make sure no one is left behind.”

— UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

The quote above is the United Nation Secretary-General’s message for the 2016 International Day of Peace, which took place this past Wednesday, September 21st. The genesis of this special day 71 years ago was an effort to encourage warring parties to observe a global ceasefire, but, as Ki-moon elaborated, peace is about more than disarming: “It is about building a global society in which people live free from poverty and share the benefits of prosperity. It is about growing together and supporting each other as a universal family.”

Peace Day at TNCS

The New Century School began formally honoring this day when Montessori Lead Teacher Maria Mosby joined the Primary staff in 2014. Through her ongoing engagement with the American Montessori Society (AMS), she learned about the movement to “Sing Peace Around the World,” an historical event that first took place on Peace Day in 2009, in which Montessori students from around the world came together in song to celebrate peace and have done so annually ever since.

The song, Light a Candle for Peace, starts on September 21st in New Zealand at 11:00 am precisely and is continuously sung for 24 hours by children in countries around the world until it reaches the Hawaiian Islands. This year, 150,000 participants from 65 countries sang, and TNCS was a part of it—giving voice to Light a Candle for Peace at 10:30 am EST!

Ms. Mosby says that both her and fellow Montessori Lead Teacher Lisa Reynolds were fortunate to participate in that first event back in 2009, and the TNCS community is fortunate to welcome this tradition. A TNCS parent graciously caught and shared footage of TNCS’s school-wide participation this year.

Said Ms. Mosby of this year’s event:

Everyone came together so beautifully. It was especially a treat to have Mr. [Martellies] Warren help out on such short notice and lead everyone so wonderfully. He always inspires the children and staff. I was so happy to see the whole school working together for a common goal.
I was excited to have the opportunity to recreate that moment as well as teach the children about being global citizens. Primary students are studying communities this year. We are beginning with learning about ourselves and working outside to family, neighborhoods, cities, our state, and eventually the planet. They have been talking about what peace means to them, and it was wonderful to share that feeling with everyone.
At the moment we were singing, children around the globe were singing at the same time, and at special designated times so that the song would be sung continuously for 24 hours, making a chain of peace! It was important to let them know that we were all part of a larger community, not just the one that we see every day.

Peace in Education

Peace Day is a not just a lovely tradition at TNCS, however. The concept of peace informs the school’s very identity and is an essential part of every TNCS student’s education. As it turns out, teaching social and emotional learning (SEL) (also known as “emotional intelligence” and “character education”) to school-age children increases their chance of future success in life far more than socioeconomic and even academic factors, according to recent studies*. SEL aims to encourage effective (and peaceful) conflict resolution, kindness, and empathy. It helps children to understand that they share responsibility for the welfare of the communities they are participating in, from the classroom on outward.

In the New York Times article “Teaching Peace in Elementary Schools,” the five goals of SEL are listed as:

  • Self-awareness: The ability to reflect on one’s own feelings and thoughts
  • Self-management (or self-control): The ability to control one’s own thoughts and behavior
  • Social awareness: The ability to empathize with others, recognize social cues, and adapt to various situations
  • Relationship skills: The ability to communicate, make friends, manage disagreements, recognize peer pressure, and cooperate
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make healthy choices about one’s own behavior while weighing consequences for others

It’s no coincidence that echoes of these goals reverberate through the recently formalized TNCS Core Values of Courage, Compassion, Respect, and Service. The school has always emphasized such “invisible curricula,” to borrow a pet phrase from Head of School Alicia Danyali. Now, even the science shows that there are plenty of reasons to take time out for peace.

 

*To read the studies, see “Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness” and “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysi of School-Based Universal Interventions.”

TNCS Hosts a Special 10th-Anniversary Back-to-School Night!

This special Immersed blog post was written by first-time Guest Blogger as well as first-time Class Parent Michael “Mike” Horvath. Mr. Horvath explains Back-to-School Night from the perspective of a TNCS elementary parent.

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Welcome Back to School!

It’s that time of year when the summer ends and new seasons begin. At The New Century School, the 2016–2017 school year kicked off with its annual Back to School Night. The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Alicia Danyali welcoming parents, new and old, introducing TNCS teaching staff, and recognizing Executive Directors and Co-Founders Jennifer Lawner and Roberta Faux.

It’s worth noting that this is the 10th anniversary of TNCS! What an amazing job they have done to expand the school and its programs to where it is today. Roberta Faux then addressed the parents, sharing some of the positive changes that have happened since the end of the spring semester. One such change was turning the previous school office, located inside the main doors of building south, into an additional classroom. The school office is now located on the second floor of building north, where soon there also will be a snack bar…more news on that to come. Also new to TNCS this year is the introduction of the school’s Core Values. As the school’s foundation, these values of compassion, courage, respect, and service will be displayed throughout the school and will be emphasized daily by all at TNCS, as well as during classroom lessons, assemblies, and restorative circles. You can find more information about these pillars of TNCS in the Family Handbook and in last week’s blog.

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Second- through sixth-grade STEM instructor Dan McGonigal welcomes parents and gives them a snapshot of what they can expect from the 2016–2017 school year in his classroom.

Once the initial introductions and welcome message concluded, parents moved on to spend time with their child’s teachers. This was the opportunity to learn about what the school day looks like, what the educational goals are for the year, and what the expectations are of both parent and child. One of these break-out groups was helmed by Mr. Dan McGonigal and Sra. Beatriz Cabrera for grades 2–6. With about 15 parents attending, it was a cozy, informal gathering with returning parents reconnecting with one another and meeting new ones, too.

One very important takeaway message from the evening was to be on time. The class begins with key information and planner assignments, all things you don’t want your child to miss. As for the planners themselves, well, there was overwhelming parental excitement when Mr. McGonigal brought up the topic. Remember to initial them each night and remove any papers from the take-home pocket.

All homework is individualized, with Spanish and Mandarin alternating every other week, reading 20 minutes each night, and Math will consist of problem-solving or Workbook completion. At the end of each quarter, students will receive a report card, and parent/teacher conferences will take place twice during the year. Mr. McGonigal made it a point to mention that he and Sra. Cabrera are always available via email if you have any questions or concerns, and they will be prompt to reply. Throughout the year in Global Studies, students will be learning about Ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman Expansion, European and Asian Progress, as well as The New World and the Industrial Revolution.

The major Science themes throughout the year will include Microbiology, Energy Concepts, Geology and Changes to The Earth’s Surface, and Simple Machines and Programming Innovations. Students will also begin to learn how to use microscopes. These microscopes were provided to TNCS thanks to its partnership with Towson University. As for language immersion, we are fortunate to have two wonderful, enthusiastic teachers in Wei Li, Mandarin, and Fabiola Sanzana, Spanish. Chinese will be learned through various activities and projects with assessments being mainly performance based. Spanish learning will be taught through the use of different games, dances, and songs. On top of all of this daily learning there will be a number of field trips throughout the year, with the first one being a return to the popular Milburn Orchards, also visited last year. There will also be planned trips to the Baltimore City Library each month.

So hold on to your hats, the 2016–2017 TNCS school year is shaping up to be one exciting, action-packed year of learning!

TNCS Exemplifies Four Core Values

As The New Century School grows up alongside its maturing student body, the school has rooted its identity in a set of shared values. These values complement TNCS’s academic subjects in ways that will deepen the overall educational experience of each student. TNCS strives to graduate not just informed individuals ready for the next rung on the school ladder, but also contributing members to local and global societies.

TNCS Core Values

Thus, for the 2016–2017 school year, and coinciding with TNCS’s first Middle School class, Head of School Alicia Danyali and administration and Co-Founders/Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner formalized the school’s Core Values of compassion, courage, respect, and service.

As Mrs. Danyali describes them, the Core Values should become the pillars of a TNCS education. They will support TNCS’s mission to “prepare our students in and out of the classroom to thrive in a complex, changing world . . . [by] challenging each student to strive for academic excellence [and become] informed, independent, and creative thinkers; cultivating an authentic and resilient sense of self grounded in respect and integrity; creating a diverse and inclusive community built on a spirit of compassion; and inspiring our students to lead and serve with passion, purpose, and joy.”

The following is excerpted from the Family Handbook for Elementary and Middle School 2016–2017.

To demonstrate compassion, we will strive to:

  • understand the circumstances and viewpoints of others;
  • develop the capacity to forgive others and ourselves;
  • celebrate the contributions of others;
  • promote a peaceful, caring, and safe community; and
  • think and act in a way that shows others their feelings and well-being are cared about.

To demonstrate courage, we will strive to:

  • take initiative and act as decision-makers and responsibility-takers;
  • progress academically and socially by taking risks, by accepting challenges, and learning from our mistakes;
  • confront fear, pain, uncertainty, and intimidation;
  • be honest with ourselves and others; and
  • become thoughtful and decent citizens of the world.

To demonstrate respect, we will strive to:

  • believe in the inherent dignity of all people;
  • celebrate individuality;
  • value diversity within our community and our curriculum;
  • think and act in a positive way about self, others, property, and the school through words and actions;
  • demonstrate concern for the well-being of all people;
  • seek to build the self-esteem of all people; and
  • aspire to promote understanding among all people.

To demonstrate service, we will strive to:

  • find positive ways to contribute to the broader community;
  • share time and talents with others;
  • take an active role in service opportunities in the school and community;
  • celebrate involvement in service; and
  • be mindful of others’ needs.

To ensure that the four Core Values are constantly front of mind for the TNCS community, a poster was commissioned to illustrate ways the core values can be implemented each day. This poster will be displayed throughout the TNCS campus, but Immersed is fortunate to offer this sneak peek.

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This lovely artwork was done by TNCS’s graphic artist Yiyun Chu who was asked to illustrate the concepts in a way that students ages 8 to 10 years could firmly grasp. Ms. Chu describes her process this way:

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Artist Yiyun Chu

I used characters that I believed that age group would connect to. I added some animal characters because in the animal world some of these core values exist. I do think the core values are a universal thing, not just only in our human world. As you can see from the poster, there are two kids wearing soccer uniforms shaking hands. This represents Respect. Furthermore, you see there are two teenagers giving each other a high five and a father protecting his child when his child is learning to ride a bike. These represent Courage. The young female teenager helping an old man walk, the older kid holding a big leaf for the younger kid to cover him from the rain, and the bear helping another bear walking all represent Compassion and Service.  This is because I believe you need compassion in order to serve others.

TNCS is deeply committed to its Core Values, which invest the teaching and learning that takes place here with richness and meaning. Students, staff, and families alike strengthen our community by putting compassion, courage, respect, and service into practice each day.

Belaboring Labor Day: Two Schools of Thought

This first week back to school for the 2016–2017 school year has been historic—in more ways than one. As has come to be expected, The New Century School once again launched many new initiatives and embarked on several new “firsts.” Numero uno among these has to be the opening of TNCS’s Middle School, as the eldest among the TNCS student body entered 6th grade. Congratulations to them!

There are many other new and noteworthy topics to explore through Immersed in the coming weeks, such as new teachers to meet, expanded music education programming, a new library, and the brand-new Ozone Snack Bar, and we will get to those in due time. For now, though, let’s focus on the other reason this week has been historic: It may be the last time that Maryland students will have started school prior to Labor Day.

Announced August 31st, MD Governor Larry Hogan’s executive order extends summer break into September and has raised quite a ruckus. “School after Labor Day is now the law of the land in Maryland,” he said.

Advocates say the order will “help protect the traditional end of summer” and “give families more time together, generate more revenue for the tourism industry, and help keep students in the Baltimore region out of sweltering classrooms that lack air conditioning.”

Opponents say it will “hurt the state’s most vulnerable students” who can lose an average of 2 months of learning during the so-called summer slide and who rely on up to two meals a day provided in school as well as cause “what had been the minimum of 180 days of education [to] become the maximum” and thereby reduce valuable instruction time. Some have distilled the issues down to business and political interests versus kids’ welfare.

Other potential pros to an extended summer break include:

  • facilitating teacher continuing education efforts
  • allowing high school students to get summer work experience
  • making it easier for families to plan vacations
  • reducing breaks during the school year that can be a hardship for working parents

Other potential cons to starting school after Labor Day include:

  • costing more in childcare
  • teachers going longer without income
  • reducing breaks during the school year that kids and families enjoy
  • causing school to extend farther into June in the event of snow day make-ups

Either way, as residents of Baltimore City, we are at the crux of the debate, having the largest population of underserved communities. What are your thoughts? Take the poll below and leave a comment if you wish!

 

TNCS Summer Theatre Camp 2016: A Week of Wonder

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Wonder, a book about what happens when people treat each other with kindness.

Theatre Camp at The New Century School is always a smash hit, thanks to the wonderful Alex Hewett, instructor, counselor, actor, and all-around arteest. For several years running, Ms. Hewett has shared her enormous talents with TNCS and students from all around Baltimore City during the summer. (To read more about Ms. Hewett’s contributions and background, read Summertime Theatrics: Drama Camp at TNCS and TNCS Drama Camp Brings Out Kids’ Inner Artists.)

This year’s concept sprang from R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, a book about a 10-year-old boy named Auggie who suffers an unnamed facial deformity. Auggie’s painful story unfolds to reveal the wonder of human relationships when kindness is the lodestar guiding them. Because Auggie’s appearance invites stares and unpleasant reactions from strangers, his parents homeschool until 5th grade, when they decide it’s time for Auggie to face (literally) the world and his place in it.

“The story resonated with her students,” says Ms. Hewett, “because although none of them have a deformity like Auggie’s, they all know what it’s like to confront and overcome obstacles.” Even during camp, situations arose that required students to think about how their words and actions were affecting others and choose a better, kinder way. Ms. Hewett’s camp has three precepts: One, be kind. Two, be kind. Three, be kind.

Besides the theme of this year’s camp, other aspects are different from past theatre camps as well. This time, much of the dramatizing is spontaneous, improvised from listening to Ms. Hewett read passages of the book aloud. “I like that because it means the students are helping with how we are structuring everything,” she explained. This approach allows for a little more “chaos” than a scripted approach would, but it also demands that students truly internalize the message to reproduce it. With a script, explained Ms. Hewett, students are learning to memorize their lines without necessarily grappling with the ideas contained within those lines. “Creativity shouldn’t be organized.”

To further deepen their understanding, they also integrated visual art as well as song and dance (“Wonder” by Natalie Merchant). The results were pretty amazing. Students really “got it,” so it’s no stretch to imagine that they will apply the lessons they have learned in their future daily interactions.

In addition to acting, students also practiced the practical side of stagecraft. They were asked to “strike” and re-set the stage, as they performed scenes from Wonder in multiple settings—such as a school lunchroom and a forest. One of the most ingenious facets of Ms. Hewett’s theatre camp is how she uses what she has, something every good actor understands—they must be able to roll with it to keep a scene afloat. The show must go on. Another important point is that every role is critical to the show’s success. “Even if you’re in charge of turning on the lights or building sets or you’re the Lead Technical Artist, your contribution is essential to the performance” said Ms. Hewett.

Thus, Ms. Hewett, with only 5 days to create, learn, rehearse, and outfit a play, used the TNCS Imagination Playground for props. Note how a cafeteria table becomes a tree in the forest.

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The 2016 TNCS Theatre Troupe

Ms. Hewett says the students “blew [her] away.” To be a part of this collaboration, they had to be comfortable with some initial disarray. “Being creative can be frustrating,” she said, “and you have disasters and things break. But then things come together, and I think that’s how you learn.”

As always, theatre camp at TNCS is a wonder-ful thing.

TNCS Camp Invention 2016 Is Epic!

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“This tessellation of hexagons represents he collective wisdom, experience, and insights of some of our nation’s greatest innovators, the Inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Each individual hexagon builds and strengthens the whole piece, just like each person’s invention contributes to the greater power of American ingenuity.

For four summers running, The New Century School has hosted Camp Invention, a week-long day program and the brainchild of the National Inventors Hall of Fame in partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Presenting kids with real-world challenges that encourage them to solve problems and present their solutions through themed, scientific, engaging hands-on investigation, the Camp Invention program integrates four key components: 1) STEM enrichment, 2) consistent and effective implementation, 3) collaboration and other 21st-century skills, and 4) teacher and student development (read details here).

Camp Invention adopts a new curriculum each summer to ensure that participants have a dynamic and memorable camp experience. This year, the theme was “Epic!,” and there’s no doubt that it was aptly named. Joining the TNCS campus for the first time were seasoned Camp Director Beth Allen and Co-Director Lynnette Haynes, who are teachers at Westchester Elementary School teachers in Catonsville as well as their Camp Counselor Morgan.

Ms. Allen has been running Camp Invention for 15 years and says she loves the program, “It’s great for kids,” she explained, “because it’s very hands on and nothing is ‘cut and paste’—all work comes from the kids’ imaginations and what is important to them. They are the creators.”

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The Epic! participants.

All in all, there were 52 “creators” entering 1st through 5th grade to participate in Epic! As in years past, Epic! was divided into four modules that campers cycle through each day:

1. CrickoBotTM : Solar-powered robotic crickets are the name of the game! Campers created cricket-inspired inventions to outsmart motorized spider predators, build cricket-sized tire swings and trampolines, and explore the science of sound by investigating how crickets chirp. Friends challenged one another to Chirp-Offs, where they played their musical instrument inventions.

In CrickoBot,™ here’s how children merged STEM concepts with real-world challenges:

  • Powered a circuit using solar energy
  • Explored biology and the unique characteristics of crickets
  • Engineered inventions inspired by a cricket’s unique abilities to shed their exoskeleton, create sound, and jump great distances
  • Designed cricket and spider bots that move using a vibrating motor and counter balance
  • Used physics and motion concepts to produce cricket-sized inventions

2. Epic ParkTM: Campers geared up and designed zip lines, water flumes, and hi-tech eco-gear! Ed Venture and Angel Investor needed their help to develop the latest and greatest tourist attraction because the dynamic duo just purchased Epic Park, located on a beautiful island filled with rainforest areas, waterfalls, sandy desert stretches, steep cliffs, and rolling hills that all lead down to the ocean. Angel and Ed—who happen to be crazy about all things adventurous—were looking for innovative thinkers to team up and pitch their most cutting-edge, green-energy designs for the future of Epic Park.

In Epic Park,™ here’s how children merged STEM concepts with real-world challenges:

  • Designed tree houses that integrate simple machines
  • Discovered Epic Park’s ecological diversity and unique terrain
  • Built prototypes and models of innovative eco-adventures
  • Pitched their Epic Park models for the chance to be co-owners by creating a commercial

3. I Can Invent: Maker StudioTM: Campers repowered the motors, gears, lights, fans, and components found in broken machines to make their own innovations in the Maker Studio! For inspiration, they spun the Inventor Challenge Wheel to hear a video challenge from National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductees and Collegiate Inventors Competition Finalists and Winners. Everyone spent time exploring the science of 3D printing and tinkering with circuits to get their wheels turning in a new direction as they prepareed to make The Next Big Thing!

In I Can Invent: Maker Studio,™ here’s how children merged STEM concepts with real-world challenges:

  • Exercised authentic STEM exploration as they applied reverse engineering to disassemble broken appliances and redesign them into prototypes
  • Expressed ideas through writing and sketching in their Inventors Log
  • Used creativity, innovation, design engineering, and design thinking to engage in problem-based learning
  • Increased their understanding of the value of Intellectual Property and the roles that patents, trademarks, and copyrights play in the landscape of innovation

4. The Lab: Where Pigs FlyTM: Campers explored demolitions, coding, squid, slime, and sound-activated lights in The Lab: Where Pigs Fly and anything is possible! As scientists, programmers, and biologists, campers tested out a dozen or so experiments in the Camp Invention Laboratories. Each day brought exciting new challenges, from demolition and cup tower explosions, to programming and coding, to the chemistry of polymer slime and spinning disco ball circuits.

In The Lab: Where Pigs Fly,™ here’s how children merged STEM concepts with real-world challenges:

  • Used a wrecking ball and mock dynamite to demolish structures
  • Coded a programmable robot
  • Designed a device to collect marine specimens
  • Explored geometry and angles as they bounce light
  • Conducted chemistry experiments to make their own slime

Thus, each module intersected with and built on the others, resulting in kids really making the connection between what they were doing and why. As for inventions, they made robots (there were a lot of robots!), a “homework helper” (a motorized pen to get that homework done faster!) and much (much—see photos for the state of the TNCS gymnasium during Camp Invention week!) more.

Ms. Allen was excited that 2016 was the first year campers could integrate lights and motion in their creations. “Their prototypes didn’t always work out the way they expected, but the kids were so engaged in what they were doing and happy to see where their imaginations would take them,” she said.

They also spent plenty of time outdoors, and even applied their physics and motion concepts on the playground in some Epic Water Battles!

For past Camp Invention posts, see Camp Invention Returns to TNCS in June and Camp Invention Takes Creativity to New Heights (and New Depths) at TNCS!. Also keep the fun going with questions designed to keep your camper connected to Camp Invention ideas and motifs:

1. What was the most exciting activity at camp?

2. What do you hope to do at next year’s Camp Invention program?

3. How can you create Camp Invention at home?

TNCS Chinese Summer Camp: Promoting Healthy Lifestyles and Happy Campers!

Over 2 weeks in July, The New Century School hosted a Mandarin Chinese Immersion summer camp that not only boosted participants’ language acquisition and speaking skills, but also emphasized the importance of physical health. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain fluency faster when they are learning something new in a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around a theme, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to that theme.

Jewel developed this year’s camp and its theme based on her experience teaching Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015. After years of research into how people most effectively achieve fluency in another language, Startalk developed these six evidence-based best practices for replication in language programs:

  • Implementing a Standards-Based and Thematically Organized Curriculum
  • Facilitating a Learner-Centered Classroom
  • Using the Target Language and Providing Comprehensible Input for Instruction
  • Integrating Culture, Content, and Language in a World Language Classroom
  • Adapting and Using Age-Appropriate Authentic Materials
  • Conducting Performance-Based Assessment

Students are truly immersed in the language, but the point is that, through the proven six-pronged approach, they develop the confidence to communicate—to start talking . . . and reading and writing, too!

Jewel also employs the 5 Cs of language acquisition developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that TNCS has been using all along in its multilingual language program curriculum. Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities inform every language-learning activity the day holds. The most effective language program designs activities in which these five concepts intersect, which is exactly what Chinese Immersion Camp achieves, as photos throughout this post eloquently demonstrate.

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Ailing Lulu visits the doctor and is told in not uncertain terms to stop eating so much junk food!

For Week 1, Xie Laoshi, Li Laoshi, and TNCS interns Ariel and Mary (who had just joined the staff), started by introducing the concept of a sick panda named Lulu. Within this beginning scenario, opportunities to speak to one another and to the teachers abounded. Why is poor Lulu not feeling well? Isn’t Lulu cute? What do pandas eat? Students at both novice and intermediate levels quickly acquired the words they needed to discuss this compelling situation—who doesn’t love pandas?

Camp wasn’t all vocabulary by any means, however. Attendees learned by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet—and made arts and crafts, cooked and ate dumplings by the dozens, and sang Chinese songs. Plenty of movement and physical activity also took place each day. The week culminated with the performance of a short play. Each student was part of a four-person troupe, and each troupe acted out one of two level-appropriate vignettes involving either a short sing-song message or a scripted visit to the doctor. And that was just Week 1!

 

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Ailing Lulu visits the doctor and is told in not uncertain terms to stop eating so much junk food!

In Week 2, students extrapolated what they learned about health from Lulu the panda to apply it themselves. The first half of the week brought more arts and crafts, interacting in the target language, and having lots and lots of fun. Jewel was extremely pleased with her students’ progress after just a week. “I am very happy with how the students are talking,” she said, “and they are very happy, too. They told me they don’t want it to end!” She says that she wanted to make sure they remember camp fondly and so planned both a field trip and an end-of-camp party for Week 2.

On Wednesday, campers set out for Rockville, MD to visit the Washington Cathay Future Center, “an educational enrichment center [whose] aim is to cultivate students’ artistic expression, intellectual development, and leadership potential” all against the backdrop of Chinese culture. There, they painted kites using traditional materials and techniques (and were given the gear they needed to get it aloft to take home), ate authentic Chinese food, watched traditional dance, and participated in some t’ai chi. They had a fantastic time, needless to say, even before they received take-home gifts of tapestry necklaces depicting one of the 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac.

Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered. Campers gobbled up homemade barbecued pork and red bean paste steamed buns (fashioned into porcupines! So cute!); vegetarian and chicken mini dumplings; crispy shrimp snacks and snack cakes from China; and fresh, local watermelon. This cultural feast did not end with food, however. Students also performed “Xiong Mao Mimi,” a song about saving pandas by making sure bamboo is plentiful. Finally, they watched Kung Fu Panda 3—in Chinese!

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If you notice a bump in your child’s Mandarin skills over the next few weeks, you have the rich cultural experience of TNCS Chinese Immersion Camp to thank. If you notice a simultaneous inverse decrease in his or her consumption of pizza, fries, and cotton candy, you can give a similar shout out to Lulu the panda.