Pipa Concert at TNCS

Li Laoshi poses with her pipa just before the concert began.

Li Laoshi poses with her pipa just before the concert began.

Li Yangyang joined The New Century School this year from southwest China, where she is a graduate student at Sichuan University, working to obtain a Master of Pedagogy degree. Li Laoshi also has abundant experience teaching Chinese as a foreign language, and TNCS is proud to have her on board. Assisting in the Chinese classrooms is not the only skill Li Laoshi brings to the table, however. She plays pipa (similar to a lute) and guqin (similar to a zither), both ancient Chinese musical instruments. She has completed high-level certification in pipa through the China Traditional Music Association. Xie Laoshi says, “Yangyang is a true artist! ”

On Thursday, October 24th in Building North, TNCS students got to see and hear for themselves just how talented Li Laoshi really is. As part of TNCS’s ongoing focus on studying other cultures as well as The Arts, Li Laoshi presented a 30-minute concert showcasing her pipa music.

“I started playing pipa when I was 7 years old,” she says. “At that time , my neighbor’s daughter played pipa, and when she practiced it, I could hear the music. I thought that music sounded so good, and it made me feel peaceful. When I first saw the pipa at her home, I was excited by its beauty.  I asked my parents, ‘can I play this instrument?’ and 2 weeks later, I saw a beautiful pipa waiting for me in my room. Now, I have been playing pipa for 16 years. I love this instrument very much!”

Staff and students alike, TNCS really enjoyed the pipa show!

Staff and students alike, TNCS really enjoyed the pipa show!

Li Laoshi played four songs, each very different, including her introductory song (“The Language of Pipa”; 琵琶语), the theme song from a cartoon (“Counting Ducks”; 数鸭子), a war song (“Surrounded on All Sides”; 十面埋伏), and the most popular pipa song in China (“Nezha”; 墨明棋妙 – 哪吒). As she began “Counting Ducks,” she invited the audience to sing along. Lo and behold, the entire student body sang right along—from the pre-primary students to the elementary students! During the last song, which was quite spirited, one of the elementary girls was spotted playing “air pipa”! Suffice to say, the kids loved the concert!

For those of you who could not attend the concert, do not despair! Here is a video of Li Laoshi playing the third song in her line-up. Enjoy!

Elementary Strength Training

Among the many great things about The New Century School is its equal emphasis on The Arts and Humanities with other more scientific subjects—TNCS calls them “specials.” This focus may be a factor in many TNCS families’ decisions to send their children to TNCS instead of public school, where the utility of these subjects seems to be eternally up for debate.

This year, TNCS added a new element to the array of specials: strength training during physical education/movement classes. Emily Socolinsky joined TNCS staff this year to teach phys ed to the two elementary classes. Before we meet Mrs. Socolinsky, let’s clarify what we mean by “strength training” in this context. Although weight-lifting is certainly a means of strength training, it certainly isn’t the only way to get stronger or more fit. Everything from climbing trees to participating in gymnastics to doing squats and sit-ups helps to condition the muscles and build strength. In her recent article in Baltimore’s Child, Mrs. Socolinsky writes that strength training (or resistance training) is a specialized method of physical conditioning . . . [that] is not only safe but beneficial for children to participate in.” And she should know. She is a certified Starting Strength coach with lots of research into the subject under her belt. The most current findings show that “incorporating strength training into a child’s fitness program can increase that child’s bone density, decrease his or her risk of incurring sports-related injury, and improve his or her muscular strength and endurance, body composition, and self-confidence.”


Mrs. Socolinsky owns 5x3 Studio, in Fell's POint, and is also the newest member of TNCS's elementary staff.

Pictured here in our very own TLL, Mrs. Socolinsky owns Fivex3 Training, in Harbor East.

Mrs. Socolinsky also owns her own fitness studio, Fivex3 Training, in Harbor East, in addition to being a Precision Nutrition Level One Coach. Despite all of her credentials, she came to fitness training in sort of a roundabout way. With ballet training starting at age 7, she participated in the TWIGS program at Baltimore School for the Arts, went on to major in dance at UMBC, did an internship in New York City in Production Administration, stayed on at The Juilliard School as a wardrobe supervisor, and then returned to Baltimore (where she grew up) to oversee wardrobe at Center Stage. She switched gears in adulthood, obtaining a Master’s in education to teach 5th grade in Baltimore City schools and later to become school director of Kinetics Dance Theater School of Contemporary Dance. Then, a debilitating back injury prompted her to begin strength training, and suddenly a whole new world opened up. In 2011, she opened Fivex3 (which is training speak for 5 reps times 3 sets), where she says she was able to “integrate all of [her] experience—dance, education, and running a business.” She explains that although she was at first nervous to open a gym, she soon realized that fitness and dancing go hand in hand. She knew how to instruct people to move correctly from her dance experience, so once they have developed sufficient body and movement awareness, she just adds resistance. At Fivex3, she instructs 6–8 participants at a time in a hybrid of group classes and personal training.

Strength Training at TNCS

Back to TLL, what she does with TNCS elementary kids is the same basic training class she teaches at Fivex3, but modified for 6–9- year-olds. Exercise for kids this age should primarily be fun, says Mrs. Socolinsky. She strives to make sure they are engaged and enthusiastic about movement class, which has clear benefits for lifelong physical health, not the least of which is habituating kids to regular, intentioned movement. “Kids are more sedentary than they used to be,” says Mrs. Socolinsky, “this is a chance for them to get some exercise as well as an outlet for those kids who don’t like sports.”

This month was her first full month at TNCS, and she says she has spent it priming the kids for what’s to come. Getting to know each other as well as class expectations was important, she says, before moving into more structured classes. Once she had a good idea of what each of the two classes needed, she nailed down her approach and the gamut of activities for each one. The older elementary children (third-graders) needed some work in team-building as is developmentally typical for the age group, so their class might involve working in pairs or in a big circle. She wants them to always be moving yet simultaneously be aware of what team- and classmates are doing so they are “successful in their own right and as a group.” She says this teamwork could even filter back into the classroom proper, and they may start to better understand this concept of working with and helping one another.

A typical movement class for the older elementary class first starts with a dynamic warm-up that she likens to a combination of yoga and pilates core exercises (e.g., planks, “dead bugs,” “cat/cows,” and “bird dog”). Next, the students move through “Fitness (or Power) Circuits” in pairs or in teams in which they hone gross motor skills as well as develop spatial awareness. These circuits comprise 45-second exercises such as squats, crawling through hula hoops, chest presses with a medicine ball, and jumping over cones or broad jumping. Through such circuits, Mrs. Socolinsky hits a number of Physical Education Standards for the age group, such as stability, throwing and catching, and even cooperation. Once correct movement is established, she will bring the Gerstung equipment into the rotation.

For the younger elementary class (first- and second-graders), class is markedly different. Mrs. Socolinsky says she teaches this one in a “more creative movement–centered way, using songs that give guidance.” She also incorporates a lot of imagery for this age-group. Warm-up here might consist of “making a pizza,” for example, in which the kids sit around a large “table” and stretch across it to prepare the pizza, miming rolling out the dough, smoothing on the sauce, and adding toppings. Imagination playground is also a component of this class, in which basic spatial awareness is an important concept to grasp. Each 40-minute class ends with a cool-down.

This gym class certainly sounds more fun than the tedious rounds of calisthenics (or worse, dodge ball) many of us grew up on. Who remembers jogging that mile around the track year after year to demonstrate . . . what, exactly? Anyway, these movement classes are designed to engage and be enjoyed, true, but Mrs. Socolinksky is nonetheless quite serious about them: “There’s no such word as ‘can’t’ in my gym!” she says ;)!

Open House at TNCS

Our very own Robin Munro, TNCS Admissions Director

Our very own Robin Munro, TNCS Admissions Director

The first Open House of The New Century School‘s 2013–2014 school year got a magnificent turnout of both prospective and current families. Why attend a TNCS Open House? Admissions Director Robin Munro says:

“The easiest way for parents wanting to learn more about the Elementary, Primary, and Pre-primary programs is to attend a weekday Open House. The Head of School, Ms. Danyali, offers a presentation that provides parents a thorough overview of the school. There will also be parents of current students on hand to answer questions and ample opportunity to observe students in their classrooms. If parents like the school, I suggest that they return for a small group tour where they can bring their children for a classroom visit. We also offer a Saturday Open House, which is a perfect event for the entire family. All of our lead teachers invite children into their classrooms to explore and ask questions. Current TNCS parents should also attend to observe their own child in the classroom and to learn about the other programs. As a delicious bonus, all Open House events are catered by our very own Chef Emma and her Kitchen Garden Tuck Shop!”

Main Presentation

Today’s Open House began with a short introduction by Ms. Munro after which Ms. Danyali gave her three-part presentation. Attendees were given take-home information packets as well. Highlights of Ms. Danyali’s talk are broken down into synopses of each program:

Pre-primary: For children ages 2–3 years, the pre-primary classroom offers full immersion in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. The children are instructed only in the theme language. This phase of education at TNCS focuses on the children’s social and emotional development. “We want them to begin learning and demonstrating some independence while being able to interact well with others, too,” said Ms. Danyali.

Primary: For children ages 3–5 years, the mixed-age primary classroom offers a more traditional Montessori approach. The lead teacher is trained in Montessori instruction and guides students in correct use of Montessori materials. Language is still a fundamental part of each day, however. Assistants in the primary classrooms are native speakers of either Spanish or Mandarin and come from a variety of countries and cultures. At TNCS, the assistants give specific lessons (e.g., Practical Life and Cultural Studies) in their native language. In other words, students learn a Practical Life skill while simultaneously developing their foreign language skills. The benefits of mixed ages are numerous and include instilling pride and confidence in the older children who serve as leaders for their younger counterparts, developing socially by being able to cooperate with peers as well as children older and younger, and enjoying a sense of nurturing or being nurtured. Kindergarten is included in the primary program; Ks from each primary classroom join together in the afternoons (while the younger children are napping) for some more advanced work.

Daily 5: Read to Self, Work on Writing, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work

Daily 5: Read to Self, Work on Writing, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work

Elementary: For children in grades “pre-first” through fifth (and adding a grade each year), the elementary classroom emphasizes critical thinking and unit-based discovery. They incorporate the Daily 5, a literacy curriculum that helps students develop the daily habits of reading, writing, and working independently. They read Junior Great Books to encourage critical thinking and deeper understanding. Singapore Math workbooks and SuccessMaker computer software round out the STEM subjects.

Ms. Danyali next spoke passionately about what sets TNCS apart from other private schools. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but here are some perennial favorites.

Head of School, Ms. Danyali gave an overview of TNCS programs for today's Open House.

Head of School, Ms. Danyali gave an overview of TNCS programs for today’s Open House.

What Really Sets TNCS Apart

  • Sustainability: TNCS has initiated Recycling Teams; uses green, non-toxic 7th Generation cleaning and paper products exclusively; and is 100% wind powered by Clean Currents!
  • Kitchen Garden Tuck Shop Program: Run by Executive Chef/Master Gardener Emma Novashinski, this program provides an organic, locally sourced, homemade lunch to participants as part of TNCS’s emphasis on healthful foods for kids. For all TNCS students, the on-premise greenhouse offers chances to explore plant growth from the seed up. Students plant, tend, and harvest produce as well as cook and eat it.
  • The Lingo Leap: The gymnasium/auditorium houses Gerstung equipment and the Imagination playground as well as a stage for our two school-wide annual performances. TLL is also available to host really great kids’ birthday parties!
  • Volunteering: Each TNCS family contributes a minimum of 8 volunteer hours to the school per year. TNCS believes that parents can be better involved in their children’s lives at school this way as well as meet other TNCS families. The volunteer coordinator makes it easy to match your particular skill set to specific volunteer tasks.
  • Lecture Series: New this year, TNCS will be inaugurating this initiative with Dr. Bonnie Zucker on November 13th, 9 am–10 am. Come hear Dr. Zucker’s presentation on how to raise Anxiety-Free Kids.
  • Extended Campus: Because TNCS believes strongly in community, we want students to become very familiar with the school’s environs. They take walks to nearby parks, the post office, or to special Fell’s Point happenings. In learning about their broader community, they will better participate in and contribute to it.
  • Multilingualism: Learning foreign languages increases brain elasticity, executive function, and critical-thinking capacity. How you learn a language is key. Research shows time and again that rote learning is far less effective than immersion. Throughout each phase of TNCS education, full or partial immersion is implemented.
  • Differentiation: Each child is an individual, with strengths, preferences, and traits particular to him or her. TNCS is unique in being able to individualize instruction to each child. “We can accommodate whatever level your children need in terms of education. We will meet them were they are,” says Ms. Danyali. This is possible both because of mixed-age classes and small class sizes.
  • Immersed: TNCS publishes this blog weekly to keep you informed about school events, initiatives, and relevant topics. we invite your participation and feedback!
  • Specials: TNCS emphasizes The Arts. Our art, music, and movement classes are truly special and cultivate your child’s creativity and humanity.
  • Staff: TNCS staff are truly dedicated, loving people. Our children are nurtured—cherished, even—as they are guided through their school day, learning, absorbing, and discovering the while.

Again, the list goes on and on . . . TNCS is a very special place.

Q&A and Classroom Observation

The Open House presentation ended with a Q&A series during which parents asked a lot of great questions about school particulars. A particularly incisive one asked of the currently enrolled families was, “What’s it like to have bilingual kids if you don’t speak the language?” Answers ranged from getting additional support from apps to learn with the child to the child intuitively understanding the correct context for speaking in Spanish or Chinese (i.e., to another speaker of that language). TNCS is also making more opportunities available to parents to learn these languages. The Word of the Week appears on TNCS’s home page, and an upcoming blog post will offer tips for practice at home from our two resident language curriculum experts Senora Capriles and Xie Laoshi.

Finally, parents were free to roam about the school and observe students in classrooms in real time, which is where TNCS really shines.

If you missed this first Open House, not to worry! Two more are offered in November and a third in January. Visit the website to register, because, as Ms. Munro says, Open Houses are the best way to learn more about TNCS’s programs—first hand!

Happy Birthday, Immersed!

Dear Readers, this is a proud day, marking the end of Year 1 of The New Century School‘s blog. That’s right, 52 posts later, here we are (this is #53). To celebrate, let’s take a look back at what your favorite posts have been—after all, we’re here for you.

Top 10 Most Popular Posts

  1. Preschool Conundrum Solved: Research Demonstrates Benefits of Montessori Education  (224 views so far)
  2. Achieving Balance in Education at TNCS  (215 views so far)
  3. Sustainable School Lunch: Garden Tuck Shop Program Part I  (199 views so far)
  4. Elementary Science Fair!   (175 views so far)
  5. Top 10 Reasons to Attend Montessori Kindergarten  (171 views so far)
  6. Inside the Montessori Classroom  (156 views so far)
  7. Exercising That Mind–Body Connection  (146 views so far)
  8. Elementary Program Merges Montessori and Progressive Education at The New Century School  (130 views so far)
  9. A TNCS Original  (128 views so far)
  10. Language, Math, and Science—Montessori Style!  (125 views so far)

Because a little analysis is just irresistible, let’s draw some conclusions. It’s pretty clear that Montessori and Elementary are the  commonest themes on this list, which is entirely appropriate. TNCS is achieving something entirely unique in education in meshing a progressive, rigorous curriculum with the gentleness and humanity of the Montessori approach. TNCS students learn the standard academics but also get a firm grounding in foreign language and an abundance of the arts, movement, and technology. Perhaps most important and often overlooked in conventional schools is the attention to social relationships and building mutually respectful interactions with peers and with the administration.

So thank you, readers, for your following and your support. What would you like to read more about in future?