TNCS Holiday Outreach Programs

Even amidst the hustle and scramble leading up to the holidays, taking a moment to remember those less fortunate is terribly important. In fact, it’s what the holidays are really all about . . . giving. This year, instead of exchanging gifts or doing Secret Santas, The New Century School organized several outreach programs to give students an opportunity to do some actual good in the world, both locally and internationally. Says primary teacher Mrs. Lawson, “We choose this time of year to do our outreach because kids are so busy thinking about what they want. We want them to also look in the other direction.”

Change for Change

Meshack's 70-year-old grandmother raises him and supports their family.

Meshack’s 70-year-old grandmother raises him and supports their family.

Elementary students raised money for children in Kenya through ChildFund International, whose mission is “to help deprived, excluded, and vulnerable children living in poverty have the capacity to become young adults, parents, and leaders who bring lasting and positive change to their communities.” Elementary teachers Ms. DuPrau and Ms. Roberts cleverly incorporated math into this lesson in giving by having students not only collect spare change and bring it in but also by counting the totals they amassed. A very pleased Ms. DuPrau said, “We collected a total of $300.60! That is enough money to feed 50 children. We doubled our goal!” In Kenya, 50% of the population exists below the poverty line. This includes young children like Meshack, who typically subsists on black tea and maize paste (called ugali) only twice daily. Even so, at only 5 years old, Meshack loves writing and wants to be a teacher when he grows up. The money that elementary students raised will help kids like Meshack get more and better nutrition—fuel to help realize some of those childhood dreams!

Helping Hands Collect Mittens

Meanwhile, primary students had their own outreach going, this one aiming a little closer to home. Primary teachers led by Mrs. Lazarony organized a Mitten Tree and winter clothing drive for the International Rescue Committee of Baltimore. The IRC helps refugees, such as from Darfour and the Sudan, get familiar with Baltimore life by providing educational and financial assistance as well as aid for food, clothing, and shelter. “At work today in over 40 countries and in 22 U.S. cities, the IRC restores safety, dignity, and hope to millions who are uprooted and struggling to endure. The IRC leads the way from harm to home.” TNCS has worked with this organization in the past with great success.

In a 2-week period in December, primary families donated hats, scarves, mittens, and other new or gently used winter apparel. On December 20th, a “tickled” Mrs. Lazarony rounded up 11 bags of clothing and took them to the Baltimore IRC headquarters. “Their faces lit up,” described Mrs. Lazarony, “They were so grateful.” These clothing items will be distributed through a “free store,” which is open three times a week for members to obtain up to 15 items per visit, free of charge. “Despite the short amount of time available for our drive,” said Mrs. Lazarony proudly, “TNCS families really rose to the occasion.”

Want To Help?

If you didn’t have a chance to participate in either of these drives, or if you are simply compelled to give some more, opportunities abound! Beginning January 6th and going through January 24th, Mrs. Lawson is heading up another primary outreach program. Last year’s Dimes Drive for Heifer International was such a success that primary classes will once again be collecting dimes to purchase livestock for indigent families. “The children get very excited about this outreach,” says Mrs. Lawson, as last year’s photos below show. “We did it last year, and the children raised over $500. With this money the children were able to buy a cow for a family in South America.”

Here, too, the lesson is not just in giving but also cultivates some arithmetic skills. “The Kindergarten class will be counting the dimes and rolling them. Please send in only dimes, to make it easier for the children to count,” says Mrs. Lawson. She remembers last year’s generosity fondly, recounting how some of her students brought in their whole piggy banks. The change they can make is staggering. Heifer International‘s mission states, “We empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity—but our approach is more than just giving them a handout. Heifer links communities and helps brings sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Our animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs, and honey can be traded or sold at market.”

Finally, this happens to be an ideal time to give back. Many organizations have matching donations at this time of year, and all donations are, of course, tax deductible. The IRC says donate by 12/31/13 and your gift will be twice doubled by generous friends of the IRC. Donate here. If you prefer to donate clothing, please note that small- and medium-size men’s clothing is in especially high demand.

To donate to ChildFund International, click here.

To donate funds or livestock through Heifer International, click here.

However you decide to show your compassion this season, don’t forget to involve the kids. Although children very naturally identify with toys, animals, others, etc., they are hardwired to worry first about themselves. Setting an example of treating others kindly will foster empathy in your child.

TNCS Wins Southeast Baltimore City Schools Recycling Competition!

This week, The New Century School elementary students had a very special visitor. Councilman Jim Kraft spoke to Ms. DuPrau’s and Ms. Roberts’s classes on December 16th and presented them with an official award as winners of the Southeast School’s 2013 Recycling Competition. Councilman Kraft was accompanied by Emily Sherman, a member of his City Hall office and a Shriver Peaceworker Fellow, and Robert Murrow, Baltimore City’s Recycling Coordinator (known to the kids as “Mr. Bob”). Ms. Sherman said that the contest’s goal is to “get students more aware of the impact of their recycling and also more aware of what can be recycled.” Surprisingly, many people still don’t know how easy—and how beneficial—it is to recycle, she reports.

Ms. Danyali introduces some very special guests and also opens the discussion about recycling.

Ms. Danyali introduces some very special guests and also opens the discussion about recycling.

Head of School Alicia Danyali began the presentation by asking students why recycling is important. Lots of kids gave great responses, but one boy’s answer, “So we don’t pollute the world,” kind of hit the nail on the head and is why the Councilman’s office targets schools. “We get to them while they’re young to instill healthy behavior, says Ms. Sherman. After a few more pithy yet adorable student responses, Ms. Danyali turned the floor over to the visitors.

It’s safe to say that Councilman Kraft really understood his audience. Dressed in Christmas-y hues with a holiday-patterned tie, he began by addressing the elephant in the room: “You guys don’t really want to hear what I have to say—you want to talk about Santa, don’t you?” Once the laughter and cheering subsided, Councilman Kraft had the audience in his palm. Well known for his pro-environment platform, Councilman Kraft has been holding this recycling contest for several years among his other green initiatives. (This was TNCS’s first year participating, but even as rookies, we held our own.)

Councilman Kraft presents Robert Murrow (a.k.a., "Mr. Bob") to a rapt audience.

Councilman Kraft presents Robert Murrow (a.k.a., “Mr. Bob”) to a rapt audience.

In fact, says Ms. Sherman, this year’s contest had the most participants to date. Going up against nine other areas schools, TNCS elementary students gathered recycling around the school into brown bags and reported to Ms. Danyali on a weekly basis, who, in turn, called City Hill with the week’s tally. She dubbed them her “Recycling Ambassadors,” and they competed not only against exponentially larger schools (with up to 700 students), but also against other students as old as age 18 years. (Note: Totals were assessed per capita rather than schoolwide to level the playing field for smaller schools such as TNCS.)

In their presentation, Councilman Kraft and “Mr. Bob” once again tapped into the kids’ seasonal excitement. “Santa Claus is the world’s biggest recycler,” said Mr. Bob. “We’re in constant contact,” he continued, “and we send out press releases to let everyone know that Christmas is a great time to recycle.” Wrapping paper, old electronics, styrofoam packing, cardboard, etc. can all be recycled, and it’s very important to remember to do so. Mr. Bob finished by asking the first-place winners to give themselves a big hand.

Councilman Kraft presents the award to a TNCS Recycling Ambassador.

Councilman Kraft presents the award to a TNCS Recycling Ambassador.

In addition to presenting a very official-looking certificate, Councilman Kraft also promised to donate several copies of The Lorax to TNCS’s library (the lorax also being very pro-environment—“[He] speaks for the trees.”). Best of all, the kids win a field trip to the Baltimore Aquarium plus lunch in early 2014.

The kids are brimful of questions about recycling . . . among other things.

The kids are brimful of questions about recycling . . . among other things.

As the City Hall delegation wound down their presentation, the kids had questions. Lots of questions. Including these directed to Mr. Bob: “Are you an elf? Will you show us your ears?” He was wearing green pants, after all. In all seriousness, though, Mr. Bob has helped make recycling a snap in Baltimore, which uses a single-stream method and requires no separating of recyclables into constituent materials.

TNCS elementary students have shown our community not only that recycling is so easy that anyone can do it but also that TNCS and Councilman Kraft fully support such environmentally sustaining practices. “TNCS was green to begin with,” said Ms. Sherman, “so this was icing on the cake!”

Update: On February 21st, the elementary students got their reward trip. See the delights!

What Does Kindergarten Look Like at TNCS?

Editor’s Note: For the 2014–2015 school year, TNCS modified the kindergarten program to better accommodate the growing student body. While the primary program still comprises a 3-year cycle, kindergarteners now move up to the elementary floor for a mixed-age K/1st classroom instead of kindergarten taking place within the primary classroom. This adaptation has proven a marvelous success and provides another very important transition mark for students as they broach their elementary years. The gist of the post below, therefore, still very much applies.

The New Century School offers a fresh, progressive approach to educating young children. Kids age 5 years and younger get the nurturing, caring environment provided by the Montessori classroom, and elementary-age kids get a specially designed program that encompasses technology, STEM, the Arts, physical education, language arts, and foreign languages. So what does Kindergarten, that sort of in-between scholastic phase, look like at TNCS?

Appropriately, in some ways it’s a hybrid of the primary Montessori and progressive elementary programs. To say that it’s simply a stepping stone between one phase and the next really doesn’t capture the essence of TNCS Kindergarten, however, nor does it consider the very real importance of this period of development in a child’s life. Says Robin Munro, Director of Admissions, “A lot of parents see Kindergarten as the beginning of ‘big kid school’.” Indeed, in the public school system, Kindergarten is expressly geared toward prepping for first grade. As one mother describes her son’s day in a Baltimore City public charter school, students have a laundry list of skills they must acquire to pass, they work at desks for much of the day just as they will in their elementary years, and the atmosphere is one of strict adherence to the curriculum–it has to be with classrooms of 30 and more children. “It was a huge wake-up call for [my son],” she said, who attended a parochial preschool.

But in all this urgency to get ready for first grade, what actually happened to Kindergarten? Says Ms. Munro, “For TNCS, Kindergarten is more like the conclusion of preschool. Its not a ‘send-off’; we are instituting a radical cultural shift.” Here, the focus is on the child’s development rather than academic achievement. This is a critical point, and one that many of us parents in the fever of making sure our children are “ready,” have a hard time coming to grips with. This begs the question, ready for what, exactly? For TNCS, being “ready” to move on is in some ways a paradox. A child is developmentally where that child is, and it’s the school’s job to meet him or her there, rather than the other way around. (This is the beauty of mixed-age classrooms, which inherently avoid pigeonholing children into certain categories based solely—and rather arbitrarily—on age.) However, it would be naive to pretend that our kids don’t have to measurably progress academically, and TNCS is by no means throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, the answer to “ready for what?” becomes more about the child’s social and emotional skills than about his or her scholastic performance. Says Alicia Danyali, Head of School, “We don’t abandon the child’s development. Their social self needs to be nurtured much more than their academics at this age.”

TNCS’s Kindergarten Information Night this past Thursday provided additional insight into the inner workings of TNCS’s radical approach. Both Ms. Danyali and Ms. Munro were on hand to provide program overviews and answer questions, and primary/Kindergarten teachers Mrs. Catherine Lawson and Mr. Jonathan Sellers presented their Kindergarten curricula. In effect, a primary student’s third year of the 3-year primary cycle becomes his or her Kindergarten year.

A K student’s day starts just like his or her primary classmates’ day. The K student has the range of Montessori materials at hand to independently choose from. Because the student has already spent 2 years in this classroom, he or she is naturally gravitating to the more math and language-oriented materials, as appropriate for his or her age and skill level, rather than Practical Life and Sensorial. However, if he or she prefers the latter sometimes, that’s completely okay, just as it’s fine for the younger kids to want to learn skip-counting with the bead cabinet if they are ready (yikes—that word again) for it. Another part of the Montessori classroom popular with the 5-year-olds and the Ks is the language drawers. These materials designed by a Montessori educator take the tried and true Montessori approach to learning to read and spell but house it in an organized system of cubbies, each containing a set of cards or objects that the student must represent as a word on paper. It’s a very logical extension of the moveable alphabet, and the kids love both the self-guided nature of this activity as well as the immediate gratification and sense of accomplishment they derive from completing each drawer.

The bead cabinet and the language drawers are just two of many materials available to the Ks (and, again, to all primary students no matter what age). As Mr. Sellers put it, “Although there are no specifically K Montessori materials per se, we’re providing the Ks with all the materials they need to set them up for success.” After the morning spent in their respective primary classrooms, lunch, and 30 minutes of quiet time (which can be resting, listening to music, reading a book, etc.), all Ks gather together from all primary classrooms as one group. Thus, says Ms. Danyali,”Ks don’t have to wait until the afternoon to do age-appropriate work, but they come together as a group in the afternoons to do work specific to the K curriculum.” She also points out that a full day in Kindergarten is mandated by the state of Maryland, so TNCS is not able to offer a half-day K program.

Kindergarten is, thus, within the Montessori classroom and stretching a little beyond it. The Kindergarten curriculum is well-rounded and takes into account that the students do need to demonstrate certain abilities by the year’s end. However, Mrs. Lawson is quick to remind us that “Children don’t work for products. Its adults who expect that.” The kids are doing the work for the sheer love of discovery. Important skills are also cultivated, such as good handwriting and computer basics. Each day of the week focuses on a different curricular area, including Global Studies,  Language Arts, Math, and Science. Foreign languages are still taught within the primary morning group, and they get art and music in both environments. The Kindergarten program lets K-age children be kids, be nurtured, and blossom—at their pace—in whatever areas they are ready to bloom in. The atmosphere is that same caring environment they are familiar with and happy in; this encourages them to flourish rather than expend all of their energy adapting to unfamiliar—and  potentially very discomfiting—surroundings.

K students are introduced to the SuccessMaker software they'll use daily in the elementary program.

K students are introduced to the SuccessMaker software they’ll use daily in the elementary program.

Nevertheless, we parents sometimes can’t help letting that doubt creep in that our K-age children will be the oldest in their primary classroom and therefore deriving the least benefit. Research into the benefits for all ages in the mixed-age classroom is unequivocal: the mentor–mentee relationship is mutually beneficial in all sorts of ways. But the real advantage here is that our children are probably doing more advanced work than they would be doing at an other-than-independent school while being able to still be the little kids that they are, getting all the nurturing and special care they still need.

Visit the archives for the Top 10 Reasons to Attend a Montessori Kindergarten.

Volunteerism at TNCS

The great American education reformist Horace Mann long ago observed, “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” Mann fought for such ideals as higher wages for teachers, access to education for all creeds and classes, and abolishing corporal punishment in schools. He also believed in helping others for the sake of doing so rather than for external reward—volunteerism, in other words.

Volunteering is also a central value held by The New Century School, insofar as it builds and strengthens our thriving community. For the good of all parties, TNCS has made volunteering a contractual obligation for the 2013–2014 school year. Says Head of School Alicia Danyali:

I feel strongly that volunteering is a huge component of any successful organization. At TNCS, parent involvement and support is crucial. Parents and teachers are partners in the school and in their children’s individual achievements. Making parent involvement mandatory sets an example to students that we are a true community. No matter what little time parents have available in their busy lives, they can contribute in some way with the volunteer opportunities the school provides. Whether cataloging books in the library, laying down mulch in the playground, or laminating classroom materials from home, everyone is contributing to the school in some way. It gives a sense of belonging and involvement that you can’t get waiting for others to step up. Julie Baldi and Tracy Browning have done an amazing job organizing the committees this year. That is just another example of how thankful I am for parent volunteering.
TNCS Parent Liaison Julie Baldi heads up the Volunteer Committee organizing.

TNCS Parent Liaison Julie Baldi heads up the Volunteer Committee organizing.

As Ms. Danyali notes, not only is volunteering mandatory this year, but the enterprise has been managed with an efficiency that make fulfilling the obligation a snap. This is thanks to the dedication of Ms. Baldi, the main contact overseeing Volunteer Committees; Ms. Browning, another parent coordinator; Emily Feinberg, the on-staff administrator; and, of course, all of the volunteers themselves. Ms. Baldi can be reached with any questions at She says she was asked to be the Volunteer Committee Coordinator after putting in so much volunteer time herself last year in the school library and seeing its importance firsthand.

And, because TNCS recognizes just how stretched many families are, the volunteer obligation is hardly onerous at only 8 hours. Per family. Per year! Also, the hours do not have to be completed by an actual parent, but by anyone affiliated with a particular student, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, caregivers, etc. Best of all? Volunteering doesn’t necessarily involve blood, sweat, and tears (although if that’s what your area of expertise involves, it’s welcome!). The Committee Coordinators came up with a list of areas covering a broad range of ways to help out. There’s truly something for everyone. Moreover, notes Ms. Baldi, “we made every effort to make off-school hours available for those who can’t sacrifice work hours to volunteer for the school.”  Volunteering at TNCS is not a burden; it’s a pleasure—no, an opportunity, a gift even. It’s a chance to be deeply involved in your children’s day-to-day school lives, to connect with them on their turf, and to see and experience what’s going on in their lives from their points of view, all while providing a service to the school. There’s nothing so reassuring in parenting than to get proof that your child is happy and flourishing even when you aren’t there.

Ms. Danyali agrees. “One of my positions at my last school was community service coordinator for the entire elementary school,” she says. “It opened my eyes to how much people want to be involved with their children ongoing, no matter their background, interests, job constraints, etc.” This accords with Ms. Baldi’s experience so far as well. She says, “we have found that in asking people their specialties, they volunteer not just their time but their experience and expertise. They are bringing a lot to the table. In saying, ‘I would like to show kids this,’ they are providing extra learning in areas we haven’t even thought of.” Indeed, TNCS students have learned about a variety of cultures from natives of those cultures, about what it’s like to work for the Peace Corps, and even how to perform an Indian dance—all from parents!

This parent provided much-needed help before a school Open House by cleaning up the sidewalk and giving the front of the school a general sprucing up! Thanks Dad!

This parent provided much-needed help before a school Open House by cleaning up the sidewalk and giving the front of the school a general sprucing up! Thanks Dad!

Here are some of the many, many ways you can provide a service:

  • Outreach/Admissions: volunteer during open house events, serve as a reference by being available by email and phone to prospective families, offer school tours, develop and/or edit promotional materials, or help with open house preparations.
  • All School Community Events: help out at potlucks, school concerts, class breakfast events, picnics, etc.
  • Classroom Volunteering: prepare classroom materials for teachers, organizing classroom activities, read to the class, etc.
  • General Maintenance and Repair: repair or put together furniture, fix classroom items, and general repairs
  • Greenhouse and Landscaping (with Emma): plant trees, maintain front of school greenery, and greenhouse maintenance.
  • School Library: catalogue books, maintain collection, serve as visiting librarian for the elementary and primary classes.
  • Athletics After School or Recess Time: organize group activities by sport and age division.
  • Emergency Response Brigade: remove snow, prepare sand bags, etc. (Those living near the school would be ideal candidates.)
  • Legal Help: provide legal assistance for various needs (for those with legal backgrounds).
  • Other: come up with your own idea, such as perform music, lead an art project, make a presentation, teach a dance—offer any activity in which you have a specialty.

Feeling the volunteer spirit? Click here for the Parent Volunteer Committee Sign-up form! You will be so glad you did. Ms. Baldi believes that the importance of volunteering is in “keeping a sense of community in the school. This community, after all, is an extension of your family.”

Already completed some volunteer hours? Don’t forget to log them (and avoid a penalty) by clicking here! Ms. Feinberg reports that about 34% of TNCS families have already begun or completed their volunteer hours only 3 months into the school year!

“The school gives a lot,” says Ms. Baldi. “We should give a little, too.”

What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.
–Aristotle (384–322 BC)