See What’s Jumping at The Lingo Leap!

LEAP! (They spell "leap"!)

LEAP! (They spell “leap”!)

Since The Lingo Leap‘s 2012 launch, the more-than-just-a-kiddie gym has made some significant changes and refinements. Now under the supervision of The New Century School‘s Sharon DaCosta, TLL is becoming the go-to studio for the 2- to 10-year-old set. TLL is unique in integrating movement with learning as well as learning about movement. Neuronal synapses fire more readily to juice up the brain when the rest of the body is also active. This is one reason why treadmill desks are catching on for adults—they get to move around instead of being sedentary at work and reap all of the exercise-associated benefits, but they also find that they think better and are more productive. The mind–body connection isn’t just for yogis and yoginis. (For more on the related science, check out an older post on TLL: Exercising that Mind–Body Connection.)

The Lingo Leap coordinator, Sharon DaCosta

The Lingo Leap coordinator, Sharon DaCosta

Says Ms. DaCosta, “Our goal is to create classes that no other aftercare or other facility offers. So, we do things like language immersion movement classes to expose kids to another language.” Not all classes are immersion or language related, however. Drama, Ballet, Hip-hop, Together with Tots, and Team-building classes, for example, have also attracted a solid following. The roster remains flexible; classes are offered based on market demands. Specialty classes like French Yoga, which isn’t currently on the schedule, might return if the interest is there. Ms. DaCosta conducts surveys and does other marketing outreach to find out just what parents want to see available.

Aftercare Director (TNCS) and Events Manager (TLL), Emily Feinberg.

Aftercare Director (TNCS) and Events Manager (TLL), Emily Feinberg.

Finding the right target market is one of her primary means to keep TLL thriving. “Getting the word out there,”  says Ms. DaCosta, whose background is in marketing, “is extremely important. We have such fantastic offerings, but many community parents still aren’t aware.” Currently, TLL draws heavily from the TNCS aftercare student body, but Ms. DaCosta sees TLL as having a much broader reach and providing a much-needed service to the larger Baltimore community. Working in collaboration with Emily Feinberg, TNCS Aftercare Director and TLL Events Manager, the two have developed a very special set of services. “There’s a lot of overlap between our roles,” says Ms. Feinberg, “but basically I try to integrate TNCS’s aftercare program with TLL to give parents lots of intriguing aftercare options.” In other words, students can spend some of their after-school hours in one of TLL’s specialty classes. TNCS and TLL are closely affiliated but function as separate entities.

Finding great instructors is another one of Ms. DaCosta’s tasks in her official capacity as Activity Coordinator. She searches extensively to find just the right fit, and the instructors she has brought on board have elevated the classes to new levels of excitement and energy. Drama instructor Rebecca Kenton is one, and is new to TLL this year. She is an experienced drama teacher committed to learning, creativity, and curiosity. “I think of my teaching career as an adventure,” she says. “Over the past 16 years, I have taught Drama to children ranging in age from 5–18 with the Pumpkin Theatre, Drama Learning Center, The Painting Workshop, and Friends School of Baltimore.” TLL is thrilled to welcome someone with such chops! Young performers in her class will develop their confidence and concentration through a range of improvisational and story-telling exercises. “I’m looking forward to discovering drama with the tiny (yet tenacious) thespians of [TLL] and meeting all of you,” she says. Her Discovering Drama class, which began January 31st and meets at 3:30 for 2- and 3-year-olds and at 4:15 for 4- to 6-year-olds, will conclude with an informal showcase on Friday, April 4th.

Cuban native Danay Rodriguez is another high-caliber instructor, already familiar to TLL and about to assume expanded duties overlapping with TNCS. She teaches the very popular Together with Tots class on Saturday mornings and is now additionally going to be in charge of the overall Spanish Creative Movement program. A one-time Clinical Psychologist and counselor as well as a Developmental Psychology teacher at The University of Havana, Señorita Rodriquez will lead the 2- and 3-year-old and the 4- to 6-year-old groups in this immersion-style introduction to movement class.

Balancing and walking on the beam hones coordination.

Balancing and walking on the beam hones coordination.

Look---I made a car that actually moves!

Look—I made a car that actually moves!

The current full schedule and class description can be found on TLL’s website. But exciting extracurricular movement classes aren’t all that TLL has to offer. During the schoolday, it functions as TNCS’s gymnasium and boasts such features as authentic Gerstung equipment, which “[encourages] children to use their own innate curiosity to stimulate movement,” and the Imagination Playground, a “play system that encourages unstructured, child-directed ‘free play.’” (Read more about the super-awesome Imagination Playground here.) Ms. DaCosta says that despite recent changes, TLL has stayed true to its original mission of integrating movement and learning and that this philosophy is something that everyone (TLL and TNCS staff) has a hand in implementing. “Mr. Gerstung himself actually came to TLL and trained all of us in August on how to use his specially designed equipment,” she says. “We know the purpose of each piece of equipment and what goals we can accomplish with each one.” Pre-primary and primary students have gym classes with their regular-class assistant teachers, who instruct them in Spanish or Mandarin. Elementary students have a more targeted physical education class taught by kids’ strength and agility trainer Emily Socolinsky.

TLL is also fast becoming the place to throw a kid’s birthday party—just ask your kids. Events Manager Emily Feinberg is available to help you plan your event and clearly enjoys her job. She knows kids’ parties! Catering is available, as needed, as well as decorations, balloons, face painting—you name it. Some perks come with your party package, like the ever-popular Moon Bounce; others are priced accordingly. The best thing about hosting a party at TLL from a parent’s perspective (besides, of course, extremely happy kids), is that your party is tailored exactly to your needs. If you want to handle all the details, you may. If you prefer to let TLL do the work, so be it. Or, you can opt to take on what aspects you want and let TLL manage the others. It’s a very civilized form of events planning!

Date Nights at TLL are another offering that have really caught on and are all-around brilliant. Drop the kids off at TLL at 5:30 pm (or later) and have a night out on the town, utterly guilt-free! Parents get some probably much-needed “we time,” while the kids are having an equally great time. They get to socialize with other kids, participate in group games, eat a nutritious dinner, and put the long schoolweek behind them in a melée of play. It’s the kids’ version of TGIF! New this year, hours are extended to 9 pm, to give parents more choices for their evening out. Date Nights occur on a standing schedule, monthly, every third Friday. Sign up in advance here!

Camps are another great service TLL provides. Whether it’s an extended school vacation that parents need coverage for, or a single school holiday, TLL offers an enriching, lively experience for kids. It’s the perfect balance—kids get a break from school, but they don’t have to take a break from movement and learning! Sign up for Spring Break camp here.

Finally, Ms. DaCosta is working with Sanctuary Bodyworks to develop parallel programs in which parents can go work out at the boutique studio upstairs from TLL, while kids are attending movement classes downstairs. The two facilities have offered Salsa Nights so far, for adults (not necessarily couples nor even pairs) to dance (or learn to) and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and wine (olé!), while the kids are happily occupied in their own Friday night fun. Ms. DaCosta says she goes to extreme lengths to get the word out about such events and hopes for increased participation. “I want parents to know how much I want to please everybody. I sit here and think and think and think,” she says, “about how to make TLL the best place to bring their kids.”

Her hard work is bearing fruit; TLL is exciting, engaging, and fun! So take the leap—find out for yourself all that this special kids’ activity realm has to offer!

Cultural Diversity at TNCS: Insiders’ Perspectives

At The New Century School, cultural diversity is an inherent part of the establishment. Academically, world cultures are explored, celebrated, and honored. More to the point, though, is that the school population itself is remarkably diverse. Students and families hail from all over the world, and instructors have joined us from several Asian and Latin countries. Multiple languages are spoken and taught: English, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish. TNCS sits at the center of a nest of community-based concentric circles: school, neighborhood, city, and on up through the global community. A key principle is to be part of these communities rather than disparate; thus, cultural diversity is woven into the school’s fabric, a vibrant and exotic patchwork quilt.

Parents and staff certainly appreciate this gift to TNCS students, who get to experience this wonderful diversity as it should be experienced—not as an obstacle to overcome but as the natural way of the world. But what about from the inside? How do the Spanish and Chinese instructors themselves “cross the cultural divide,” such as it may or may not exist here? They may face what could amount to a double culture shock: Some not only must acclimate to the United States, but also adapt to a work environment in which yet a third culture is prominent—either Chinese or Spanish. Others may be experiencing the Montessori approach for the first time, which likewise requires some professional recalibrating. We spoke to assistant teachers Jennifer Hodapp and Wen Weisi, both new for the 2013–2014 school year, to find out how they are responding to “life in a melting pot.”

Spanish assistant teacher in Ms. Lazarony's classroom, Jennifer Hodapp has a Masters of Arts in Counseling Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Psychology. She loves working with children and has a strong desire to help students with their academic, personal, and social needs.

Spanish assistant teacher in Ms. Lazarony’s classroom, Jennifer Hodapp has a Masters of Arts in Counseling Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Psychology. She loves working with children and has a strong desire to help students with their academic, personal, and social needs.

Ms. Hodapp is the assistant teacher in Ms. Lazarony’s primary classroom, where she speaks only Spanish to the kids, and forays into other classrooms to give 45-minute Spanish lessons as well. She is from Massachusetts, about an hour from Boston, but her parents are from Puerto Rico, and she grew up speaking Spanish in her household. Although Ms. Hodapp was born here, she knows from her parents that school life was very different in Puerto Rico than it is here. “It was very traditional,” she said. “Students wore uniforms, and the atmosphere was strict. Students were expected to sit still and attend to the teacher’s lectures.” Her own school experience was similar insofar as it followed the conventional classroom approach.

Was adapting to a more relaxed, more student-centered approach challenging for Ms. Hodapp? Not in the slightest. She is considering pursuing Montessori certification, in fact, because she feels that the work-at-your-own-pace model is exceptionally effective for young learners. She came to Baltimore 2 years ago and worked (and continues to work) with adolescents with emotional difficulties. “I always wanted to work with younger kids, too,” she said, “and I find this job very peaceful by comparison to my work with older kids!” Ms. Hodapp has a gentle nature and a very ready smile, so it’s no surprise that she would adapt to TNCS so well. “I love circle-time,” she said, “and working in small groups in which I instruct in Spanish.” She also gets to work one-on-one with the students: “They will ask me for help with a task, and I guide them in Spanish. It’s amazing how they absorb the language!” At the very start of the school year, for example, she had to act out what she was saying, whereas now she no longer has to “model” for them because they have picked up so much Spanish.

Speaking only in their native language is a requirement for the assistant teachers in order to immerse the children in that language and allow them to develop not just the vocabulary and the cadence but also to really get to know the teacher very naturally, on his or her linguistic turf. Says Head of School Alicia Danyali: “The interaction with the child is the most important thing, not the number of foreign words acquired.” Preserving this model is paramount for Ms. Danyali, whose experience is in immersion settings. She knows firsthand how language is organically acquired from these special relationships.

Peace is the same in all languages.

Wen Weisi, a volunteer from Confucius Institutes of China, has joined TNCS as a Chinese “floating” assistant teacher. Teaching comes naturally to Wen Laoshi, whose mother and older sister also both teach. She loves children and helping them learn Mandarin.

Wen Weisi, a “floating” Chinese assistant arrived in the United States in August and got immediately to work at TNCS, where she spends time teaching Mandarin and teaching in Mandarin to several classes daily. She studied at the Confucius Institute, a program “committed to providing Chinese language and cultural teaching resources and services worldwide; it goes all out in meeting the demands of foreign Chinese learners and contributing to the development of multiculturalism and the building of a harmonious world.”

From Hunan Province in southern China, Wen Laoshi says she she feels lucky to be here at TNCS. “Everything is going well, and everyone is so friendly!” she reported. She also says that it’s very different here, especially scholastically, but the differences do not pose a problem for her; in fact, she seems to relish the progressive education environment. “Kids here are open and brave. They  face difficulties independently,” she said. This description serves well. Much of what TNCS hopes to cultivate in a child is his or her natural curiosity as well as the problem-solving ability to follow the adventure where it might lead. Another name for this process is learning. Given the freedom to pursue what interests them, the students enjoy learning; it isn’t a chore. Curriculum-wise, Wen Laoshi prefers a balance of core disciplines with the finer subjects such as art. “Chinese students are good at studying,” she explained, “but not so good at sports and arts. At this school, all of these things are being well developed.” This is exactly the “whole-child” education that TNCS strives to provide.

She hopes to learn more about the Montessori approach while she is here and bring some of the ideology back home to China. She recognizes its distinctiveness in terms of materials and the special ways of interacting with the students and is learning from the Montessori-trained teachers and from books. Staff development days are also helpful for this and for generally getting to know each other better, as Ms. Hodapp agrees. Wen Laoshi is here for a total of 10 months and plans to “focus on work” during that time to make the most of it. As for teaching Mandarin, she is duly impressed with her students. She finds the elementary students especially keen and notices that they seem to really enjoy learning the language. She says that in a very short time, she saw big improvements in their writing and speaking and attributes this rapid progress to Elementary Chinese Immersion Lead Teacher Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel), whose teaching ability she greatly esteems. In her capacity as Chinese Language Coordinator, Xie Laoshi also provides teaching resources to the other instructors.

That our two newest assistants, both who love children and love teaching, would adapt so beautifully to their new positions doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. (Let’s face it, those kids are terrific!) But did that “double culture shock” pose any particular challenges for Ms. Hodapp and Wen Laoshi? Evidently not. Wen Laoshi described how the assistants “take care of each other.” More seasoned teachers mentor the newer arrivals, for example, more or less taking them under their wings. Additionally, TNCS families may host an assistant in certain circumstances, which also helps with general acclimatization. But even across cultures, a lot of sharing takes place. The Spanish and Mandarin assistant teachers greet each other in their respective languages, such that Ms. Hodapp will speak to Wen Laoshi in Mandarin as they pass in the hallways, and vice versa. They also translate for each other. In this way, they, too, are absorbing new language and culture right alongside their students.

The roster of assistant teachers might change from time to time as one completes a pre-arranged term of employment and returns to his or her native country, but the language and culture curriculum developed and overseen by Xie Laoshi stays in place. New arrivals are set up with everything they need to become effective language teachers in their new home.

Ms. Hodapp said it best. “This is a really great school,” she stated with conviction. “The Montessori approach for the primary kids is great, but it’s really the Spanish and Mandarin language and culture that set it apart.”

Year of the Horse Festivities Giddy-Up at TNCS

Lunar New year celebration is a big event at The New Century School! Enter a world of food, music, culture, and fun!

Lunar New year celebration is a big event at The New Century School! Enter a world of food, music, culture, and fun!

Chinese Lunar New Year is a big deal at The New Century School. It affords numerous opportunities to practice spoken and written Mandarin, but it also presents a window into a pinnacle of Asian culture. This year, the New Year celebrations started on January 31 and will end today, February 14. At TNCS, where language-learning is the hallmark of the school’s scholastic identity, culture and customs intersect with communication to enhance language acquisition. Cultural understanding is essential to language learning. Experiencing another culture develops understanding of its relationship to its corresponding language as well as deepens the student’s appreciation of his or her native culture. Students begin to see other people’s points of view, ways of life, and contributions to the world (see TNCS’s Foreign Language Program Embraces the 5 Cs).

The benefits are, therefore, obvious, but the plain fact is, Chinese New Year is fun! (And captivated kids are primed for learning!) This year is Year of the Horse (马年 [mǎ nián]), which is part of a 12-year cycle of animals (rat, cow, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog and pig) comprising the Chinese zodiac. Each animal in turn interacts with the five elements: wood, metal, fire, water, and earth. This is year of the wood horse, taking over from the year of the water snake. In Chinese lore, the horse represents travel, competition, and victory and is a symbol of leadership, nobility, and freedom. Those born in the Year of the Horse (2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954, and 1942) are said to be cheerful, popular, and fun-loving. Click here for other interesting tidbits about the Year of the Horse.

TNCS elementary students performed two Chinese songs at Port Discovery to celebrate Chinese New Year.

TNCS elementary students performed two Chinese songs at Port Discovery to celebrate Chinese New Year.

School-wide, classes honored the New Year with a variety of activities. In addition to their regular Mandarin studies, elementary students learned Chinese paper cutting (剪纸) and how to make traditional Chinese New Year cake and dumplings, did special art projects, shared traditional stories, and sang songs. They performed two of their new songs at Port Discovery on Saturday, February 8th for a proud audience of parents. Xie Laoshi said, “I’m really proud of the students. They sang their songs very well!” Elementary students also read about Chinese New Year in Spanish!

Not only do TNCS students learn both Chinese and Spanish, but they also learn about China---in Spanish!

Not only do TNCS students learn both Chinese and Spanish, but they also learn about China—in Spanish!

Primary students also made dumplings and learned new words and songs relating to Chinese New Year:

  • “Singing and Smiling”: 歌声与微笑 (song)
  • “Happy Chinese New Year”: 新年好 (song)
  • “That’s Wrong, That’s Wrong”: 不对, 不对 (story about a family preparing for a New Year celebration, but everything goes wrong)
  • “Feet”: 脚 (nursery rhyme incorporating movement)
  • “Looking for a friend”: 找朋友 (game)

All students learned about customs that take place during Chinese New Year celebrations, such as:

  • 做饺子: To make dumplings
  • 拿红包: To receive red envelopes
  • 放鞭炮: To set off firecrackers
  • 吃汤圆: To eat tangyuan (boiled balls of glutinous rice flour, eaten during the Lantern festival)
  • 挂灯笼: To hang lanterns

Readers, we wish you peace and good health in the Year of the Horse (馬年安康, mǎ nián ān kāng)!

TNCS’s Foreign Language Program Embraces the 5 Cs

One of the main questions that came up in last month’s Town Hall meeting was, “How I can continue developing my kids’ foreign language skills at home?”. In fact, this question has been asked since The New Century School‘s inception, and, as multilingualism has become the linchpin of TNCS’s scholastic identity, parent interest has grown apace.

TNCS’s Foreign Language Program—the 5 Cs

TNCS students learn two languages besides English—Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. These particular two will serve them well in our ever-globalizing, internationally collaborative society. Immersion in another language is far and away the proven best method to learn that language, and TNCS incorporates immersion style throughout the grade levels in varying degrees, from offering complete immersion in the pre-primary program to having assistant teachers who speak only in their native languages (Chinese or Spanish) in the primary and elementary classrooms. For the upper grades, however, a bit of academic rigor becomes necessary if the students are to effectively read and write in other languages. Thus, TNCS administration has been steadily refining and tightening the foreign language program to be reproducible each year. Immersion is wonderful to develop the cadence and feel of a language—fluency—but by its very nature, it is not able to be structured, reproduced, or measured.

These two talented, dedicated women overhauled the foreign language curriculum to be exciting for kids, highly educational, and reproducible for staff.

These two talented, dedicated women overhauled the foreign language curriculum to be exciting for kids, highly educational, and reproducible for staff.

So, jumping off from the groundwork laid by former Foreign Language Curriculum Specialist Lisa Warren, Xie Laoshi and Señora Capriles took over the curriculum for the 2013–2014 school year and really brought it to life. They espouse the national standards set by the American Council on Foreign Language Teaching (ACTFL)—the 5 Cs of Language Learning: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.

Communication

“Communication is at the heart of second language study, whether the communication takes place face-to-face, in writing, or across centuries through the reading of literature.”

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century

Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.

Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.

“Reading is a big part of both classes,” explains Xie Laoshi, “and the kids average about 85% correct comprehension and pronunciation.” Xie Laoshi works very hard to make sure that the students are really learning rather than boring them with nothing but rote exercises. Communication occurs in “real-life” situations to emphasize what students can do with language rather than what they know about a language, such as how many vocabulary words. There is a necessary repetitive component, of course, to learning a foreign language, but Xie Laoshi believes in absorption over memorization. Exercises like creating a pictorial dictionary, in which her students must write a vocabulary word in pinyin (phonetic transcription of Chinese characters into the English alphabet) and in the Chinese character as well as illustrate it, reinforces the understanding of that vocabulary word far more deeply than simply repeating it to oneself several times. “When they connect a word or concept with something personal like objects in their bedroom,” she says, “they absorb better.”

Students even write their own illustrated stories in Mandarin.

Students even write their own illustrated stories in Mandarin.

This is one teacher who knows how to engage her students. She has a natural intuition for what lessons and materials will work and what won’t. In fact, she famously ordered and then rejected an entire semester’s worth of Mandarin workbooks and then made her own, based on her understanding of how kids learn. She makes learning active and interactive. In addition to making pictorial dictionaries, she has students record dialogues of their own creation and play them back for analysis (another means of communication). This kind of commitment is critical to teaching Mandarin, which is among the most difficult languages in the world, not least because it’s tonal. “In order to differentiate meaning, the same syllable can be pronounced with 4 different tones, but then it can have 2–10 different characters and meanings that must be understood in context,” she explains. These meanings are not necessarily related, to intensify the complexity. The word yuè, for example, means “leap,” “moon,” “to cross,” “weapon,” and “months,” depending on how it’s pronounced as well as the context in which it occurs! Then there’s the grammar, the “radicals,” the character-writing—oh, and the fact that some words simply don’t have an English pronunciation equivalent . . . it’s pretty amazing that anyone could learn Mandarin as a second language, given its level of difficulty, but our kids are certainly doing it! “It’s okay if they get frustrated and give up temporarily,” says Xie Laoshi. “I don’t want to stress them out; they’ll come back to it when they are ready!”

Pictured is a third-grade elementary student's Mandarin workbook. She is able to both read and write in Mandarin and, by her own account, loves it!

Pictured is a third-grade elementary student’s Mandarin workbook. She is able to both read and write in Mandarin and, by her own account, loves it!

Besides actually teaching Mandarin to the elementary students, Xie Laoshi also provides Mandarin materials for all levels. The materials are all variations on the same theme, but her expectations for how they are used and what the student will get out of them depends on age and skill level. The younger students focus largely on comprehension and pronunciation, while the older students incorporate reading and writing.

Cultures

“Through the study of other languages, students gain a knowledge and understanding of the cultures that use that language and, in fact, cannot truly master the language until they have also mastered the cultural contexts in which the language occurs.”

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century

Active learning is the goal in Spanish just as in Mandarin, and bringing culture in is a great way to make lessons interactive. “The big issue is how to inspire the child to learn the language,” said Señora Capriles, “so we cook Spanish food, we make piñatas, we sing Spanish songs, and we dance Latin dances.” The students are absorbing the language without realizing that they are learning—because they are so engaged in the classroom excitement.

Lead pre-primary Mandarin teacher Lin Laoshi moonlights in the elementary class to teach the abacus. he is also a member of the prestigious Chinese American Abacus Association.

Lead pre-primary Mandarin teacher Lin Laoshi moonlights in the elementary class to teach the abacus. She is also a member of the prestigious Chinese American Abacus Association.

During Mandarin lessons, students also sing, cook, and experience Chinese customs. Learning the ancient abacus was one such recent cultural element. Parents might wonder why their kids are learning the abacus instead of working on, say, Mandarin vocabulary, but, says Xie Laoshi, “it’s knowledge. It’s not just a cultural event—it’s a connection between the language and another subject.” An upcoming lesson will be calligraphy, which will be another opportunity to deepen language-learning while learning a new skill.

Comparisons

“Through comparisons and contrasts with the language being studied, students develop insight into the nature of language and the concept of culture and realize that there are multiple ways of viewing the world.”

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century

 “Highlighting the differences among our countries, such as that, in Venezuela, there is no Spring, helps us understand each other better,” said Señora Capriles. She put a premium on cultural experiences so the kids begin to see the world through another perspective.

Says Señora Capriles, lessons are tripartite. First, students listen to her describe each item in Spanish. Next they are asked to identify each item according to her repeated Spanish description. Finally, they must reproduce the correct description themselves. Listen, identify, reproduce.

Says Señora Capriles, lessons are tripartite. First, students listen to her describe each item in Spanish. Next they are asked to identify each item according to her repeated Spanish description. Finally, they must reproduce the correct description themselves. Listen, identify, reproduce.

Connections

“Learning languages provides connections to additional bodies of knowledge that may be unavailable to the monolingual English speaker.”

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century

Just as with Mandarin instruction, Spanish is taught slightly differently among levels. Pre-primary is, again, complete immersion, whereas primary and elementary students not only learn Spanish as a language, but they also learn other disciplines in Spanish. “A foreign language is not just learning words, it is itself a tool for learning,” explained Señora Capriles. “That’s why we teach in the language to make the lesson concrete and meaningful. It should be an extension of the [geography or math] lesson but in a different language.” A simple lesson with three pencils teaches vocabulary words for colors and other adjectives as well as math and geometry when the students are asked to add and subtract the number of pencils or rearrange them in various ways.

Communities

“Together, these elements enable the student of languages to participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world in a variety of contexts and in culturally appropriate ways.”

Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century

Cultural studies are a part of every student’s day at TNCS, to learn about other places and people inasmuch to begin to understand how our smaller communities fit together as larger, global ones. Parent volunteers present information on their cultural heritage, for example. These lessons serve to expand the student’s knowledge and also remind him or her that we share as much as we differ. Where the 5 Cs intersect is where language-learning takes place.

Just as Xie Laoshi does, Señora Capriles also created materials and modeled how to teach for the assistants during professional development days for staff. Having very recently returned to her native Venezuela, Señora Capriles has turned over the reins of lead Spanish teacher to Señora Medel, who worked alongside Señora Capriles all year to ensure a seamless transition for the students. Señora Medel is originally from Cuba, where she earned her BA in Education and worked many years in the classroom before joining TNCS in 2012. Adiós, Señora Capriles, le deseamos buena suerte!

What To Do at Home

“The key is practice,” said Señora Capriles. “The more opportunity there is for practice, the easier it gets.” One way to open up additional practice opportunities, she says, is for parents to also study the week’s vocabulary and themes. “I encourage parents to bring foreign languages into the home . . . to bring home books in another language, perhaps, or watch TV in another language.” Also, she reminds us, make sure the kids do their language homework! Xie Laoshi strongly agrees: “Parents sometimes object to the homework, but it is a must in order to learn Chinese,” she says.

TNCS strives to include parents in the ongoing acquisition of foreign languages, providing multiple ways to access and dovetail with their kids’ lessons. The Mandarin and Spanish “Word of the Week” is posted on TNCS’s home page as well as on Facebook each Monday, for example. “The kids can create dialogues and teach and practice with their parents,” says Xie Laoshi. This blog itself offers a Resources and Links page with several multilingualism articles and is also now updated with a list of language-learning resources.

That list is the product of efforts by TNCS mom Corrine Keet, who generously volunteered her time to collect and compile these resources, and by our resident expert, Xie Laoshi. Ms. Keet says, “Thanks to those who sent in reviews of foreign language resources! It’s a mixture of apps, games, books, cds, etc. meant to be useful for helping the kids with Spanish and Mandarin outside of class.”

Before she departed for Venezuela, Señora Capriles left us with this important insight: “For parents the big question is, ‘how important is a second language for my child?’ If it’s a tool, the child will put more time into learning it and show more interest. A tool leads to progress, which in turn leads to self-realization.” Multilingualism is, indeed, a tool that unlocks amazing learning potential. It’s the heart of TNCS, and TNCS students will reap its staggering benefits.