Across Maryland, legislators and educators have been debating whether school should start back up before or after Labor Day. Maryland could generate an additional $7.7 million in state tax revenue and $74.3 million in additional economic activity from tourism, say those in favor of a delayed start; we need the extra days for professional development, testing, and for continued high levels of student achievement, say those in favor of the early start. Interesting fact: In our neighboring state of Virginia, schools are banned from starting early under the so-called “King’s Dominion law” (named after the amusement park), which mandates that public schools may not open before Labor Day without a special waiver from the state.
The debate continues and will likely inflame groups on each side—this is clearly a contention issue. Meanwhile, MD Comptroller Peter Franchot has started a petition in support of a delayed school opening that will be delivered to the Maryland General Assembly during the next legislative session, which begins January 14, 2015.
While all of this was going on, however, The New Century School knuckled down and got back to business, kicking off the 2014–2015 academic year—its 5th anniversary, by the way—in grand style. And, yes, before Labor Day. Although critics of the early school start claim that it amounts to wasted time because students aren’t really doing much yet beyond anticipating their upcoming long Labor Day weekend, TNCS took full advantage of the week leading up to Labor Day. The week was used to establish school routines and protocols, perform reading and math assessments to better individualize instruction, and give staff and students a period to adapt and adjust to being back in the scholastic swing. The “soft opening” created a smooth transition for the school year so that post Labor Day, TNCS students could hit the ground running and optimize their time in school.
Unit 1 for the 2014–2015 academic year is Community Building. This exercise demonstrates how each group member is an important piece of the whole group.
The TNCS academic year is divided into four umbrella units of inquiry: 1) Community Building, 2) Where We Are in Place and Time, 3) Sharing the Planet, and 4) How the World Works. Appropriate for the school year launch, Community Building occupied much of the first week back to school. New faces were seen schoolwide as TNCS welcomed new staff and new students.
The Pre-primary Program surmounted big challenges as the littlest members of TNCS’s student body started school for the first time. Maintaining consistency from the outset has allowed the 2-year-olds to adjust to mornings away from their accustomed caretakers. By Week 2, most were handling the separation valiantly, and all were settling into the routines of their language immersion classrooms. A lot is asked of these toddlers, to not only embark on a completely new adventure but also to do so in another language! They have managed these transformations adroitly and have wonderful scholastic careers ahead at TNCS.
The Primary Program also welcomed a new round of students up from last year’s pre-primary program. Teachers report that everyone is off to a great start, with zero tears during morning drop-off—a first! Students learned the routines and rules of the classroom, the names of their new friends and teachers, and many new songs and activities. They are learning how to be part of a larger group and are getting used to the idea that some things they can do at home may not be allowed at school. One fun exercise they did was to have their weights and heights measured to compare and contrast with others in the group. This was a way to inculcate the idea that despite minor differences, we are all basically the same. This is an important bridge to empathy, the cornerstone of the Community Building unit.
In Lower Elementary, students familiarized themselves with the daily schedule and routines. The brand-new mixed kindergarten/1st-grade class worked as a group to develop classroom expectations and a set of rules for the cafeteria and recess. Mrs. Jacoby and Mrs. Tyson ask students to continue working on responsibility and organization. Another change these students are managing is the introduction of light homework and a weekly reading log. Finally, students were given some basic literacy and math tests to help teachers customize instruction for the appropriate amount of scholastic challenge. This hit-the-ground-running approach is equipping them for the more rigorous Upper Elementary curriculum they will tackle in a year or two, and they are flourishing in their new environment.
This TNCS elementary student completes her work assiduously, but with a smile. to show she’s enjoying the hard work!
Upper Elementary also got accustomed to new routines and new faces and had an all-around great week. They were given various reading, journaling, and spelling schedules and also welcomed their new STEM teacher. This group put a little extra emphasis on Community Building and will even be harnessing some of their collective good energy for work to benefit the school itself. TNCS’s eldest students do us proud!
Another important part of the TNCS community is, of course, parents. We parents also took advantage of the first week back to school to learn new systems, re-familiarize ourselves with school rules and the Parent Handbook, and re-accustom ourselves to those often-hectic morning routines. Our growing school welcomes more and more people each year, which requires greater cooperation, patience, and compassion. Just as our children must learn to collaborate harmoniously in the classroom, we parents must set a good example. We can model the behaviors we want our children to reflect back such as by using shared spaces (e.g., the carline) appropriately and respectfully, by volunteering cheerfully, and by actively participating in school events.
Xie Laoshi directs traffic to proceed slowly but continuously through the carline to maintain efficiency while keeping staff and students safe. Ms. Duprey checks each student in individually, and Mr. Warren escorts them safely into the building.
These two parents knock out a chunk of volunteer hours by repainting TNCS’s crosswalk to enhance parking lot safety. Thanks parents!
Extracurricular school functions are fun ways to connect with friends and meet new families. It’s a bonus when Chef Emma provides the refreshments!
Speaking of participating in school events, the coming week offers two wonderful opportunities to do just that:
• Back-to-School Night: Thursday, September 11, 2014 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm.
• Pot Luck: Friday, September 12, 2014 from 6:00 pm–8:00 pm; please bring a blanket and dish that serves 6–8 people.
Here’s to an extraordinary 5th year, TNCS! It is so good to be back!