TNCS Elementary Takes Earth Day by Storm!

Recently, The New Century School elementary students participated in their annual STEM Fair, and each division (K/1st and upper and lower elementary) tackled a problem related to water. The upper elementary students, in particular, focused on the Chesapeake Bay and what steps can be taken to reduce pollution in the bay and protect its natural flora and fauna (read TNCS STEM Fair 2015 Makes a Huge Splash! for more).

Last week was Climate Education Week, with Earth Day being the week’s main attraction. Earth Day 2015 was the 35th annual and a very big deal, globally . . . and locally! To reinforce the concepts his students had begun exploring during STEM Fair preparations, TNCS’s STEM teacher Dan McDonigal revisited the problem of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay for a clever and very rewarding Earth Day project: Operation Storm Drain Beautification!

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Blue Water Baltimore offers community-led solutions to clean up Baltimore’s waters.

The idea for the project came to him from Blue Water Baltimore, an advocacy group dedicated to using community-based restoration to achieve clean water in Baltimore watersheds. One way is by stenciling storm drains to educate the community and raise awareness about the improper disposal of household garbage, overflowing street corner trash cans, and litter on sidewalks and in gutters and storm drains. Because storm drains are entryways to our bodies of water, including the Chesapeake Bay, when it rains, trash and pollutants in the streets are carried into the storm drains and directly to our waters.

So, Mr. McDonigal attended one of Blue Water Baltimore’s stenciling workshops, applied for and obtained the necessary materials to paint two nearby storm drains, and celebrated Earth Day 2015 by making a difference in our wonderful Fell’s Point community! His students were thoroughly engaged in this project, which demonstrates its inherent worthiness. Really, what’s not to love about an activity that applies scientific concepts studied thus far, helps the environment, teaches responsible community involvement, integrates art, and gets the kids outside?

However, TNCS students were not the only group to appreciate this endeavor—Ann St. residents stopped by periodically to see what was happening and were thrilled to receive this community gift. Well done, indeed, TNCS upper elementary! And a huge thanks to Mr. McDonigal for this initiative!

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TNCS’s Go-Green-for-Earth-Day Raffle!

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TNCS supports and uses green energy!

One of The New Century School‘s core values is a commitment to environmental sustainability, and TNCS demonstrates this commitment in a variety of ways. From serving lunch from homegrown or locally sourced produce, to running recycling campaigns, to powering the school buildings with green energy, TNCS strives to keep its carbon footprint as low as possible for the good of the planet.

In honor of Earth Day 2015, which is Wednesday, April 22nd, TNCS is inviting you to join in and go green, too! As detailed in TNCS Uses Viridian’s Power with Purpose, TNCS sources electricity through green-energy company Viridian, who has helped avoid more than 4 billion pounds in carbon emissions to date. By enrolling with Viridian, you not only opt to affordably supply your home with green energy, but you also earn cash rewards for TNCS without lifting a finger. There is no cost to change your energy provider to Viridian, and all you need is your current utility bill to quickly and easily make the switch.

You Win, TNCS Wins, Earth Wins!

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Why enroll for green energy with Viridian? Reduce your carbon footprint, show your support for socially responsible companies, and raise funds for TNCS!

Many of you have probably been considering signing up with Viridian, but, for one reason or another, just haven’t gotten around to it. Well, now’s the time! To sweeten the deal, TNCS and Viridian are jointly hosting a raffle for enrollees to be held at the April 24th Potluck. Just for enrolling, you receive a TNCS tee shirt, and you will also be entered in a raffle to win a $50 Amazon gift card, donated by Viridian.

How do you enroll? It’s so easy to do, and you have three convenient options to choose from!

1. Register online at: www.viridian.com/newcenturyschool. (Helpful tips include: Use Internet Explorer or Firefox rather than Safari, which is glitchy, and if you are opting for electricity only rather than electricity and gas, make sure to select “Not at this time” for gas on the Step 1 page.)

2. Call Viridian Customer Care at (866) 663-2508 (be sure to mention TNCS!).

3. Bring your current electric bill to the Potluck on April 24th, where TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali will be manning a sign-up table to switch you to Viridian on the spot.

And, regardless of how, when, or where you enroll, as long as you bring proof of registration to the Potluck, you will receive your TNCS tee and be entered in the raffle.

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Viridian FAQs.

If you need more information, please download this informative brochure of FAQs and other details, visit the website above, or contact Viridian at the number above.

This Earth Day—the 45th annual—is going to be a very special one, and some are calling 2015 the the most exciting year in environmental history. With the slogan “It’s Our Turn To Lead,” the Earth Day network is galvanizing countries globally to participate in this great enterprise. Choosing green energy is how we can contribute our voice and our support. With the coming week being Climate Education Week, we can also teach our future citizens the importance of behaving responsibly toward the environment—in fact, Thursday is Renewable Energy Day!

Other resources for your information include Affordable_Energy and Why Go Solar Now?.

Read-a-Thon Opens New Chapter for TNCS Outdoor Activities

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This is the mascot RAT (get it—Read-A-Thon?), who always has his long nose in a book!

On March 22nd, 2015 The New Century School launched its first-ever Read-a-Thon, which ran through Spring Break. To say that the event was an unqualified success is true on several levels. Collectively, TNCS students read about a ton of books, the school earned an impressive amount of funding for playground equipment and greenhouse materials, and the already-strong TNCS community galvanized in an altogether new way.

Before we get carried away with all of the excitement, though, let’s give some well-deserved credit to the mastermind behind this plan—three cheers for TNCS K/1st-grade teacher Teresa Jacoby! Hip hip hooray!!!!

Mrs. Jacoby, who specialized in literacy, says she has experience with the idea of read-a-thons, having put one together for a graduate school project. “I wanted to find something that would make kids interested in learning but also benefit the school, so I put together my own read-a-thon.” Fast forward to this, her first school year at TNCS, and she has does it again—but this time drew on some external resources. She says she really likes the ease and convenience that readathon.com affords. “Kudos to the people who designed this website,” she said. “Everything has been super easy to initiate and track, and the kids really seem to love it. They are reading, and that’s the important thing.”

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These TNCS students are part of the way through a pre-bedtime 20-minute reading session. The timer really motivated the kids!

TNCS students, indeed, read up a storm. Fledgling readers gained confidence and took off, confirmed bookworms luxuriated in the additional reading time allotted to them, and several readers progressed from picture books to chapter books during the event. Parents logged on with their special child-specific codes, set the timer for 10, 20, or 30-minute sessions, and word after word, sentence after sentence, page after page were hungrily absorbed by the eager readers. It was amazing how happily everyone embraced this endeavor!

In fact, the embrace soon spread. Originally slating the Read-a-Thon as a K/elementary event, Mrs. Jacoby opened it to the primary students once requests from primary parents started to pour in. (Those Montessori language drawers in the primary classes really work!) One key part of Mrs. Jacoby’s involvement was in making sure students had access of plenty of books to be able to read independently. She sent home Reading A to Z books for her students and also increased the number of books students could check out of her classroom library from two to five.

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This is just a small sampling of the outpouring of support TNCS students received from donors. What a great community to be part of!

So how did this all start? Mrs. Jacoby says that TNCS teachers were lamenting that students did not have more games to play outside during recess, and the lightbulb went off in her head. “I think a Read-a-Thon is a good way to raise money. It’s really nice to have friends and family support reading. For example, I just loved the notes that supporters were leaving for participants.” She went on to say that many of her students were on the brink of becoming fluid readers and that the Read-a-Thon represents that little push over the hump they needed to achieve reading ease. So, she brought the idea to an elementary staff meeting and was given an immediate green light. (And also volunteered to handle the project start to finish—win-win!)

From the start, the Read-a-Thon was a hit. Even the other elementary teachers were surprised at how quickly funds began accumulating. Of course, the TNCS community always faithfully supports TNCS initiatives, but perhaps a key difference with this particular fundraiser is that it involved the kids in a very integral way. It’s one thing to ask for donations to help achieve a specific goal; it’s quite another to make that donation contingent on active student participation in the form of learning. Sign us up!

TNCS students will actively participate in another important way: They will have a say in what is purchased with the money they helped raise. Moreover, they are the end-users of whatever outdoor equipment and materials are bought, so they are vested stakeholders in this outcome! “I want the kids to be involved in all aspects of this,” said Mrs. Jacoby,”the reading, the raising money, and what we do with that money.” Ideas so far include a zipline, monkey rings, and some kind of alternative to swings, which TNCS is unable to have in the given space. An outdoor classroom with chalkboards is also being discussed with a possible archeological dig site included (the dinosaur bones, alas, would most likely have to be artificial). And, oh yes, parents, sports and games are very much a part of these brainstorms. We might see something along the lines of an outdoor ping-pong table, but no definitive purchases will have been made until the most effective use of resources has been determined. In addition, Mrs. Jacoby says she would like to see each TNCS class get a raised garden bed to individually tend, with the various beds producing at different times so TNCS students are harvesting year round. Another very exciting idea is to raise chickens. Baltimore City would allow TNCS to keep five at a time, and one of the farms that TNCS regularly orders lunch ingredients from could potentially be asked to overwinter them.

There is no shortage of ideas, she says. “I like that the students will be able to do so much more outdoors, and I also really like that the Read-a-Thon means that TNCS students are reading independently. I hope every year it grows and becomes the ‘Big Spring Thing’.” TNCS teachers don’t like to give a lot of homework over Spring Break, but using that time for the annual Read-a-Thon would keep kids’ minds engaged yet won’t interfere with family time or plans. Books are eminently portable!

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This TNCS student explores the hall library for a new chapter book to read during Spring Break. He also very helpfully provided the following recommendations: “Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions” and anything from the Frank Einstein series.

Annual? That’s right. Mrs. Jacoby spoke excitedly about how each year the funding theme could change. Maybe next year we’ll raise money for the school library,” she said. Here again, TNCS students would act as stakeholders, identifying any gaps in current content coverage, for example, and suggesting topic areas to buy books in. This is a double boon—“Students would not only be looking at and reading all of the books in the library, but they would also be asking us to order what they’re interested in,” she said. Having books that they are interested in makes all the difference, especially for boys, she has learned from experience. “Make it available to them.”

“The more that children are encouraged by everyone around them to read, the less intimidated they will be, and the more they will read,” said Mrs. Jacoby. “I am so grateful that everyone participated!” You can see additional details, such as more parent comments and totals raised ($3,925!) by visiting TNCS’s dedicated Read-a-Thon page at http://www.read-a-thon.com/school/The-New-Century-School_4792.

How To Be an “Askable” Parent

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Originally scheduled for 2/17/15, this presentation was moved to 3/31/15 due to snow.

On March 31st, 2015, The New Century School hosted a community presentation on how to keep children safe from sexual predation. Said Head of School Alicia Danyali: “[How To Be an Askable Parent] is to not create an alarmist mentality, but to inform and educate parents to the realities and practical approach to conversations with your child at any age.” Crimson Barocca, LCSW-C, Senior Forensic Interviewer with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center led the presentation. “It was a great discussion and maybe we can repeat at some point in the future!” she said. This is good news for those who were unable to attend, because this topic—while not the cheeriest—is of paramount importance for parents.

Two myths she dispelled during the talk are that preschool-age children are too young to understand this topic and that children should use euphemisms for their body parts. You can talk to your child as soon as you feel he or she will understand you, and using anatomically correct terms for body parts is actually a means of protection for your child by demonstrating to a potential predator that he or she is educated about this topic and therefore not such easy prey.

What Is an Askable Parent?

An “askable” parent is approachable and listens well. The askable parent recognizes that teaching involves verbal and nonverbal communication, and that your child will learn not only from what you say, but also how you behave and react to situations. Other traits of askability include:

  • Respecting the child (e.g., not laughing when the child asks a question)
  • Realizing that every difficult situation is not a crisis
  • Knowing that the most important part of communication is listening

One primary goal of the presentation was to help parents learn how to decrease kids’ vulnerability. And that again comes down to communication. Ms. Barocca shared lots of helpful tips for how to start talking about this uncomfortable subject. One point she emphasized was that, although it is certainly important to talk about so-called “stranger danger,” it is just as important to talk about people your children know and trust. Most abduction and abuse happens at the hands of people children know very well, not strangers.

But how do you broach this subject with young children without terrifying them? Emphasizing the safety aspect rather than danger will go a long way to preventing or reducing their anxiety. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids (NCMEC) provides Discussion Guides broken down by age group (download them here). The singlemost effective means of protecting your children is communication, because if they know they can talk about their true feelings, they will be more likely to reveal that they have been in an uncomfortable situation. Currently, only about 10% of children who are sexually abused report it.

Ms. Barocca drove home the message that 90% of abusers are known to the child—doctor, clergy, neighbor, family, etc. She also updated the good touch/bad touch metric to safe touch versus unsafe touch to make this concept clearer for children (sometimes what we would consider a “good” touch can feel bad to a child, such as getting a shot, whereas a “bad” touch such as inappropriate tickling can feel good). Using the terms “safe” and “not safe” eliminates this possible confusion. This is a great starting point for your conversation. You can give examples of safe touches, such as well-check exams at the doctor’s office or being washed by parents in the bathtub. Ask your child to give an example of a safe touch so that you can be sure the concept is understood.

Then, inhale, move onto unsafe touches. A sickening fact is that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. Explain what this means (such as an adult asking the child to “play a game” of touching private parts) and, again, ask the child to give you an example to demonstrate understanding.

Next, emphasize to your child that he or she must tell you right away if he or she ever experiences an unsafe touch and keep on telling until you receive the message. The predator has likely commanded the child to keep quiet, so be sure to explain that this is not a situation to keep secret. Finally, two extremely essential parts of this conversation are that 1) make sure the child knows this is not/would not be his or her fault—it’s always the adult’s fault—and 2) reinforce to the child that as the parent, it’s your job to protect him or her.

“Stranger Danger” Rules

Make sure your children understand . . .

  • That you will never send a stranger to pick them up from somewhere. Establish a “code word” that anyone picking them up unexpectedly would know—“meatball,” “pierogi,” etc. Make it something pertinent to your family but that a clever stranger wouldn’t be able to guess.
  • A grownup should never ask a child for help with directions or finding a lost pet. Run away if approached.
  • That if separated in a store or park, to stay where they are; you will find them. Tell them to seek help from another nearby mom.
  • To always ask you before going anywhere and to give you all the details about where they’re going, who is going with them, and when they’ll be back. (For older children.)
  • That it is okay in any situation in which they feel uncomfortable to walk or run away and, if grabbed, to yell, kick, scream, and do whatever it takes to draw attention. Teach them to yell, “This is not my [parent]!” to alert passersby.
  • That they have the right to say no to any touch or actions by others that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. Reassure them that they can tell you anything.
  • The anatomically correct terms for their body parts. Educated = less vulnerable.

For parents to be especially mindful of . . . 

  • Look and listen to small cues and clues that something may be troubling your children. Some children may not be able to tell you when something happens, because they have been threatened that bad things will happen if they do.
  • Pay attention if they tell you they don’t want to be with someone or go somewhere.
  • Notice when someone shows one or all of your children a great deal of attention or begins giving them gifts.
  • Children may be especially fearful of being punished, being embarrassed, or experiencing the loss of the love and respect of their family members and friends. If your children do confide in you, remain calm, noncritical, and nonjudgmental.
  • Be sure to screen babysitters and caregivers.
  • Establish rules and guidelines for computer use for your children (see Netsmartz and Net Nanny).

For additional details, see Immersed’s “Community Conversation: Protecting Our Children.”

List of Resources

In addition to providing some helpful handouts such as a Family Safety plan (download here), Ms. Barocca shared lots of great resources to help us navigate these treacherous waters. Click Recommendations for her list of recommended books.

Hotline

  • 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678): 24-hour hotline or cybertipline for reporting information about a missing child or suspect child sexual exploitation.

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