TNCS School Lunch Goes Global!


Master Gardener and Executive Chef Emma Novashinski in the TNCS greenhouse

For the 2015–2016 school year, Chef Emma Novashinski débuted some new features in her popular Garden Tuck Shop school lunch at The New Century School. Parents may have noticed a distinct around-the-world theme in Chef Emma’s latest menus, a motif she says was inspired by the school’s overall approach, ethics, and diversity. “We’re a multilingual school, so I naturally went with Spanish and Chinese dishes. The British lunch is a nod to me, and the other cuisines were chosen from parent suggestions that I thought would be most familiar to everybody. When I thought about what children eat, things like pizza and hummus came to mind, so why not expand these into themed menus?” There are also a few American-style lunches, like grilled cheese and tomato soup, because these are perennial favorites. When she analyzed what among her meals got the best reception, clear patterns emerged, and they reflect the diversity of the TNCS community.

The program has evolved a bit from its origins as a locally sourced, largely organic vegetarian lunch. It was the “locally sourced” aspect in particular that posed some challenges. Because local growers have to respond to and adapt to certain conditions, like weather, Chef Emma frequently found herself having to make substitutions to her planned menus on the fly in order to maintain high quality and consistency. Although she was certainly adept at doing so, kids crave a certain level of predictability, especially when it comes to food. Although some divergence does occur within the new program, such variables now exist among a pre-defined set.

The lunch program now encompasses 10 menus inspired by a particular cuisine that cycle every 2 weeks, which also helps kids—and parents—know what to expect. “This way the kids get repetition. They know when [for example] it’s ‘Pizza Tuesday.’ They’ll get used to the food and maybe even request it at home.”

Besides affording familiarity, the revamped lunch program confers two other great new benefits. One is the ability to provide the nutritional information of each item on a given menu, something that was not possible formerly, given the “x factors” inherent in buying primarily locally sourced products. The other is that Chef Emma has shared her recipes so that parents can replicate the menus at home when kids ask for “nuggets like we get at school,” for example. Menus, nutritional information, and recipes can be seen in the slide show below and will soon also be available on TNCS’s website.


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Around about the time of the winter solstice, Chef will shift to an emphasis on hot lunches with more carbohydrates, as befits the body’s needs in winter. The global theme will continue with dishes such as chili and pasta. The greenhouse will also remain a constant in terms of both resources and student participation. “We’re going to have raised beds, each bed allocated to a different crop that we can use in our lunches. Each class will take a crop from seed through harvest,” said Chef Emma.

And how is it going so far? “I think the kids feel more comfortable when things are familiar. This program still challenges them appropriately, but they like structure. So I think the reception is going to get better and better.”

ColorCycling Comes to TNCS!

Does having to throw away something plastic but perhaps unrecyclable make you uneasy, especially single- or short-term-use items? Plastic drinking straws, for example, were once thought to be wonderful innovations because of their apparent cost-effectiveness and ease of manufacture. But when you consider that, globally, about 300 million tons of plastic are produced, half of which is for such disposable items, blithely discarding that straw starts to loom a little larger in significance (and, ultimately, cost). The plastic problem makes many among The New Century School community uncomfortable, too, so TNCS is doing something about it!

Bold Strokes

Head of School Alicia Danyali has enrolled TNCS as a participant in Crayola’s ColorCycling Program, which allows K–12 students to collect and repurpose used markers of any brand. This program also offers classroom opportunities for emphasizing each individual’s capacity for protecting the Earth. In fact, says TNCS Art Teacher Jenny Miller, “I steer away from markers or any other individually plastic encased art product for the very reason of unnecessary waste. I will investigate any other ways that we can practice sustainability in art class.”


Don’t throw away used markers—colorcycle them!

It’s good to note, though, that the Crayola company is implementing ColorCycling and other green initiatives, such as “using 100% reforested wood for colored pencils  . . . and recycling ground water through [their] crayon cooling process.” How are the colorcycled markers repurposed? Into fuel!

Crayola conducted extensive research into various new and emerging technologies that would allow the company to repurpose its markers and found the most efficient and beneficial solution at this time is the plastic to energy process, which allows the company to repurpose the entire marker. If a classroom recycles 193 markers, that is enough to move a city bus for 3 miles.

For the marker program, all we have to do, TNCS community, is bring our “dead soldiers”—again, any brand—to TNCS, where they will be collected in a specially designated box and kept in the art room. TNCS students will count them and pack them up for shipping—and Crayola even pays the shipping costs!

And voilà—TNCS is an “eco-cool school”!

Fine Print

Most of us are well aware that plastic waste is a huge environmental concern and a growing problem for future generations, but it never hurts to read the plain, if pretty horrifying, facts.

• Plastics impair human health. Plastics contain a variety of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that have been demonstrated to interfere with human endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, and neurodevelopment systems. The long-term effects of these EDCs are still being investigated, and researchers are uncovering other insidious effects all the while.

• Plastics damage the environment. All the plastic so far produced is still with us in some form because it takes 500 years for plastic to decompose. Recycling plastic is not always easy or possible to do, and what doesn’t get recycled winds up in landfills, a clearly unsustainable practice at close to 30 million tons per year (just in the United States!). However, incinerating plastic is an even worse proposition, as burning plastic causes it to release EDCs and other toxins into the air, polluting it and adding to the human bioaccumulated burden. It also gives off CO2, contributing to global warming. And then there’s plastic litter that ultimately finds its way into waterways, polluting the ocean and inducing a cascade of effects on the environment and on wildlife.

Plastics have infiltrated almost every aspect of life because of their sheer convenience, but we are now reckoning the hidden costs. Programs like ColorCycling not only help start to address the problem, but also increase awareness that there is a problem—a marker is such a seemingly innocent thing, after all . . . until the magic wears off.

Councilman Kraft’s Fall Initiatives at TNCS

On Thursday, September 10th, The New Century School‘s Head of School Alicia Danyali met with two esteemed guests on important school business. Councilman Jim Kraft and Shriver Peaceworker Fellow Katie Miller joined Ms. Danyali to discuss what among their contests and other initiatives might work well for the TNCS community. Councilman Kraft is unique among Baltimore Councilmembers for his school partnerships. “I take a lot of pride in this because no other council[member] does this,” he said.

This kind of meeting is not new for Ms. Danyali, although it is likely the last with this particular pair of visiting dignitaries. She has met with Councilman Kraft annually to make sure that TNCS is both on his radar and to take advantage of the many opportunities his office offers First District schools. (See TNCS and Councilman Kraft: Outreach for Our Shared Community and TNCS Wins Southeast Baltimore City Recycling Competition! for the fruits of past tête-à-têtes.) Alas, he is an “outgoing” member with only 14 months and 27 days remaining in his term as of today—not that he’s counting, he joked.

But while he’s still a sitting councilman, he remains committed to the students in his district—a district he envisions as “safe, smart, green, and growing.” For Fall 2015, one special event and two contests will spark interest among the TNCS community.

Annual Cookout

tncs-councilman-jim-kraftFirst is a chance to meet and talk with Councilman Kraft himself at his 13th Annual Cookout on Saturday, September 19th from 4:00 pm–6:00 pm on the Crab Deck at Captain James Restaurant. This free event includes hot dogs, hamburgers, and adult and kid beverages for anyone who registers in advance by calling (410) 675-3074 or emailing

Healthy Harbor Poster Contest

And now on to the student contests! Councilman Kraft’s Healthy Harbor Poster Contest is well known around Southeast Baltimore and very popular among the K–8th-grade set. Young artists (ecological leanings helpful, but not a must) should draw their vision of what a healthy harbor should look like on this submission paper and email or mail to the address given by November 13, 2015.

tncs-councilman-jim-kraftPosters will be judged in three levels: K–2nd grade, 3rd–5th grades, and 6th–8th grades. The winning posters will be displayed at the Enoch Pratt SE Anchor Library from the Thanksgiving through Christmas holidays. Additional prizes include an award ceremony at City Hall as well as movie tickets to the Landmark Theatre with popcorn and all the trimmings!


tncs-councilman-jim-kraftNew for this year is TerraCycling—an updated take on Councilman Kraft’s Recycling Contests of prior years (and which TNCS took first prize for in 2013!). TerraCycling aims to “eliminate the idea of waste”—in other words, start to think of everything as potentially having another useful incarnation. And when they say “everything,” they mean everything—down to the lowly cigarette butt!

The contest works in three steps: First, TNCS students identify the kind of waste they want to target (e.g., empty juice pouches); second, the “brigade” collects and sends the waste in to TerraCycle; and third, TerraCycle awards points based on volume collected. Councilman Kraft will then select winning schools based on both overall most points earned as well as by most points earned per capita to give smaller schools like TNCS a fair chance at the prizes.

Prizes? Lucky winners get a trip to the Baltimore Aquarium and lunch at the Top of the World restaurant, courtesy of Councilman Kraft. But that’s not all—TerraCycle gives back, too. With the collected materials sent in from all around the country, TerraCycle “scientartists” upcycle the goods into clever, functional products or even objets d’art. See their website for details.

And that’s still not all. TNCS can designate a non-profit to whom TerraCycle will give $0.01 for every point earned (2 pts. per item)!

All in all, Fall 2015 looks very promising for the TNCS partnership with the Office of Councilman Jim Kraft. Thanks for all you do for First District schools, Councilman Kraft!

Guest Blog: Back-to-School Transitions

To bring you thoughtful commentary from a variety of sources, Immersed is hereby launching a guest blogging program for the 2015–2016 academic year. You can expect to read and enjoy posts from members within The New Century School community as well as from professionals from the greater Baltimore community and beyond who have words of wisdom to share in areas related to education and parenting.

For our very first guest blog post, however, what could be a better way to start this new initiative off on the right foot than with a message from TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali? By the way, it’s also the first post of the 2015–2016 academic year!

Top 10 Back-to-School Transition Tips from Alicia Danyali


Starting the school year off right can be made easier by establishing and sticking to routines.

Beginning-of-the-school-year traditions are something many families cherish. Whether it’s the obligatory first day of school picture, to picking out a special backpack or lunchbox, parents like to show that going back to school is an important occasion to be honored. However, making that transition out of summer back into school can be a challenging adjustment. The start of the school year initiates more regimented routines, whereas, for many, the summer schedule was often more relaxed and easy-going.

Here is my Top 10 List to help parents ease the transition from summer break to the school year:

  1. Starting the school year is an important event and support and modeling a consistent positive attitude goes a long way. Learning to like school and liking to learn are closely related.
  2. Keep routines consistent, including some after-school down time, family time, and a reasonable bedtime. Being on time to school offers an abundance of security for an anxious or shy child.
  3. Listen to stories about your children’s day without interruption or judgement. Letting them talk about their experience will encourage further sharing and smooth adjustments to a new or existing group, as well as open them up to trying new things.
  4. If you show enthusiasm about school, your child probably will, too.
  5. Volunteer in the classroom or school when time permits. Seeing the classroom in action will help you gain a better perspective on how your child spends the day and will additionally reassure your child that you are involved in his or her day-to-day life.
  6. Allow and encourage your child to be involved in the daily routines of getting ready for school. Preschool-aged children can help choose their lunch options, for example. Older kids can create a checklist (e.g., make the bed, pack lunch, get the backpack ready, etc.) that supports independence and nurtures accountability.
  7. Read to your children and/or have them read to you daily for at least 15 minutes. Encourage the importance of their daily multilingual experiences by reading in more than one language, if possible.
  8. Stay abreast of school policies from the parent handbook. Confusion and frustration can result from lack of awareness of school policy, which feelings children readily internalize, possible creating anxiety.
  9. Be part of the community and get to know your children’s friends and families by attending school events, such as the quarterly Pot Luck.
  10. And please be thankful, supportive, and grateful for the hard work your child’s teachers and support staff do everyday!

In addition, please check out the websites below for some additional resources.

  • Adjusting to Preschool
  • Transitioning to Elementary School
  • Smooth Transitions to a New School Year

Become an Immersed Guest Blogger!

Have an idea for a guest blog post? Please don’t hesitate to send your inquiry via private message to the TNCS Facebook page (and please remember to like the page if you haven’t already done so) or by emailing We would love to hear from you!