As the elementary program at The New Century School expands to accommodate its growing elementary student body, so too grows the elementary staff who guide and help educate them. For the 2015–2016 school year, TNCS welcomed Montgomery County native turned Baltimore resident Kiley Stasch as the new Language Arts and Global Studies teacher.
“I’ve taught a broad range of areas in both public and private education,” said Ms. Stasch, all of which was part of her search to find the right fit. She graduated from Goucher College in 2012 with an Education major and a minor in Spanish. Since that time and before joining TNCS, she did lots of substitute teaching across Baltimore, such as at Roland Park Elementary and The Friends School to get the feel of both types of schools. Before deciding where she ultimately wanted to lead her own classroom, however, she went back for a Master’s Degree in teaching at-risk and diverse learners at Goucher. Then, being fluent in Spanish, she taught English in Peru over the past summer. “So being at a school like this is really exciting, to be able to find that bilingual connection and be in an environment that supports my speaking Spanish in the classroom,” she said. That sealed the deal for her.
Her bilingualism has not only been fun for her to use among classrooms full of students who share her ability to speak both English and Spanish, it has also allowed her to guide a (now formerly) non-English-speaking student who joined TNCS this academic year through the process of acclimating to unfamiliar surrounding amidst a new cohort of peers.
She spent the first weeks of school meeting in small groups to see where each student was in terms of reading and writing status so that she could differentiate instruction both among class levels and within each 2nd- through 5th-grade class itself. “Because we are able to do four separate small groups,” she said, “each student can be placed exactly where they should be and then challenged appropriately at that level.”
As her main classroom focus is reading and writing, her students do the Daily 5, as they did in previous years with Mrs. Duprau, but they reduce it to four daily rotations. “I decided to give the students a little more time with each of four components every day rather than squeezing in all five in the same day, so each day they get a break from one of the components and don’t get too tired of what they’re doing.” The Daily 5 components are:
- Tech Time with RazKids or SuccessMaker followed by comprehension questions
- Work on Words with Wordly Wise with accompanying assessment activities
- Work on Writing, which includes free writing such as letter-writing and regular, long-term formal assignments such as research on all things presidential (in preparation for their fall-term field trip to the White House)
- Meet with Teacher, which is shared chapter book–reading (of their choice, e.g., Bridge to Terabithia, Esperanza Rising, Because of Winn-Dixie, etc.) that they treat like a book club of about four or five students with group discussion
- Read to Self, which can be continuing to read the group book but independently, followed by the opportunity for reflective writing, or reading a book of their own choice
“Some students avoided writing at the beginning of the year, but now they are enjoying their assignments and looking forward to writing, which is huge progress,” said Ms. Stasch.
Global studies, the other subject she teaches, integrates well in the Language Arts classroom and invites independent and group inquiry as well as getting out of the classroom and into the world. A TNCS parent who works in government was able to arrange a special White House tour, so they headed to Washington, D.C. this past November. They also visited various museums depending on what particular unit they were studying. The 4th and 5th grades, for example, when to the National Museum of the American Indian to deepen what they had been learning in class about the First Americans.
In her first few months at TNCS Ms. Stasch has settled in quite well. “I’m happy with how things are going,” she said. “The first couple of weeks were focused on routines—getting into the flow of things. Now I think the students are in a more secure place and understanding what’s expected of them.” Teaching the diverse student personalities and learning styles—not to mention mixed-age classrooms—has also been a rewarding experience for her. Her past work experience includes teaching from Kindergarten through 7th grade, but “differentiating instruction when the grades are all together is quite different,” she said. “I’m enjoying that; it’s a lot of fun to be able to see all the different things I can do within classes and across levels.” It has served her well in other ways, too. From her student teaching and her substituting background, she thought she had settled on her ideal age-group of 2nd- and 3rd-graders. “But teaching 4th and 5th grades has been eye-opening,” she said. “I didn’t think I wanted to go that high, but the independence of the older group is great and allows us to take on more advanced projects. The older group surprised me.”
That last statement has a somewhat wistful note, as some of those students will be moving on to Middle School soon, regarding which Ms. Stasch says she has been working hard to get the students ready for this transition. “What I’m focusing on is building skills, responsibility, organization, accountability. This grade level represents a fairly large jump in academic responsibility from what they were doing even last year, so they need to be prepared.” She has the 4th- and 5th-grade students use planners and be more self-motivated about completing and turning in their homework assignments, rather than relying on parents to organize them.”
Regarding homework, she has struck a nice balance between not overburdening students each night and creating assignments that can be augmented by parents should they feel their kids need more practice in certain areas. All of these things can be communicated via the planners, which also act as a conduit between Ms. Stasch and parents.
With 2015 behind us, Ms. Stasch has the winter and spring of 2016 brimming with engaging and inspiring academic explorations. Stay tuned to see what great new things TNCS elementary students will be doing!