“Keeping the Conversation Going”—in Multiple Languages!

Immersed is once again pleased to bring you thoughtful commentary from another perspective. This piece comes to you from The New Century School‘s Head of School Alicia Danyali (bio* at the end), who brings her vast experience to bear on the subject of multiple language learning. Read on!


Alicia Danyali on Bilingualism

Alicia DanyaliIn current-day Baltimore, Maryland, it is apparent that we live in a community where education choices are limitless, philosophies abound, and much of the focus is on the end product (student success). Whether your background is in Montessori or Waldorf or Traditional Public Education, one consistent theme that is agreed upon when registering your child at TNCS is the interest in bilingual language learning.

As language immersion practices become more commonplace, starting during the pre-school years (opposite to the trend of starting in middle or high school) students with these “advantages” are described as “cutting edge” or even “ahead of the game” as learners. Since I have spent the last 20 (or more, um hum) years within dual-language environments, I can agree with much of the research observing student bilingual success when starting at a younger age than middle school. The statistics are out. There is validity that bilingual students are most receptive to a second language from ages 0-7 years.  It has been noted that children exposed to more than one language at a young age are capable of more sophisticated problem solving or demonstrate problem solving in multiple ways.

One of the books that I have recommended over the years is The Bilingual Edge: Why, When and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language, by Kendall, K. & Mackey, A. (2007).  Many of the findings and advice within this book are true to supporting second language learning.  I thought I would share some feedback regarding the publisher’s summary of the book, and invite the educated and dedicated TNCS community to have a think about your own child’s language journey.

For example, as part of the summation of the book, the publisher’s state:

“In The Bilingual Edge, professors and parents King and Mackey wade through the hype and provide clear insights into what actually works. No matter what your language background is—whether you never passed Spanish in high school or you speak Mandarin fluently—King and Mackey will help you:

  • select the language that will give your child the most benefits
  • find materials and programs that will assist your child in achieving fluency
  • identify and use your family’s unique traits to maximize learning

Fancy private schools and expensive materials aren’t needed. Instead, The Bilingual Edge translates the latest research into interactive strategies and quick tips that even the busiest parents can use.”

These are some BIG claims that one book can do all this and support you and your family with second language instruction. Although it is a highly recommended read, please keep in mind, like all published material, one must make the claim that watching your own child absorb the environment offered at TNCS is within a natural setting, encourages curiosity and risk-taking (traits attributed to bilingualism) and includes individualized nurturing, human interaction, and a true understanding/respect of culture.

As the ideas from this book or any other claiming to ensure your child will become bilingual, the ingredients start with your child’s interest and enthusiasm, partnered with an authentic love of learning, parental support along the journey in a truly immersed setting. Please feel free to submit your feedback on other inspirational books read on the subject of bilingual education. “Let’s keep the conversation going.”

*Alicia Danyali: Throughout her professional career as an elementary educator, Mrs. Danyali has been committed to developing pedagogical strategies for a language immersion environment focused on critical thinking and cooperative learning both as a classroom teacher and an administrator. Immediately after graduating from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education, she moved to The Netherlands to teach in the elementary school at the International School of Amsterdam and then at the Violenschool International School. After 8 years in The Netherlands, Mrs. Danyali moved to Washington, D.C., where she spent 5 years working at the Washington International School (WIS) as both the classroom teacher for 1st and 3rd grades as well as the head teacher and coordinator. She was later appointed School Wide Community Service Coordinator, developing curriculum focusing on service and giving back to the local and world community. In her final year at WIS, she was invited to attend a leadership and curriculum conference in New York City in cooperation with the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney Museum. The conference featured connections in the classroom that were shared within the areas of art, history, science, technology, and mathematics. Mrs. Danyali has completed the 90-hour childcare certificate for ages 2–5 years, the 45-hour administrator certificate, and the 45-hour infant/toddler certificate. Mrs. Danyali recently completed graduate school at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, specializing in Supervision and Administration.

Mrs. Danyali and her husband moved to Baltimore over 8 years ago, when their son was a toddler. During this stay-at-home-mom time with her son, she continued to keep her foot in education by working as a freelance writer for http://www.education.com, teaching Mommy and Me classes as well as classes for home-schooled children at The Painting Workshop, leading 2-year-old classes at Beth Tfiloh, and conducting The Summer Yoga Camp for Kids at The Bryn Mawr School.

Mrs. Danyali is fluent in Dutch, and her personal interests include yoga, swimming, visiting museums, travel, cooking, and spending time with her family. She completed the 200- and 500-hour Advanced Registered Yoga Teacher Certification through Charm City Yoga.

TNCS Elementary Gets Positively Presidential!

It’s February, during an election year, and the nation is completely caught up with who will become our next Chief Executive and Commander in Chief. While debates among presidential candidates rage, the run-up to and the outcome of state primaries and caucuses dominate the media, and the citizenry takes stock of each candidate’s political platform, elementary students at The New Century School have been involved in some pretty presidential activities of their own.


Schoolhouse Rock, anyone? “I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill. And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill. Well, it’s a long, long journey To the capital city. It’s a long, long wait While I’m sitting in committee, But I know I’ll be a law someday At least I hope and pray that I will, But today I am still just a bill.”

Their school year began, in fact, with learning all about the U.S. political process, including replicating that process to campaign for Class President, a TNCS first! They have also studied how bills become laws, taken a trip to the White House, and researched and profiled a U.S. president of their choice. With Presidents’ Day just behind us, it’s an opportune time to take a closer look at what they’ve been doing.

In both elementary divisions (2nd/3rd and 4th/5th), each student presented a campaign speech, which were narrowed down to what the class voted on as the top five. To do so, explains Language Arts/Global Studies teacher Kiley Stasch, each student asked each campaigner five “quality questions,” to rate the potential candidate’s platform (a process they would repeat later in the year when Baltimore City mayoral candidate Elizabeth Embry came to TNCS to talk about campaigning for political office. TNCS students asked some very hard-hitting questions, being political experts themselves by that point.) From there, the final two—president and vice-president— were elected into office after presenting longer, more in-depth speeches and another round of voting. “What can you ask of candidates to determine whether you have shared opinions and values,” Ms. Stasch asked the class. “Don’t just vote for your friends; vote for someone who will bring good to your class—who really listens to you and helps address your needs.” In the 2nd-/3rd-grade group, President J.B. and Vice-President P.H. made the cut; in the 4th-/5th-grade group, G.C. became President with C.G. and E.B. tying for Vice-President.

The Class President exercise will be a year-long endeavor. The individual platform tenets that each candidate brought into office have become actual initiatives that the class, with Ms. Stasch’s help, has enacted. These include everything from stocking the class shelves with certain hand-picked titles to community outreach in the form of an upcoming bake sale. “Each [campaign platform] was completely self-led,” said Ms. Stasch, ” and I’m going to do my best to help make them happen. The students have taken this very seriously, and some great things are coming out of it.”

The trip to the White House was the highlight of the fall. “They were all really hoping to visit the Oval Office and see President Obama, but that didn’t happen,” said Ms. Stasch. Nevertheless, TNCS elementary students enjoyed this very special field trip immensely. At that time, she explained, the students were actively conducting researching for their presidential profiles, so they were excited to see the official portrait of their particular president. They had also been studying various White House “nooks and crannies” in class and had a ball applying their knowledge to the real thing. “I was glad to see them having so much fun as they made those connections,” said Ms. Stasch.

For actual Presidents’ Day, they recapped what they learned during their unit on presidents. They did some reflective writing in the president they had profiled earlier in the year. Their presidential subjects included the historical heavy weights—George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson—to those who have held office in their (or, more likely, their parents’ or grandparents’ lifetimes)—Jimmy Carter,  Barack Obama, both George Bushes, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight D. Eisenhower—to even some of the more obscure names among the pantheon of 43 (note that although we have had 44 presidencies, Glover Cleveland held two nonconsecutive seats)—such as  Benjamin Harrison, Chester Arthur, and William Howard Taft. Students chose their own subjects, based on no set criteria, except that duplicating subjects was vetoed.

Ms. Stasch’s multi-semester unit merged historical and present-day politics, in a particularly relevant year, and even provided multiple opportunities for the students to actively apply their knowledge to activities happening both within and outside the classroom—and the great timing was no accident. “I wanted the students to gain insight into what their parents would be experiencing this year, to see and participate in the voting process, and to understand the role of the president including helping communities,” she said. She’ll no doubt be elected to a second term for the 2016–2017 school year by a landslide!

TNCS Goes to the Grammys!

Or, to be more precise, a member of the TNCS community is going! Music Director and Primary Lead Teacher Martellies Warren (“Mr. Warren” as he is known among The New Century School community) is a tenor with gospel group Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy in his off-teaching hours. (Please read Music is in the Air at TNCS for more on Mr. Warren’s fascinating background.)

This group heads to Los Angeles, California on February 15th to attend the 58th Grammy Award Ceremony, having been nominated for Best Gospel Performance (click on Nominees and scroll to #36). Their live performance of “Worth” from their second album Everyday Jesus was recorded in December 2015. “Worth” has so far spent 41 weeks on the Gospel Billboard Charts, 20 of those weeks at the #1 position. In fact, the album itself debuted at #1. “It’s doing really well,” said Mr. Warren with a proud smile. “And to be nominated out of hundreds of people is just an amazing feeling. We’re super excited!”


Anthony Brown (left) and Martellies Warren (right) hold two of the three Stellar awards they won for their first album. How many will they take home this time?

As if a Grammy nomination weren’t enough, Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy has also been nominated for a 2015–2016 Stellar Award (the 31st annual). Make that 10 Stellars—yes, 10! “They nominated us for every single thing we were eligible for!” said Mr. Warren. (By the way, Stellar awards are not new to this group, who nabbed three for their first album.) In the past few weeks, the group has rehearsed almost daily for 3–4 hours in preparation for that show happening just days after the Grammys, which they will open and which will take place in Las Vegas. Opening a show, explained Mr. Warren, isn’t just your typical performance. There will be complex choreography, pyrotechnics, and even some special, as-yet undisclosed attire, which secret he would not divulge, except to say that it would be fun and colorful in the beginning, changing to classic toward the end.

Although many would be starstruck by the amount of celebrity Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy have suddenly attained, Mr. Warren remains the consummate professional musician. Not content to rest on their laurels, he says he and the rest of the group want to continue honing their crafts and making worthwhile contributions:

This is the biggest thing we’ve ever undertaken. As artists, we want our music to be well-received by our peers. We have put something out there, and it’s scary, because we want to top the last [and their first, self-titled] album. “Testimony” [from that album] made history as the longest-running gospel single ever. It’s still on the charts, actually. That’s huge, and we want our sophomore album to be even better.

Before releasing these two masterpieces, Group Therapy functioned as background vocalists for just about every other gospel outfit they could before Anthony Brown decided it was time to write and record their own songs. Mr. Warren met Mr. Brown during their college days at Morgan State University, the former on a full vocal scholarship, the latter, piano. Mr. Warren accepted an invitation to audition as a singer for a group Mr. Brown was putting together. As the story goes, the line-up came to Mr. Brown in a dream, which must have been some kind of divine intervention, given that, 16 years later, they are still harmonizing.

This video taken at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, shows their live appearance on the TV show Celebration of Gospel, which features new and rising artists. Although they have been around in some form or another for years, Anthony Brown & Group TherAPy are considered “break-out” artists in their current incarnation, having emerged in superstar fashion on a scene typically dominated by entrenched artists.

Of course, there are probably two questions on everyone’s mind at this point. First, will the TNCS community get to hear Mr. Warren sing? Maybe so. He has pitched the idea to Mr. Brown of making an appearance at TNCS, although not for a full-scale performance, but more so to explore some of the aspects of the genre of gospel music just as TNCS students would any other genre. Second, how has he requested his green room to be stocked, now that he has made the big time? The amazingly talented but ever humble and always professional Mr. Warren says, “I get excited when I see a spread with tea, honey, and lemon. That’s so important to relax the muscles of a singer’s throat. That’s what you want to see.”

If you can’t send tea but want to show your support, send the group all of your good-luck vibes to snare the win(s) at their two upcoming awards shows :)!

TNCS Celebrates Chinese New Year!

The Chinese Lunar New Year is always a big event at The New Century School, a time to reflect on all that has happened during the prior year, connect with family and friends, and eat delicious foods, all to start the new year off in a positive way. This year is Year of The Fire Monkey, and it starts Monday, February 8th. To gear up for this special occasion, TNCS elementary students attended a presentation on China On Friday morning.

Given by a TNCS parent volunteer, the presentation was intended to not only celebrate Chinese culture and customs, but also to invite the elementary attendees to compare and contrast what primary and secondary education looks like in China to their own experiences here as U.S. students. Please excuse generalizations (of both schooling styles), which were made simply for the purposes of the exercise and not to pass judgment on either.

Although at first glance, Chinese and U.S. schools looked pretty similar to the audience, with lots of smiling faces and a happy sort of hubbub going on around campus, the differences became more evident once inside the classroom. Discipline and respect are highly prized in the Chinese classroom, meaning that kids are not permitted to fidget and must sit quietly—on their hands, in point of fact—until called on by the teacher. TNCS students, by contrast, are given the license to sit, stand, or recline where and how they wish at many points during the day so long as they demonstrate that they can handle this freedom and attend to their scholastic pursuits.

Advantages and disadvantages are evident in both approaches. TNCS students get to relax a little as well as not have to constantly fight their very natural instincts to move around, but the Chinese way allows up to 50 students per class to attend to a lesson without potential distractions from surrounding students.

Another point that TNCS students were asked to consider involved what are called “specials” at TNCS and include The Arts and physical education. In China, students are asked to replicate crafts and artwork from a model as well as exercise in perfect unison, and they are held to a very high standard of performance. This can mean that they are not given much opportunity to be creative or exhibit individuality in a given school day, although the skills they master are certainly impressive. U.S. students, by contrast, are frequently encouraged to find their unique identity and then express the heck out of it. However, they may not develop technical mastery of what inspires them at as young an age as do their Chinese counterparts. So, again, one approach might work for some, another for others.

The outcomes of these different approaches are, in some ways, “worlds apart.” While it’s certainly true that Chinese students command a large body of information and demonstrate their capacity for retention at test time, some of their teachers commented on their inability to think for themselves in non-academic environments. Many Western students experience nearly the exact opposite, following their individual paths of inquiry wherever they might lead and employing critical thinking and creative problem-solving to get them down the road. However, the United States ranks far below China (and 20 or so other countries) in measurable scholastic skills like math. This might matter a lot to some, less so to others, but once more the point is in exploring the two styles. Ultimately, it’s probably true that neither educational approach is perfectly ideal across all settings or contexts.

Nevertheless, TNCS students enjoyed teasing out both the differences and the parallels, and it was gratifying to see them imagining themselves in the shoes of a Chinese student. Their observations were insightful and even sometimes incisive. It’s a good bet that many of them would like to visit China for themselves in the near future.

In the meantime, they can content themselves with the video below of the slides presented today in addition to turning their thoughts to the approaching lunar new year, which Li Laoshi and Yangyang Laoshi are sure to help them celebrate with a bang! We hope that this Monkey Year brings you and yours health and happiness!