TNCS Continues Annual Service to the Community with Project Linus

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Please drop off new or gently used coat donations to TNCS by December 12, 2016 in TNCS’s reception area.

The run up to the holiday season is always a special time at The New Century School because it’s an opportunity to show our support to our local community and beyond. In the month of November, TNCS has undertaken two outreach initiatives to benefit our neighbors in need, first with the 6th annual healthy food drive for Beans & Bread (through St. Vincent de Paul) in conjunction with United Way of Central Maryland, and second with the coat drive for CASA de Maryland, a nonprofit that works with low-income Latino immigrant families. Please note that this latter initiative is ongoing through December 12, 2016, and a donation box is located in TNCS’s reception area.

img_0089This year, though, is special for a new effort. On November 18th, as part of their Service learning, TNCS upper elementary and middle school students teamed up with Project Linus, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide homemade blankets to sick and hospitalized children in need—to “provide security through blankets” and “spread blanket hugs nationwide.” Head of School Alicia Danyali and Parent Council Head Sakina Ligon both have experience with Project Linus and felt it was a great fit for TNCS.

Ms. Ligon explained in an email to parents that “volunteerism teaches basic character foundations to children, and having them help other children teaches them that people in need are really just like them. Studies have shown that serving as volunteers promotes healthy lifestyle and choices, enhances development, teaches life skills, promotes citizenship, improves the community, and encourages a lifelong service ethic in children ages 5 to 14 years. The value of volunteering teaches your children the importance of donating their time, a core value at TNCS.”

img_0084On the day TNCS students became “blanketeers,” a school tour group happened to be coming through and were duly impressed by the service-learning-in-action they witnessed. Baltimore City/Baltimore County Chapter Coordinator Fay Husted instructed the 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-graders on how to produce the blankets. Mrs. Hutchens was a teacher and principal in Baltimore City schools for 37 years and now devotes her time to Project Linus.

Said Mrs. Husted:

Project Linus us a national organization with chapters all over the country. Being a chapter coordinator means being very organized because hundreds of people make blankets for me—individuals as well as school, church, and senior groups. We accept quilts and fleece, knitted, and crocheted blankets. When we get the blankets to our storage facility, a group of about 10 ladies help me sew in handmade Project Linus labels. Once we get the labels in the blankets, I bag them, and my husband and I deliver them all over Baltimore City—mostly to hospitals, but also to Ronald McDonald House, Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House at Johns Hopkins, House of Ruth, shelters, and some camps. We deliver between 200 and 250 blankets a month.

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Fay Husted

Project Linus was established in Parker, Colorado on December 24, 1995 and has delivered more than 6 million blankets nationwide to grateful kids in the going-on 21 years since. “Project Linus is a wonderful organization. A non-profit is considered good if 13% or less of their donations are used for administrative purposes. Less than 7% of ours are,” explained Mrs. Husted, “because everybody is a volunteer.” Other than some monthly and annual maintenance fees, such as for the right to use Charles Schultz’s thumb-sucking, blanket-carrying, sage-beyond-his-years character as their mascot, they operate with very little overhead.

From dozens of available patterns, Mrs. Husted chose Fringed Fleece Blanket that can be made very quickly for TNCS students. Here’s how they did it!

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img_0106Said Mrs. Danyali, “the students are going to write notes of encouragement to go along with the blankets they make.” One fifth grader commented that she was very glad to participate in a project that would help kids in need. Another, with obvious sincerity, said he wanted to make his blanket as good as he possibly could.

With leftover material, students can make additional items like headbands during Teacher’s Choice time.

For past years’ initiatives, such as primary classrooms collecting dimes to purchase and donate livestock through Heifer International, see Lessons in Gratitude at TNCS, Lessons in Thanksgiving at TNCS, and TNCS Holiday Outreach Programs.

TNCS Students Get Technical!

tncs-upper-elementary-visit-digital-harborOn November 16th, elementary and middle school students of The New Century School took a field trip to a very special spot in Baltimore City. Digital Harbor Tech Center is a self-described “youth makerspace providing youth with an opportunity to be creative and productive.”

Under the aegis of The Digital Harbor Foundation, the Tech Center opened in 2013, taking over a defunct recreation building on Light St. The next year, they “launched the Center of Excellence to train others how to incorporate making into their own learning environments.” Just 3 years after opening their doors, the Tech Center estimates that, “in 2016, [they] will reach 2000+ students in grades 1-12 from 90 Baltimore-area schools.” They operate on a “pay-what-you-can” basis to allow all interested kids to be able to participate as well as offering free field trips to learn about 3D printing, such as what TNCS students attended last week.

During their 3-hour session in the makerspace, they were first introduced to the Digital Harbor Foundation and the concept behind the Tech Center—and instructed to “look, listen, and learn.” There was definitely lots to look at and lots to learn! Next, for the bulk of the session, they learned and practiced the basics of 3D design, which they ultimately put to use in the execution of their very own custom 3D-printed keychains, the primary endpoint of the session.

To learn 3D design basics, they first discussed 2D design, which takes place on a grid composed of both an x and a y axis, and then added the “z axis” to bring in the third dimension. From there, it was onto a supercool free computer application called “Tinkercad,” which is exactly what it sounds like—tinkering with engineering! The program makes engineering and design accessible to anyone with three simple steps:

  1. Place: Shapes are basic building blocks of Tinkercad. A shape can add or remove material. Import your own, or work with existing shapes.
  2. Adjust: Move, rotate and adjust shapes freely in space. Use tools like the ruler to input exact dimensions.
  3. Combine: Group together a set of shapes to create models as detailed as you want.

 

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TNCS students were asked to complete a set of five fun, interactive tutorials in Tinkercad, each building on the last in terms of skills acquired. When a task was successfully performed, a shower of confetti burst out of the completed design to let users know that module was complete, and they could move on to the next. Immersed was also up to the task, folks, as you can see in the slideshow below.

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TNCS elementary students thoroughly enjoyed their time at the Tech Center and picked up new skills like the innate tinkerers they are. If the concept of “makerspace” is ringing a bell, that may be because last week’s post on the Ozone Snack Bar discussed how that newly opened space might evolve as a makerspace. STEM teacher Dan McGonigal said, “The Tech Center has been on our radar for a while now, and we’ve been wanting to explore 3D printing. Now that we have the 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-grade cohort, we can really do some cool things in engineering. The school founders are very supportive of this idea. We have even discussed the possibility of getting a 3D printer here, but with that being so cost-prohibitive, we wanted to introduce the students first and see how it goes—and it went very well.”

With the fourth quarter of the 2016–2017 school year slated for a Technology and Innovation Unit, expect to hear more about the makerspace idea. Mr. McGonigal hinted that recreating some Rube Goldberg machines might even be in the offing. Meanwhile, here are the fruits of TNCS students’ and other area students’ labor at Digital Harbor Tech Center.

Ozone Snack Bar Grand Opening!

November marked the occasion of a very exciting development for elementary and middle school students at The New Century School—the grand opening of the Ozone Snack Bar! Part library, part student lounge, the Ozone Snack Bar was a hit from its very first moment as an up-and-running enterprise.

The snack bar is the brainchild of TNCS Co-Founder/Executive Director Roberta Faux, who envisioned a space for the older students of TNCS to call their own. Equipped with various unwalled “rooms,” this natural light–filled space space offers plenty of ways for the kids to relax—to read or socialize—to “just chill” in the words of a 5th grader in Señora Beatriz Cabrera’s class that represented the very first Ozone Snack Bar patrons.

She nailed it with that description. From the moment they entered their new space, she and her classmates appropriated it as if they had been using it all along. They filed in and straightaway set to, some going straight for the healthy goods for sale, some perusing the well-stocked shelves for a good read, a couple trading Pokemon tokens, and some starting up a ping-pong tournament. They were right at home. Said Mrs. Faux who was also on hand for the Grand Opening: “We felt that the older kids needed a dedicated place to hang out so they can socialize and take a little break.”

Regarding the healthy goods for sale, as part of their time there, students can buy snacks if they wish, either with cash or on account (parents allot maximum per-visit expenditures and the tab is applied to their FACTS bill). They loved this aspect of their new space, both in getting a little nosh between breakfast and lunch and because of the freedom it gives them to make their own choice. It benefits them in other ways, too, by allowing them to practice making business transactions (en Español, of course!) and asking them to do a little mental computing in terms of weighing cost versus available funds as well as optimizing what snack they choose to derive the biggest payoff (Do I need an apple to give me a little glucose boost? Or would the protein from a cheese stick satisfy me a little longer?).

As for the library books, the shelves are stocked with those books that formerly made up the hallway library as well as other books taken out out of storage that the limited hallway shelving could not accommodate. All of these are in addition to the in-class libraries that each homeroom contains. Books in the new library space can be checked out and read on premises. Stocking the shelves is ongoing as each book must be inventoried and catalogued (Parent Volunteer, anyone?).

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Tots’ chillin’!

One 4th grader said he finds the Ozone Snack Bar “really great! It’s a good opportunity to make friends.” At the time, he was occupying one of the reading hammocks with Horrible Harry and the Purple People, having already munched on some popcorn, washed down with some Vitamin Water Zero. “I have absolutely no idea what we did before we had the snack bar,” he concluded.

Visits to the Ozone Snack Bar will be as classes with teacher supervision and will happen on set regular schedules, depending on grade division:

  • Upper Elementary/Middle School: Students in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades will visit each Monday morning during Teacher’s Choice time.
  • Lower Elementary: Students in 2nd and 3rd grades will visit every other Monday during Teacher’s Choice time.
  • Kindergarten/1st: Students in this division will visit once a month.

“I think the kids loved it and it will be a growing success,” said Mrs. Faux. Sra. Cabrera agreed that her students loved the new experience, remarking on how well they navigated their new “society.” Small groups gathered then morphed into other groups with the ease that comes with being comfortable and happy. Sra. Cabrera also pointed out that this is a whole new context for her students to interact in and anticipates that the additional social time will have a positive impact on their relationships overall. Studies show that regular downtime increases productivity and creativity while reducing burnout, too, so it’s a safe bet that her students returned to the classroom re-energized and ready to focus.

Importantly, they really do get to choose how they spend their time at the Ozone Snack Bar, but all of the available choices are some form of unstructured (with the exception of some off-and-on scorekeeping at the ping-pong table) activity. “Play” is currently being championed with a zeal no former age has seen. We now know that, through play, children develop understanding of the world and learn how to tackle “problems” creatively. For adolescents, play is no less important, yet, frustratingly, opportunities to unwind during the school day tend to dwindle for most U.S. tweens and teens.

Going back to the genesis of the Ozone Snack Bar, this lack is precisely what the school Co-Founders are hoping to mitigate. Said Mrs. Faux:

We are open to letting the space evolve as our student’s evolve, i.e., from more library to more game room, or maker space or something else. Maker spaces are also sometimes called hackerspaces. They are DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. It has been a growing trend in reinventing the modern library. These spaces often have 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools, etc. There are also maker spaces with less high-end electronics and might have the students build models, etc.

The new space won’t just have an immediate positive effect on students by giving them a break and rejuvenating them for the school day, but may also put them on a path to future good things. A recent book on play recounts the anecdote of how a Fortune 500 company’s executives discovered that their most successful employees were those who played around with mechanical equipment as children, which makes a lot of sense—they were tinkering just to see what would happen. That’s the essence of innovation.

To return to Earth for a moment, the Ozone was established primarily for TNCS students to have some fun and connect with each other in a different way. The lofty benefits just described are, in some ways, happy secondary outcomes (though certainly not accidental). Just so with its name: Mrs. Faux explained that the name initially came from riffing on the Baltimore Orioles—the “O’s-zone”—something that would definitely appeal to this age group. But, it also has many other apt meanings and invites contemplation. It’s a space above, somewhat rarefied, and exists to give kids some time to spend with their heads in the clouds.

Meet TNCS Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Rojas!

Parent volunteering has not only been a key driver of The New Century School‘s evolution to the thriving community it is today, but it also informs the school’s very premise. Head of School Alicia Danyali has always believed strongly that volunteering is a primary component of any successful organization (read her guest blog The Most Important Partner: You). Additionally, the concept of Service was formally made one of four TNCS Core Values this 2016–2017 school year.

Meet Alicia R.!

If parents and teachers are partners in the school and in the children’s individual achievements, what—make that who—is the crucial link in putting it all together? Long-time TNCS parent and Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Rojas, that’s who! As liaison between willing parent volunteers and the school staff and administration and their needs, Mrs. Rojas makes fulfilling the contractual volunteer obligation a snap.

Hailing from Toronto, Canada, she studied French for years and has French Canadian relatives by marriage. Attending Syracuse University in New York for her undergraduate degree, she then came to Baltimore about 10 years ago to pursue a Master’s Degree in business. Around this time, a match-making friend introduced her to her future husband, Phil, who is a native of Bogata, Colombia and, despite having lived in Maryland since he was 8 years old, continues to speak and write fluent Spanish. He is also a “soccer and cycling enthusiast,” says Mrs. Rojas. After taking time off from work when her daughter was born, she decided to return to the world of business. After an unfulfilling stint with Baltimore City as Liaison Officer of the Bureau Heads Department, she realized she wanted to be where the excitement is at . . . in start-ups! She now works in affiliate marketing for Performance Horizons, another arena in which she connects different kinds of groups to accomplish shared goals.

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TNCS Volunteer Coordinator and Unsung Hero, Alicia Rojas!

Meanwhile, the road that led her to becoming Volunteer Coordinator was quite a direct route—during a tour of the school when she was considering enrolling her then preschool-age daughter, she learned of the mandatory volunteer commitment and thought “that was the greatest thing ever. To be able to give back and participate in what’s going on in my daughter’s school day is something I find very enjoyable,” she said. She found herself volunteering on school grounds pretty frequently during her daughter’s preschool years, which, she says, laid the foundation for her current role.

She also appreciates that she gets the opportunity to interact with so many members of the TNCS community, beyond just the quick hello at drop-off and pick-up times. She gets the chance to really get to know teachers, admin, and parents, all of whom she says, “always go above and beyond.” She finds that even after parents have fulfilled their hours helping with event set-ups and breakdowns, for example, they are still eager to help out in “more impactful” ways such as being in the classroom. “And, even when something comes up at the last minute, parents are very accommodating and step up to help us get the job covered.”

But don’t be fooled—enjoyable as it may be, this job is also a huge responsibility. To get it into manageable shape, Mrs. Rojas had to put in a lot of time creating systems and processes for handling the near-constant influx of requests and questions as well as tracking each family’s hours. She implemented Sign-Up Genius, for example, so that would-be volunteers know instantly whether they have been assigned to a task rather than having to wait for an emailed response. In her third year in the position, she has the whole parent volunteering enterprise working like a well-oiled machine and communicates regularly and in timely fashion. She has just the organization and efficiency that the role demands. She is the nexus where parent volunteers, the Parent Council, and Class Parents connect, helping each sphere of that Venn diagram as needed and keeping it all connected and cohesive.

tncs-volunteer-coordinator-alicia-rojasVolunteering at TNCS

Because TNCS recognizes just how stretched many families are, the volunteer obligation is hardly onerous at only 8 hours. Per family. Per year! Also, the hours do not have to be completed by an actual parent, but by anyone affiliated with a particular student, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, caregivers, etc. Best of all? Volunteering doesn’t necessarily involve blood, sweat, and tears (although if that’s what your area of expertise involves, it’s welcome!). Mrs. Rojas sends out a monthly newsletter covering a broad range of ways to help out. There’s truly something for everyone. Moreover, off-school hours are readily available for those who cannot sacrifice work hours to volunteer for the school. Volunteering at TNCS is not a burden; it’s a pleasure—no, an opportunity, a gift even. It’s a chance to be deeply involved in your children’s day-to-day school lives, to connect with them on their turf, and to see and experience what’s going on in their lives from their points of view, all while providing a service to the school. There’s nothing so reassuring in parenting than to get proof that your child is happy and flourishing even when you aren’t there—as well as to have a hand in helping make that possible.

“Once parents volunteer and see how easy and rewarding it is, they’ll also start to create their own initiatives,” said Mrs. Rojas. “We have found that in asking people their specialties, they volunteer not just their time but their experience and expertise. They are bringing a lot to the table. It’s not just dependent on what opportunities come up; a lot of people create their own, which is great.” They are, in effect, providing extra learning and enrichment in areas tangential to the formal curriculum. Indeed, TNCS students have learned about a variety of cultures from natives of those cultures, about playing any number of instruments, about computer programming, and even how to perform various dances—all from parents!

Feeling the volunteer spirit? Parent involvement sets an example to students that we are a true community, an extension of family. No matter what little time parents have available in their busy lives, they can contribute in some way with the volunteer opportunities the school provides. Whether cataloging books in the library, laying down mulch in the playground, or laminating classroom materials from home, everyone is contributing to the school in some way. It fosters a sense of belonging and involvement.

“I’ve learned how much parents and their willingness to give enriches the school. It’s really special,” said Mrs Rojas. “Volunteering can be your time to go into the classroom and share your skills. You can come up with any volunteering idea you want, and I can help you make it happen. Anything that interests you about what your kid is doing, is probably something that you can create a volunteer opportunity in.” One thing she emphasizes is that she is available to answer your questions: She can be reached at volunteer@thenewcenturyschool.com.

Already completed some volunteer hours? Don’t forget to log them by visiting the Parent Hub or by clicking here!