The New Century School welcomed Krysta Jenks as first- through third grade English Language Arts and Science teacher for the 2017–2018 school year. Mrs. Jenks has a special claim to fame in TNCS annals–she has the first-ever all-girls homeroom! She loves this, saying, “It’s really interesting to see what the dynamic is with all girls. They’re so much fun. They want to learn. They’re just excited to be here.”
Mrs. Jenks came to TNCS from a charter school in Anacostia, but, living in the Federal Hill area of Baltimore, she found the commute to D.C. was taking up too much of her time and was stressful besides. She moved here in 2009 after earning a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at Penn State, which is located in central Pennsylvania, where she grew up. “From there I started working in special education,” she said. In fact, her background is primarily in special education, where she worked for about 7 years. She has also obtained a Master’s degree in Leadership and Special Education as well as a Post-Master Certification in School Administration in this time. “I feel like I’ve gotten a wide range of experience from my administration certification and working in special education in the private, public, and charter school settings,” she said. “This is my first time working in a school that is mostly student-directed learning, so that has been really fun. It is also my first time working in a multilingual school.”
The student-directed learning aspect of TNCS is what appeals to Mrs. Jenks most about TNCS. “A lot of what I’ve done in the past has been more teacher driven, with the focus mostly on the teacher, and a lot of my experience has been in direct instruction, which doesn’t lend a lot of room for creativity,” she explained. “I really like the flexibility that comes with student-directed learning.
When we do our Daily 5 rotations, they have choices within each rotation. So, for example, the word work rotation has a multitude of activities they can choose to do—they could play a game with their words, they could write index cards with their words, they could write a story or comic book with their words from Wordly Wise for that week. They also cycle through read-to-self; listen to reading, which is primarily Raz-Kids; use SuccessMaker; meet with me; or work on writing.
In science, I also I try to do rotations because we are doing a lot of hands-on activities. In the first quarter when we were working on electricity and magnetism, I had a circuit board at one table that they can play with, a magnet station at another, so they have the flexibility to choose where they want to go.
Although the TNCS classroom style has been somewhat of an adjustment for Mrs. Jenks, she has acclimated beautifully. “It’s definitely different for me, but it’s great,” she said. “Also, the kids are fantastic, and all of the parents have been really supportive.” And that’s another aspect of teaching at TNCS that has been new for her: “I’ve always worked with high-risk populations, but at the end of the day, kids are kids. It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic status or what backgrounds they have, I’m learning that they all have the same needs. Having said all that, the kids here are really bright, they are really curious, and a lot of them are very intrinsically motivated. They seem like they genuinely want to learn.”
One thing that was not new to Mrs Jenks is using restorative circles in the classroom, such as introduced by Head of School Alicia Danyali during the previous academic year. Mrs. Jenks explained:
A big component of our classroom community is that we start and end the day with a restorative circle. So we have a talking piece, and then we come up with a question and go around the circle. Then, at the end of the day, we’ll go around and everyone will say what their highlight and lowlight was. And that’s been really fun because they love getting in the circle. I want our students to feel like this is a positive classroom community and environment that they want to be a part of and feel safe in. I think that academics are super important, but I also think building emotional intelligence and peer relationships is something that I really focus on just as much.
Next month will be an important one for Mrs. Jenks, who, although married to her military husband currently, will be having her “real wedding” then. We wish her well on this occasion and are so glad she has joined the TNCS community!
Last month, The New Century School hosted a Primary Workshop to provide parents with a firsthand experience of the Montessori approach to pre-K education. Unlike Open Houses and Information Nights that are general question-and-answer forums, a workshop’s purpose is to show you specifically what your children are learning and doing during their daily class time. For those parents who did not attend Montessori school as kids, the primary workshop is a marvel—both eye-opening and fun. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori materials based on her extensive observation of children ages 2 1/2 through 6 years. Her goal was to put academic success within their reach by setting realizable achievement milestones, so to do that, she tailored materials to be used the way she saw children interacting with their world. Primary students use these materials nearly exclusively, and seeing how the materials are actually used and learning what each does for the child’s development was the focus of the workshop.
There are four lead Montessori teachers this year: Lisa Reynolds, Elizabeth Bowling, Maria Mosby, and Yangyang Li, and each presented an aspect of the primary curriculum.
Mrs. Bowling went first, introducing the foundational concept of the work cycle. “This is so incredibly important and something we are always looking for in the children,” she began. “The classroom environment focuses on independence, sense of order, concentration, and coordination. This takes time not only to develop within a child but it takes time in the day as well, so we do our best to provide an uninterrupted work time, usually 3 hours, in the morning.” She explained that, as Montessori educators, they are closely observing what materials that the students opt to work with because it demonstrates where their interests lie and also shows the student’s mindset. “You want them to practice lessons you’ve given them, but you also want them to be able to go back to works that they’ve mastered as well.”
The work cycle has three parts: preparation, working, completing (putting away). To prepare, the student spreads out a throw rug and lays out the components of the “work*” in an orderly fashion. Next the student does the work, following the steps as the teacher has previously shown them. Finally, they clean up the work, put it away on the shelf, and choose a new work. “That’s a lot when you’re 3, or 4, or even 5 and 6,” said Mrs. Bowling. “So, again, that takes some time to develop but it’s what we’re working on every day with your child, that complete follow through. This consistency aids the development of care and respect for their belongings and the environment. It also shows their ability to follow directions. It even introduces the basics for plot structure, which will aid them in reading comprehension. A lot goes into everything your child is doing in a day,” she said.
Ms. Mosby spoke next, to talk about the theme of independence, confidence, and risk-taking within safe parameters. “From the time the child is born, he is working on little things that develop his independence,” she explained. “Before he learns to walk he has to learn to crawl. The child continuously seeks opportunities to increase his independence through a series of natural developments and milestones. The adult’s role, the parents role, the teacher’s role—-especially in this environment—is to foster it.” It’s a well-known Montessori tenet that we should never let a child risk failure until he has a reasonable chance of success. One way this bears out in the classroom is that everything is child-sized, from all furniture to the tools and materials, and the environment is prepared by the teacher.
“Everything we set up for the child to do helps them successfully do each work. The child is allowed to manipulate all of the things we have set up.” And here is where the risk-taking can come into play. The child may not be ready for a particular work or may need another lesson on how to complete it. But the important thing is, mistakes are okay. “We don’t correct the child,” said Ms. Mosby. “We let him discover his mistake and then we’ll go back and assess it later, we don’t interrupt his concentration. What we’re working on in this stage is developing that concentration and really helping him to focus on one thing at a time, isolating one concept and then adding more and more.”
This will help get them ready for elementary, where they’ll be doing new things, encountering additional challenges, and collaborating with other children. “At this stage, she said, “they’re working with just one thing at one time by themselves. That’s why you’ll see mostly one or two seats at a table. We don’t want too many children working together because they tend to distract one another. So, allowing a child to develop skills unhindered by an adult helps to develop independence, confidence, and appropriate risk assessment. We’re watching to make sure they’re safe while at the same time giving them that ability to assess risk for themselves, make mistakes, and learn from them.”
Newly certified Yangyang Li spoke about the Practical Life component of the Montessori curriculum, which, she explained, comprises four areas: care of self, care of the environment, grace and courtesy, and movement of objects. She said that, “practical life connects the child to the world, to the environment. It’s also indirect preparation for math and other academics.” If a child is interested in something, she explained, “the child will concentrate on it.” She also said that children at this age want real experiences, which also cultivates concentration as well as self-motivation. “Please help me to do the work by myself,” said Li Laoshi, is the attitude they convey. All of this also develops emotional independence.
Importantly, the child uses all of the senses when engaged in a practical life work, which could be cleaning tables, sweeping, arranging flowers, or anything else that is a part of daily chores. When the instructor demonstrates a practical life lesson, as you can see in the video below, she moves slowly and deliberately, taking care to experience all of the tactile sensations, sounds, smells, and so on, and follows an orderly sequence of steps. Thanks to the parent volunteer who now understands the correct way to do some washing up!
Mrs. Reynolds explored how the Montessori curriculum is interconnected, from practical life to science and geography, math, and language. “The materials build upon one another, making the progression important,” she explained. “Some works isolate one skill and focus on it while others may be educating the child in multiple ways. Many of the materials are self-correcting, which also promotes independence and problem solving.”
Questions and Answers
A Q&Q followed, and parents were given the chance to inquire about specific aspects. Two that brought home a lot of the concepts are reproduced here.
Parent:What are some examples of work that the child is doing on a daily basis?
Instructors:The children are all working on different things. An example might be a group of 3-year-olds having a lesson on sounding where we would go around the room have them try to pick out something that starts with a certain sound. There is a lot of preliminary work so they might be doing pouring work, cleaning work and then you might take those things away and they might start pouring their own snack or working with some food preparation. They have started making coffee for us (laughter). It’s such a caring, loving thing for them. So they’re all working on different things in all different levels. You might see a teacher on the rug giving a lesson and the other teacher will be observing other children working independently on their lessons.
Parent:One question related to independence, where do you strike a balance between letting them explore on their own and then finding out it’s not working to putting them on the right track? At what point do you reorient them?
Instructors: First of all, we’re looking at, did they choose a work they’ve actually had a lesson on because you want to make sure they have. If they haven’t had a lesson on something then we intervene and redirect. If you have given this child a lesson and they’re picking up this work and it’s becoming too playful and not purposeful work then that might be a time we might come along side them and redirect them. We are watching that. There’s a purpose for the work. Of course, if they are trying and having difficulty, that is just part of the process. If they’re throwing things or being disruptive, that’s a different story. So we have to use our judgment to determine which direction to take.
*Searching with the keywords “work cycle” in the search bar of this blog will bring up past years’ posts about primary workshops. They all have slightly different perspectives and are worth checking out if you are interested in learning more about Montessori education at TNCS.
The New Century School welcomed elementary teacher Barbara Sanchez for the 2017–2018 school year to lead a 1st- through 3rd-grade homeroom. She came to Baltimore in 2007 from Coamo, Puerto Rico when her husband accepted a position as a police officer here. She was at first sad to leave her beautiful home town and also because she thought she might have to give up teaching, but then other opportunities beckoned her. She embraced the idea of learning another language (English) as well as the benefits that the United States could offer her son with autism. She reports that he has grown a lot since being here.
In Puerto Rico, Sra. Sanchez earned dual bachelor degrees in special education and elementary education. She worked for 3 years there as a special education teacher in a group and also individually. When she arrived here, she began working in a school cafeteria, but being among students stoked her desire to teach once more. She decided to try getting a Spanish language teaching position in a city school and met TNCS’s own Professor Manuel during this time. After getting state certified to teach in Maryland in 2010, she started teaching at the Baltimore International Academy (BIA), where she was thrilled to be in the classroom again and taught there for several years. At Professor’s Manuel’s suggestion and with her husband’s support, she applied to TNCS.
Although she enjoyed BIA and still misses her former students and their parents, she says, “once I started here, I thought, ‘this is my place.’ I feel like this school is a part of me.” She feels she was destined to be a TNCS teacher and is constantly inserting Spanish instruction into daily school life, even on the playground. Her subjects, however, are Math and Global Studies. “I don’t teach Spanish class, but I use the Spanish to talk with the students,” she explained. “These kids are amazing. The kids here want to learn, they respect me, and they respect each other. This school is amazing and is perfect for me. I’m happy,” she said.
What she really wants parents to know is this: “Every child learns differently, but these children really want to learn, which is unlike what I experienced in a public school. If they students are learning, I’m happy,” she said most sincerely. “And that is our promise to this class, to every kid that we have in this class.”
Head of School Alicia Danyali leads The New Century School in many ways, not just practically and administratively. She mentors in unseen realms as well, gently promulgating what she calls her “invisible curriculum” that fosters kindness among students. During the 2016–2017 school year, Mrs. Danyali debuted the four pillars of TNCS, Compassion, Courage, Service, and Respect, as a cornerstone of her invisible curriculum and held biweekly student assemblies to discuss what these concepts mean in practice—how students can apply them to their daily lives.
Later in last school year, she began implementing restorative circles in the classroom, which can be used to heal rifts as well as be simple communication forums. These also allow her to maintain relationships with all of her students, something as important to her as running TNCS.
That’s partly why, on Friday, November 3, 2017, she held the first-ever awards ceremony to celebrate 3rd- through 7th-grade student achievement. These achievements did not take place in academics; rather, they are indications of gains in emotional intelligence. “I wanted to focus on the TNCS student learning profile, which includes character development” she explained, “as well as to acknowledge those students that stand out demonstrating the behaviors.”
She began the ceremony with an introductory speech to explain to students what was happening:
We have all worked very hard on identifying what makes a TNCS learner, and there are four words that can describe each and every one of you. They are compassion, courage, respect, and service, and they’re shown in different ways throughout the school day—what you do in the classroom that exemplifies one or more of these qualities. I met with your teachers and other staff, and we talked about all of the ways you exhibit the TNCS learning profile. So we are going to honor those of you at the end of each quarter who are representative of our TNCS learner. I want to emphasize that all of you have demonstrated all of these qualities, everyone has. But today we are acknowledging students who have really stood out during the first quarter.
She explained that two or three students were chosen in each category and reminded the audience to be happy for and congratulate friends who receive awards. (Last names have been omitted for student privacy and safety.)
In the compassion category, Bridghid, William, and Desmond stood out by having empathy for a friend; for helping out a fellow student in the classroom; or for helping students work through an academic or social problem.
Schonbeck and Ryan exemplified courage in the first quarter by adapting to new environments and making new friends.
In the category of respect, two students—Flora and Mia—markedly demonstrated the proper behavior expected of the TNCS student.
Chloe and Livia went above and beyond in service without being asked to help.
Mrs. Danyali closed by saying, “I think everybody here is a winner and part of this group and shows compassion, courage, respect, and service. We will acknowledge students at the end of every quarter, and we’ll also begin awarding those of you who have demonstrated perfect attendance.”
The ceremony was a highlight of the school year so far, and all students were happy to learn how their efforts to be kind to one another are recognized and appreciated. Said Mrs. Danyali, “This is a nice reminder that social-emotional learning is as important in development as academics.”