Catch-Ups with Aftercare Stars Ciera Daniels and Nicole Marshall!

Vital to the successful operation of The New Century School are the staff members who work somewhat behind the scenes—including those who provide extended care and assist in the classroom. Students might require care before the school day begins, after it ends, and during school holidays. Though not always directly in the spotlight, the individuals who supervise these extended care opportunities, therefore, have the immense responsibility of keeping the children who participate safe, entertained, and happy. Likewise, those who support teachers in the classroom as assistants are similarly tasked in addition to having other classroom-associated responsibilities. These dedicated people deserve recognition for the care they so generously provide.

This is where Ciera Daniels and Nicole Marshall come in. These two wonderful human beings are long-time TNCS employees and fulfill their duties with obvious pleasure. It’s rare, if not impossible, to encounter either of them not smiling. Immersed sat down with them to find out what makes them so particularly well suited to their work. (Why together? They not only work together, but are now besties and are almost never apart!)

Ms. Daniels began at TNCS in 2012 so has been at the school almost from the beginning. Ms. Daniels joined 5 years ago. Both are from Baltimore, MD, born and raised. They both work in aftercare at TNCS and either are currently serving as a classroom assistant (Ms. Marshall) or have done so in the past (Ms. Daniels), but, as you’ll see, they approach their job(s) as a team—and are all the more effective for this synergistic collaboration.

About Ciera Daniels

tncs-aftercare-instructor-ciear-danielsMs. Daniels recently graduated college with a communications degree from Bowie State University and is currently working two jobs. She says she applied at TNCS as a sophomore in college, just looking for a side job for some extra income. “Honestly, it was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said.

She next announced the big news that she is going to law school next semester to pursue a dual degree with a Masters in Public Policy at the University of Baltimore. “Since I was in fifth grade I knew I wanted to go to law school,” she said. “Then, 2 years ago, I did an internship with planned parenthood. We did a lot of lobbying and collaborating for gay rights and minorities, so I want to lobby for gay rights and minorities as a lawyer. That’s where I am.”

But that doesn’t mean she will no longer be involved in child care. She’ll continue at TNCS to support herself while she pursues her law degree and even feels that these two fields are not incongruent. “My work at TNCS is awesome,” she says, “and has taught me a lot. I have gained a lot of important skills here that I will use throughout my career.”

She seems to have the nurturing instinct built in. Her first job at the age of 14 years was in a daycare center, she currently works at TNCS in aftercare, and she wants her life’s work to be elevating the lives of others.

And that’s not all. Remember that second job mentioned above? She works mornings at the middle school at Kennedy Krieger Institute, and she says her two jobs complement each other well:

It’s a good shift from there to TNCS. I like the fact that I get to go there and be a bit more hands on, because I work with people with mental and physical disabilities. The kids here at TNCS are a lot more independent. So, I like that I can go there, be hands on and help those students with almost everything, and then come here and help these students do certain things and then step back and watch them go.

About Nicole Marshall

tncs-aftercare-instructor-nicole-marshallMs. Marshall also came to TNCS somewhat serendipitously. She has established a career as a nanny and cares for children up to age 2 years. One year, when her position was reduced to just the morning hours, she applies at TNCS to work here in the afternoons. “I knew I wanted to be in a school setting,” she explained, “but I really didn’t expect to be here so long. It’s hard to leave. You just fall in love with it. It’s beautiful.”

Like Ms. Daniels, Ms. Marshall also started her work life in a daycare and also at age 14. She has now been working in early childhood education for more than half of her life. “I helped out at my godmother’s home daycare until I turned 18, and then I became a nanny. I also got a 90-hour preschool certificate but continued to nanny. And then I came here.”

TNCS’s Dynamic Duo

So what does their TNCS life entail? For one thing, they both express gratitude for what they have learned during their time at the school. Ms. Daniels came to really appreciate the Montessori aspect, which she had not been familiar with before coming to TNCS. “Montessori has opened my eyes a lot. The way it works is amazing,” she said. For her part, Ms. Marshall appreciates the experience: “When you take the 90-hour class, you only learn a little bit. You can’t really know it until you are doing it.”

They primarily work with the preprimary students, currently, which is by choice. “We want to provide structure. Having a routine is much easier for the kids,” said Ms. Daniels. Ms. Marshall says this is also hard in some ways because, once the students move up to primary, that routine gets disrupted, dissolving the bonds they had established: “When they go upstairs, they don’t want to say ‘hi’ anymore.”

Another thing they appreciate is the language aspect. “I took Chinese for 4 years in high school,” said Ms. Daniels, “and when I came here it helped strengthen my Chinese so much, especially working with Yu Lin when she was here. Working here has also helped me learn Spanish. I’ve had teachers give me homework to help me learn.”

Ms. Marshall is amazed by how independent the students are: “It’s been just great to see how well they do. I love being able to see them make their journey.”

Back to their approach, they really prefer handling aftercare as a unit. Ms. Daniels says, “It’s not the same without each other.” Ms Marshall says, “You’ve got to prepare yourself when one is not here.” She explains, “In aftercare, we like to give them a lot of different choices, and we learn what they like and don’t like. So we know what works, and they just love it. They don’t want to leave sometimes when their parents come.”

Some afternoon activities they might do together include listening to music, playing games, or sometimes just “running around.” Their teamwork pays off in that it also models cooperation for the students. Says Ms. Marshall, “they kind of all agree on what we decide to do each day. They all work together. Most of the time they just want to run around. They have so much energy at 5 o’clock.”

“We’re just big kids, too,” joked Ms. Daniels. “And we adore the kids.”

The most important thing they wanted to convey, though, is the value of their partnership with parents. Said Ms. Marshall: “We appreciate the parents. If we go to them and tell them anything about what’s going on with the kids, they fix it, they try, they’re very cooperative. They respect our opinions, even though we’re just aftercare.”

“We’re so appreciative of their cooperation because with potty training, new languages, learning new life skills, all the parents are so cooperative and understanding. It’s just great,” agreed Ms. Daniels.

And, let’s back up a second, “just aftercare”? More like, “just about the best thing that ever happened to aftercare”? Thanks for all you do, ladies!

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Ed. Note: Just after this post published, Ms. Daniels and Ms. Marshall announced that they are writing a children’s book together. More great things to come from these two in 2019!

Thoughts on the First Half of the Year from TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan

Although it may be hard to believe, the first half of the 2018–2019 school year at The New Century School has just drawn to a close. Boy, did the last 3+ months fly by!

However, when we look back at everything that TNCS students have done since August 27th, the real surprise becomes, wow—how’d they squeeze so much active learning into such a short time span?! So, Immersed sat down with TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan to get her perspective on how the school year is progressing so far as well as how she is settling in to her role.

The Skinny from Señora Duncan

SONY DSCIt’s clear right off the bat that Señora Duncan has embraced her position as TNCS Head of School. But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing all the time. “It seems like just when I feel like I’m starting to cruise a little bit, a new event pops up, or something new is about to happen, or I have to prepare for something coming up down the road. But that’s expected; it’s the first year,” she said smiling. So many things are happening, many simultaneously, that she’s pretty much on her toes all the time—“good thing I danced as a kid,” she joked. She ticks off a partial list of some of the events she either kept track of or oversaw in the preceding weeks, both during and outside of the school day, and each with its own particular set of needs: Observation Week and the Fall Festival for the Primary program, whole-school Book Character Dress-Up Day, Elementary and Middle School Information Night and Open Houses for prospective families, Winter Concerts . . . and the list goes on. “They come so fast, yet they seemed so far off back in June. Now June seems far away, and here we are in December,” she said. “So sometimes it feels like I’m just about to take a breath, but we have to keep moving to get ready for the next thing. It’s great because I either learn something new about the school, or I get to meet some more people, which is even better.” Speaking of new people, she recalls the Maryland Secretary of State’s visit, saying, “Important visitors to our campus brings even another level and layer of excitement and preparation, which makes it all so interesting.”

She means it when she says that she finds all the hubbub exciting:

I’m loving it. I’m really loving it. My friends and family ask, ‘how do you like it?’I tell them, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some challenges. It’s not like it’s all sunshine and roses, but it’s so exhilarating to have a new challenge in my life at this stage of my career.’ To be able to do this is wonderful. All of these things that have been in me that I’ve been gathering in my career backpack for education over the last 25 years, I get to pull them out and really use them. It’s all coming to bear. At the same time, I’m still learning, which is just wonderful. I have not taught all of the subjects we teach here, so learning about those I was previously unfamiliar with and listening to our teachers and to our parents about how we can make them better really helps. It gives me an idea of where we need to go.

A Day in the Life

When asked for a description of a typical day as TNCS Head of School, Sra. Duncan laughed. “See, that’s another thing I like about education, there are no typical days!” She explains that some days she visits classrooms to keep track of what’s going on in those environments, whereas other days might find her confined to her office, conducting meetings, handling all of her communication, and the myriad other tasks her position demands of her. “I don’t like those days as much,” she admits. “Not that what goes on in there isn’t important, it is, but I’d rather see what’s going on in the classrooms. There are so many wonderful things going on during the day—I love to sit and listen and watch. I find it utterly amazing.”

Being a linguiphile (she grew up in a household where her mother encouraged all forms of language exposure), she finds Pei Ge‘s (“Ge Laoshi’s”) classroom particularly difficult to tear herself away from and is starting to pick up some Mandarin with Wei Li’s (“Li Laoshi’s”) help.

I want to sit there and be with the kids and go right along with them as they go through the daily routine in Mandarin or talk about fruits in Mandarin. It’s amazing to me that even students who just joined the program this year can become so proficient so fast. It’s magical to see live what happens with the students and their brains. You can talk about studies, you can see them online, you can read all the papers—but when you actually see children speaking the language and then turn around and start speaking English to me or speaking Spanish to Sra. Sanzana . . . it’s just amazing how their brains switch effortlessly to the very next thing.

Another interesting aspect of her role is that not only did she assume it this year, but it is itself new, or maybe refurbished, this year. The school administration expanded to include a Head of School as well as a Head of Lower School/Dean of Students, which position Alicia Danyali took over. Both roles are well defined and eliminate the guesswork that can plague an organization when chain of command is unclear. When asked how this new division of roles has worked out so far, Sra. Duncan wasted no breath: “I don’t know what I would have done without her, and I don’t know how she did it all these years by herself. I mean this is a big job, a really big job!” She also appreciates how well they work together, not just alongside each other: “We’re very like-minded in our philosophies about school, which is ideal. It’s great to be with her,” said Sra. Duncan. And, their strong suits complement each other:

Ms. Danyali has done wonders with handling preschool, which admittedly is not my bailiwick, so having her really cover that has been so wonderful. And having her experience and institutional knowledge has been invaluable. If I have a question about a situation, she can tell me how it was handled last year, 3 years ago, and so on. I feel so lucky to have that. How many people get to work with their predecessor? It should almost be required because it’s so helpful.

Work–Life Balance

Apart from enjoying a new position and being able to handle it, any big career change also has to fit into an individual’s broader life. Fortunately, that, too, is working well for Sra. Duncan. With her two daughters away at college, the daily demands of raising children have largely evaporated, leaving more time, space, energy, and nurturing that Sra. Duncan can direct elsewhere. Also, her husband has been very supportive. Even when she needs to stay late, such as for a school potluck, he will sometimes join her or make sure she has what she needs to get through a long day (“He packs fruit for me everyday”). “But, even though this job does fit into my life pretty well at this stage, I have learned long ago that I have to make a separation between home and work. So, I really try to make sure that I leave TNCS at TNCS, and, when I get home, I’m at home. That’s something I’ve really worked hard to do,” she said.

Her ability to achieve this work–life balance serves her well, but it also serves TNCS and the TNCS community of students, teachers, staff, and families. Sra. Duncan has already earned our love and respect for her unflagging composure, ready smiles, and judicious leadership. We can’t wait to see what the second half of the school year brings!

 

It’s Time to Catch Up with TNCS Preprimary Teacher Elizabeth Salas-Viaux!

Immersed‘s “Catch Up With the Teacher” series continues with preprimary teacher Elizabeth Salas-Viaux (“Señora Salas”).

Getting to Know Elizabeth Salas-Viaux

tncs-preprimary-teacher-elizabeth-salas-viauxSra. Salas started at The New Century School in 2014 when she joined Maria Mosby‘s primary classroom as an assistant teacher. The following year, she took over as lead teacher of a preprimary classroom with six children. She says she enjoys seeing her former “wonderful, beautiful” students around the school. Now in her third year as lead teacher, her Spanish Immersion class has grown to 18 2- and 3-year-olds.

Sra. Salas’s story is one of perseverance, of setting goals and sticking to them. She is originally from Santiago, Chile and came alone, speaking no English, to the United States in 2012 at 23 years old. “I had this dream of learning English so I started as an au pair,” she related.

We had an exchange experience. I was taking care of a 7-month-old, a 2-year-old, and a 4-year-old. I would speak only Spanish to them and they would speak only English to me, so that’s the way I learned English. I learned a lot about being flexible, being independent, and other things about myself. I was always open and happy to teach them about my Chilean culture. It was a rich experience.

That experience has stayed with her: “Those 2 wonderful years taught me that if I could learn English, and I did, then I can teach a Spanish immersion program and the students would pick it up.” She has also stayed in contact with her Virginia family, even having her wedding reception at their home.

So where did her dream of learning English come from? Back in Chile, she studied administration in hospitality and went to work at a Ritz Carlton Hotel. “That opened my eyes,” she explained. “I realized that I needed to learn English, to explore new cultures. I needed to go to another country and get better at this if I want to continue with this career.” Obviously, some parts of her plans underwent some change. She says that she had not planned on remaining in the United States at all but was going to return to Chile and resume her work in the hospitality industry, being so ideally suited for that role. “I have a lot of energy, and I always liked customer service, to focus on the client. And that’s why I came here, so I could improve my English and get a 2-year experience, then go back home and be with my family. Chilean people are very family oriented,” she explained.

As will happen, though, Cupid intervened. She met her now husband in Virginia, and, when he got a job in Baltimore, they moved here, right after tying the knot. Completely new in the area but still eager to practice her English and continue learning, she attended Northern Virginia Community College. She realized that she wanted to continue working with children and decided to apply to TNCS, having seen a job posting. “I would like to work hard and see if there’s something available here for me,” she said. “I fell in  love with the school, and I also love the Montessori philosophy.”

As for her family? “My parents come here every year, and I go there for Christmas or whenever I have a chance.”

In (and Out of) the Classroom

Fortunately, she seems to have made the right adjustments to her original life plan, both in terms of geography and of career. She loves teaching, as it turns out, which does have a lot in common with hospitality. “This is an environment that every time you come here you have people excited for the new day, excited to learn. It’s not like an office job. Everyday you see happy faces, and everyday is like a fresh start. They are always happy, like it’s going to be a good day. I love working with those little souls,” she said.

And those little souls are doing beautifully in the language immersion classroom, she reports. “Everything is just sort of natural’ it happens organically. [Sra. Lala and I] are very consistent with our routine and the way we express ourselves with the Spanish language, and it’s amazing to see how much the students have absorbed so far. We are super happy to see them already speaking the language and trying to communicate with us.”

She admires this unique aspect of TNCS as well as the other features that set it apart:

This is something I’ve never seen before, neither in Chile nor the United States. I really like the fact that the students have the chance to think for themselves and to reflect on their own actions is. Also, we take advantage of the city, the community. It’s nice to go for a walk, pass by the coffee shop and say hi to people. At TNCS, they can be children, experience lots of things through activities and getting out and seeing things. I like that we teachers can learn so much from each other. We have Chinese, we have English, we have Spanish. We have different food, and we have different cultures. We have different people. We all look different, I like that; I like that a lot.

Sra. Salas is happy teaching at TNCS and has thrown herself into it. Every day, we teachers try our best. We try to give the best of us every single day—to have good energy and a positive attitude and lots of patience. We are always there for the children.” She also says that she actively enjoys going to work every day. “I love what I do, and I’ve never had a moment where I wish I could stay home. Once you find your true passion, you never feel like you have to go to work everyday. I think that’s my motto, I truly believe in that. I’m very happy here.”

And TNCS is happy you’re here!

Catch Up with the Teacher: Lisa Reynolds!

Immersed is thrilled to announce a new series happening for the 2018–2019 school year! Similar to how we interview new teachers who join The New Century School in the “Meet the Teacher” series, starting with this very post, we will be circling back to profile long-standing veteran faculty members, who also deserve this chance to tell readers a little more about who they are. Let’s call this long overdue series, “Catch-Up with the Teacher”!

Getting to Know Lisa Reynolds

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Lisa Reynolds with the latest addition to her family!

The thing that anyone who encounters Lisa Reynolds immediately notices is that she always seems happy to be where she is, which is in a classroom brimming with the adorable energy of preschool-age children. Ms. Reynolds joined TNCS in 2013 as a primary teacher. After a stint with the preprimary students, she is now back up on the second floor of building south—that is, in primary, and many would say that’s precisely where she belongs. She’s a natural with the 3- to 5-year-old set!

A lifelong Maryland native from Baltimore County, she received her Montessori certification in 2013 from the Maryland Center for Montessori Studies. Calm, patient, and loving, she exemplifies the Montessori teacher.

Inside Ms. Reynolds’ Classroom

tncs-teacher-lisa-reynoldsHer class comprises 19 students, and Xiu (“Nina”) Laoshi is an in-class intern teacher. Their shared goal is to instill a sense of community in their students, to socialize them. “I concentrate on the social aspect of the group,” explained Ms. Reynolds. “I’m seeing how they respond to one another during group activities. I want them to feel like a family—to see themselves as individuals as part of a family, a larger group.”

Such group activities usually involve making things, and, even apart from her innate creativity, there’s a very good reason why, according to Ms. Reynolds. “We do a lot of fun cooking, for example. One of my instructors used to say that the steps in the process really are not the work, but the conversation is, the cooperation. Being able to communicate with one another and work together, that’s the work.” They started with potatoes and plan to make some very communicative, cooperative muffins next quarter.

As appropriate for the Montessori method, her 19 students are a mix of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds. Ms. Reynolds says the mixed ages is going very well. “The children I’ve had for 3 years are really big helpers so they help the younger children a lot. The younger students really appreciate that, and some bonds have become very strong.”

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As reported in a recent post, it’s important that the mixed-age dynamic is bidirectional, so the older students who mentor their younger classmates also get the chance to be mentored, such as when students from upper divisions pay the class a visit to read together.

As mentioned, Ms. Reynolds loves to be creative and finds lots of ways to incorporate art into class time. For special occasions, like the recent Thanksgiving Feast, students make decorations and place settings. And, teaser, mothers of children in her class may see some other beautiful decorations and more this coming May!

Language Learning

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Students have the benefit of a native-speaking Mandarin assistant teacher. Xiu Laoshi is quiet and soft spoken and prefers teaching one to one or in small groups of students. Chen Laoshi also comes in to assist, and she likes larger-group activities, like making carrot and spinach noodles from scratch.

For Spanish, the class has one-on-one teaching and large-group instruction twice a week. “In the larger groups, they might read a story, sing a song, and have a large group lesson. Then we break down into smaller groups, and they do little individualized lessons based on where the child is at,” explained Ms. Reynolds.

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Señora Sanzana leads the students in a song and dance around the classroom.

Primary Workshop

At the fall parent workshop, Ms. Reynolds’ topic specialty was the outdoors. She said:

I was basically giving parents ideas about what they can do outdoors. How to focus more on their gross motor skills and letting them explore, for example. Having certain boundaries but not hovering over them and letting them experience the fresh air, the smell of the grass, the sound of the leaves. Being able to absorb all of those sensory aspects of the outdoors and the importance of connecting with nature.

One terrific suggestion she has is going on a scavenger hunt. Collect paint swatches from a building or hardware store and then ask your children to find something in nature that matches the color. Try it during different seasons to show them the spectrum of natural colors and how they shift through the year.

Takeaway Thoughts

“I love my job!,” said Ms, Reynolds. “I love being with the children. It is the best part of my day. I have so much passion for the Montessori philosophy and the care of the children.”

TNCS is so glad to have you as a teacher!

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