Virtual TNCS: A School and Its Student Body Continue to Thrive!

On Friday, March 13, 2020, The New Century School shuttered its campus at the end of the school day, closing down along with the rest of Maryland schools, then U.S. schools, then all nonessential businesses, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This necessity to try to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the virus disrupted normal life for just about everyone on Earth. With cooperation, collaboration, and community-spiritedness, we’ll get through this. In the meantime, people are adjusting to how to live full lives while staying at home.

For our children, this is especially imperative. Their education and development must continue, but how? Parents across the globe face this dilemma. What, if any, are the expectations and academic requirements for students while school is out? What is the threshold for how much school they can miss before they start to lose ground they might not be able to regain?

TNCS is a success story in this otherwise quagmire of uncertainty. TNCS admin and faculty had already begun working feverishly behind the scenes to prepare for what would become known as “distance learning.” By Sunday, March 15th, a team of student volunteers had been appointed to help transition all TNCS students to a virtual learning environment. In other words, classes would continue, just like every other day, but TNCS students would “attend” from home, meeting up online. On Monday, March 16th, the student volunteers sent messages and made phone calls to the parents of the younger students on their lists to get them set up in Google Classroom, an online platform to “organize assignments, boost collaboration, and foster better communication.” Meanwhile, staff were being trained on the new platform and designing and adapting curricula. By Tuesday, March 17th, nearly 100% of TNCS students were up and running (yes, even preschoolers!), and parents received a very welcome message: “TNCS Virtual School begins tomorrow!” (Read the message in its entirety here.)

TNCS Virtual School

And so began what has been an utterly remarkable experience for TNCS students. As periods of closure extend longer and longer, and social distancing grows wider and wider, these children have not skipped a beat in their education. Classes are synchronous, meaning that students can interact with each other and the teacher, not just with a screen. Using ingenious combinations of Google Hangouts and Zoom, teachers have kept students in their classes connected and engaged. Right from the start, students had a regular school day, signing on at 8:30 and progressing through their class schedule—including language classes and even art and music in addition to core academics—until “dismissal” at 3:30.

At the close of Day 1, March 18th, parents received another encouraging message from the TNCS Virtual School Team:

It was a great start for many, and not-so-perfect for some. There were many wonderful moments worth celebrating—students interacting with one another, connecting with teachers, and dedicating themselves to learning a new routine. Your support of the school in interactions with your children has created a strong foundation and we deeply appreciate it as we embark on this learning journey . . . Grit has a stronger effect on success than IQ and many other factors. Let’s cultivate our students’ grit. Let’s cultivate our own grit and use this experience to become stronger and more capable than ever.

In the days and weeks to come, TNCS Virtual School will emphasize:

  1. Continuing academic growth/readiness for next school year
  2. Supporting student social and emotional and well-being
  3. Showing Virtual School in action

Remember that Immersed promised you adorable photos of TNCS students last week? Well, let’s get to it!

TNCS Virtual Preschool

Here are the littlest learners “showing some TNCS e-learning spirit,” as Señora Salas puts it. Among lots of other great activities below, find her “Arts and crafts of the day: Oruga (caterpillar).”

Another sample preschool activity is as follows:

“En La Casa” (At Home): Matching “Colores” (Colors)
Materials:

  • Pom poms assorted colors
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Shower mats/shower pads/soap suction pads
  • Kitchen bowls/containers
  • Kitchen utensils (spoons, measuring spoons, etc.)
  • Trays/place mats
  • Tongs/tweezers (optional, for a more challenging activity)

At school, each activity is arranged from left to right, as children work on their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. These activities are also placed on a tray or a place mat to create a sense of order, making it inviting and interesting to our “amigos”!

Speaking of hand–eye coordination, what about physical activity? Covered!

Virtual Montessori!

TNCS Montessori teachers nurture order, coordination, concentration, and independence in their students . . . from the computer! Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Culture areas of the “classroom” are all intact!

Sample Schedule

  • 9:00 Story or Yoga
  • 10:30 Food Preparation, Making a cucumber sandwich
  • 1:15 Chapter Book
  • 2:00 Math, Bead Stair Lesson
  • 2:30 Language, Rhyming Work

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Virtual Service Learning

Yep, we got that, too. Here’s one example of how a TNCS student is giving back while social distancing. She made bookmarks to encourage children with reduced literacy to hang in there and keep reading.

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She also wrote a letter to TNCS Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali:

Hi Ms. Danyali,

Hope you are doing OK. My family and I are keeping busy at home, and schoolwork is a large part of that. My parents are happy that I am still learning.
To answer your questions:
1) I love that books help me to learn.
2) Books help me build my curiosity by learning how to spell new words and by learning about new ideas.
3) Reading is important because it makes you smarter and helps you grow.
4) When I learned to read, it helped me to spell.
5) I hope the student feels joyful.

Thank you for this project!
Best,
Vivian (written with Mom’s help)

Other service initiatives in all divisions can be found here.

From here on, we’ll dispense with the descriptions and just let you feast your eyes.

Virtual Science Class

Virtual Global Studies

Virtual Language Classes

Virtual Math Class


Virtual Art Class

Miscellaneous Elementary & Middle School


As school systems around the country are facing the reality that they will have to devise online schooling, with many, including Maryland’s, hoping to start in April, TNCS students will enter Week 3 of their brave, new education next week. They will have gotten through the adjustment phase, untangled the technical snafus, settled into their routines. And let’s not minimize those challenges. This transition has been overwhelming to varying degrees for all of us. (Read Guest Blog to see how one stalwart TNCS 8th-grader is helping us through it.) But we can be reassured by at least one aspect of this unprecedented circumstance—our children are flourishing, just like usual, thanks to The New Century School.

Also a big thank you to parents who so graciously allowed us to see what TNCS Virtual School looks like at their house. With yesterday’s announcement that MD schools will be closed through April 24th and possibly longer, TNCS Virtual School is a blessing and a marvel—even the next generation is getting in on the act!

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Student Guest Blog: Advice to Students and Parents Transitioning to Online School during COVID-19

images.jpgThis is a very special blog post, dear readers. It’s Immersed‘s 350th post, to begin with, which amounts to quite a repository of all the wonderful goings-on at The New Century School over the years. Felicidades and gōngxǐ (恭喜) are most certainly in order!

Then there’s the fact that this is the first Immersed post to publish since COVID-19 broke out in the United States with a vengeance, forcing us to institute social distancing, then more or less shelter in place where possible. With TNCS closed, however, Immersed nevertheless sallies forth!

And that brings us to the third reason this post is so very extra special—it was contributed by guest blogger Kathryn Hardaway! Ms. Hardaway is an 8th-grader at TNCS (and our first student contributor!) and has attended since the school opened its doors. If anyone knows TNCS, it’s her, so, without further ado, here are her words of advice for getting through with grace and making the most of this time.img_2960-copy-e1569699875507

Keep a Schedule

One of the things that has helped keep me on task during this whole crazy outbreak has been a daily schedule. It helps builds structure in a day and keeps everyone on task. If your kid needs supervision while on class-chats, you both will know when it’s time to go on, or if they’re learning a new subject in math, you both will know when it’s time for help. Try and make your schedule together, at the start of the day. If it helps to add specific times on certain activities, go ahead and mark it up.

Keep It Simple

The best thing you can do for your kid in a time like this is keep it simple. It’s okay if they can’t do everything they would normally do each day. Give them a little break, allow them to have free time, and, kids, same goes for you. Your parents are working harder than you know, so stay on task and don’t be too hard on them. Try meditating!

Get Outside

I consider going outside for at least a half hour each day to have been my saving grace. After spending a long day inside, with my eyes glued to a computer screen, it’s really important to get outside while you still can. It can help a lot if you feel confined or have cabin fever. Just taking a walk or a run helps you stay active and just getting those bits of fresh air are really important when you’re quarantined. Maybe even taking your mathbook outside and doing some work out there would be beneficial. Or build a fort!

Find Healthy Hobbies

Having a healthy hobby is something I’ve found really fun. If your child has an unhealthy habit, replace it with a brand new healthy hobby. Encourage them to spend time doing it. Whether it’s trying to do 20 pull-ups, or writing a book, it’s something to keep yourself busy with. If you’re bored, try and do something new. Read a new book series or set a new goal. Pick something that you genuinely enjoy doing so you’re motivated to keep on going with it.

Be Kind

Remember to always be kind. Everyone is having their own struggles right now, so don’t be too hard on anyone. Parents, remember to keep structure, but also don’t be too harsh if your kid makes a mistake. This is a stressful time for everyone, so try and ask people what’s going on; see if you can chat about things that are bothering you so you can try and fix them. Give constructive feedback, but don’t be too harsh. Kids please, please remember how hard your parents work each and every day. They’re having to adjust to this new lifestyle too. Try to be independent, but don’t be afraid to ask for help, or even offer to chip in a little more than usual. All the little things mean more than you can know.

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Next week, see more of the online school Ms. Hardaway refers to . . . plus lots of adorable photos of TNCS students happily at work!

TNCS Reading Buddies Program Expands to “Buddy School,” Wolfe St. Academy!

The New Century School‘s reading buddies program has long been a popular activity on the TNCS campus, uniting younger and older students and enhancing camaraderie among divisions. The social and emotional benefits are enormous; additionally, the mentor–mentee dynamic has other built-in advantages like instilling confidence in participants on both sides as they develop together. The cognitive benefits are likewise tremendous. The increasing confidence in burgeoning readers, for example, allows them to take bigger and bigger risks such as with trying out new words and so on—just believing they can do it is huge. Let’s face it, it’s also just the cutest thing ever. (But don’t take our word for it—check out Cooperative Learning at TNCS: Reading Buddies, Budding Readers for details . . . and adorable photos.)

Image-7With all this wonderful social, emotional, and cognitive magic happening, thought TNCS Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali, why not share it on a broader scale? It just so happens that Ms. Danyali has been partnering with Leah Beachley, MSW, LMSW, the Community School Coordinator for Wolfe Street Academy #023. Ms. Beachley is also a Clinical Instructor, Social Work Community Outreach Service (SWCOS) at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Together, Ms. Danyali and Ms. Beachley coordinated on a plan to team up TNCS and WSA students for a new Reading Buddies trial. Ms. Beachley explained that many of her students speak English as a second language, and their ELA reading skills can lag behind the expected proficiency for grade level. She has been working on ways to close this gap since she came to WSA 3 years ago. Adult volunteers from the community have come to WSA to practice reading with the students, but Ms. Beachley sensed that a more effective plan was possible. “With adults,” she explained, “WSA students were not as comfortable and would show that by losing focus and disrupting the sessions.”

So, on March 6th, TNCS 5th- and 6th-graders accompanied by homeroom teacher Ms. Sharma took a walk to WSA to try out the new Reading Buddies program. They arrived at 1:30 pm and were given a brief orientation and tour of WSA’s lovely building and grounds by Ms. Beachley.

TNCS students met with WSA 1st- through 4th-grade students until 2:30 pm. They brought along books they thought would make good read-aloud choices and were also given access to WSA’s library. In their 30 minutes of reading, some students had to make multiple trips to the library to re-up!

Interestingly, TNCS students seemed to gauge their particular situation immediately and adapt to what it called for. For example, some WSA students preferred to absorb the experience of being read aloud to, whereas others preferred to take the reins and do the reading themselves but appreciated the ready support.

The initial Reading Buddies trial was an overwhelming triumph, with WSA and TNCS students alike enthusiastically reporting positive feedback. Several WSA children didn’t want the session to end! Said Ms. Beachley, “I am so happy to report that we had such a successful Reading Buddies session today! I spent some time with our Wolfe Street students at dismissal and they were gushing about how much fun they had with their TNCS buddies!” Ms. Beachley also noted how well her initial match-ups of TNCS and WSA students went and has decided to use the same pairings for future sessions. All students wore name tags, too, and became very friendly with each other.

Ms. Sharma was in complete agreement: “Thanks to you, [Ms. Beachley] for making such a perfect arrangement for the reading buddies service opportunity. The TNCS grade 5,6 students were also very satisfied and happy with their experience! They will definitely be bringing more books to read to their buddies next time. We can’t wait to be back to greet our new friends!”

Ms. Beachley summed up the experience perfectly:

The Reading Buddies activity is extremely valuable to the Wolfe Street Academy students. Not only do the WSA students receive literacy support from an older student, but they also have the unique opportunity to form a friendship with a student close to them in age. During the course of the Reading Buddies meetings, I observed Wolfe Street and TNCS students bonding over their favorite books, and I saw the WSA students growing in their confidence to read aloud. After TNCS buddies left, the WSA students already began to ask when they would be back next! We hope that our continued collaboration will grow the bond between WSA and TNCS students so that they can learn from each other, learn about their different school settings, and share their love of reading!

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TNCS 7th- and 8th-graders will also take a turn at this marvelous example of service learning, although that may be delayed due to Baltimore City school closings related to the COVID-19 outbreak beginning March 16th.

Artist Harold Caudio Sweetens Up TNCS’s Black History Month Celebration!

Rounding out the month of February, students at The New Century School put on a first-of-its-kind show at the school. Although celebrating Black History Month has always been a theme in classrooms, this year, at the suggestion of TNCS Parent Council Director Sakina Ligon, it expanded to the stage. (Read about TNCS’s Inaugural Black History Month Celebration and see photos of projects as well as videos of choral and other performances here.) Also note that Head of School Shara Khon Duncan and Curriculum Coordinator Adriana Duprau ensure that African Americans—as well as people from a variety of backgrounds—are represented across the school curriculum throughout the year.

In last week’s post, Immersed hinted at what made the Black History Month celebration extra special even beyond all the wonderful student efforts led by Javan Bowden (aka, “Mr. B”)—the visit by Florida artist Harold Caudio—but this visit warrants a post all of its own. So, it’s time now to meet Mr. Caudio, take a closer look at his one-of-a-kind art, and hear his inspiring message.

Welcome to TNCS, Harold Caudio!

Asked to present at the evening by family friend Ms. Ligon, Mr. Caudio made the 13-hour drive from West Palm Beach to Baltimore in a single day. This huge effort was not lost on the TNCS community, and the audience continuously demonstrated their immense appreciation. Something else elevated his visit to legendary status. . . the date, February 26th. On the same day back in 2012, high school junior Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, by a neighborhood watch captain, launching nationwide protests. Trayvon was unarmed, carrying a bag of Skittles candy and an iced tea. He was 17 years old.

The Colored Collection

That injustice haunts the country, but for Mr. Caudio it was the impetus to create “The Colored Collection,” a series of portraits of iconic black individuals, the first of which was Trayvon Martin titled “Justus.” The medium he uses? Mr. Caudio’s portraits are done in Skittles, in honor of Trayvon. The name of his collection is thus a play on words on many levels: In an artist bio, the author writes, “Harold named the artwork ‘The Colored Collection’ because we, as ‘colored’ people have had a huge impact on society and culture; we color the world. It’s a way of flipping an insult and making it impactful pop art. The idea of the collection is to bring people together, no matter what color or background while spreading unity and peace.” It’s also a nod to the Skittles themselves, which are known for their bright colors that invite us to “taste the rainbow.”

The story of Trayvon resonated with Mr. Caudio personally. As a black (Haitian American) man, it struck him—again, quoting from the bio—“how easily it could’ve been him, or his son, brother, cousin, or friend.” That sense impelled him to do something, to make art, in fact.

Mr. Caudio was not new to the creation of art. “From as far as I can remember,” he says, “I have been making art since I first learned to pick up a crayon and color, doing kiddy stuff like drawing on the walls and getting trouble,” he joked. Although he didn’t necessarily take art seriously at the age of 3, he has since worked with several media, including clay, bronze sculpting, acrylic, pastels, and so on. In addition to his portraiture, he currently has a clothing line called Cultured Revolution that he talks about briefly in this clip.

Back to the “The Colored Collection,” other individuals he has immortalized include Michael Jackson; Tupac; Xxxtentacion; Beyoncé, Rihanna (pictured below, though many mistake this one for Lauryn Hill); Toussaint Louverture (also pictured below; hint, he’s the only one wearing epaulets) Bob Marley; Will Smith; ; Michelle Obama; and, his most recent work, Kobe Bryant, which he débuted at TNCS. That was one powerful moment, with Kobe and his daughter Gianna having tragically died in a helicopter crash only a few weeks prior.

So how does Mr. Caudio choose the people he portrays?

I choose people that I relate to Skittles candy. Those who make people feel good, who move the culture forward. If they have a sweet, positive impact on society, I aim to immortalize that message with my art. When I think of Skittles, I think of the mantra ‘taste the rainbow.’ The different colors represent us as a people. If we come together, we can be beautiful just like the figures I choose to do are doing.

The process he uses to capture these faces so beautifully, he says, is all about lighting. “I maximize seven colors and play with the lights from darks until it makes sense.” He had to borrow white Skittles from the UK, where they were made to celebrate LGBTQ Pride, but otherwise, he buys Skittles by the gallon from Walmart. White Skittles don’t have a special flavor—they taste like another color, but the taster won’t know which one until it’s on the tongue! Even in the white Skittles, though, there is inherent symbolism. Although white is itself achromatic, it reflects all the visible wavelengths of light. According to the “additive color theory,” all the colors of light together create white. Apply that to Mr. Caudio’s art, and you again get his idea that society comprises people of all colors, and their individual contributions are beautiful, as is what those collective contributions create.

Most of Mr. Caudio’s 17 total pieces are on exhibit in South Florida, but he accepts commissions for custom portraits (“dog, cat, bird,” he joked) and is also willing to auction pieces for charity. JUSTUS, for example, was purchased by Queen B’s mom for her WACO (Where Art Can Occur) Theater Center. His works are designed to last, he explains. “They’re coated with resin and mixed materials to last forever, from what I can see. They don’t attract bugs,” he later joked. They take, on average, about 2 weeks to create. JUSTUS, though, his first, took 6 months while he got the hang of his process and absorbed the import of what he was creating.

If you’re detecting an influence from another Haitian American artist whose pop art–esque portraits were also saturated with color, you wouldn’t be off base. Mr. Caudio cites Jean-Michel Basquiat as a primary influence as well as Bob Ross and Roy Lichtenstein in the modern world. He also appreciates many of the Renaissance painters.

Q&A with Harold Caudio

After the student performances on Black History Month night, Mr. Caudio gave a brief presentation about his work, then Ms. Ligon facilitated a question-and-answer session between audience members and the artist.

Ms. Ligon also made sure to give TNCS students a chance to grill Mr. Caudio. (Perhaps not surprisingly, many of their questions are about candy.)

Mr. Caudio’s works remained on display in the auditorium after the student performances so attendees could get a closer look at the portraits and meet the very generous, very warm, and very funny Harold Caudio. His visit will certainly go down in the annals of great moments at TNCS!

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Artist Harold Caudio and TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan are shown here flanking Mr. Caudio’s portrait of François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, celebrated general of the 18th-century Haitian Revolution.


More From the Artist Bio:
His most recent collection was featured at Art Basel Miami 2018 and Art Palm Beach 2019. Harold created the ‘The Colored Collection’, an emotion-evoking series of portraits made entirely out of Skittles. Word has traveled and continues to spread rapidly about this collection, it’s already been viewed by millions of people, gone viral on social media sites and featured in numerous big publications & networks such as Business Insider, Young Turks, NBC, ABC world news, Palm Beach post, LA Times, Fox News, Wearable Art Gala feat Beyoncé, 60 minutes, and more.