On the eve of the summer solstice, Immersed is thrilled about this post—all about virtual summer camp, it’s another big first for The New Century School! With Weeks 1 through 4 run by TNCS art teacher Jia Liu, who is also a professional kids’ book illustrator, TNCS virtual art camps are divided into classes for K through 3rd-graders and 4th- through 8th-graders. Art camp runs throughout the summer, and if you haven’t signed your kids up yet, you’re going to want to after you see what campers created in just the first week—and how much fun they had doing it!
(After Week 4, TNCS virtual summer art camps are run by another TNCS Summer Camp favorite, Hilary Christian.)
Master Illustrators Virtual Summer Art Camp
Each day, campers logged into Google classroom, where they were given the theme of the day, a list of supplies to gather, and a Zoom link to join Liu Laoshi and their fellow campers in real time.
As you’ll see, Liu Laoshi makes art not only fun but also relevant in her step-by-step online demos. Campers create art that has meaning for them.
Session 1: Pattern Making
For their first day, campers were asked to bring copy paper, markers, and scissors. They created patterns, which Liu Laoshi turned into virtual pillows!
Session 2: Packaging Illustration
For Day 2, campers were asked to design and illustrate the packaging for a product of their choice, such as a favorite snack. This project combines creativity with a real-world application of art, using drawing paper, markers and scissors.
Session 3: Story Illustration, Day 1
Campers were asked to illustrate part of one of their favorite stories or even a story they wrote themselves (such as shown below), using drawing paper, markers and scissors.
Session 4: Story Illustration, Day 2
The next day, campers put the finishing touches on their illustrations with drawing paper, pencils, markers, and water color and/or tempera paints and painting supplies. “Don’t forget to bring your creative ideas, too!” instructed Liu Laoshi. This image shows an illustration from Hatchet, which was a novel assigned to 5th-graders during the school year.
Session 1: Moving Image
For the last day of Master Illustrators camp, campers learned basic knowledge about animation and GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) and animated their own flip books. They could use drawing paper, pencils, markers, and water color and/or tempera paints and painting supplies.
“The past week has been great!” said Liu Laoshi. “Students and I had a lot of fun, and we didn’t want to end the class every day. They were excited for a new project each day, and they had some great work done! I am looking forward to the coming weeks.”
On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, The New Century School was proud and thrilled to graduate its second class of 8th-graders, a monumental accomplishment in more ways than one. In a year during which the out-of-the-ordinary became the new ordinary, these middle schoolers faced not only the challenges inherent in adolescence and making the huge transition to high school, but wholly new kinds of challenges as well, including embarking on their coming-of-age journeys during a worldwide pandemic and then witnessing the massive and ongoing societal protest against racism in all its many forms.
Through all of this upheaval, TNCS graduates stayed connected to their values and to each other. While the pandemic forced them to stay physically remote from each other, they nevertheless drew closer together. In fact, the same can be said for the TNCS community as a whole, and we should be proud of this, too.
The TNCS Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2020 took place over Zoom. For anyone worrying that the 8th-graders missed out on not being able to walk across a stage, shake hands, throw their caps in the air, and embrace each other, be consoled. This ceremony—though different, to be sure—was beautiful. Although we can’t show the whole recording here to protect TNCS students’ privacy, participants dropped regularly from the Zoom screen to wipe their tears off camera.
The ceremony began with TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan’s welcome.“While we cannot be in person as we had hoped,” she began, “we wish to make this celebration as special as we can. We appreciate you being here as a community and as a family.”
Next, came a video of the TNCS String Ensemble playing “Red Wing,” a feat of production pulled off by former TNCS Strings Instructor Yoshiaki Horiguchi.
This was followed by some “Words of Wisdom” from several 8th-graders to 5th-graders, who also graduated (from the TNCS Elementary Program) this year and will begin Middle School for the 2020–2021 school year.
“Middle school is a short and fun ride,” began one student, “but you have to make it that way by beginning with a positive attitude. The work will be harder, and the workload bigger, but that’s life. Think of middle school as a stepping stone for high school, college, and the ‘real world.’ It’s important to let work come before recreation so you can reap the rewards later in life. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask your elders for guidance. After all, experience is one of life’s greatest teachers.”
“Always do your homework,” warned another. “It will pile up otherwise, and you will fall behind. To handle the workload, make a schedule and do your work with energy.”
Said a third student: “My words of advice are to not always hang out with the same people. You can get to know new people and realize how cool they are. And be yourself.”
“I want you to know that a lot of exciting things are about to happen to you,” said yet a fourth. “It may seem like there are a lot of obstacles in middle school and a lot of work, but use your time wisely, and you’ll persevere. If you’re going to go to a good high school, you’ll need good grades. Something I learned about myself is that I’m strong. There were times when I wanted to give up and times when I lost faith in my myself, but I pushed myself, and look where I’m at.”
“To be the best version of yourself, avoid the drama—just be yourself. Also put 100% in; don’t do things halfway so you can feel proud of your work.”
“Middle school can be a great experience, but it all depends on your mindset. It will be challenging, but if you decide to face difficulties head on, you will succeed. It all pays off in the end. Stay confident and work hard. These years will shape you as a person. Make good use of them because you’re not going to get them back.”
These sage pieces of advice were followed by an “Homage to the Graduates”by the 7th-graders, some of whom have known each other since kindergarten, in TNCS’s very first days. This segment was especially poignant, as most graduates will attend different high schools, and paths will diverge. In their clips, 7th-graders reminisced about how they met their 8th-grade mentors, celebrated their positive attributes, and wished them good luck. Cue the waterworks!
“See you later friend,” said one. “Hopefully we cross paths another time.”
“Without [my friend], I wouldn’t be the person I am today, taking me out of my comfort zone and encouraging me to be my best,” said another. “Good friends are like stars,” she quoted. “You can’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.”
“I look up to [my friend]. She is full of bright ideas, and I admire this. She is an amazing leader and has an adventurous and caring spirit.”
“[My friend] showed me a lot of things that I couldn’t have gotten from anyone else. He showed me my now favorite instrument, the bass guitar. He’s such a caring person. Something I like about him is his plentiful amount of determination. He could always make it work. We’re all rooting for you.”
“[My friend] always stands up for what she believes in. She is a natural leader. Although it is sad to say goodbye, I know we will never forget each other.”
“My favorite thing about [my friend] is his sense of humor, which matches mine. I also admire his smartness. Thank you for being such a great friend to me. Hopefully, we can stay in contact.”
Remarks by one of the six graduating 8th-graders came next.He was challenged more than he thought possible in the last year, he recounted, and was surprised to learn that he enjoyed the creative writing assignments Mrs. Hope gave him.
He feels his creativity, open-mindedness, and intuitiveness have all benefited. He went on to explain what he feels sets TNCS apart.
TNCS prides itself on four core values: Compassion, courage, respect, and service. These are great traits for any student to have, and the teachers and staff put a lot of effort into emphasizing their importance. Perhaps the most impressive feature of TNCS is that it has plenty of both Mandarin and Spanish teachers. The ability to speak the three most spoken languages in the world will be fundamental to ur success. I know this skill set will open many doors for us. Finally, as a parting gift, I’d like to give my fellow graduates a lesson of my own. Until recently, I hadn’t realized the value of hard work. However, I now have purpose and determination to succeed. Congratulations, graduates. I bid you a merry farewell and a great life ahead of you.
Adriana DuPrau spoke next. Although she is now TNCS’s Curriculum Coordinator, she also has the distinction of being one of TNCS’s very first teachers and taught some of these 8th-graders when they were in kindergarten and 1st grade—she taught many of them to read! Mrs. DuPrau remarked that it has been a privilege to watch them learn and grow, and she has been with them the whole way in one capacity or another. It was especially moving to hear her remember them as small children “sitting criss-cross applesauce” on her classroom rug, and then describe them now on the brink of the next big step. “Your journey at TNCS may be ending,” she said, “but the journey of your life is just beginning.” She quoted from “Oh, the Places You Can Go” and closed by saying that it was an honor and pleasure to have watched them “blossom into young scholars, scientists, environmentalists, artists, musicians, mathematicians, and authors. You are articulate and thoughtful, she said, “You have strong voices to express yourself and deep insight to think about the world. You have grown as individuals, too, and what it means to be a kind and caring classmate, friend, and world citizen. You have taught me so much.”
Mrs. DuPrau also thanked parents for entrusting their children’s education to TNCS as well as TNCS teachers for “having great expectations and loving these kids each and every day.”
Surprise guests spoke next, as former TNCS teachers, recent friends, and a Class of 2019 graduate shared their well wishes with the graduates.
“Yours was the very first class I ever taught. In my time at TNCS with you, I knew I met some students who are going to change the world.” –Lindsay Duprey, former TNCS Teacher
“I’m so excited for you guys to be moving onto high school. I absolutely loved being your art teacher and to see you grow as artists over the years. Together, we learned about taking chances and sharing ideas. My wish for you is to keep on dreaming and drawing to make this a more just and beautiful world.” –Jenny Miller, former TNCS Art Teacher
“I wish you good luck your whole life!” —Sr. Ronnie, driver Costa Rica capstone trip
“Hola todos! I am very proud of you, and I wish you the best. I’m so happy I had the chance to see you again when you came to Costa Rica!” –Raquel Álvarez, former TNCS Teacher
“You’re about to face a huge turning point in your life—be ready for it!” Zaila, TNCS Class of 2019
“I’m extremely proud of all of you, and I’m looking for you to do amazing things in the future.” –Martellies Warren, former TNCS Music Teacher
Thank you for making that happen, Mrs. DuPrau!
At this point in the ceremony, Sra. Duncan gave her Commencement Speech.
This year began like so many others, getting back into the routine of going to school. You met Mrs. Hope and rose to that occasion; there was a flurry of activity, such as Hispanic Heritage Night, preparing for high school, and the Winter Concert that made the fall just fly by. We then added two new community celebrations to the winter calendar with Lunar New Year and Black History Month.
It seems especially poignant to me that both of these events occurred not long before we had to close the campus and move to virtual learning. My last memories of all of us together were celebrations of what makes TNCS a wonderful place. The richness of our cultural diversity, the incredible dedication of our teachers and students, and the way we come together as a community. This has served us well during this time when we are most separated.
I have listened to your teachers talk with admiration about how you have adapted to the virtual learning environment. You have supported each other, taken time to read to primary students, and have looked beyond yourselves to talk about your place in the fight for social justice. Members of the Class of 2020, you embody the spirit of our Core Values, Compassion, Courage, Respect, and Service, through leading school drives or service initiatives that you chose, having thoughtful and profound conversation with Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Danyali during social-emotional learning lessons, and acting as ambassadors for admissions tours and open houses.
Throughout the planning of this ceremony, it was mentioned repeatedly how much we will all miss you. Your thoughtfulness, your ability to speak up, your care for your school community and the world around you are just a tiny portion of what makes you special. My hope for you is that, as you depart TNCS, you will continue to be the outstanding individuals that you have grown to be, that you heed your own advice that you gave to 5th-graders as you move on to high school—be individuals have a plan for your work, avoid the drama, and cherish the time you have. Please remember TNCS, come back to visit us often, and make your indelible mark on this world that you were destined to make.
The TNCS gate is open; it’s time for you to go. It’s your time.
After her moving and heartfelt words, Sra. Duncan thanked everyone who made this event, and the 2019–2020 school year, possible. Just when the audience thought it couldn’t get any better, the final segment of the ceremony brought the house down.
Tribute to the 8th grade was produced by a TNCS 8th-grader, who is also a TNCS original, having been at the school since its inception.
And with that, goodbye 2019–2020 school year—it’s been not just out of the ordinary . . . it has been extraordinary.
Take pride in how far you have come; have faith in how far you can go. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey.
–Nameeta Sharma, quoting Michael Josephson
“There’s a reason I’ve never taught 8th-grade—I have such a hard time saying goodbye to my students after just one year, and I’m definitely realizing it today as I’m saying goodbye to you. You are such an incredible group of students and humans, and I’m privileged to have been your teacher and to have watched you grow academically and socially and emotionally. . . I can’t wait to see how you transform the world and what kind of mark you leave on it.”
This year has been a year of firsts at The New Century School, and the trend continues. These firsts are TNCS’s ways of rising to the occasion, of meeting the challenge and addressing it with customary courage and compassion, respect and service. Thursday, June 4, 2020 was another of these firsts. With the nation in an uproar over the senseless killing of George Floyd and all who went before him, communities needed to voice their emotions about the racially motivated wrongs permeating our society, to hear and be heard. Making this difficult time even harder, we can’t be physically together for mutual support.
In true leader fashion, however, TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan and Head of Parent Council Sakina Ligon provided a first-of-its-kind forum with a Virtual TNCS Social Justice Community Conversation. “The heartbreaking events surrounding the death of Mr. George Floyd last week, so close on the heels of other similar tragic events throughout the United States, have pointed to the unjust discrimination and systematic racism that has continued to permeate our country,” said Sra. Duncan in an email announcing the event. “As an academic institution, TNCS has a responsibility to educate our community in order to combat ignorance and intolerance in order to dismantle a system that is broken in our society.”
TNCS, as a “model of inclusivity,” is well poised to do some good here. Head of the Lower School and Dean of Students Alicia Danyali agreed, saying, “The fact that we are starting to talk openly is the first step in partnership with all stakeholders to cultivate change we hope to see.” And that became the thrust of the evening—what positive action can we make to effect change and to heal our societal wounds?
But before we get to that, here’s an abridged recap of the three-part evening for those who were unable to attend this event. All of our voices are important, and our participation in this conversation is vital. “It’s an ongoing process,” as Sra. Duncan emphasized.
Part 1: Foundation Building
Sra. Duncan, a former diversity coordinator and well-versed in these kinds of dialogues, introduced the evening by urging participants to speak freely but respectfully. “Active listening”—focusing on what is being said, not on what you anticipate will be said—is also key in such exchanges of ideas. She also laid some ground rules for “conversational norms” including definitions:
Use “I” statements, not “you” or “we,” to speak just for yourself and avoid making generalizations.
Focus on the topic at hand, what’s going on with racial injustice in our country.
“Have comfort with discomfort”; these conversations are not easy.
Use “both/and” instead of “either/or” to open up possibilities rather than limiting to only two.
Expect and accept non-closure.
These fundamentals were then put into practice with an exercise to demonstrate how our mindsets can be radically altered when we realize that our perspectives are not absolute. Sra. Duncan asked the audience to draw a circle clockwise in the air above their heads then slowly lower it in front of the face to the abdomen. What happens? Clockwise becomes counterclockwise by virtue of nothing more than a flipped visual orientation (i.e., looking up, then looking down). Just like that, we got a glimmer of how easy it is to see things differently.
Prior to the evening, questions were submitted to the committee, which became the framework of the presentation and discussion. Topmost on everyone’s minds? What do we say to our children?
Part II: How to Talk to Our Kids
Perhaps surprisingly, earnest self-reflection is the necessary first step before we can speak honestly with our children. Acknowledge our prejudices and preconceived notions so that we can open our minds to other possibilities. This is especially important for groups of people. We might assume we’re not racist (and strive hard against racism), but do that check in. Ask yourself questions like, “What are my biases?” “What are my gut reactions to people of different groups?” “How does my privilege smooth the way for me?” “How can I use my privilege to help those who are oppressed?”
Know where you stand before you talk to your children. They are observant; are we “walking the walk?” They’ll know if not.
Ms. Ligon spoke next and reminded us that there’s an historical context to these issues. “In terms of educating oneself,” she said, “research this repeating history.” We need to make sure we have the right words and the background to broach this with our kids.
Sra. Duncan and her team gathered these helpful resources for discussing these complex topics with your children. She stressed making sure the resources you turn to are age appropriate and that they “practice and prepare.” Also examine your child’s media—are books and toys reflecting different types of people? Help your child see the beauty in difference with exposure to multiple cultures. Ask them to imagine being in someone else’s shoes to cultivate empathy. Elementary-age children can go a bit deeper; ask them to examine what they say to their schoolmates and whether they are saying things that might not always make the other person feel good (“microaggressions”). In upper elementary and middle school, monitor those social media accounts, urges Sra. Duncan. “Debrief with them,” she advises. Remind them that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable about these things.
Part III: Next Steps
Describing U.S. citizens as “standing on a precipice,” Sra. Duncan quoted former President Obama’s stirring words about “. . . [working] together to create a ‘new normal’ in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions and our hearts.” Ms. Ligon made the excellent point that if we’re ever going to draw back from the rim of that abyss, we need a fundamental curricular change. Our history books need to tell the whole truth she said.
I think of how we learn history in specifically the United States and where history starts, and, as I look ahead anticipating how this historical moment will be depicted in the history books to follow, there will be a huge gap in reality. In terms of where the history books pick up and where people who look like myself started, there’s this gray area in between and then we go straight to, ‘oh, they were looting and rioting.’ I believe that how history should be taught reflects everyone in the room. I have to do a lot of troubleshooting with my own child to explain to her that here’s another perspective and here’s how we fit in to what you learned in school. It’s hard when you’re a person of color (POC) and you’re trying to learn about who you are . . . it would be a different day and a new world if we also get it in the place where we’re supposed to be getting educated. For me, it’s very important for this to be implemented in the curriculum.
Discussions for how to achieve a better, more accurate social studies curriculum at TNCS are up and running. (For adults, the podcast 1619 fills in a lot of these gaps and is well worth a listen.) Sra. Duncan also mentioned that this a cross-curricular endeavor, as appropriate. “It should permeate everything we do,” she said.
Indeed, the biggie in this part of the forum was action—take, for example, the difference between non-racist and anti-racist. Sra. Duncan asked the audience how these terms differ, and the upshot is that anti-racism means actively combatting racism rather than simply not partaking in racism.
Following are some of the incisive and insightful questions and suggestions that participants contributed during the forum.
Questions from Parents:
Are teachers having these conversations with students either before Covid-19 or on Zoom? What help can we as parents do to support the school in developing anti-racism resources, and coalition building, curriculum, etc.?
How is the school staff and leadership thinking about/addressing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) issues within the school? (I am doing this at my organization and would be curious if you have set any goals for changes, etc. I am also reaching out in my community to try and bring together potential allies on antiracism—is there any interest in some consciousness-raising among parents or students, leading an aftercare class or camp on anti-racism, etc. perhaps parent and kids learning together? I am willing to volunteer to help with some sort of antiracism discussion group for adults and/or camp for kids.
Are we looking to revamp the global studies curriculum?
Is there a part of the school curriculum that helps guide students to find their individual role in combatting racial injustice? Parent DEI forums can help with vocabulary and navigating diversity conversations at home.
What training will the TNCS staff have on this topic? How will they be trained to handle our kids questions?
At one time, the students were meeting on a regular basis with Mrs. Danyali. Could that be a time where the conversations can be had with students on diversity?
To circle back to the point about not letting this topic “drop” going forward—perhaps we could continue having these TNCS community discussions about DEI that could be virtual or eventually in person… maybe quarterly? As a way to keep the conversations and actions going?
Is there an opportunity for students to send anonymous questions, thoughts, reactions to recent events to generate a forum for the students to participate in a faculty/ parent facilitated forum?
How do we stay in touch and keep the conversation going?
Each of these items was addressed, and the takeaways are that TNCS stakeholders will collaborate and divvy up the action items: Teachers are increasing their morning discussions of such issues in age-appropriate ways*; parents will potentially host ECAs, book clubs, and other parent/child forums (all to be determined); and admin will facilitate these efforts as well as increase professional development opportunities in this arena. “But we can’t do this alone,” she said. “We need your help. The Parent Council is a great place to get parents involved.” Sra. Duncan also consults the Association of Independent Maryland & DC Schools (AIMS) DEI tenets as outlined here.
*The very next day, upper elementary and middle school homeroom teachers Nameeta Sharma and Daphnée Hope guided 5th- through 8th-grade students in whole-group discussions on social justice, focusing on how their generation would combat racial violence. Wrote Mrs. Hope in a follow-up email to parents:
We were blown away by the maturity, depth, respect, and insightfulness that your children displayed. Perhaps one of the most profound things that we heard was when one of our students stated, ‘No one is born a racist. It is what you have been taught over time.’ We were able to learn from each other and bear witness to the experiences of each other. It was simply incredible. I think we can learn so much from looking at the world through the lens of a child. They are passionate, hopeful, and more insightful than we sometimes give them credit for.
“We started with parents,” said Sra. Duncan, but it would be great to also have these conversations with parents and students. I think it’s really important that students see that we’re all working on this together, and it’s not just an at-school thing or an at-home thing that will gain us a better understanding of the issues.”
“We are fortunate to be a part of a caring and supportive community. Let us all take the time to pause and reflect on our role in how each of us can help move the conversation and the country forward. By examining our beliefs, our privilege, and our prejudices, which we all have, we can begin to repair this country for our children,” said Sra. Duncan. Real change for a problem of this scale requires a coordinated effort over a sustained period. “So, remember not to judge, and remember to listen,” she said.
And don’t forget to support your local businesses!
Just below is a poem that has resonated with many over the last few weeks and may help us all see a little more clearly in this pivotal year.
Lastly, we invite you to share your question, comment, or thought about discussing social justice and anti-racism with your community and your children in comments. Have a book or resource to suggest? Please, put it in the comments. We welcome your voice. And your 2020 vision.