Professional Development for TNCS Preschool Teachers: It’s All About Nature and Nurture!

One of the most important tenets of The New Century School is that the emotional, social, and physical development of very young children directly affects their overall development throughout their lifespan. That is why careful, thoughtful approaches to their education is so critical—this education must maximize their future well-being. TNCS preschool is not considered preparation for “real school”; TNCS preschoolers are very much students in their own right. It’s never too early to start cultivating the intrinsic qualities that make us conscientious, kind human beings.

Head of Lower School/Dean of Students Alicia Danyali upholds this vital tenet every day, and it is particularly evident during staff professional development (PD) days. At the end of March, in fact, Mrs. Danyali arranged for some very meaningful, rejuvenating PD for TNCS preprimary and primary teachers. This enrichment was well timed, as teachers entered their classrooms in the fourth quarter with a renewed sense of purpose, ready to share the fruits of their experiences with their eager students.

Reconnecting with the Natural World

“On Friday, March 22nd, we did a beautiful workshop with child psychologist Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish in the morning with all lead staff, and then I took the preprimary teachers Laura Noletto (Señora Lala), Elizabeth Salas-Viaux (Señora Salas), and Donghui Song (Song Laoshi) as well as primary teacher Lisa Reynolds to the Irvine Nature Center,” said Mrs. Danyali. “Montessori has such a deep connection to the natural world, and Irvine is a museum for preservation of land and plants and animals native to Maryland, so it seemed like a good fit.”

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Irvine has a preschool for ages 3, 4, and 5, two classes of 14 students each. They also have family programming such as Mommy and Me classes and school programming as well as evening programming for adults. They offer field trips at their site, and they can even come to a school’s site. In fact, TNCS older students visited in the first quarter of this school year. Said Mrs. Danyali:

I did a survey for teachers at the beginning of the year and asked them, ‘What do you want to learn more about? What do you want to expand on? Where do you want to grow as a school?’, and everything pointed to nature—outdoor education, how we can be more connected, and what our possibilities are. So, I thought, ‘let’s call the experts,’ and I reached out to the director at Irvine and set it up. They are even having a nature preschool conference in April. They are big believers in planting those seeds early. I’m also looking to talk to them about an in-service volunteer opportunity either here at TNCS or at their site.

Because Irvine is a Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE)-accredited school, any TNCS teachers who attend the April conference would get 9 1/2 hours of continuing education credits. During their March visit, teachers explored the exhibits and classrooms and met and networked with other educators. Heavy rain prohibited trail-walking (the site is on 17 forested acres), but they had plenty to keep them occupied. “Irvine has a little something for everybody,” said Mrs. Danyali. “I think it’s going to be a great partnership and resource.”

Reconnecting with Montessori Roots

While preprimary teachers and Mrs. Reynolds were getting back to nature, primary teachers Elizabeth Bowling and Maria Mosby went to The Montessori Event by the American Montessori Society in Washington, D.C. to learn more about, among many other things, second-language learning in a Montessori environment.

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This annual event moves all around the country and is attended by thousands from all over the world, but, when it’s nearby, both teachers try to attend. Ms. Mosby went to one held in Philadelphia 5 years ago, and Mrs. Bowling attended in New York City for Montessori’s 100th anniversary several years ago.

This year was notable for having an app available with scheduling functionality (the conference is divided into sessions) and downloadable presentations from world-renowned education specialists and speakers like Daniel Goleman.

Mrs. Bowling says she came away with a renewed sense of why she is a Montessori teacher:

You’re talking to so many people who want to know what you teach and where you teach. It’s really inspiring. At a talk between sessions, the Executive Director asked, if you love Montessori, please stand up. And the whole room—which was already standing room only—laughed and cheered. It was so encouraging; we’re all in this together. You don’t get to see that on a day-to-day basis in the classroom.

I also enjoyed being reminded of the basics, some of the concrete parts of the philosophy such as the importance of taking care of yourself. You take care of everybody else, and you give so much of yourself—you have to remember that even Maria Montessori said the teacher must also care for herself.

tncs-preschool-teacher-professional-developmentOne of the sessions Mrs. Bowling attended was “Self-Reflection as a Means to Evaluate Practice.” “This session covered the basics of preparing ourselves as teachers and stepping back and reevaluating our class or approaches as well as what’s going on within our own spirits so that we are able to give our best to our class and to one another as colleagues. It’s things we’ve learned and that we know, but this served as a great reminder. I could relate to so much of what this speaker described about her own teaching experiences, which was very comforting,” said Mrs. Bowling.

She also attended “Furthering Positive Discipline in the Montessori Classroom.” “This one talked about different types of behavior you might see in the classroom, and what that behavior really means. What is the child really saying with the behavior?” This involves taking a step back and looking at the wider context. When a child is being challenging, maybe he or she just needs a little extra love and attention, or maybe a task or a leadership opportunity. The need is coming out in a negative way, but the response, if positive, can completely redirect the child. The speakers demonstrated how a negative response (e.g., expressing aggravation) versus a positive response might affect the child during a role-playing session. Said Mrs. Bowling, “We really need to ask, ‘How can we help this student?'”

“How to Have Difficult Conversations” was a third session Mrs. Bowling attended. “It emphasized how to avoid putting your own biases on a conversation, which can minimize the other person—his or her culture or beliefs. We often do not realize that we’re being insensitive, so being careful and thinking through a response can help keep us more aware—just being careful of who people are and where they might be coming from,” she explained. If that sounds like mindfulness, it’s no accident. “Mindfulness is interwoven through Montessori and is part of the training up of the teacher. It helps you to really see your student,” she said.

tncs-preschool-teacher-professional-developmentMs. Mosby attended “Learning to Read in a Montessori Context.” “It turns out that our brains are not wired to read,” she said. “After explaining the science behind why learning to read can be really quite hard for some students, this session broke down how Montessori reading is taught at various levels and showed vocabulary games and ways to expand vocabulary. Words are taught with hand gestures so that every time the word is spoken, a hand gesture accompanies it.”

Ms. Mosby also attended “Integrating Best Practices with Art.” “This one talked about not only how art is being swept aside but also how it is so important in other classroom disciplines, like science and math—for example, tessellations are art/math hybrids that have 3D effects. The thing is, art is important in its own right. It’s great just because it’s art; it doesn’t require justification. Fortunately for us, it’s very much a part of the Montessori curriculum because it helps to develop a child’s fine motor skills and also helps him or her make sense of the world,” she said.

“Creating Bilingual Language Pathways,” was a third session Ms. Mosby attended. “This one talked about how to take advantage of brain plasticity and get those grooves created in the motor cortex. The speaker uses the five Cs we also incorporate here. Children need to hear sounds all the time to learn to link words to meaning. They also need sensory input. They should be exposed to a second language by age 4 for optimization—but any age can work,” explained Ms. Mosby.

One primary theme was peace. “Montessori is well known for promoting peace and being involved in social justice, so the speakers were called peacemakers,” said Ms. Mosby. Thrice-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Scilla Elworthy, in “Empowering Young People To Be Agents of Change,” spoke about how important it is to work to make small changes in the classroom, like bullying prevention, for global impacts. “The peace curriculum is woven throughout the Montessori curriculum from the tiny ones through high schoolers,” said Ms. Mosby. “There was even this huge peace table where you could go to do yoga or take a moment for yourself.”

True Montessorians, both Mrs. Bowling and Ms. Mosby seemed very reflective after their experience. “We serve the child all of the time. That’s a place we hold, and that is a humbling place,” said Mrs. Bowling. Ms. Mosby agreed. “We have to let go of the ego. Adults have to get used that in the Montessori environment, she said. “It’s definitely a paradigm shift. You have to look at it with a different eye—that these students are not vessels to be filled; they are people.”

“I left very inspired,” said Ms. Mosby. “It was so good to see so many people who just love children be there to lift each other up.”

“It really brings you together with others in your field, and you feel so encouraged. You leave with your bucket filled,” said Mrs. Bowling. “We’re reminded about why we’re so passionate and plug away it day after day. It’s because we believe in this approach to early childhood education. I needed that encouragement at this point in my career. And stories were so relatable, and, to me, that was the best part of it, that coming together and the camaraderie. If you’re in Montessori, it’s because you think it’s the be-all, end-all.”

“It’s a choice,” echoed Ms. Mosby. “You do it because you love it, and you love what it means.”

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And, of course, at this particular conference, nobody was rude! Need more Montessori? Check out Maria Montessori: The Musical!

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Cooperative Learning at TNCS: Reading Buddies, Budding Readers

Peer mentoring is a built-in, powerful tool at The New Century School, arising as a very natural consequence of its philosophy and mission. Classes comprise mixed-age groups quite deliberately, a big difference between TNCS and traditional classrooms, in which each grade level corresponds to a single age. A vital element in TNCS’s approach to education is that older children assist younger ones, and younger children not only learn from their mentors but also develop better social skills through this interaction. The older children also benefit greatly; another key element of TNCS’s approach is consideration for others. Practicing compassion and kindness for their younger classmates teaches the older children how to conduct themselves graciously in any social milieu. Yet another advantage to mixing ages in this way is that students remain with the same teacher and many of the same children for more than just a year, developing trusting, long-term bonds.

Incidentally, the teacher also comes to know each child very well and gains an intimate knowledge of how each child best learns.

Not only does social and emotional learning (SEL) increase from the mentor–mentee relationship, but academic gains are also made. Furthermore, there is scientific evidence to back up the suggestion that mentoring and being mentored provide cognitive advantages that conventional teaching does not. A 2017 study from the Journal of Educational Psychology demonstrates that partnering with higher-achieving peers can have a positive influence on a student’s learning, and students who are older, more capable readers can be these peers for young students.

Reading Buddies at TNCS

That’s where Reading Buddies comes in. This practice pairs different grade-level classrooms for community reading time—an upper-grade homeroom connects with a lower-grade one, and students pair up for time with books.

This cooperative learning method happens all over the campus, in all divisions. In a check-in post from earlier this school year, TNCS Dean of Students/Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali enumerated many of the initiatives she was undertaking for the 2018–2019 school year, including establishing various class partnerships for service learning purposes—read more on that here. And the roots of the school community deepen as classes across campus work and share together. Because of the success of Reading Buddies, in particular, we’re revisiting this lovely tradition in more detail.

“Every second Wednesday, my 4th- and 5th-grade homeroom students go to Ge Laoshi’s K/1st class to participate in service learning by reading to their young friends,” explained TNCS teacher Nameeta Sharma. When asked what he liked about the Reading Buddies program, one of her 4th-grade students replied, “Everything!” “It’s fun to read to the little kids, and they really listen to me while I’m reading,” he continued. “Sometimes the teachers pair us up, and other times we just go read to whoever we want to. We all like to read Dr. Seuss books while we’re there.”

Benefits Abound

Reading Buddies also promotes reading. It allows younger readers to see what being a fluent reader looks like, as they have a peer model demonstrating reading skills. Older students become positive role models as well as develop patience and empathy as they work with their younger buddies. As the year progresses and the skills of the younger readers increase, students take turns reading to each other. In some cases, the mentee goes on to become the mentor of an even younger student. The relationship is thus bidirectional and enormously enriching.

The benefits are profound. Both sets of students get excited about Reading Buddies time because it’s a chance to do something different, visit another classroom, have fun, and make new friends. Even the Middle Schoolers love it!

Strengthening Community

Cooperative learning is also a great way to build community in the school, a primary part of TNCS’s mission. Another benefit of cooperative learning is simply that the Upper Elementary and Middle School students would not have another opportunity to get to know their younger schoolmates without this special time together. The upper and lower classrooms are situated in different buildings, and even lunch and play spaces are kept separate, as appropriate. Thanks to Reading Buddies, though, younger students recognize their role models around campus and can wave hello. It’s so nice to see, and these relationships can extend beyond the reading partnership. They can even have a positive impact on disruptive behavior. Younger children yearn for the respect of their older heroes and tend to comport themselves with more self-awareness in their presence. Older children develop a sense of protectiveness and want to nurture their adorable young friends. It’s easy to imagine how these SEL moments take root and flourish in a child’s character.


The practice of sharing a book is a delightful gift in and of itself; Reading Buddies deepens the enrichment exponentially. Now that’s a happy ending!

TNCS Dean Attends Progressive Education Summit!

As a key part of its identity, The New Century School embraces progressive education. It was a natural fit, then for TNCS Dean of Students and Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali to attend City Neighbors Progressive Education Summit here in Baltimore at the end of January. According to its website, “The Progressive Education Summit brings together hundreds of educators from around the region and the country to share best practices, work with great educational thinkers and practitioners, connect with other educators, and work to bring alive the child-centered, democratic ideals of progressive education.” Attendant schools were an equal mix of public and independent, and about 550 educators from across the country participated.
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The 2019 summit, the eighth annual, featured master classes, the first summit storytelling event by 10 to 15 storytellers, over 30 workshops, a Baltimore resource fair, and abundant networking opportunities. In addition, this year, David Sobel was the Keynote Speaker. The author of Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Community, Sobel is a leading national voice in place-based education. He was recognized as one of the Daring Dozen educational leaders in the United States in 2007 by Edutopia magazine.

Mrs. Danyali had much to say about her experience at the summit, all glowingly affirmative. “I loved everything about it,” she said. “There were a lot of opportunities to attend workshops and hear speakers throughout the day—more than any single person could actually attend.” The conference was divided into categories: Educator Reflection and Care, Arts Integration, Place-Based Education, Leadership, Learning Disabilities, Health, Trauma, Cultural Relevance, Development, Social Justice, and Progressive Education. “When I heard that David Sobel was the Keynote, I was really excited. I am a big fan of his.” She absorbed quite a lot from the presentations and will bring her perspectives to bear at TNCS. She started by describing the overall spirit of the conference then discussed the presentations that stood out most to her.

Progressive Education Talks

“The conference started off with some Baltimore high school students speaking, and I thought that set the tone so beautifully. The speeches were very uplifting,” said Mrs. Danyali. One was from City Neighbors and spoke about how a teacher changed his life, believed in him and supported him, despite the odds being very heavily stacked against this student just because of growing up in what is considered quite a dangerous part of the city. Another, from Digital Harbor, immigrated here 2 years ago speaking no English and is now fully English proficient. She spoke about all of the opportunities the school has afforded her in pursuing her dream of becoming a pilot. “Both of these demonstrated right from the start of the conference that educators should not label students. Even when we feel defeated by a set of circumstances, there are a lot of resources that we can solicit. We can network with other schools, for example. No matter how well funded a school is, there will always be social challenges to deal with. So just knowing that support is out there is helpful,” explained Mrs. Danyali.

The purpose of the conference was about how progressive education looks in different settings. One of the main themes was storytelling, and how an educator’s story can shape how he or she guides students. “What I really was interested in was how there can be different takes on various philosophies, like civic engagement or helping people with trauma, and how that can be embedded in the curriculum and not so stand alone,” said Mrs. Danyali.

Place-Based Education

Although place-based education was one of the categories/presentations of the conference, it informed everything. Said Mrs. Danyali:

The philosophy is very much in line with TNCS’s approach. You use what’s in your neighborhood, and you use what’s in your surroundings as part of developing curiosity and an open-ended inquiry-based curriculum. For me, it was great because [Sobel] had so many inspiring, real-life examples in his presentation from not only high school but also all the way down to preschool, where this should start. I was really impressed with the examples he shared from around the country of students exemplifying place-based learning in all age groups. Creative City, right here in Baltimore, is one school implementing the approach.

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Mrs. Danyali explains that all three preprimary classes this spring will follow Sobel’s teaching prescriptively, which is essentially student driven. “All of the preprimary students seem to be really interested right now in fire trucks and the fire brigade, so we’re looking to connect with a local fire department to get them to come and do a presentation. This will also help to take away that fear of hearing the siren by knowing they are here to help,” she said. “We’ll make that connection right here in their own community and do more investigation.”

As noted, place-based education is for all age levels; in fact, it is inherently a developmentally appropriate approach because it is authentically student driven. “As I drive to work in the morning, I’m always thinking about what Baltimore offers for place-based education,” said Mrs. Danyali. “This happens to be Black History month, and we have Frederick Douglass, the Underground Railroad, and so on. We make connections with local businesses, such as Greedy Reads Bookstore. We’ll get to know the Post Office around the corner. This gives students a sense of identity in the community and less fear, because Baltimore sometimes gets a bad rap. Also, understanding the cultures that make up the community is vital—inclusivity and diversity.”

Importantly, place-based education integrates all subject areas, including service into the unit of focus. Students learn all of the other disciplines as well, but rather than having the idea that doing math, for example, is all drudgery, they develop the mindset that they can use math to find answers to something they have gotten curious about in their community surroundings. They start to grasp that learning is not for learning’s sake but is useful and meaningful and a way of navigating the world. They are empowered—they see that their intellects make an impact on that world; they become problem-solvers. “It’s a concept called ‘firsthandness,’ explained Mrs. Danyali.” Firsthandness sort of speaks for itself, but, essentially, it’s experiencing the world as it is, where it is, rather than how it’s packaged and presented inside a classroom.

Service Learning

Another important value at TNCS is Service, and TNCS students in all divisions pursue regular service-oriented activities around the campus (e.g., taking out the trash, helping escort younger students into the building at morning drop-off, beautifying the grounds) and in the wider community (e.g., blanket-making, stenciling storm drains with environmental awareness messages—the list is too long to reproduce here!).

So, sitting in on a service-learning talk appealed very much to Mrs. Danyali.

With my role in service for the school, I learned about service-related programs for students going into high school that are happening right here in Baltimore. One is a 5-week community garden project that they apply for that happens once a week starting in April in a community that is currently a food desert. I shared this with Mrs. DuPrau as a possible area to explore for some of our students to help them get that experience, because they will have a service commitment in high school to fulfill in order to graduate. So, this could be a jumping-off point if they’re interested in being outside and meeting other students. It’s almost like a camp in that way. This volunteering might even lead to part-time paid work. The programs also have a lot of community support.

Positive Schools

Mrs. Danyali was also very moved by a presentation by Shantay M. McKinily, Director of the Positive Schools Center, University of Maryland School of Social Work.

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The presentation was on the Maryland Commission on the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Restorative Practices, a statewide campaign on training teachers on how to implement and teach restorative practices, which is a passion of Mrs. Danyali’s. Ms. McKinily covered new and emerging research out of Harvard on cutting the “school-to-prison pipeline,” the unfortunate trend of so-called “problem students” coming out of schools and going right into the criminal justice system. “Something that is really shocking to me and has been occupying my thoughts is that, as prisons are privatized, they are somehow able to get data from schools on detentions and other disciplinary measures taking place in 4th grade and using that information to project where to build prisons and where prisons will be needed,” said Mrs. Danyali.

tncs-head-of-school-attends-progressive-education-summitThis idea leads her right back to a truth she holds dear—that we need to attend to the social and emotional needs of our youngest students:

This is game-changing in the sense that, although we put a lot of thought and energy and time into the middle and high school years about where our children will end up, in reality, our society has allowed the prison system to get information on percentages of younger children who are chronically absent or chronic behavior problems and use those numbers. It defeats the purpose of all of these research-based grass roots efforts. As hard as people are working to tell their real story, the narrative already in place—that if they are in this position by 4th grade, they’re doomed—comes from a much bigger system working against them.

Ms. Mckinily gave lots of examples, some from personal experience, such as the need to build more schools and have smaller class sizes so that teachers are not having to contend with such large numbers of students, upward of 30 a class. She explained that the prevailing classroom management principle at her school was to divide the class into three groups. Imagine a hypothetical top group, who is more or less left to their own because they can work independently. and score well. The hypothetical middle group might show promise but needs help, and, although it can be difficult to determine exactly what they need, they will likely get tutoring and other support. The lower group needs lots of catching up and are treated almost like a lost cause.

Ms. McKinily felt that she may have contributed to the prison pipeline when she was an educator because that hypothetical lower group never got what they needed. This is partly because her school was counting on her to get as many students as possible to that high group so the school would receive better government funding. In addition to being academically behind, the lower group might have many other social challenges to contend with, and so their host of problems was just too overwhelming to deal with, and school resources would go to students who had a chance to make it to the higher-achieving group. The lower group, of course, became the group identified as a problem—fodder for the prison pipeline. Ms. McKinily felt strongly that she needed to get the word out there: That lower group needs the biggest focus to avoid the devastating and lifelong repercussions of being identified as a societal problem and put away.

“Her goal was to change the narrative, to get the support that they need for student wholeness, for literacy, and for staff leadership,” explained Mrs. Danyali. “The Positive Schools Center works with schools in Baltimore City, such as Wolfe Street Academy and Benjamin Franklin High School. These are ‘big small steps’ for change, but the success stories are amazing.”

Onward and Upward

“It was a great experience and definitely relative to many aspects of the mission at TNCS,” concluded Mrs. Danyali, about the summit. As a result of her attendance, Mrs. Danyali will have the chance to take her expertise into the wider educational sphere. She was asked to join two D.C. groups geared toward early childhood education—one is on progressive education and another is for more specifically preschool immersion educators who are also doing place-based curricula. “We network through workshops, emails, and newsletters and focus on developmentally appropriate curriculum and how to bring school out into the community . . . being flexible and more student-driven. You can cultivate that in preschool and build on it.”

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!

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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Time for a Check-In with TNCS Dean of School/Head of Lower School!

The New Century School expanded its administrative structure this year, allowing each team member to fully engage in their respective roles. As Shara Khon Duncan become year-round Head of School, Alicia Danyali became Head of the Lower School as well as schoolwide Dean of StudentsImmersed will do an annual check-in with each Head, and this post represents the first such piece.

Being Dean

IMG_0109As Dean of School, Ms. Danyali’s responsibilities range widely. She circulates through classrooms, teaching and mediating with students as well as advising teachers, all with the goal of maintaining, or, when necessary, restoring, the community. (This is in addition to day-to-day duties like drop off and dismissal and such administrative ins and outs, of course.)

In her 6 years’ tenure at TNCS, Ms. Danyali has always been interested in what she calls an “invisible curriculum,” which is her way of referring to the soft skills (norms, values, and beliefs) that children need to develop to grow as human beings. Nevertheless, as Head of the entire school before the reorganization, she did not have the breadth to undertake as many initiatives as she might have liked. She feels confident, though, that she began “planting the seeds” among the student body, and expectations were established. The TNCS student models the school’s four Core Values, Courage Compassion, Service, and Respect.

With her now more specialized role and inspired by an education conference hosted by the National Network of Schools, she hit the ground running when the school year began, immediately putting some programs in place. “I’m starting some partnerships with and among teachers. For example, I am doing yoga with the K/1st cohort, which is designed to help them understand feelings. We started with the feeling anger, just tensing our muscles and going through some six or seven poses and then talking about how breathing affects how we react to things. That is a really big concept for them and an adjustment, to just sit and breathe.”

Class Partnerships

In preschool, which is also her Head of School focus, she did not launch any big initiatives to allow them the first quarter to settle in and acclimate to their new environment. “We have some plans later in the year when the primary students are a little bit more mature and they can partner with organizations and understand the meaning a little bit more,” said Ms. Danyali. As for preprimary, they will partner up with the primary classes. “They’re not going to do service learning, per se, but they will learn how to socialize in a group—to feel comfortable around other people and pick up on social cues as well as learn how to be a little independent,” she said. Thus, Sra. Lala’s class teams up with Mrs. Bowling’s class, Sra. Salas with Ms. Mosby, and Song Laoshi with Mrs. Reynolds. One example is making hummus as a group (Sra. Salas’s and Ms. Mosby’s classes), mixing all the ingredients and smelling, touching, and tasting.

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“Song Laoshi and Mrs. Reynolds have partnered on a lot of creative initiatives, explained Ms. Danyali. “They’re both extremely creative people and share lots of ideas for making art and decorations, like for the recent Fall Festival. All of the preschool classes came together, and parent volunteers set up different stations, like bowling and face painting and different fun things. It was really nice how the kids have started to notice and recognize each other. The 5-year-olds are really feeling like they are mentoring the 2-year-olds, which is exactly what we want to see.”

The class pairs also had their Thanksgiving feasts together for another opportunity for those partnerships to solidify as well as to bring the parent communities together. “The primary mentors love to be good role models for the younger students. They make decorations together, they set the table together . . . all of those things that are a big part of the Montessori philosophy of practical life—of taking care of self, of taking care of our community,” she said.

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Of course, the mentor–mentee relationship reaches the other way as well. Thus, the primary classes get their own chance to be taken under the wing of older students. The non-nappers in Ms. Mosby’s class, for example, will join Ge Laoshi’s K/1st students to be video pen pals with a class of Chinese Montessori students, who are taught by former TNCS teacher Yang Yang, who is now back in China. They communicate in Mandarin and English.

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They also get a chance to have stories read to them by their older reading buddies.

Here again, the partnerships will work both ways, with Ge Laoshi’s students also partnering with Ms. Sharma’s 4th- and 5th-graders on a weekly basis, to help take care of the school grounds as well as taking out the trash and the recycling from classrooms. The older students showed the younger ones the ropes and also made sure they stayed safe as they progressed about the campus. They will help make sure the TNCS environment looks its best! Meanwhile, Ms. Shaffer’s K/1st class will work with Ms. Madrazo’s 6th- through 8th-graders in reading groups—in students’ choice of language.

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Another ongoing initiative is having the middle schoolers act as “Car Line Safeties”—they volunteer for service on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to escort younger students safely into the school. “The little ones are always very receptive,” said Ms. Danyali. “They look at a 6th-grader as really important!”

Ms. Danyali is working hard to instill the deep sense of community that is essential to any successful organization. “We’ll be mixing up the opportunities, so when a student sees someone not in the same division on the playground or around school, he or she has that friendship in place, and the community supports each other as we grow academically and socially.”

Back to that conference mentioned earlier, one thing that Ms. Danyali really appreciated about it was that it included early childhood education. “It’s important that we understand how vital a part of education that is. We’re planting the seeds of who they will become—developing self confidence, taking risks. I’ve sought it out for years, so it was encouraging to see such a big focus on preschool.” The conference also covered how to find what resources are available and how to collaborate with other schools. Ms. Danyali is now networking with other early childhood classrooms that are also language immersed to build some external relationships. “I want to take all of the preschool teachers on a field trip to visit another school to see how other people do it, maybe in the spring. What are best practices at other places and how can we get involved?”

Social and Emotional Learning

As part of the invisible curriculum, Ms. Danyali has been doing workshops on social and emotional learning using nonverbal cues. Pairs of students decide on a sound and a movement they will make together, then they find another pair and combine the two sounds and movements into one. This keeps growing until everyone has been gathered together making one big sound and movement. “It shows how much there is to be said for nonverbal communication and what that means in our place in the world. How we can go anywhere and understand each other if we have a common sound and movement—nonverbal cues,” said Ms Danyali.

“I focus a lot on navigating emotions and feelings and identifying what they are. In the 2nd- and 3rd-grade classes, in particular, the social dynamic has been really interesting. It seems like this is when social cliques start, and exclusion can happen. So, we will really be working on inclusion with them before we set them out into the world,” she said.

Service Learning

In elementary and middle school, service learning really ramps up. In weekly meetings with the older students (Grades 4 through 8), Ms. Danyali discusses possibilities for class partnership activities and wider school initiatives as well as planning for future endeavors. Based on a recent presentation from a student from McDonogh School on her experience with grant-writing for charities (blog post on that to come!), the older group is going to take on their own grant-writing initiative, for example.

Ms. Danyali is not new to service learning, having been the Service Coordinator at other schools, and service itself is an intrinsic value for her. “Service has always a big part of my life personally, and it helps put things in perspective about what’s really important,” she said.

It comes from my parents, my grandparents—that feeling like it’s part of your makeup, that’s just what you do. Of course, it has served me well because I feel like it’s a huge benefit to me to appreciate what I have. I find it really fulfilling when I know it’s made a difference. But I also have a hard time saying no sometimes, so it’s important also to keep a balance.

Two service projects were recently completed: the annual non-perishable food drive for United Way of Central Maryland/Beans & Bread and a collection of men’s socks and underwear for Baltimore Rescue Mission. “The older grades will be helping to organize the items collected, and I asked for a cohort of student volunteers to deliver them. They need to make that connection—this is where it’s going and this is who it’s serving. I want to have those conversations,” said Ms. Danyali. “It just has to be a big part of your life that you’re not just thinking about yourself all the time. And kindness too.”

The 2nd- and 3rd-grade classes did the annual Linus blanket initiative. “That is such an amazing project.”

Being Head of Lower School

“I feel like we’re really off to a great start this year,” said Ms. Danyali. “We’ve had some great workshops and a lot of parent partnership in the preschool. Classes are running like well-oiled machines. The preprimary classes can take a little bit longer, but they are now on a schedule and regimen.”

Another aspect of her position is working with the preschool teachers. “They are so dedicated, loyal, and loving. They really understand the psyche of that age, and I enjoy working with them, planning with them, and supporting what they think is best for their students,” she said. The cohort can be so different from year to year, she explained, keeping the teachers in their toes. “For example, one of the preschool classes has 14 boys, and one of the classes only has 4 students who are verbal, so there’s a lot of navigation, adjusting, and adapting.”

She is pleased that her new role affords her more time with her colleagues, including the assistant teachers. “They are a big part of the equation and our philosophy here because of the language they bring, and I’ve had the opportunity to get to know them better. I have aspirations for them to grow professionally here, and I have been able to give them bigger responsibilities and more structure. They now report to me weekly on how the students are progressing in the language.”

What’s in the Offing

Elementary and middle school students will have quarterly field trips that are service or community oriented in one way or another. The 8th-grade students will embark on the first-ever TNCS international trip, which is still being planned. Book fairs will take place, as usual, including an online Mandarin book fair. These and other school fundraisers will make use of parent and student volunteers, as appropriate. Ms. Danyali also works closely with the TNCS Parent Council who host their own set of initiatives to raise money for the school. Even initiatives with a clear fundraising bent help contribute to the TNCS thriving sense of community.

“I feel really proud that we’re not even halfway through the school year, and we have already done so much as a school community,” she concluded.