Meet the Teacher: Michele Hackshaw Joins TNCS Primary Division

michele-hackshaw-joins-tncs-primaryMichele Hackshaw joined The New Century School at the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year as a Montessori Lead Teacher with Gloria Jimenez assisting. A native Spanish speaker from Caracas, Venezuela, she moved to Baltimore with her husband in 2000.

In her home country, she pursued a macroeconomics degree but decided to come to the United States to immerse herself in English while earning a Master’s in business. She spent a few years working in the business field, and then, Señora Hackshaw says, the recession of 2008 hit. She began volunteering in her children’s school and found to her surprise that she really enjoyed that type of work. She liked childhood education so much, in fact, that she went for Montessori training. Once certified as a Montessori teacher, she worked at Bridges Montessori School in Towson for about 5 years. “I definitely prefer teaching to business, to my initial surprise. Then, even after the economy got better I told my husband that business is something I don’t want to go back to. I really love what I’m doing right now. I really love to get up and go to my work. This [gesturing to her classroom] is my vocation.”

The switch in careers from business to teaching might seem like quite an about-face, but Sra. Hackshaw believes that the work has greater significance for society. “We have such a a big impact on these children. How they turn out depends on what we do for them, show them, expose them to.” Besides her humanitarian reasons, teaching is also a lot more fun for her than working in an office was, where interactions with irate clients were often less than pleasant. “Here, it’s not like that. Somebody might be crying because I asked him to do something he didn’t want to do, and 10 minutes later, he’s got a huge smile. There are no bad work days,” she says.

Her children, a girl and a boy, are now 9 and 10 years old, respectively and have the good fortune to be growing up bilingual. The same can be said of Sra. Hackshaw’s 10 3- to 5-year-old primary students who are in a Spanish-immersion Montessori classroom. “In the beginning, teaching in Spanish was a bit challenging because it was a new language for my students, who were all new to the school. But they learned so fast, and now it’s just great,” she smiles.

About being at TNCS now, she says it’s not only a wonderful experience, but she is learning a lot, professionally. “This is a different environment,” she explains, “because I never worked in a full Spanish immersion classroom, although it was Montessori. But I have never taught Montessori in Spanish or given a Montessori lesson in Spanish. And, unlike teaching Spanish, for example, at an after-school program, which is mostly teaching vocabulary, here it’s different. I speak Spanish the whole time. It has been a valuable process of learning and discovery.” (Please see Montessori Language Arts, Match, Science, and Global Studies at TNCS to learn more about how Sra. Hackshaw and other TNCS primary teachers give Montessori lessons.)

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For now, Sra. Hackshaw’s “business” is nurturing her students within her warm and peace-loving classrom. “There’s so much that you can give to them, and they will learn from you. If you keep empowering them and model how to be good people, they learn that.”

Welcome to TNCS, Sra Hackshaw!

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Meet the Teacher: Laura Noletto Joins TNCS’s Pre-Primary Division!

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Laura Noletto is seen here dressed for Love Day, during TNCS’s Spirit Week.

The New Century School welcomed Laura Noletto as Pre-Primary Spanish Lead Teacher about a month ago. Although “Señora Lala,” as she likes to be known by her students, has been at TNCS only a few weeks, she is already well-loved by her students and their families and an integral member of TNCS faculty.

 

Early Life

Born in Caracas, Venezuela to a Venezuelan mother and a Cuban father (she has dual citizenship), she visited the United States regularly growing up. “My family always vacationed in Maryland or nearby—D.C., Baltimore, Annapolis—(every summer and every Christmas), and I have very fond memories of these vacations. So, Maryland was, for me, a second home because my aunt lived in Bethesda for 50 years,” she explained. “My father and my aunt left Cuba in the 1960s. My father went to Georgetown University, and my aunt attended Maryland University and stayed here. During this time, my father met and fell in love with a Venezuelan, my mother, and returned to Latin America.”

She moved to Baltimore in 2016 from Eugene, Oregon, where she was a toddler therapeutic teacher for a foundation called Relief Nursery.

Professional Background

Sra. Lala originally studied law and was a practicing lawyer for 5 years before realizing that she needed something more creative. Her professional history, though amazingly varied, has always been in education or tangential to it in some form or another:

I was always teaching. Even in law school, I was assistant professor to a Roman law professor. So, I think my passion has always been education, even though I thought I wanted something more grandiose, and teaching might not seem so adventurous or glamorous (or so I thought when I was younger). As I get more and more mature, I see that it’s the most important profession that exists. I also did art research. I got Master’s degrees in curatorial art and Latin American studies.

But, I think that what lead me to early childhood was a seminar that I took on autobiographical books about childhood. We read writers who were exploring their first 5 years because that period contains the most profound memories that any human can have. The first 5 years of your life sets up the rest of your life—so, reading Wordsworth, Proust, Garcia-Marquez, they all tried to recover that first 5 years, those intense memories, such as the first time you try a different fruit, or you hear someone speaking another language, or someone teaches you a song. That seminar switched me to early childhood, although it took me a long time to realize it. I remember my first 5 years. I can remember being a 3-year-old living in the tropics, but coming to New York and opening my eyes to see snow. I wanted to eat it. These very simple memories are still there because of their impact. It tells me that we really do make a difference with these very young minds, these very young students.

She now knows that she prefers teaching this age group to teaching older kids. “I tried,” she says. “When I came to Baltimore, just to try it, I was teaching 4th- and 5th-grades and middle school at a public school. I was teaching about 75–100 kids a day 45 minutes of Spanish, again, just to try that age because each age is very different.” The workload was taking a toll on her, she reports, and she found herself exhausted at the end of each day. “After 2 months, I said, ‘I miss the little kiddoes.’ When I was in the Relief Nursery, I had already fallen in love with teaching the toddlers, but I thought it was related to being there, or something fleeting. I thought to myself, ‘Do you really want to change from college students to toddlers age 2 with nothing in between?’ So, I tried the in-between ages and realized, ‘Yes, I definitely love the extremes—either I teach college, or I go all the way down to toddlers.”

After some reflection, she realized how logical this seeming contradiction actually is:

In college, the students are there because they really want to learn. Students age 2 also really want to learn—how to put their jackets on, how to communicate with others, how to become a civilized human being, everything. So, it’s two passionate moments of human being. The other ages are in rebellion. They don’t want to learn in the same way. They either want to play, or they think they already know—they want independence from adults. At those ages, being a teacher is more about classroom management than about tapping into the fervor to learn.

She explains that when she saw the curriculum at TNCS, she felt an immediate kinship. Her sons (she has fraternal male twins, currently 19-years-old) not only grew up bilingual, but one of her sons even attended a Montessori school, which is not a common kind of school in Venezuela (there are only two or three in the entire capital of Caracas, despite its size):

My child blossomed in the Montessori environment. So, I already knew the program, and I thought it was fascinating how TNCS incorporates language learning within the Montessori curriculum. To allow language and culture to be a tool, a vehicle of learning. It’s not only that you’re speaking in Spanish, but the child is so eager to learn that he doesn’t care that he can’t understand the Spanish in the beginning, he’s open. He’s open to the culture, and sometimes language is not about only knowing language, it’s also about a different way of perceiving life because it’s cultural.

You know, the Chinese teachers, we Latin teachers, we have lots of similarities with Americans, but we also have our own approaches to early childhood education. You can see the differences with our approach to classroom management compared to that of the Chinese teachers. They are very different, but each very beautiful in their own ways, with very beautiful results, but it’s different. And the kids here in TNCS, they get to see both, and that’s preparing them for the 21st century and a global perspective. I think in the 21st century, all this culture will blend in—I hope so. It’s healthy to learn from each other.

Transitions

She moved to New Orleans from Venezuela in 2014, where she lived for 1 year, working as an educator in the Degas House museum. “At this point, I had already changed careers twice (lawyer to college professor to art researcher), and I could see a point where I switch from art researcher back to educator. The Degas house was my transition. I was researching Degas and also teaching kids 3 days a week. Then, in Oregon, I was immersed full-time in teaching toddlers.”

Her husband is a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is currently involved in the longest-running study on HIV, that began in the late 1980s. It was landing this position that brought them to Baltimore in 2016, although he formerly worked there for 5 years in another capacity.

On Teaching

Teaching takes a passion, and each teacher has an age-group that they love. I love the 2s and 3s. I was a college professor in Venezuela, which is big, big, big kids—almost grown-ups—teaching in a film academy, the School of Visual Thinking. Before that, I was in charge of developing art programs. So, I was in the education field, but I was always separated from little kids—I don’t know why. Then, when I came to the United States, maybe because my own kids are 19 years old now, I just fell in love with early childhood education. And there has been a lot of development in the area. So, 10 years ago, if you had a high school diploma and you loved kids age 2, you could be a toddler teacher. Now, you must study curriculum and learn about how they learn. I find it so fascinating. They learn so fast—like computers. They’re incredible; they’re sponges.

Being in Baltimore 

Sra. Lala says she adores Baltimore for its history (especially relating to Edgar Allen Poe, whose entire catalogue she has read) and culture, with New Orleans also a favorite for similar reasons. “Baltimore and New Orleans have the most haunted history and the most beautiful historical buildings. They also have this connection with the Caribbean, and I’m Caribbean. They are port cities, so they are very culturally rich cities. I am amazed at how vibrant the art community is here. I do hope that it gets better as a city but not so overpriced that it kills the great energy it still has,” she says.

One thing that people might not know about her is that she created a historical graphic novel, published in Venezuela, about a 14-year-old princess living in an ancient (pre-Columbian) city and gifted with super powers—the ability to control mosquitoes, which acted as barriers to visitors by carrying yellow fever and other often-fatal diseases. She also wrote several short stories that won national competitions. “I really want to try now to write kids’ books,” she says. “I want to contribute to literacy in Spanish. I am inclined to that path. I now see Dr. Seuss as a genius!” (Who knows, maybe one day Sra. Lala’s graphic novel or one of her as-yet-to-be-written children’s books will grace the shelves of TNCS’s library!)

“I have to keep re-inventing myself,” she says. She points to a plaque hanging on the multipurpose room wall that reads, “You have to bloom where you’re planted.” “So, I’m blooming in Baltimore now.”

And we are so glad you are here, Sra. Lala! Welcome to TNCS!

TNCS Celebrates the Year of the Rooster!

January 28th marked the 2017 Lunar New Year, also known in China as the Spring Festival (Chūn Jié; 春節), and rang in Year of the Rooster. The New Century School honored many Chinese New Year traditions schoolwide the day before on New Year’s Eve, which is considered Day 1 of the overall festivities.

Organized primarily by Wei Li (Li Laoshi) and Yu Lin (Lin Laoshi), there were dances mimicking the traditional Lion Dance in the pre-primary and primary classrooms; lower elementary students made beautiful spherical lanterns; and upper elementary and middle-school students passed hongbao (红包), red envelopes containing money or gifts to confer good luck (as well as money) to the recipients. Everyone got to eat delicious homemade vegetarian dumplings (with Kindergarten classes and up making their own), another good-luck custom in China on this special occasion.

In China, additional ongoing activities range from thorough housecleaning to shopping to setting off firecrackers. Li Laoshi, who was born in a Dog Year, explains what Chinese New Year means to her and why she was inspired to make TNCS’s celebrations so special:

I think Chinese New Year is the most important festival for Chinese, especially for people who are abroad. It always reminds us where our relatives’ hometown and roots are. It’s also like a connection to gather Chinese people who live here all together during this festival. Chinese New Year is way more than just eating dumplings and passing red envelopes but the existence of Chinese spirit. I feel so proud Chinese New Year is being accepted by increasing people and is playing a more influential role around the whole world.

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img_0596It just so happened that the elementary and middle-school students got another special treat when one of their schoolmates, a 2nd-grader, performed two Chinese opera songs in full costume. See her amazing performances here:

For yet one more reason, this Chinese New Year celebration was extra special. It was the last day that the group of visiting Chinese elementary and middle-school students would be spending in Baltimore with their newfound TNCS friends. (Details about their extraordinary visit will be the topic of next week’s Immersed.) This was truly an authentic celebration.

The fun didn’t end last Friday, though, as Chinese New Year is celebrated for 16 days (from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival, which takes place on February 15th). Today marks Day 8, a very auspicious day, according to Chinese tradition. Spend it eating food you love, with the people you love.

In closing, here are some predictions broken down by Chinese zodiac sign to give you (most of you, anyway) something to really crow about, as befits Year of the Fire Rooster!

  • Natives of the year of the rooster: You will easily resolve problems that cross your path, especially because you can count on support from powerful and influential people this year.
  • Natives of the year of the rat: Look forward to enjoying many happy events, including financial success.
  • Natives of the year of the ox: You will enjoy unexpected success and unforeseen events.
  • Natives of the year of the tiger: You will not lack anything, enjoying a special astral protection and devoted friends that will come to your aid, even in the last minute.
  • Natives of the year of the dragon: For you, 2017 will be full of positive events and very good news, career progress, and profitable businesses.
  • Natives of the year of the snake: Anticipate standing out professionally and being promoted.
  • Natives of the year of the horse: This could be a good year, with personal and financial achievements, but imbalance and career changes could prevail, making you irritable and mischievous.
  • Natives of the year of the goat: Your expenditures may outrun your income this year, potentially leading to problems with the family and loved ones, who may try to get you back on track.
  • Natives of the year of the monkey: For you, 2017 is going to be really good, especially from a romantic point of view.
  • Natives of the year of the rabbit: This year may bring you difficulty and tension regarding material aspects.
  • Natives of the year of the boar: For you, this may be a busy and stressful year due to potential financial or professional problems that will require patience and tenacity to be resolved.
  • Natives of the year of the dog: Some unexpected problems in health and romance might occur.

On the bright side, overall this year, people will be more polite and less stubborn (but they may have the tendency to complicate things); 2017 is oriented toward progress, honor, and maximum integrity, with people learning to moderate themselves.

Xīnnián kuàilè (新年快乐)!

Montessori Language Arts, Math, Science, and Global Studies at TNCS

On January 26th, The New Century School hosted a Primary Workshop to provide parents with a firsthand experience of the Montessori approach to pre-K education for students ages 3, 4, and 5 years. This information-filled evening was the second such Primary Workshop of the 2016–2017 school year and covered the second half of the Montessori curriculum—Language Arts, Math, Science, and Global Studies. The Practical Life and Sensorial aspects were covered in the fall workshop.

The workshop’s purpose is to show parents specifically what their children are learning and doing during their daily class time. For those parents who did not attend Montessori school as kids, the Primary Workshop is a marvel—both eye-opening and fun. For those who did grow up in a Montessori environment, the chance to reacquaint themselves with the materials must evoke the most delicious nostalgia. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori materials based on her extensive observation of children ages 2 1/2 through 6 years. Her goal was to put academic success within their reach by setting realizable achievement milestones, so, to do that, she tailored materials to be used the way she saw children interacting with their world. Primary students use these materials nearly exclusively, and seeing how the materials are actually used and learning what each does for the child’s development was the focus of the workshop.

Each primary lead teacher provided an overview of the discipline she was representing, but all four teachers cover all disciplines in their respective classrooms. They began by demonstrating how they present a “lesson” on a given material (a “work”): Movements are controlled and orderly; the pace is decidedly unhurried. Thus, the student is given ample time to absorb all aspects of what is happening. The overriding theme of the evening was that all lessons begin with the simplest concepts and move to increasingly complex ones. The student builds on and deepens understanding this way, rather than merely mimicking or memorizing.

Language Arts

Catherine Lawson presented the Language portion of the Workshop. The Montessori philosophy describes kids’ language acquisition as occurring over three major “explosions.” The first happens at age 12–18 months when babies start naming the elements of their surroundings. At around age 2 years, they begin to use sentences and describe how they feel. The final burst is at age 4–5 years when they begin to acquire reading and writing skills. Thus, they start with very concrete terms and make a series of abstractions to achieve literacy. How this translates to the Montessori classroom involves first making the student aware of the different sounds in a word, progressing to phonetics, and finally to spelling and beyond. (You may have even noticed that your primary-age student identifies the letter “a,” not by its name but by its sound. This is intentional, and Mrs. Lawson encouraged parents to do so as well. It’s less important for the child to know the name of the letter than to grasp its function.)

These “stepping stones into reading” demonstrate why this approach is so effective. Over the course of the 3-year primary cycle, a child starts with sandpaper letters—tracing a form and saying the sound with eyes first open, then closed. From there, the child learns to associate objects that start with a particular letter with the sound. The moveable alphabet, a later step, allows them to assemble letters to make words that correspond to certain objects laid next to the tray of letters.

Consonant sounds         Matching letters and objects       Moveable alphabet

Letter Mrs. Lawson says that language acquisition is perhaps the most important facet of child development, enhancing every other aspect. Communication also inherently conveys order—there’s a beginning, middle, and end, which underpins the Montessori approach as well.

She also recommended some handy tips for how to continue language development at home. The best we can do for our kids is to read and/or tell stories to them. (This advice is not exclusive to Montessori kids, of course, but it’s still nice to be reminded that our bedtime efforts are going to yield future dividends!) Another important at-home activity is to enrich kids’ vocabulary by identifying things that may be unfamiliar to them, such as kitchen tools. As you explain new words, adds Mrs. Lawson, make sure you emphasize the sounds within each words so the child learns correct articulation and enunciation.

Language and communication are integral to thought; giving the child the tools to express him or herself will build his or her confidence to communicate—and therefore to think—more effectively.

The primary classroom is also multilingual: Students benefit from having an assistant teacher who is a native speaker of either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, and these teachers rotate through the four primary classrooms so that all students are regularly exposed to both languages. For more on TNCS’s philosophy on multilingualism, please search the Immersed archives for many posts on the topic, such as TNCS’s Foreign Language Program Embraces the 5 Cs and Multilingual Media for Kids: Explore Beyond Dora; Bid Kai-Lan Farewell!. This article on multilingualism and enhanced learning is also informative.

Math

Number Rods

Students start to understand that numbers are symbolic of quantity with these number rods.

Bead units

They next begin to think in terms of units.

Montessori math is likewise a progression of lessons from concrete/discrete to abstract. Michelle Hackshaw presented the math materials and described teaching math as “starting with concrete knowledge of numbers and quantity and leading to ever more complex operations like multiplication and division.” She repeatedly emphasized the importance of understanding what the numeric symbols represent.

Thousand blocks

To count units, students start with successively larger quantities of beads. Once they have truly made the leap from concrete to abstract, they move to the 1,000 blocks and eventually the alluring “bead frame.”

Kids first learn to count from 1-10 and are taught the concept that those numbers represent a specific amount. They make this connection with the number rods and with numeral cards. They sequentially progress through counting with beads to learn units of 10, 100, and 1,000, which teaches them the decimal system in the bargain. By combining the physical materials with these higher-order abstractions, the child will learn addition, subtraction, and on up, yet will have truly absorbed the deeper sense of such operations rather than simply memorizing a set of, say, multiplication tables.

Science

reptilesamphibiansMaria Mosby handled the Science portion of the workshop. Just as with the other Montessori categories, the scientific disciplines are taught from simple to complex, but here the progression can be less linear, as students are strongly encouraged to discover the natural world, rather than simply be told about it, explained Ms. Mosby. Science tends toward botany and biology, with kids exploring, for example, life cycles and habitats or getting a tactile boost from perusing the sundry contents of the “nature basket.” Ms. Mosby says she uses every opportunity to get kids out of their “comfort zones” by asking questions like, “What is this made of?” to launch various lines of inquiry and expand student’s views of their worlds.

sink-and-floatProbably the favorite activity among the younger primary crowd is the Sink and Float work, in which kids get to pour water (what?) into a vessel and then systematically dunk items (what?) into the vessel to see which will float and which will sink. Montessori is nothing if not kid-friendly!

Global Studies

tncs-primary-workshopLisa Reynolds introduced the group to Global Studies. “These lessons, she says, “give students the opportunity to learn about other cultures.” Primary teachers also display objects from around the world in their classrooms to have a physical representation of a particular locale always on hand.

landwater-formsA typical activity here might be doing puzzle maps to promote visual recognition of the names and topography of the seven continents and their relationship to each other. Students also develop manual control with manipulation of the puzzle pieces. From here, kids advance to push-pinning the outlines of the various land masses and creating their own “maps.” Another popular Global Studies activity is learning about the relationships between various types of land masses and water.

The main reason to begin teaching these topics so young, according to Dr. Montessori, is to help kids develop spatial orientation including the vocabulary to express it (i.e., “up,” “over,” “through,” etc.) because they have such an overwhelming  need for order in their environment. Putting the need together with the tool to fulfill it empowers young kids and gives them the confidence to be students, learners.

Putting It All Together

One takeaway from the four-part workshop was how beautifully all of the materials work together to provide a very complete and absorbing experience. Each one, though developed for a particular discipline, nevertheless encourages the child to use skills and senses from other areas. For example, the water and land mass trays also hone practical life skills (pouring the water from big pitcher to small and to the tray itself) and tune the stereognostic sense (kids touch the land masses and trace the waterway, feeling each form and storing that information away) while teaching fundamental geography. In later school years, a Montessori-educated child confronting the word, “isthmus,” for example, calls forth an immediate and multilayered concept of what that word represents that includes the physical relationship of the land to the water rather than just a memorized definition.

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Emerging research has demonstrated the numerous and far-reaching benefits of preschool Montessori education (see “Preschool Conundrum Solved: Research Demonstrates Benefits of Montessori Education”). Seeing the true genius of the Montessori materials so intimately, it’s really no surprise that children derive a very full, well-rounded education by using them. They are, after all, really made for kids.

For more on the Montessori Method in TNCS primary classrooms, view primary-workshop_january-26-2017.

Finally, Head of School Alicia Danyali, who also introduced and opened the workshop, closed by illuminating another unifying thread of the Montessori curriculum and, indeed, TNCS as a whole: tolerance, kindness, respect. These qualities inform what Mrs. Danyali calls TNCS’s “invisible curriculum,” which, despite the lack of rubrics to measure individual progress by, is felt in every part of TNCS operations. If it’s hard to visualize young children exemplifying these traits deliberately, come watch a TNCS primary classroom in real time, where you’ll see students seamlessly migrating from work station to work station, helping one another, and above all respecting the space they are in as well as the other members of their harmonious community.

TNCS Continues Annual Service to the Community with Project Linus

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Please drop off new or gently used coat donations to TNCS by December 12, 2016 in TNCS’s reception area.

The run up to the holiday season is always a special time at The New Century School because it’s an opportunity to show our support to our local community and beyond. In the month of November, TNCS has undertaken two outreach initiatives to benefit our neighbors in need, first with the 6th annual healthy food drive for Beans & Bread (through St. Vincent de Paul) in conjunction with United Way of Central Maryland, and second with the coat drive for CASA de Maryland, a nonprofit that works with low-income Latino immigrant families. Please note that this latter initiative is ongoing through December 12, 2016, and a donation box is located in TNCS’s reception area.

img_0089This year, though, is special for a new effort. On November 18th, as part of their Service learning, TNCS upper elementary and middle school students teamed up with Project Linus, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide homemade blankets to sick and hospitalized children in need—to “provide security through blankets” and “spread blanket hugs nationwide.” Head of School Alicia Danyali and Parent Council Head Sakina Ligon both have experience with Project Linus and felt it was a great fit for TNCS.

Ms. Ligon explained in an email to parents that “volunteerism teaches basic character foundations to children, and having them help other children teaches them that people in need are really just like them. Studies have shown that serving as volunteers promotes healthy lifestyle and choices, enhances development, teaches life skills, promotes citizenship, improves the community, and encourages a lifelong service ethic in children ages 5 to 14 years. The value of volunteering teaches your children the importance of donating their time, a core value at TNCS.”

img_0084On the day TNCS students became “blanketeers,” a school tour group happened to be coming through and were duly impressed by the service-learning-in-action they witnessed. Baltimore City/Baltimore County Chapter Coordinator Fay Husted instructed the 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-graders on how to produce the blankets. Mrs. Hutchens was a teacher and principal in Baltimore City schools for 37 years and now devotes her time to Project Linus.

Said Mrs. Husted:

Project Linus us a national organization with chapters all over the country. Being a chapter coordinator means being very organized because hundreds of people make blankets for me—individuals as well as school, church, and senior groups. We accept quilts and fleece, knitted, and crocheted blankets. When we get the blankets to our storage facility, a group of about 10 ladies help me sew in handmade Project Linus labels. Once we get the labels in the blankets, I bag them, and my husband and I deliver them all over Baltimore City—mostly to hospitals, but also to Ronald McDonald House, Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House at Johns Hopkins, House of Ruth, shelters, and some camps. We deliver between 200 and 250 blankets a month.

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Fay Husted

Project Linus was established in Parker, Colorado on December 24, 1995 and has delivered more than 6 million blankets nationwide to grateful kids in the going-on 21 years since. “Project Linus is a wonderful organization. A non-profit is considered good if 13% or less of their donations are used for administrative purposes. Less than 7% of ours are,” explained Mrs. Husted, “because everybody is a volunteer.” Other than some monthly and annual maintenance fees, such as for the right to use Charles Schultz’s thumb-sucking, blanket-carrying, sage-beyond-his-years character as their mascot, they operate with very little overhead.

From dozens of available patterns, Mrs. Husted chose Fringed Fleece Blanket that can be made very quickly for TNCS students. Here’s how they did it!

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img_0106Said Mrs. Danyali, “the students are going to write notes of encouragement to go along with the blankets they make.” One fifth grader commented that she was very glad to participate in a project that would help kids in need. Another, with obvious sincerity, said he wanted to make his blanket as good as he possibly could.

With leftover material, students can make additional items like headbands during Teacher’s Choice time.

For past years’ initiatives, such as primary classrooms collecting dimes to purchase and donate livestock through Heifer International, see Lessons in Gratitude at TNCS, Lessons in Thanksgiving at TNCS, and TNCS Holiday Outreach Programs.

TNCS Launches Strings Program under Yoshiaki Horiguchi!

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“Making music should be a communal thing and it should be accessible to everyone.” –Yoshiaki Horiguchi.

This year at The New Century School, Music Education, although always an essential component of the curriculum, has grown a new branch. Beginning instruction in cello and violin as well as an intermediate-level String Ensemble have just entered their third month, thanks to the arrival of strings teacher Yoshiaki Horiguchi.

Meet Yoshi

Born in Tokyo, Japan, “Yoshi,” as he likes to be known, moved to Washington, D.C. when he was 5 years old and attended Horace Mann Elementary School From there, he moved to Maryland’s Montgomery County, where he completed schooling. After graduating as a Linehan Artists Scholar from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and then taking a couple of years to play music on a freelance basis, Yoshi landed a full scholarship as an Aegon USA scholar at the Peabody Conservatory at the Johns Hopkins University to pursue graduate studies, where he is currently in his second year.

From an early age, Yoshi saw music as a means to make positive change. He humbly credits his musical opportunities to kindnesses that people along the way have paid him more than to his own gifts, which are indisputably extraordinary. He says he was drawn to strings in particular over another class of instruments because of one such experience: “In the 6th grade, my mom sent me to school with the tiny violin that I started on when I was 3 years old to enroll in school orchestra. I was also the tallest kid in my 6th grade orchestra class. When my band director saw this mismatch, she immediately switched me to bass.” Yoshi soon learned just how uplifting a force music could be:

Everyone has a specific connection to music that’s personal to him or her. For me, my particular connection to music is that it was my only way out of a life that I didn’t want to have. It allowed me to continue and finish high school. It allowed me to go to college on full scholarship to UMBC (which I’m extremely grateful for—I wouldn’t have been able to go to college without that). And it has given me a purpose in life and given me a purpose in why I make music, not so much for fame and glamor but to harness the power that music has to heal and to bring people together—like music was able to do for me growing up. I hope to continue to put that back into this world.

His work with TNCS, he says is partly to cultivate a music culture in Baltimore. There are not many strings programs in city schools, unfortunately, and Yoshi thinks that’s a real shame. In talking with school co-founder Jennifer Lawner, whom Yoshi met at a “fiddle camp” in Charleston, SC, they floated the idea of a strings program at TNCS, based on their common belief in “what music can do for not just a child or individual, but for an entire community.”

I think the most important thing [that music can do] is in its potential for a shared experience—it’s a reminder that whatever differences we may have, we’re all human, and we’re all able to have some central core of humanity. So when we make music together and then put our instruments down, music has laid the foundation with those shared experiences to debate constructively about whatever social or political issues are at hand from a humanitarian point of view. The power of music is in reminding us that we are all human.

Yoshi says this humanizing power of music derives from both an emotional and sensory connection and more. “On the emotional side, if a group is going to play a song together, whether it’s for a class or a concert, there’s an exhilaration, a joy . . . some sort of personal breaking through and sharing. Research says that what we remember most are experiences we had during periods of heightened emotion. Making music together, not necessarily doing it perfectly, but figuring things out together and looking at each other across the stage as that music is being made sears the experience into your brain.” Neurologic studies show that listening to and playing music increases dopamine activity in the caudate nucleus, and the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s reward center, correspondingly activates. Yoshi also finds connecting with the audience to be an important facet of playing and enjoys playing solo or in smaller groups to facilitate the interaction—to “tear down the wall between the audience and the stage,” as he puts it.

TNCS Strings Program

This 2016–2017 school year marks the first year of that program as part of the enormous value TNCS places on Music Education, and it’s off to a soaring start. The TNCS strings program is open to students from other area schools, as well, in an effort to broaden the reach and get more city students playing strings instruments.

His hope for the TNCS strings program is to add beginning cello and violin classes annually, such that the current-year beginning students will welcome and mentor the incoming protégés—very much in keeping with TNCS’s own philosophy about the synergy of the mixed-age classroom. This approach would not only feed the growing program with fresh crops of students, it would also allow second-year students to learn more deeply from the act of teaching and role-modeling. “When they’re able to practice on their own and teach at the same time, they’re in effect doubling the results of their efforts,”said Yoshi. After 2 years as first a beginner then a mentor, students would progress to Ensemble-level playing, and the Ensemble would grow correspondingly, if Yoshi’s plans are approved and implemented.

An ancillary hope is to take students to performances, depending on what concerts are being scheduled in terms of duration and content. He says Peabody Conservatory is eager to be more community oriented, partly because the state of classical music is that audiences are shrinking. Attending performances has become inaccessible and cost-prohibitive, whereas it should be widely available. Paradoxically, Yoshi says, musicians are playing with increasing technical skill and at ever younger ages, likely due to good-old YouTube, as well as the availability of very small instruments, which allows very young children to begin playing and achieve mastery that much sooner. Peabody, however, is developing community relationships and offering free performances—and is only a couple of blocks away from TNCS. Yoshi sees in this outreach stance an additional opportunity to possibly pair up TNCS students with Peabody teachers-in-training so that TNCS students can benefit from one-on-one instruction in addition to whole-class instruction.

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Yoshi plays his double bass.

Musician-Teacher: Merging Two Worlds

In his personal playing, Yoshi has been acclaimed by the Baltimore Sun for his ability to put on a “dazzling display of dexterity and panache.” As an active double bassist, he spans a broad spectrum of genres and has performed with the York Symphony, Baltimore Boom Bap Society, Opera Camerata of Washington, Classical Revolution Baltimore, and more. Recently, he was the principal bassist to record works by Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts. “Yoshi proudly hails from the studios of Ed Malaga, Jeff Koczela, Laura Ruas, Paul DeNola, and Paul Johnson.”

“In addition to being an active performer, Yoshi is a highly sought-after pedagogue.” Having served as the low-strings department chair and string ensemble director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s El Sistema–inspired ORCHKids program, faculty for Peabody’s Bass Works, and faculty for American Music System, his teaching credentials are robust. Yoshi’s International Society of Bassists pedagogy research submission is currently being used as a resource to influence bass teachers across the country. He is also certified in the Mark O’Connor string method and has studied the Suzuki string method, making him an all-around strings pedagogy expert. (Bio was quoted and paraphrased from Yoshi’s website: BassHoriguchi.com.)

But even all of this, as Yoshi explains, is not an exhaustive accounting. He keeps moving forward professionally and finding ways to bring strings to kids. He says that he aims to earn respectability as a classical player but also to continue growing as a teacher so that he has his feet firmly in both worlds and can act as a bridge between these worlds. He explained:

Diversifying your skill set opens your eyes and gives you a more worldly context—it allows you to see how you fit into the world. Teaching for underserved West Baltimore ORCHKids, for example, has given me a reason to get up in the mornings and has honestly made me want to practice more. It’s not that I don’t care about my music career, but I think I care less about that than I care about what I can do for the world. Now, pushing myself as a musician means discovering my potential to give back. Breaking through technical obstacles and overcoming hurdles allows me to teach from a place of empathy, of understanding that this is hard, and maybe even guiding students so they can apply these skills elsewhere.

Yoshi attributes his drive to “pay it forward” to having been so nurtured by his own early teachers, to whom he says wants to both show respect and give back. Finally, he wants to dispel the dual stigma that music teachers are nothing but strict and demanding and that classical music is stultifying and too rigid: “I hope that parents considering enrolling their child here will trust that this program is not at all like that. The kids are wonderful, and I’m learning from them everyday, so hopefully my teaching self will reflect this continual growth. Don’t let that image of what you think classical music may be prevent you from signing up, because you might miss out on something very special happening here.”

You can see just what he means during this year’s Winter Concert, where TNCS strings students will be performing. Additionally, TNCS administration hopes to offer a Strings Camp next summer. “Stay tuned”!

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Yoshi, instruments in hand, sits both on top of the world and very much in it.