TNCS Admissions 2020: The Name of the Game is Flexibility, Authenticity, and Patience!

The New Century School welcomed Suzannah Hopkins to take over as Admissions Director for the 2019–2020 school year . . .  and then the pandemic hit. Despite having only a few months under her belt as TNCS Admissions Director before schools were ordered to close down, Ms. Hopkins has managed to continue her work from her dining room table—including, believe it or not, introducing TNCS to new prospective families!

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But it’s certainly not easy. “It has been a challenge to sell the school, especially since we are wearing even more hats. The common saying among Admissions Directors is,” said Ms. Hopkins, “if we can get them on campus, they’re sold. But I can’t do that! That’s the rub for independent schools right now.”

Making Connections

So how does one showcase a school that can’t operate as a brick-and-mortar enterprise? That’s where TNCS Virtual School comes in to help tell the story. “That’s how people see who we are and what we’re all about,” explained Ms. Hopkins. “I also think that pivoting in our social media is allowing me to direct prospective families to our Facebook page and Immersed to show them virtually since we can’t do it in person. I only have a small window to provide a sense of what the school culture is about, so the social media becomes even more important. I am grateful to our team including Karin Cintron, who did not miss a beat pivoting with me to change our social media focus and creating resource pages on our website such as the new Support for Prospective Parents page.” In addition, the entire brochure package is also now on the website as a pdf.

Other aspects of admissions also needed to be adjusted, such as with the process for prospective students themselves:

We can’t do a shadow visit, so with rising 2nd through 8th graders, I’ll do student and parent interviews, separately or together, but definitely making sure I get to talk to the student. For the younger ones, we’re doing parent interviews, but I’ve been encouraging parents to make sure I have a sighting of the child or even just hear him or her in the background to get a sense of the family dynamic. That part is tricky, though, because kids are so different at home than they are at school, so you’re sort of getting their most comfortable self, and sometimes that can be pretty funny.

Ms. Hopkins says she relies a lot on Zoom these days, as do many of us, and values the ability to be able to connect with people, even if it can’t be in person. “I get so excited to get on a Zoom call and see some new faces,” she said. “Families seem to be feeling the same in terms of enjoying talking to somebody new or outside their own households. I start every call with, ‘How are you doing? How’s it going over at your house?’ Everyone wants to know that someone is thinking about them and feeling a sense of connection. Periodically, I’ll see a child enter the scene, and it’s the same on my end. Anything goes, and it’s all good! The mantra for virtual admissions is flexibility, authenticity, and a whole lot of patience.”

Her efforts to make connections are paying off, and prospective families with students of all ages have been reaching out for information. “Amazingly enough, we’ve gotten signed contracts even though the families don’t get to walk through the halls and hear our students and teachers interacting,” she said. In some ways, this is perhaps not so surprising as parents come to terms with realizing that we have to be ready for whatever the fall is going to look like. Schools in Maryland will not reopen this school year, and options may not be as abundant as they once were.

TNCS on the other hand, moved quickly to get up and running virtually, and has now hit a rhythm with it that seems to work for everyone. I give our faculty and administration a lot of credit for that. With so much uncertainty regarding how schools will reopen, I’m so in awe that we are trying to think of every possible scenario. It’s a whole lot of work to do that and figure out these contingencies. How can we split up this room to maintain smaller groups, for example? Do we have preschool on campus and elementary and middle stay virtual for now? Do we implement A and B days? For now, we’re all in the dark and watching the news together.

Virtual Discover TNCS Events

In addition to operating classrooms virtually, TNCS is offering Virtual Admissions Events. The first took place in April, and a second will take place Wednesday, May 20th from 10:00 am–11:00 am.

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“The fact that we’re doing virtual open houses is awesome,” said Ms. Hopkins. “We basically took the in-person event that I did in January and turned it into a Zoom event with updated slides and additions for virtual school. Josh Birenbaum gave the parent perspective, and we had nine prospective families in attendance.” One advantage to doing the event virtually is that people were able to ask questions via chat. One family is now enrolled, and a few others are “in the funnel,” as they say in admissions speak.

This month’s event will take a slightly different format: The first half will be admissions in general, and the second will be about summer camp.

Summer Camp?

Yes, TNCS Virtual Summer Camp will be a thing! TNCS Aftercare and Summer Camp Director Hannah Brown will handle that portion, with support from Paula Kupersanin and Adriana DuPrau, who are helping to create summer curricula. “It’s been a challenge running our aftercare program from home and preparing for summer camp, under uncertain circumstances,” said Ms. Brown. “But, it has been an opportunity for creative problem-solving, and I’m really proud of what the team has come up with so far.” They are currently working on virtual offerings for K through 8th-grade students. “I think that’s where the demand will be this summer. We’re looking at academic enrichment mornings in math and ELA, and then the afternoons will be geared toward social–emotional learning with specialty camps, like art and physical activity.”

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The actual offerings and the final schedule will be available on the TNCS website soon, thanks to the invaluable work by Karin Cintron to get that and registration up and running. “I’m really excited to get the word out to parents,” said Ms. Brown. “We don’t yet have a sense of how many people will register,” she continued.

Right now it’s really a balancing act for families. We want our students to have a high level of readiness for the fall, but what’s especially important to me is for them to have a sense of connectedness this summer and get some social interaction, even if it is remotely. And we really want the experience to be fun, too, whether it’s an academic enrichment or a specialty camp. Every kid’s threshold for how much virtual interaction they can profit from is different. In that spirit, we’re parsing out the day so families can do as much or as little as they need.

What We’re Grateful For

“It’s such a scary time for admissions. The job of an admissions officer is to get students into a school so there are students to teach. Hearing about schools teetering or even having to close is so sad,” said Ms. Hopkins, but she’s not one to end on anything but a positive note. “I’m so grateful that Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner are doing everything they can to make sure we’re thriving. Admissions is challenging, but the fact that we’re still getting interest from families and getting them through the pipeline makes me really happy. People are talking about us, and our name is getting out there.”

Then there’s the fact that the fundamental part of her job is still intact—more or less. “My favorite part of my job is getting to meet families and students, and I don’t get to do that in the same way now. I like to be with people—I like to talk and connect. That’s why I like admissions so much.”

Finally, there’s you, TNCS community. “We have such loyal families who have been really supportive during this time; I think it makes all the difference,” said Ms. Hopkins. “I want to thank our current families, and I also want to thank new families for entrusting their children’s futures to us. I really am so grateful for that.”


Visit Virtual Discover TNCS to register and tell your friends!

TNCS Dean of Students/Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali Presents at AIMS Learning to Lead Conference 2020!

On March 3, 2020, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, Alicia Danyali, the Dean of Students and Head of the Lower School at The New Century School, presented at an important and now exponentially more relevant conference: The Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools (AIMS) annual Learning to Lead event, this one on the theme of “Handle the Pressure: Building Social Media Leadership in Our Students.” The impetus behind the conference was this:

Social media continues to transform the educational landscape in our schools, as well as the emotional development of our students. These young people are being asked to grow up faster, and the implications of their decisions now have grand consequences that can affect their social lives, mental health, academic performance and, in some cases, college matriculation and career path. Never before have our young people been faced with such pressure to be perfect … in every way.

Now, with shelter-at-home orders in place across the state, many students are spending even more time online to varying degrees, whether it’s for entertainment or educational purposes. TNCS students, for example, are attending virtual classrooms, which is a wonderful thing (read all about it here). But this often dramatic increase in screen time has some parents wondering, “Are my children practicing safe online habits? What is their level of social media literacy?”

The Social Institute

The 2020 conference was hosted by the Severn School in Severna Park, with Laura Tierney as the keynote speaker. Ms. Tierney founded  The Social Institute, whose mission is to “. . . empower 1 million students nationwide to navigate social media and technology in positive, healthy, and high character ways. As a team of digital natives, we bridge the digital divide between students and adults by offering schools a comprehensive, student-led curriculum and presentations that students respect and embrace.” The Social Institute is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of social media, Ms. Tierney “has created a dynamic curriculum that inspires leadership and reinforces smart-decision making through a positive, growth mindset.

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“The audience was about 80% middle and high schoolers, and our focus was to give them tools to be school leaders,” said Ms. Danyali.

Self-Care, Self-Discipline, and Self-Reflection: Three Principles to Guide Your Online Presence

“Ms. Tierney and her group basically talk to students about healthy relationships and what character means as well as how that translates into their everyday lives,” explained Ms. Danyali. Three concepts she focuses on are self-care, self-discipline, and self-reflection. “She emphasizes that how they present themselves on social media can affect them long term, such as when it’s time to apply for college or get a job. Regarding attitude in general, how do you send positive messaging? How do you still remain friends with people that you don’t agree with on social media? All of those things that they’re going to face challenges with.”

After the keynote presentation, the audience broke out into four groups to workshop some of these concepts related to social media. They were given a quiz about their habits and privacy, which Ms. Danyali hopes to replicate for TNCS 7th- and 8th-graders to help them investigate, for example, what their habits are and what habits they might be looking to change, what has benefited them or improved their lifestyle.

WE Schools

One of the benefits of attending a conference like this is networking. During one of the breakout sessions, Ms. Danyali describes connecting with a representative of WESchools, “an innovative series of experiential service-learning programs that engage educators and youth globally to empower them with the skills, knowledge, and motivation to bring positive change in themselves and the world.” Sound like something Ms. Danyali would be interested in? In fact, she plans to partner with them in the near future, possibly for extracurricular activities.

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“Generation Z and How to Forge Accountability”

Ms. Danyali, who has been teaching TNCS elementary and middle school students about social media literacy for years, was an ideal presenter—one of only two, in fact. Her talk was titled “Generation Z and How to Forge Accountability.” Although she has spoken on this topic before, this time, she says, she approached it a bit differently. “I started out asking whether anybody was able to cultivate accountability from somebody else, whether it was a personal or professional relationship. How did that play out?” She got a lot of response, and students shared their school social and emotional learning experiences. She explains, “Where I was going with this is, most of these independent schools, including TNCS, use four or five words to describe what they hold as their Core Values—but how do you actually cultivate those and how do you hold the community accountable for upholding them? How are they represented in your school in a way that contributes to people taking responsibility for their actions?”

For example, one of TNCS’s core values is Service. Ms. Danyali recounts how Ms. Lee’s 2nd- /3rd-grade class assembled hygiene kits to donate to the Baltimore Rescue Mission, an authentic and worthwhile service initiative. But they took it a step further and shared their experience of why they undertook the project and why it was important with the much-younger students in Ms. Mosby’s primary classroom to help establish this concept with them, so they can build on it meaningfully as they grow. That’s how TNCS brings it full circle. “But some educators confessed that they never talk about the actual words,” said Ms. Danyali, “and I think they now see why they should perhaps start doing so, such as by relating the values back to books the students are reading. It can be that simple.”

In some schools, such as the Park School, social and emotional learning even becomes part of the student’s assessment. Although it’s certainly subjective to evaluate someone’s degree of, for example, empathy, Ms. Danyali says that’s how you not only “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk.”

“I wanted my talk to open the door for more conversation, which is how I presented it,” said Ms. Danyali. “This is just planting a seed that maybe resonates with you as relevant or so that you can pick the conversation back up in your school house with your colleagues or with your family at home. I want the conversation to be ongoing.”

Speaking of ongoing, Ms. Danyali will bring many of the valuable insights she gained by attending and presenting at the conference home to inform new initiatives for TNCS students. One example is the One Love foundation, which also focuses on healthy relationships. She wrote 20 words on a chalkboard and asked members of the TNCS 3rd and 4th grades to circle which ones signified a healthy relationship. “We talked about the words,” she said, “but what was striking is that they were able to do it without picking any of the wrong ones.” After this “test drive” of One Love, she will undertake some of these initiatives with the older students as well.

To bring all the various threads in this post back together, in this time of increased socializing via screens, let’s make sure we—and our kids—are being who we want to be, both in real life and on social media.

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A Spring Break Message to Thank You, TNCS!

A very different Spring Break starts next week amid the shutdown, but students at The New Century School already have 3 full weeks of TNCS Virtual School under their belts and can sit back and enjoy their well-earned time off from academics.

Before they do so, though, students across several divisions—yes, even the preschoolers—took a moment to express their gratitude for all the hard work, forward thinking, and can-do attitudes that went into keeping them productively occupied and maintaining their educational momentum throughout this period of massive adjustment to our new way of life.

These thank-you messages (progressing roughly by division) go out to you, TNCS teachers, staff, faculty, administration, and founders.

And don’t forget these beautiful handmade thank-you paintings and drawings!


Not only has TNCS made all of this possible, but they continue to innovate ways to engage students. Even during Spring Break, TNCS is hosting virtual activities. Staff and assistants are running daily interactive sessions in each grade (pre-primary through 8th) that you can log on to Google classrooms each morning to explore.

There is also a K–8 reading challenge for students to log minutes spent reading (either reading or being read to). The homeroom class with the most time logged gets a prize (TBA), and the top three individual students no matter what homeroom will receive ice cream for their immediate families.

Finally, parents can use some of their volunteer hours, to lead “hangout activities” for their child’s class. Examples include making paper aircraft or painting on cardboard.

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Having technical problems with Google classrooms? View this helpful video for troubleshooting.

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

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

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

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

TNCS Virtual School

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

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

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

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

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

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

TNCS Virtual Preschool

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

Another sample preschool activity is as follows:

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

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

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

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

Virtual Montessori!

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

Sample Schedule

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

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Virtual Service Learning

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

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

Hi Ms. Danyali,

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

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

Other service initiatives in all divisions can be found here.

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

Virtual Science Class

Virtual Global Studies

Virtual Language Classes

Virtual Math Class


Virtual Art Class

Miscellaneous Elementary & Middle School


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Beachley summed up the experience perfectly:

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

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