Meet the Teacher: Leslie Shaffer Joins TNCS Lower Elementary!

This fall, The New Century School welcomed Leslie Shaffer to teach kindergarten/first-grade for the 2018–2019 school year. Immersed had the pleasure of interviewing her recently and brings you the highlights in this post.

Meet Leslie Shaffer

tncs-k-1st-teacher-leslie-shafferMs. Shaffer is originally from New York state and graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York in 2015 with concentrations in Government and English. She went on to get a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education at Bank Street College of Education in New York City.

Once she was out of college, Ms. Shaffer moved to Connecticut to take a position teaching pre-K and kindergarten at Greenwich Country Day School, in what she says was similar to an apprenticeship program. After 2 years, she returned to New York City to teach kindergarten at the all-girls school Sacred Heart and reports that she thoroughly enjoyed that 1-year experience.

So far, she has not merged her undergraduate Government concentration into her teaching, because once she realized later in college that reading books for fun could be a major, she was hooked. “I took an English class by accident and wound up loving it. It’s now something I use a lot in the classroom, and I’m so excited that I get to do so,” she said.

This past summer, she moved to Annapolis to be closer to family, who have a business on the Eastern Shore. When asked what inspired her to apply to teach at TNCS, she says: “I think a lot of it was the neighborhood. I knew I didn’t want to teach in Annapolis, even though I would be living there. Having just come from New York, I wanted to be in more of a city environment, with more going on. I wanted a little bit of excitement. Annapolis is a lovely place, but it’s not a city.”

The 15 students in her homeroom class plus the 14 students she co-teaches from Pei Ge (“Ge Laoshi”)’s homeroom are contributing to that excitement Ms. Shaffer enjoys. “I love it here,” she said. “I really do. I think what I’ve liked most is that the parents are so interesting, and so the kids are, too. Everyone is traveling to different places, has family in different countries . . .  I think it’s fascinating.”

Ms. Shaffer’s primary subjects are Math and English Language Arts, and she does the Daily 3 or 4 rotation for both (including a snack rotation). Her homeroom students spend the first 1 1/2 hours of the day with her, and then they move to Ge Laoshi’s classroom for Global Studies and Science. The two classes also switch for part of the afternoon. Many of her first-grade students came up through the TNCS primary program, and many of her kindergarteners are new to the school, but everyone has adjusted beautifully, thanks to the built-in differentiation that rotations afford. Says Ms. Shaffer:

I think my favorite parts about being a teacher have always been the small group work and working one on one with a student. I think that the day lends itself so well to having rotations, and although I enjoy my time with them, I make sure they stop at a good amount of independent stations, too. But also there’s always one more, and that’s just with me. I love that part of it.

English Language Arts Class

“In ELA, differentiation is crucial,” explains Ms. Shaffer, “because some of the students coming in could not yet identify all of the letters of the alphabet, while many of the 1st-graders can completely read on their own.” Thus, her ELA class will typically have a rotation that includes her reading with a small group in the “library” (pictured below) and another with her listening to a student reading independently as well as various exercises involving more intensive focus on individual letters. “For those who are still working on letter recognition,” she said, “each week we focus on a letter. For those who can read on their own, this becomes more like coming up with a list of how many words they can spell with the letter of focus.” Most of the books in the K/1 classroom are “decodable,” meaning that there are no tricky sounds or silent letters, to give young learners the chance to gain some confidence before encountering the many exceptions to the rule that comprise the English language.

The best part of the day for Ms, Shaffer takes place in ELA class, with her students circled around her:

My favorite part of the day is always doing a read-a-loud, which, for the past 2 months, has been a Marcy Watson book. They are chapter books, which seems like a lot for kindergarteners to listen to, but because the books are so funny, the students are really, really attentive, even from the beginning of the year.  I think it’s been a good place as well for the kids who are very comfortable reading. Every once in a while, they’ll want to read the next chapter, and the other students still listen to them, which is so nice.

Math Class

The Math curriculum for all TNCS elementary students is Singapore Math. For K/1 students, many who are transitioning from preschool, math class includes manipulatives, but, albeit quite similar, these are from Singapore Math rather than Montessori materials the students would have used in primary.

“The students have mainly been using the base 10 block so far, explained Ms. Shaffer. The 1 is represented by a tiny cube, 10 is a stick, 100 is a block of 100, and 1,000 is a cube. “This system works really well, especially for the 1st-graders, who are doing addition and subtraction, but also for the kindergarteners who are just starting to figure out what the numbers represent.” She is also incorporating bead rings, another way to represent smaller numbers, as shown below.

“They’re doing very nicely,” said Ms. Shaffer, “and we had a professional development training in Singapore Math earlier this year that really helped us understand how to use the materials most effectively.” (More on that in a future post!)


Ms. Shaffer is very much at home at TNCS, and her fascination with people and culture—and learning—makes her an ideal fit for the school. There is one aspect of the day in which her students have the upper hand over her: “They love it when they come back from Chinese class, and they know all these words that I don’t,” she laughed. But even here, she is picking up vocabulary and enjoying the fun of learning right alongside her wonderful students.

Welcome, Ms. Shaffer! Huānyíng (欢迎)!

TNCS Elementary and Middle School Students Do Hands-On Field Research!

At The New Century School, field trips serve multiple purposes: They are valuable  learning and social opportunities, and they are fun—important respites from the classroom. Field trips at TNCS are thoughtfully crafted to effectively support student learning by exposing them to new experiences, increasing their interest and engagement in a topic, and being memorable and useful even long after the visit. They give students both cognitive and affective benefits.

Indeed, research shows that field trips work best when they provide support for students to explore in a personally meaningful way. This is especially true for the sciences. As a shared social experience that provides the opportunity for students to encounter and explore novel things in an authentic setting, a field trip can deepen and enhance classroom study. The National Research Council holds that a quality science curriculum “is one that extends beyond the walls of the classroom.”

Bird is the Word!

During Q1 at TNCS, science focused on two units, Macrobiology and Genetics. Accordingly, elementary and middle school science teacher Nameeta Sharma chose two field trips to align with those units. “The students visited Irvine Nature Center to understand more about the ecosystem and the organisms that live in it through hands-on field research experience,” she explained. “There was an emphasis on adaptation that supports survival.”

IMG_2007“[Irvine believes it is every child’s right, as an integral part of the natural community, to develop a foundation of academic skills through encounters in the natural world,” according to their website. While there, in two groups, students cycled through activities including hiking; attending a presentation on what makes owls such effective birds of prey (the adaption that Ms. Sharma mentioned); and exploring the interactive exhibits;

They also got the chance to discuss owl adaptations with Ms. Roman in an engaging question and answer session. Some of their contributions are positively brilliant!

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The culminating activity, though, was dissecting owl pellets. Owl pellets are the regurgitated remains of an owl’s meal, including all the bones of the animals it ate (usually small rodents, such as voles). Owls typically swallow their food whole, digest the edible parts, and then expel the indigestible parts through their mouth as a pellet. Owl pellet dissection is a great way to learn about owl eating habits. Naturally, some students were a bit leery of this “gross” activity at first, but curiosity gave way. (And, no worries, parents—the pellets are sterilized in an oven to kill bacteria, and students wore gloves during the dissection and washed their hands right after.) Irvine instructor Diana Roman facilitated.

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Headed Squidward!

“The visit to the National Aquarium helped students understand biomes,” said Ms. Sharma. “They had a first-hand experience of visiting reefs and tropical rainforests and saw animals and sea organisms in their habitats. They had the opportunity to observe and touch (in some cases) and learn about unique adaptations that help them survive. The trip was also chosen to make students appreciate the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay.”

Here again, the research was “hands on,” as students dissected a squid.

Getting Some Space!

At least two more field trips will take place during the second semester of the 2018–2019 school year. Says Ms. Sharma: “I am happy to inform you that I have scheduled another field trip on January 16, 2019. That trip will take us to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center!”

TNCS’s Annual Elementary and Middle School Back-to-School Night: Your Source for Need-to-Know Info for the 2018–2019 Academic Year!

Now that summer has unofficially ended, and school is back in full swing, The New Century School kicked off the 2018–2019 school year with its annual Back-to-School Night. The focus of the evening was to meet your student’s teachers and to present the student’s daily schedule, a curriculum overview, and school policies. In other words, students have had 2 weeks to acclimate—now it’s our turn!

As TNCS enters its 12th year, it’s worth noting how the school and its programs have expanded and grown to what they are today. Changes each year are inevitable, but TNCS has stayed true to its identity and has successfully weathered those changes, transforming would-be obstacles into opportunities and growing the student body to more than 200 children, 117 in the preschool and 88 in the elementary and middle schools.

An overview of tips and policies is given here, and specific documents can also be downloaded at the links provided at the end of this post as well as from the TNCS Parent Hub.

Welcome to Some Great New Enhancements!

The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Shara Khon Duncan warmly welcoming parents, new and old: “It’s nice to see all of your faces again—welcome,” she began. She next introduced teachtncs-back-to-school-night-2017ers, who then returned to their classrooms to prepare for the group breakouts by division. Sra. Duncan then addressed the parent audience and presented some important school year expectations.

Just a few things before we get started—that you’ll probably hear the teachers reiterate because these things are really important. First arriving on time to school is very important for all of our students. It gets the day started right, it helps the students feel that they are coming in and ready to go. So, please, as much as possible, arrive on time. That includes preschool. We have to get them modeled right from the beginning. I know from experience how hard it is to get out of the house—I had two girls who did not want to cooperate, so I totally get it.

Next, be sure that when you pull up into the carline rectangles at drop-off and pick-up times that you are actually in the lines and not blocking the crosswalk, so that walkers can cross safely. Also do not walk anywhere but the crosswalk for everyone’s safety. Again, we’re trying to model as best we can what we want our children to do.

Another thing I’d like you to remember is that you have been sent the Parent Guide by Admissions Director Mrs. Sanchies, which is a fabulous resource that breaks down all the essential things you need to know—such as signing up for before and after care or school lunch, what happens when it snows, and so on—so please refer to that often. You also should have received the Family Handbook, so please take some time to look through it and sign the second page.

Yet another exciting new thing this year is that, in addition to receiving weekly emails from your child’s homeroom teacher with pertinent information about what’s going on in the classroom and what’s coming up, we’re moving toward implementing software called Sycamore that will allow teachers to have class web pages. This will be very easy to log in to and use to see class-related information. The weekly emails will be sent every Friday around 5; emails about specials will be sent every other week.

Finally, please remember that we are a nut-free school and are also committed to having a sugar-free environment. So when it comes time to celebrate birthdays, for example, please make sure that you talk to the teacher ahead of time and discuss what kind of treat might be appropriate.

With that, have a lovely evening and a great year!

Elementary and Middle School Breakouts

Once the initial introductions and welcome message concluded, parents moved on to spend time with their child’s teachers. This was the opportunity to learn about what the school day looks like, what the educational goals are for the year, and what the specific class-related expectations are of both parent and child. Upper Elementary and Middle School was jointly hosted by veteran Math and Science teacher Nameeta Sharma and veteran English language arts and Global Studies teacher Ilia Madrazo.

Ms. Madrazo handled many of the practical details, reminding families of the importance of being on time. Class begins promptly at 8:25 am with key information and planner assignments, all things you don’t want your child to miss. She promised parents that any questions or concerns about anything going on in the classroom would be responded to within 24 hours. She also went over the handout that enumerated class and school policies as well as gave a deeper dive into each subject’s curriculum. First up, the fun stuff!tncs-2018-2019-back-to-school-night

Specials

New art teacher Jia Liu will be profiled in an upcoming Immersed “Meet the Teacher” post, and art happens twice weekly. Students also have music taught by the illustrious Martellies Warren twice a week. Physical education now includes 1 day of teacher-led PE consisting of yoga, plus 1 day of regular coach-taught PE each week. Teacher’s Choice is also now considered a once-weekly special, and this 45-minute block can be used for exploring a topic students want to learn more about, an activity the class collectively would like to pursue, or anything different from the usual academics, explained Ms. Madrazo. This might even be making a fun visit to the Ozone Snack Bar!

Ozone Snack Bar

Speaking of “the ‘zone,” students can also visit the snack bar housed in the second-floor Union Box space of Building North, from 8:10 am–8:25 am on Tuesday and Thursday mornings starting the week of September 10th. Teachers will have sent permission slips that allow parents to set a spending limit for their children as well as opt for cash payment or convenient billing through FACTS. Li Laoshi will supervise these morning visits.

Recess

New this year, students will be going outside every day, regardless of weather. “Rain, shine, snow,” said Ms. Madrazo, “whatever happens, we’re going out every day. We’re taking them to Thames Street Park currently, so they have plenty of space to run and have fun.”

Field Trips

At least four trips are planned this year (at least one per quarter). Parents–chaperoning field trips is a fantastic way to not only experience a fun trip with your child but also to rack up some of the obligatory 10 volunteer hours! This quarter, a trip to the Irvine Nature Center is scheduled (9/17). Next up, the ever-popular National Aquarium! Successive trips will be announced as they are confirmed.

Math

Ms. Sharma took over to explain the math curriculum. “We have four rotations,” she explained. “Students will work on the computer on Success Maker, in small groups playing math games, independently in their workbooks, and one on one with me.” The primary resource is Singapore math, which returning students are already very familiar with and probably worked with over the summer to stay in practice. Middle school students will use the Go Math curriculum. TNCS students may also once again opt in to participate in the Math Kangaroo competition in March—TNCS’s third annual!

English Language Arts

Ms. Madrazo took back over for ELA. “I had the pleasure of going to New York this summer,” she began, “to take training in teaching writing. We will continue using the Lucy Calkins writing curriculum.” (See State-of-the-Science Elementary Writing at TNCS for more on Calkins’ acclaimed approach.) “We will use ‘mentor texts’ that are great works of literature that help students figure out what was done really well that they can incorporate in their own writing. They write every day in class for 20 minutes. The biggest indicator of success in high school is the volume of writing they have already done. It is extremely important for them to be able to take notes, to write deep and long, and to develop ideas.”

ELA uses the Daily 5, which consists of: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, and Word Work.

Wordly Wise 3000 will once again be used for ELA homework. Wordly Wise 3000 focuses on improving students’ vocabulary by furthering their understanding of new words and concepts. By focusing on vocabulary development, students are able to read increasingly challenging texts with fluency and improve their chances for success in school and beyond. Additionally, spelling practice will also help improve student writing. (See more on ELA homework below.)

Science

The major science themes throughout the year that will guide learning and understanding will include Unit 1: Macrobiology and Genetics, Unit 2: Engineering, Unit 3: the Scientific Method (Science Fair), and Unit 4: Astronomy and Weather.

Interdisciplinary learning is a big part of TNCS’s approach, so ELA and world language reading will routinely relate to science and global studies units.

Global Studies

Global studies will comprise both United States history and World history. The Elementary and Middle School programs will focus on the same unit of study but will be differentiated based on grade level:

  • Quarter One, Ancient World Cultures with focus on India, Greece, and Rome
  • Quarter Two, World Cultures and Geography with focus on India and Africa
  • Quarter Three, Civics
  • Quarter Four, American History

Surprise! Ms. Madrazo plans to teach in and incorporate as much Spanish as possible here! (Reinforcement in English will always be available, but learning a subject in another language deepens language fluency exponentially.)

Spanish

Spanish learning will be taught through the use of different games, dances, and songs. I was born in Chile, and this is my third year as lead Spanish teacher,” said Sra. Sanzana. “Spanish class is a little bit of everything—grammar, culture, vocabulary, talking, reading, and listening,” she said. As in other subjects, teaching is differentiated. “I divide students into groups based on levels after making a differentiation plan for each child,” she explained. “Don’t be afraid of whatever comes; I will be here helping them.” Note that, as TNCS has evolved, Spanish class now happens daily, with Friday being reserved for fun and games in Spanish.

Spanish class will adopt a Daily 4: Read to self, read to each other, independent work in their folders, and work with the teacher. Reading comprehension will be a big emphasis. A big addition this year for students who are ready for it will be writing 100-word essays in Spanish. For everyone, learning by teaching will be introduced—the big kids get to read to their smaller compatriots in Spanish and work with them on vocabulary and so on. “They will become the teachers,” said Sra. Sanzana. “They will solve their own problems to do so, such as figuring out how to pronounce an unfamiliar word.” This idea was happily embraced by parents, who well know the benefits of this popular TNCS approach.

Mandarin

Li Laoshi believes Mandarin Chinese is best learned through pursuing various real-life activities that connect to what lesson is being taught. “I really believe that interest is the best teacher,” she explained, “so we cook, do calligraphy, go on trips, and other do other activities that the students really enjoy.” Project assessments are mainly performance based—in other words, she wants to see her students successfully using their Mandarin skills. Like Spanish, Mandarin class now happens daily.

Better Chinese will continue as our backbone curriculum as well as our Daily Four,” said Li Laoshi. In Daily Four, students are divided into small groups and use different levels of books according to their language proficiency. The students rotate among the four centers, which are meet with teacher, computer, reading, and games. “Friday will be the weekly Activity Day featuring various activities that integrate Chinese culture, such as calligraphy, Tai chi, Kung Fu, Chinese games, and cooking Chinese food,” she continued. “On Friday, September, 21st, we will make mooncakes in honor of China’s mid-Autumn Festival, and the students are very excited!”

Li Laoshi got big laughs when she suggested that parents allow themselves to be interviewed by their students as part of homework and thereby begin to pick up some Mandarin themselves! Around the room, parents began counting to themselves (“yī, èr, sān, sì, wǔ, liù, qī , bā, jiǔ, shí . . .”), rightly proud of their Chinese prowess! She suggested the websites Hello World for beginners and Duolingo for other students to get further practice at home.

Students will be assessed the traditional way (pencil and paper); however, the main approach of assessment will be performance based. For every new unit, formative assessment will be used daily and summative assessment will be used at the end of each unit.

Homework

The big question on BTS attendees minds’ was, “what’s up with homework this year?” There’s good news: The bottom line is, homework is necessary but should never be onerous. “Our purpose here is to help the kids to succeed,” said Ms. Madrazo, “not to have unrealistic expectations and make everyone unhappy.”

Homework in math, ELA, and world languages will be assigned each Monday and is due on Friday. Other important points to note are:

  1. Students are expected to record their homework assignments each Monday in their planners, but please check that they are doing so.
  2. Students are expected to complete this work independently with minimal support as needed from parents. This is key—helping your child to an extensive degree will not show teachers where and how they need to adjust assignments and better meet students where they are.
  3. After care participants are given time to complete homework as well as as-needed support from Sra. Sanzana.
  4. Your child’s teachers are flexible. If a student needs more time to complete an assignment well, communicate this, and teachers will work with you to accept it the following Monday.
  5. Mandarin and Spanish alternate weeks for elementary students, whereas middle school students should expect weekly Spanish homework.
  6. Additional Internet research may be assigned when pertinent to, for example, specific global studies or science lessons.
  7. To great applause from parents, weekly science homework will not be assigned, however.
  8. Altogether, weekly homework assignments should take about 2 hours or less, depending on division, apart from daily reading and writing and any music practice (if your child takes instrument lessons).

Here is the breakdown:

  • Math: Homework will consist of ~30 minutes per week of problem solving or Workbook completion (translating to four pages in the workbook for 4th- and 5th-graders and two or three for 6th- through 8th-graders).
  • English Language Arts: Each week, there will be one lesson (~30 minutes) in Wordly Wise per week, which includes a list of vocabulary words to know, and various assignments to complete.
    • In addition, this year, students are expected to spend 20–30 minutes reading independently and at least 10 minutes writing (or mind-mapping, which is a critical part of the writing process) every day.
    • Daily writing should be in cursive and in pen; students will have been given prompts from Ms. Madrazo or can free write. Journals are provided, but separate sheets of writing are also acceptable when a student forgets to bring the journal home.
  • Spanish: Grades 4 and 5 will work on a small packet the 1st and 3rd weeks of the month; 6th- 7th, and 8th-graders will have homework weekly. Homework will be reading-comprehension based.
  • Chinese: Grades 4–8 will work on a small packet the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month.

What Lies Ahead!

Although BTS night is over, know that teachers and administration are always readily available to answer any questions regarding your student’s development. Also know that you’ll be meeting teachers new to TNCS in Immersed profiles throughout the coming year as well as hear more from staff and administration who are adopting new roles and taking the school in new directions.
Finally, expect to hear more about forthcoming parent volunteering opportunities and service learning initiatives. Stay tuned!

To get a look at past year’s back-to-school nights or just to reminisce about the school’s early days, read:

RecyQueen Returns to TNCS!

The New Century School was pleased to host local artist-activist Bridgett Parlato, a.k.a., the “RecyQueen” for a presentation on the dangers of pollution during the 2016–2017 school year. Read about that visit in TNCS Elementary Talks Some Serious Trash!

Last month, TNCS was thrilled to welcome back the Queen of Green for a collaborative art project with TNCS K/1st-graders. Ms. Parlato’s art generally has a social message, and the ocean-themed project she undertook at TNCS was no different. Tying into the oceanography unit the lower elementary students were doing, Ms. Parlato first spoke to the classes about the art they would be creating together and why. “We’ll be making a mandala, which is a special symbol that shows how things are connected. How are we going to use this art to help people, the ocean, and the world?” she asked them. After getting some very thought-provoking audience responses, she thanked them and summed up their ideas: “Your art is going to make people think about why it’s important not to litter.”

Art with K/1st Classes

Ms. DeMatteo’s and Prof. Caceres’s classes launched the project. With the younger students, Ms. Parlato’s focus was on textures. They first discussed different types of textures that might be found in the ocean (“squishy like a jellyfish,” “wiggly like an anemone,” “gooey like seaweed”).

“Now your job is to paint some of these ocean and water textures, using some recyclable materials like cereal boxes and cardboard I have brought in for you,” the RecyQueen explained. “Once you make all of the textures for me, I’m going to make a special kind of collage out of them.”

 

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She also likened their task to that of the Japanese puffer fish, “nature’s great ocean artist.”

Art with 1st/2nd Classes

Mrs. Jenks’ and Sra. Sanchez’s classes took over phase 2, which was making the fish that would swim through the oceans created by the younger group.

Here, the focus was more on ecosystems and the delicate balance ocean life requires to thrive.

 

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La Reina de Reciclaje

After her two visits to TNCS and having accumulated four classrooms’ worth of mandala components, Ms. Parlato put it all together and unveiled the masterpiece at TNCS’s 2018 Art Show on Thursday, May 31st. It speaks for itself.

tncs-ocean-mandala

“These kids want something else,” commented Ms. Parlato. “They don’t want an environment full of styrofoam and trash. They are speaking change through this art, and kid art is powerful.”

 

 

TNCS Welcomes Shara Khon Duncan as Head of School!

As The New Century School continues to grow and develop, day-to-day operations and school supervision have also become increasingly complex. For this reason, TNCS school Co-Founders/Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner, along with current Head of School Alicia Danyali, decided it was time to expand the administrative structure. Starting this summer, Baltimore native daughter Shara Khon Duncan will become year-round Head of School, while Mrs. Danyali will be Head of the Lower School as well as schoolwide Dean of Students. This framework will increase operational efficiency, while allowing both Heads of School to fully engage in their respective roles as not just administrators, but also what they are at heart—deeply committed educators.

tncs-garden-tuck-shop-refreshmentsOn May 3rd, TNCS hosted a Meet & Greet with Mrs. Duncan (“Shara Khon” to parents) to give attendees the chance to meet her in person and snack on coffee and refreshments provided by the Garden Tuck Shop. Immersed subsequently interviewed Mrs. Duncan to give those unable to attend the Meet & Greet an opportunity to get to know her as well.

As you’ll see, she is an eloquent, thoughtful speaker, with a warm, engaging manner.

Meet TNCS’s New Head of School!

Immersed: How did you become the TNCS Head of the School?

Shara Khon: I was drawn to TNCS’s unique distinction of having such a valued foreign language program, unlike any other that I’ve seen, where students learn two foreign languages. And music and art is such an integral part of the program as well. As a teacher of Spanish, my subject has always been a special or an extra, but, here, the specials rule. That really drew me, because things that are often seen as extras are really seen where they should be here—as an invaluable part of a child’s education. They are part of how a child as a whole should be seen and just as important as what are now  known as the “core subjects.” They all fit together to help educate a child.

Other aspects that drew me to TNCS are the project-based learning and how instruction is differentiated for students, which is just amazing. To be able to do that, where it’s not just rote learning, and providing the opportunity for students to learn through doing is just fantastic. I’m really excited to be a part of that.

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Immersed: Can you explain a little about your history with Spanish and why you became a Spanish teacher?

Shara Khon: When I was a child, my mom exposed me to a lot of languages. She thought language was important and would learn as much as she could—and this was before the Internet and YouTube. Spanish, Swahili, French, Hebrew—whatever she could find, she would try to learn it and take the time to help me learn as well. So, the love of language started for me at a very young age.

I then took German from 2nd grade through 12th grade and continued it in college at Dartmouth. I added Spanish in 9th grade because I thought it was an important language to have; I could see that it was a growing language in the United States. When I got to college, I majored in Spanish, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time living in different places. I studied in Mexico, for example, and I lived in Turkey for a summer via American Field Service (AFS) when I was in high school, which was wonderful. That gave me my first bug of spending some time living with people and getting to know other cultures, which is really important to me. I don’t like to travel as just a tourist; I’d rather spend time with people and get to know them. I can be a tourist here. I’d rather go and learn about the people.

Immersed: What made you decide on Turkey as a destination?

Shara Khon: Interestingly, you don’t usually get to pick. I actually wound up originally with Sri Lanka, but the day that I found that out, the Sri Lankan Civil War started. So, AFS pulled everyone out and gave us a choice between Greece and Turkey. I figured I would probably go to Greece anyway one day, so I chose Turkey in order not to miss that opportunity. That’s the kind of person I am: I like to choose the road less traveled. And I just loved it. It’s wonderful. I’m still in contact with my Turkish family, and my youngest sister is named after my Turkish sister. We all have a very special bond. These kinds of things are what are important to me—spending time with other people in their cultures and learning their languages are really key to me.

Immersed: How many languages do you speak?

Shara Khon: Not a lot anymore. I speak primarily Spanish now, although I used to speak German as well. Now I understand German better than I can speak it. Likewise, I now understand written Hebrew better than I can speak it. But, if you drop me somewhere, I can pick it back up. I can fight my way out, but you lose it if you don’t use it.

Immersed: It sounds like a lot of your passion for language and culture originated with your mother. What do you think it is about languages that had such a draw for her?

Shara Khon: She wanted to learn Spanish because of “I Love Lucy.” She wanted to know what Ricky was saying—at least that’s what she told me. She has a wonderful sense of humor. But she’s always been one to love other cultures. Take my name, for example. She loved Rudyard Kipling books, so I’m named after Shere Khan, the tiger from The Jungle Book. My mom was always one to try different things and explore other cultures. She would make kimchi when I was a kid, for instance. It was amazing.

Another example is that most of my friends at the time were Jewish and went to Hebrew school, and I wanted to enroll in Hebrew school. My grandfather was a baptist minister and took me to a local synagogue to try to get me into Hebrew school. It would have meant converting to Judaism, but my grandfather the black Baptist minister was going to try to make it happen for me if I wanted to do it. It’s amazing how much they valued language for me. It all worked out in the end, because my mom was a police officer and worked at the training academy with someone who spoke Hebrew, and he would teach me here and there. I did more of it in college. I was the only person like me in the Hebrew class in college. In fact, I think I was actually the only non-Jewish person in that class. I just love learning languages and about cultures.

Immersed: Where did your career take you after graduating from Dartmouth?

Shara Khon: When I graduated, the first Gulf War was underway, and corporate recruiting just wasn’t happening. I had always wanted to teach, but I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford it, having graduated with a lot of student loan debt. However, since there was no corporate recruiting, I figured I would teach for a bit and wound up teaching for 7 years. I first taught for 1 year at Purnell School, which was a boarding school in New Jersey for girls and a great place to start my teaching career. It was dedicated to students with learning issues, so I learned how to teach to different learning styles and how to celebrate everything about a student, not just her academics. Particularly because it was a boarding school, you could see other things about a student that weren’t just in the classroom. That was something wonderful, so I tried to keep that as a piece of my teaching—trying to find things that a student loves and really try to hold that up and remind them that class isn’t everything, to remind them that ‘yes, you are really special and wonderful.’ I then returned to Baltimore and taught at Bryn Mawr for 6 years.

At 30, I decided to go into the corporate world because I wanted to see what it was like. I don’t like to live with regrets, and I didn’t want to turn around one day and say, ‘why didn’t I try?’ So, I worked at Legg Mason for the next 5 years. I started off as an office manager, then did some marketing and investor relations specialists kinds of things with their private equity group. It was a lot of long hours and a lot of work, but it was a great experience, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to do it. But, I’m also glad that’s not the path I took. I needed to spend more time with my very young children, Mary and Marina.

So I stayed home for a year and got very involved in their lives and wound up teaching at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, where they attended. The principal at the time had been trying to get me to teach there for years because I taught her daughter at Bryn Mawr and talked me into first just helping out as a parent. I thought, ‘they’re little, they’re scary, they cry, I don’t want to do that,’ and wound up loving teaching elementary and being with elementary kids. I was an assistant in a kindergarten classroom for a couple of years and loved it. I later taught middle school Spanish there.

When my youngest moved over to private school in 4th grade, I went back to private school because it didn’t make sense to be the only one on a public school schedule. So I switched to Calvert, and I’ve been there since.

Immersed: What do you think made you love teaching elementary so much?

Shara Khon: First and foremost, the students are always happy to see you. How can you have a bad day when people are happy to see you when you come to school? And then, no day is ever the same, ever—you never know what they’re going to say or do. They keep it interesting. And when they make a connection, it is amazing—you can almost see the spark happen. They absorb everything, and one of the things that I’ve loved about teaching them Spanish is that almost everything I’ve thrown at them, they’ve done with no problem. And it’s all them. It’s not me. These kids have such a capacity to learn. If you give them the right environment, and you water them, they grow.

Immersed: Let’s now talk about what you’re going to do here at TNCS. How do you characterize your role as Head of School, your understanding of it?

Shara Khon: This summer I plan to take a look at some behind-the-scenes operations to help us run a little bit more smoothly, like solidifying staff roles, getting some more systems in place, prepping for teacher professional development to start the year off right, and taking a look at our curriculum vertically. I want to look at each one of our subjects and how they flow and connect from grade to grade going up. That process will continue throughout the year, but this summer I’ll be seeing where we stand right now and start getting the map and process set, so that when the teachers come back in the fall they can have input into how we proceed. They are the ones doing the teaching, so they need to a have a say in processes.

The next big thing will be our 8th grade. We will be working out that process of getting them in high school, so there are things that I will get started this summer toward that end, like finding out what they need to do and who needs to do it and getting that down. I’m very much a person who likes to have all procedures clearly outlined, and I really want to make sure we have a good handle on how that operates.

Immersed: Do you think that all of your experience at other jobs informs your organizational abilities?

Shara Khon: I see a lot of spreadsheets in my future. There are a lot of things from Legg Mason that will definitely help me with that. There are a lot of things from managing people there and doing some management with my team at Calvert that will help as well.

Immersed: I think a question that a lot of parents may have is, how will yours and Alicia’s roles work together?

Shara Khon: I think that’s a good question, and some of it will probably evolve over time. Alicia is going to be the Head of Preprimary and Dean of Students, and I’m Head of School, mainly K–8. I’m sure there will be some overlap in roles, but usually a Dean of Students handles any issues with students that come up. I think her restorative practice work will be a major part of her Deanship. I also imagine a large piece of it will be community outreach.

We’ll be feeling our way along as we go, but at this point we feel good that we are going be able to work together well. Our shared goal overall is to make sure that TNCS is the best school that it can be, so whatever we can do to work together to make that happen, that’s what we’re going to do.

Immersed: To wrap up, is there anything else you want parents to know?

Shara Khon: For me, the children are our primary objective, and what we need to do to help them achieve their goals is to work together as productively as possible. I firmly believe that as parents, teachers, and staff, we all need to do the best that we can to all work together to help our kids. Making that relationship as productive and communicative as it can be is really important. Sometimes those communications can be tough on either end, but it’s really important that we keep the lines of communication open and be ready to listen as well as to share information. The more we know, the better we can help students. The more we can share, the better we can help students.

tncs-new-head-of-schoolI really want to hear from parents over the summer. I will be here starting June 18th, so if you are around and want to pop by, definitely let me know by email or calling. I am interested to hear what your thoughts are about the school. I may not always agree, but I do like to listen and gather as much information as possible before making decisions. I also consider all aspects as much as possible. I don’t like to have just one opinion, and I’m not looking for people to always simply agree with me. I’m also pretty straightforward, and I don’t mince words, so you don’t have to worry about trying to figure me out. What you see is what you get.


#SpecialsRule #RoadLessTraveled

Internet Safety Assembly at TNCS

The New Century School takes the health and safety of every member of its community very seriously.

As part of an ongoing Quarter 4 Health and Safety unit for upper elementary and middle school students, TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali hosted a special assembly on May 2nd to talk about safe practices to use while online. “This week we are starting to look at different topics related to all the tools you need as students as you continue to develop and grow,” she explained. As is becoming more and more evident, the risks of unsafe cyber practices include identity theft and various forms of exploitation, among others. Teaching children how to safeguard themselves in the digital realm is therefore critical.

Building Cyber Awareness

To start off the discussion, Mrs. Danyali asked students to fill out a questionnaire about their Internet and computer use: “This is not going to be shared with anyone else, but it’s very important we have this conversation. If you don’t know how to answer something, skip that question. Try to answer honestly, and remember that there are no right or wrong answers here. Also, do not put your names on this survey; we are keeping this anonymous.”

The survey came from the Institute for Responsible Online and Cellphone Communication, known more familiarly as IROC2.org. This organization’s mission is to “. . . [communicate] a necessary Digital Consciousness™ that serves as the foundation for a uniform and proactive solution to any digital issue. The Institute is an ambassador to Digital Enlightenment™, and desires to construct a global digital community free of negative and sometimes irreversible consequences resulting from poor digital judgment.”

tncs-internet-safetyThe survey is quantitative, with a lower score correlating to less risky online behavior and practices. Mrs. Danyali explained the scoring system, and students tallied their results.

As you become more dependent on digital technology—you probably can’t avoid it, neither for personal nor for school life—we need to learn about digital safety and being consciously aware of what that means. It is probably unrealistic for any one of us to maintain a score of 0 our whole lives, but if you fell into the category of 0–30, you are using your digital tools and technology responsibly.

She then gently explained that a higher score might indicate a need to be more conscious of online behavior. “We’ll continue to talk about what all this means, but everyone should make sure you are changing your passwords regularly and that you are only visiting websites your parents have approved.”

The group then talked about the concept of a digital footprint with students defining that as what other people can see of their online presence. Mrs. Danyali then closed the discussion by reiterating her basic message: “This is a very important life skill. We can’t get away from technology, but we can choose to use it responsibly at school and at home. This conservation we’re starting is about how to manage technology and make conscientious choices. We’re talking about healthy habits so you stay safe. We’re here to learn and support each other.”

How Can You Get in on the Discussion?

If you would like to see the questionnaire in its entirety and/or assess your own cyber risk, visit: http://www.iroc2.org/CyberSafetyRiskAssessment.html.

It’s a good idea to revisit these topics at home with your children. For one thing, you’ll want to understand what their online habits are and explain any needed adjustments. Secondly, these topics are complex, and some students may not have completely understood what they were being asked. In order to respect students’ privacy, the discussion and Q&A held at TNCS was general in nature—again, everything was kept completely anonymous. Addressing individual questions, however, can and should be done safely at home.

For a free 28-page Digital Guide for parents in pdf form to help jumpstart the conversation, click here: https://www.iroc2.org/149.html.

TNCS Lower Elementary Students Make Sense of Mindfulness!

On Thursday, April 19th, a very special—and very familiar—visitor came to The New Century School to see TNCS 1st- and 2nd-graders. Johns Hopkins child psychologist Carisa Perry-Parrish joined Mrs. Krysta Jenks’ and Sra. Barbara Sanchez’s homerooms to talk about mindfulness.

Dr. Perry-Parrish has formerly given presentations to TNCS families, to TNCS faculty, and to Chinese teachers visiting TNCS, and she has even contributed as a guest blogger to Immersed, but workshopping with students was a first.

Lower Elementary Mindfulness Workshops

Mrs. Jenks explains that she invited Dr. Perry-Parrish in to talk in order “to begin integrating mindfulness practices in the school day. There is a growing body of research on the benefits of practicing mindfulness. It helps students regulate emotions, develop coping skills, and increases curiosity,” said Mrs. Jenks.

For this age group. Dr. Perry-Parrish needed a point of entry that would grab and hold their attention. That way in was through their senses—touch, smell, taste, seeing, and hearing: “I came today to do some activities about how we can notice different things around us and in ourselves,” she explained. Next, she introduced terms and asked the group to define them, beginning with “psychologist.” “Brain doctor” was the agreed-on definition. Next was “meditation”:

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Has anybody heard of meditation before? What is it?
Students: It’s something that you do in yoga. It’s a way to calm your mind.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Why would we need to calm our mind?
Students: Stress, angry, crazy. Sometimes stupid.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does anybody get angry?  We have all different kinds of feelings and maybe we want like [a student] said to calm our minds down.

After setting the scene in this way, Dr. Perry-Parrish let students vote on in what order they would perform three activities: A tasting thing, a feeling thing with the hands, and a listening thing.

Not surprisingly, given that these activities were happening pre-lunch, both groups opted for the “tasting thing” first.

The Tasting Thing

After first verifying that no one had a dairy allergy, Dr. Perry-Parrish asked students to form a circle on the classroom rug and sit criss-cross with one hand open on one knee with eyes closed. While placing a single yogurt raisin in each child’s open palm, she explained what she was doing:

I want you to keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them. I’m going to give you one little thing that we’re going to taste, but, before we do that, we’re going to use another sense, our hand sense. I don’t want you to use your eyes because I want you to be curious like a scientist. We’re going to practice using different parts of our senses and we’re going to start by just holding this thing. As I put it in your hand, I want you to start feeling it, and I want you thinking about what it feels like.

She then proceeded through a series of questions with various answers, a sampling of which are given here:

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does this thing feel light or heavy?
Students: Light.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it have a smell?
Students: Yes
Dr. Perry-Parrish: What does it smell like?
Students: A jelly bean..
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it feel smooth or rough?
Students: Rough.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it feel like it fell off a tree or came from a store?
Students: A store.

“Now I want you to put this thing in your mouth and just hold it there for a couple of seconds—no biting,” she instructed.

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it taste sour or sweet?
Students: Sugary.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Take one bite and tell me what it tastes like.
Students: A yogurt raisin.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Who knew as soon as I put it in your hand?
Students: Me.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: How?
Students: I felt it before.

Finally, she brought home the mindfulness message in a way that they could really grasp: “Before you put it in your mouth were you feeling super excited to eat it right away? Do you ever have that feeling of I want to do something really fast but I have to slow down? It can be super hard to wait sometimes.”

The Feeling Thing with the Hands

The second activity involved placing an ice cube in each student’s hand and making all kinds of observations about it. Several children commented that they didn’t like it when the ice made their hand cold, and one had a very strong urge to eat it. This led to a very rich discussion about “sticking it out” (the hand eventually became numb, so the “pain” was no longer felt) as well as about self-restraint. “Does that happen sometimes when you have an uncomfortable feeling, and then we wait a little while until we get used to it?” asked Dr. Perry-Parrish.

In closing, she asked what surprised them about the ice experiment to get them to see that being mindful shows you things you might otherwise miss. They found that the ice melted at all different rates (why?). “Did you have any different emotions that you weren’t expecting?” “Hungry!”

The Listening Thing

The final activity involved the Fiona Apple song, Extraordinary Machine. “Everybody sit down and put on your listening ears. You guys do music class right? I bet you know all kinds of different instruments. So this is what I want you to do. Every time you hear a different instrument I want you to put a finger up. I want to see how many we count.”

At the end, the number of instruments discerned varied widely. Dr. Parry-Parrish explained: “I think we all heard different kinds of things. Were we all listening to the same song? Did we all hear different kinds of things? Why do you think we counted different kinds of things? People have different ear drums so they might hear different things.”

Dr. Perry-Parrish: What if I stopped listening for a minute and started thinking about how hungry for lunch I am? Do you think I could have missed some? Does that ever happen when we’re talking to people?
Students: Yeah.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does that ever happen to you guys when you’re listening to a lesson from your teacher?
Students: Yeah, a lot, like when my mom asks me to do something.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: What can we do when that happens so we’re paying attention? Sometimes it’s just noticing when we’re listening and when we are not.

She then played Extraordinary Machine again while students made their counts a second time, and they compared results. The number of instruments discerned rose dramatically. “Was there something different about how we were listening the first time compared to the second time?” she asked.

Paying Attention to What’s Happening Right Now

After the three activities with each class, Dr. Perry-Parrish brought it all home:

The thing that we did today has a special funny word called mindfulness. Have you ever heard of that word before? All it means is that we’re paying attention to what’s happening right now. Another mindful thing to do with your body is just notice what parts of your body move when you’re walking compared to when you’re going down the stairs. It’s a little bit different. Maybe the muscles feel a little different. Maybe you’re looking at things a little different. So, anytime you’re noticing something that’s happening right now, that’s a way to do mindfulness.

The underlying message is that children can use mindfulness to help cope with negative feelings. “Remember how we talked about all those different feelings that we have like happy, hungry, nervous?” she asked. “Something that can help us with those feelings is by asking ourselves what’s happening right now. There’s all kinds of things that we can notice, and that can help us feel less sad or not too excited.”

“The kids were really into using their senses to observe their experiences,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish of her visit to TNCS. “It was really fun helping them learn that they could have different observations during the same experience. Hopefully, teaching kids mindfulness gives them another tool to learn from their experiences,” she said.

Mrs. Jenks agreed. “We were fortunate to have Dr. Perry-Parrish lend her skill set in leading students through mindful awareness practices. I am hoping we can continue to use mindfulness at TNCS to help foster emotional growth in students.”

The other side of that coin is that mindfulness can also promote happiness. Developing self-regulation, awareness, and patience skills opens children up to the world around them—a feast for the senses, and the mind.

Want to try some mindfulness activities at home? Check out Mindfulness Activities for Children And Teens: 25 Fun Exercises For Kids from Positive Psychology.