Meet the Teacher: Megan Dematteo Joins TNCS Lower Elementary!

Now in its 10th year, The New Century School continues to grow up, with a new grade added each year and an expanding student body. With greater numbers of students comes the need for additional teachers, especially in the elementary division. This year, TNCS welcomed Megan Dematteo to teach one of the four lower elementary classes.

Ms. Dematteo is one of those perfect fits that the school seems to attract, with her varied background, progressive approach to education, and her love of language and culture.

MeganHighRes7 copy.jpgBackground

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and growing up in nearby Harford County, Ms. Dematteo majored in Spanish at the University of Tennessee, with an additional focus on Journalism. On graduating with her undergraduate degree, she sought some real-world experience and joined AmeriCorps. “I volunteered for a year in Southeast Utah, primarily working for a non-profit that mostly served the Mexican community there,” she recounts. “We called ourselves the multicultural center and were open to serving any population, but we did have the only Spanish translation services in town. That’s where I began using Spanish on a daily basis.”

That experience made an impression on her that still informs her approach to education and life today. “I loved that community, and I felt like that was my first opportunity to see how language can open you up to meeting a whole new group of people and learning about them. A different perspective and a broadening world view comes with that,” she said.

After completing her volunteer service with AmeriCorps, she returned to the Southeast in 2015 and pursued a master’s degree in Creative Writing. During this process, she also took up teaching. “I got a job offer teaching part-time to K through 2nd-grade students at a Title 1 public school in Asheville, North Carolina doing literacy in small groups, which was was a skill set I had acquired. That was a lot of fun. I loved teaching and opening kids up to reading and writing,” she said.

The school where she taught had an incredibly diverse community, representing 32 countries ranging from Central and South America to Eastern Europe to the Pacific Islands. She enjoyed both the school and its students and the community surrounding it. She also found the experience to be “eye-opening” insofar as Asheville draws a lot of affluent tourists who do not necessarily reflect the social fabric of the people living there full time. “It was a very interesting place to be a public school teacher,” she explained, “because the public school kids don’t represent the facade that you see.” She realized that being a full-time classroom teacher was going to be her next step.

Although she was originally accepted into TNTP, an alternative credentialing program for public schools that seeks to “reimagine teaching,” in order to teach in Baltimore City public schools, she found herself instead at The Nueva School’s Innovative Teacher Program. Thus, her step turned out to be another big one, taking her all the way to the West Coast to teach at an independent school for gifted and talented students in the San Francisco Bay area. “I wanted to diversify my training,” she said. “That school has a progressive approach to education that I found really exciting, and I loved working with the gifted population. It was just fun. You could throw anything at them, and they would typically rise to the occasion.”

At TNCS

Although that experience was fun, she always looked on it as temporary: “I knew ultimately that I wanted to be closer to my family and be in a place where I could see myself settling down for a while, so California was my last hurrah.” And that’s how she wound up in Baltimore, at TNCS. “I’m only in my 4th year as a teacher, but I’ve tasted every little sampling from the platter of environments to work in, and TNCS is kind of a hybrid of all the different experiences I’ve had,” she explained. “I feel like TNCS is all of those pieces of training put together in one program.”

Things are certainly coalescing—she brings bilingualism, a service orientation, and a focus on reading and writing to the classroom, which are key elements of the TNCS identity. As for ways she integrates her background of creative writing, journalism, and Spanish in the classroom, she says:

We do writing workshop a lot. I think the kids like the opportunity to be creative. We’re going to switch our focus to a little more reading this semester because we got really excited about a writing project toward the end of the year—the kids created their own book. They learned about character and plot, the beginning, middle, and end. The created their own original books, then dictated them to me, and then illustrated them. It really made them come alive. Kids that formerly weren’t super interested in the technical aspects of writing, all of a sudden found that they had a voice and became really excited and proud of the stories they were telling. It was wonderful to see that process.

To bring Spanish in, I read stories in the language, such as Mexican folk tales. I also have a couple of ‘Spanglish’ books that are written in English, but the characters might have Spanish names, for example. The students are sometimes surprised to hear me, an English native speaker, speak Spanish. I like being an example to them of somebody who is bilingual. So, I try to use Spanish in the classroom a little every day, but I am primarily an ELA teacher, and I can’t switch too much because I don’t want to confuse my students.

Ms. Dematteo is glad to see TNCS flourishing as a school and is especially appreciative of the Mandarin Chinese and Spanish language teaching. “They are doing something in Baltimore that’s never been done before, and I think it’s really commendable,” she said. “It’s also a big year as far as reaching a critical mass of students and being able to be fully operational as a pre-primary to middle school. That’s very exciting.”

She and Profesor Manuel share classes, each having 15 homeroom students. Ms. DeMatteo handles ELA and Math for the cohort of 30 total, and Prof. Manuel, Global Studies and Science. “I’m enjoying this,” she said. “It’s good to be back in Baltimore!”

Writer in Residence Joins TNCS: Meet Ilia Madrazo!

IMG_1209This past November, The New Century School embarked on a new approach to English Language Arts instruction. Welcoming Ilia Madrazo to the faculty, TNCS now features dedicated ELA teaching for 3rd-grade through middle-school students, which allows intensive focus in the all-important skills of enhanced reading comprehension and effective writing.

Although the elementary and middle school  teaching staff had already been established for the 2017–2018 academic year, when Ms. Madrazo became available, new opportunities that were too good to pass up likewise opened for TNCS’s academic offerings. Ms. Madrazo is a passionate educator with over 20 years’ experience teaching ELA, English as a Second Language, and Reading to school-aged students of all levels as well as at the university level. She earned her master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Houston and pursued doctoral level studies in English Linguistics at the University of Puerto Rico. She is a published researcher and has presented at various conferences. In addition to scoring such a credentialed instructor, bringing Ms. Madrazo on as “Writer in Residence” also allowed the other elementary and middle school teachers at TNCS to specialize in their preferred subjects, such as Jon Wallace now being science guru full time.

About Ilia Madrazo

Ms. Madrazo came to Baltimore last March via Houston, Texas but is originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where much of her family including her son still resides. (Her son is currently studying Physics at the University of Puerto Rico with the goal of becoming a radiologist.) She decided to move from Houston (just in time to avoid Hurricane Harvey, she added) because, after 10 years there, she needed a change. Having a brother, sister-in-law, and a nephew here made Baltimore the logical choice. One day in the future, she hopes to move to Spain.

Once here, though, she jumped in with both feet, establishing clear rules and expectations from the outset. She jokes: “So far it’s going very well. I think the kids and I are in the honeymoon period because they are working really well for me.” She immediately implemented “literature circles,” which got students engaged in reading in new and deeper ways—a primary goal of Ms. Madrazo’s. She describes the literature circle as akin to a book club, with a facilitator (her) and a group of students discussing the book theme and associated topics. She also incorporates writing instruction in an innovative way here: “We approach the book not only as the reader, but also as the writer. Good books teach you how to write well. I’m big on non-fiction because it allows students to see the form of the writing, and that can be helpful. Writing is very hard to teach and learn, so starting from another perspective can reduce students’ anxiety about it.”

Despite being Spanish/English bilingual and having experience teaching ESOL, Ms. Madrazo’s preferred medium is definitely ELA. She discovered this while teaching adults during her doctoral studies in Puerto Rico. “Honing in and concentrating on English learners came naturally to me, and I just fell in love with it,” she explained. This came as somewhat of a surprise to her because she did not set out to pursue literature and writing in college. “My bachelor’s is in Psychology,” she explained. “I entered college as a premed, but I wanted to have a life outside of studying, so I thought I would be a child psychologist. I always knew I wanted to work with children, older children.” On graduating, she began pursuing a master’s in Education on her mother’s advice, as something to always be able to fall back on, but marriage and starting a family temporarily interrupted those plans. As mentioned above, however, she did get that master’s and has been a teacher ever since. Her whole family, in fact, even though they study very different disciplines, are all teachers.

Developing her writing skills is another story: “I was never trained to write. So when I got to college, I had to learn how to write a perfect story. I found that I had to do an outline to organize my thoughts and then add the meat to it.” She still uses this formula today to ensure that each piece of writing is coherent, measured, and makes a clear argument.

Writing Program at TNCS

With abundant expertise and experience, Ms. Madrazo has lots of ideas for expanding the writing program at TNCS. Writing is communication, and good communication is an absolutely essential 21st-century skill.  She says: “I want to move writing forward, not only writing a good story but writing a solid essay or opinion piece in which students must give me evidence to support what they’re saying. So, if they’re reading a book, I want them to be able to tell me not only that a character went through a change but also to be able to cite in what paragraph and on what page that change occurred. This practice will be very good preparation for high school and college.”

So far, she is using some of the same materials already in play in ELA, such as Wordly Wise for vocabulary expansion and the Lucy Calkins curriculum for elementary writers, and is also incorporating new ones, like the Just Write series and Words Their Way for 3rd and 4th grades. Middle school students will have an entirely separate curriculum using, for example, Empowering Writers. She will be refining the curricula throughout Quarters 3 and 4.

She is also finding ways to manage the different levels within each group by utilizing the Daily 5 classroom management rotation. This includes “Word Work” in the Wordly Wise website, or SuccessMaker, or Raz kids; a small group that works with her; writing or reading alone, and doing “Word Sorts”—a method of classifying words based on their spelling pattern and phonetics; among other writing and reading-related activities.

“I’m excited to be able to dedicate myself to ELA and really focus here,” said Ms. Madrazo.. “I fell in love when I came to TNCS the first time. Having a greenhouse, chickens, I loved it. The cafeteria is focused on healthy food. I like that the classes are small. I love Fells Point. I also want to thank the parents and administration for embracing me. It’s been lovely so far and I hope to have a great partnership with them.”

If you have not done so already, make time to meet Ms. Madrazo, such as during second-semester Parent–Teacher conferences. Besides being an excellent teacher and writer, in her free time, she enjoys traveling, listening to podcasts, playing board games, and hanging out with her Puggle, Jupiter.

TNCS Students Save the World!

During the week of November 13th through 17th, upper elementary and middle school students at The New Century School participated in a very special nationwide event: the World Peace Game (WPG). Said Head of School Alicia Danyali, “We chose the World Peace Game to be a part of the the curriculum since it is in line with TNCS’s focus on global citizenship, which includes problem solving. Both of these areas also make up part of the TNCS student learner profile.”

Teaching Children the Work of Peace

Started in 1978 by Virginia native John Hunter, this special game, according to the website, “is a hands-on political simulation that gives players the opportunity to explore the connectedness of the global community through the lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war. The goal of the game is to extricate each country from dangerous circumstances and achieve global prosperity with the least amount of military intervention. As ‘nation teams,’ students will gain greater understanding of the critical impact of information and how it is used.”

At TNCS, the game was facilitated by science teacher Jon Wallace, who attended training for this role over the summer in Charlottesville, VA. “The World Peace Game was not all fun and games,” he said—and, indeed, “teaching children the work of peace” is ultimately about “learning to live and work comfortably in the unknown.”

So, from 10:00 am through 2:30 pm for 5 days, TNCS 4th- through 7th-graders stepped up to the challenge of finding themselves in unfamiliar, chaotic, and sometimes dangerous real-world situations, assuming various political roles among four fictional countries, such as prime ministers, secretaries of state, ministers of defense, CFOs, and secretaries of trade and commerce, among others. WPG places enormous problems before students that must be solved within a strict time constraint and requiring collaboration and creativity. The first 2 days demanded a lot of patience and attention from students because they had to learn how to play—the facilitator presented descriptions about how the leadership of each nation was structured, geographic and economic details about each country, and the specifics of each of the 50 crises the teams would face. They also had to familiarize themselves with one very complicated game board. The following 3 days involved negotiations between the nations teams in order to solve each crisis.

(As randomly assembled as the board may appear, each component and game piece is stipulated by the rules of the game. To gather them all, they must be purchased from a parts list. For the assembly itself, we have TNCS Facilities Manager Christine Rice to thank. Ms. Rice, a former contractor, is evidently quite the handywoman!)

Learning how to work with each other is a stated goal of WPG. Mr Wallace explains: “Part of the game is, simply put, being thrown into chaos, into positions you’ve never performed, and having to negotiate in order to win. If countries don’t communicate, the game is over. Interestingly, you don’t really state the purpose of the game to the students; you kind of let them have their way about it. They don’t really know how you win. So, after the game was over, a couple of students wondered who won. It was interesting to see how different students were looking at it.”

It turns out, in order to win the game, all participating nation teams need to be at least $1 above their initial budget, and all crises must be resolved. Mr Wallace reports that the hardest part for his students to get a handle on was accounting and keeping good track of budget records. “When you’re dealing with 4th graders, you can’t expect perfectly accurate accounting. They’re trying to account for losses and gains, but it’s extremely difficult. But, as facilitator, I can decide if they have managed well enough. For me it was a matter of, “is the CFO trying?’,” he said.

As for the participants themselves, WPG players are supposed to be volunteers, but in TNCS’s game, they were more or less “conscripted.” This meant that some were more enthusiastic than others. “I know some kids felt, ‘I don’t like this mentality,’ and other kids were really into it, which to me is reflective of what goes on in the classroom in terms of willingness to get something done. Some have that ‘middle school malaise,’ whereas others are more like, “I want to learn just for fun; count me in’,” he explained.

The mandatory participation also meant that students who don’t necessarily get along well had to nevertheless play together:

We had a number of students who hadn’t volunteered, so that adds a little extra difficulty because they really had no desire to be there, which made it difficult for some of the leaders to motivate them. Even though I picked the Prime Ministers, and the PMs picked their cabinets and did the best they could, assuming that it would be a smooth situation, it doesn’t always work out that way. On one team, everything was really flowing and working, but if every team were like that, the game wouldn’t really do much because they’re already communicating so well. The purpose of the game is to put kids in an uncomfortable position so chaos does happen, and somehow they have to figure out how to cut through that and communicate well enough to get something done. The threat of loss has to be part of the game.

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Playing the Game

Mr. Wallace provided the following synopsis of the TNCS players and what happened during their game.

The Weather Goddess’s job is of great importance in the game: She determines the severity of storms and what impact that might have on each nation. She must make quick, on-the-spot decisions that have serious consequences for the four nations involved. Student KH did a tremendous job and had to make necessary decisions that inevitably caused hardship for some players. One of her many roles is to enforce participant conduct laws that, if not followed, may result in a country incurring heavy financial penalties. For example, speaking out during a nation’s declaration period may result in a $10 million fine. Our weather goddess reached a point when she was almost unable to enforce the laws due to negative feedback by those fined. Yet, KH recovered, understanding that her role was simply that, a role. She saw that it was a role necessary for the game to be played, just as laws in our society must exist to preserve order and provide a stable platform for peace.

Each country had a different initial budget. Peacia, an ice-locked poor nation, had many early challenges to face in order to keep their budget in check. They were able to solve a crisis involving a volcanic eruption that threatened a nearby nuclear power plant. Prime Minister AI found that the struggle to maintain lines of communication doesn’t just exist between countries, but also within countries. The greatest obstacles to peace may lie within a country rather than between countries.

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Richy Hill, an oil rich nation, had serious issues right off the bat as they were short a CFO. This greatly impacted their ability to manage money. It didn’t take long for their entire fleet of aircraft to be permanently grounded due to lack of refueling. Prime Minister DI had a lot on his plate. Fortunately,  Chief Legal Counsel IM stepped into the CFO position, literally saving the nation from looming financial crisis. Prime Minister DI was able to stop a massive money hemorrhage caused by the nuclear proliferation by his own country. He saw the need for nukes was secondary to the need for cash.

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Richland, the wealthiest of nations, had many crises including a mountainous region that not only contained gold, but also the remains of NIN, a tribe of peoples that had existed in the area for thousands of years prior to the formation of the nations. What was more important, the gold or the ancestral remains of the NIN? It isn’t easy to give up gold, but Prime Minister FC didn’t blink and allowed the NIN to keep their ancestral burial ground intact. Nice work! Her cabinet worked outstandingly well together. We witnessed a nation that was functioning well in Richland.

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Folium, an eco-oriented nation, accomplished much. It seemed that they were all too willing to accept refugees but had to solve the problems that refugees bring. Folium was willing and able to work with other leaders to spread the refugees all over world in order to reduce the financial woes that come with being a bit too nice. Relations between Richland and Folium were in jeopardy due to a secret island owned by Richland that also had been used by the NIN for worshiping purposes for thousands of years. Tensions boil over with the threat of violence between the tanks and soldiers of Richland and Folium.  Both countries came together and negotiated swiftly, bringing peace to the area by simply dividing the island. These two countries made it look easy.

IMG_2562An unusual occurrence happened in this game when members of Folium broke off to form a separate independent nation called Coralfield. Coralfield’s apparent mission was to facilitate the negotiation process between nations by providing a greater area for peace to occur. Fascinating idea! Co-Prime Ministers PH and NB took on development and leadership of this new nation.

 

The role of the World Bank in the game is to receive checks and keep an accounting of the payments of all nations. President DL did an excellent job keeping track of payments.  At times it seemed as though President DL’s pen was smoking hot due to all the receipts he was writing. Nice work!

IMG_2564The Role of the UN in this game is to maintain peace worldwide. Secretary General ED did a wonderful job living up this role as world peacekeeper. He was in constant motion and took on the responsibility of tracking crises completed and yet to be completed. The UN also helped nations with providing extra funds.

The Arms Dealers are tasked with providing small arms to nations but may also design and invent new creations that are not necessarily providing fuel for war. President WM designed an oil gusher cap that cost a bunch of the UN’s money.

IMG_2563Last but not least, the Legal Counsel was tasked with ratifying treaties from the UN. Chief Legal Counsel IM did an outstanding job not only with checking treaties but also with helping out whereever help was needed. She worked as CFO for Richy Hill and generally really stepped up. Nice work!

World Peace Is in Their Hands

You can exhale—we are safe for the moment. Mr. Wallace said, “There were plenty of tense moments and times when students just wanted to quit. The majority who stood strong and would not accept failure are responsible for the win. They are the leaders of our future, the ones who have a chance at making the world a better place. It is not going to be easy. The obstacles will seem insurmountable at times, but we have seen that peace can be achieved.”

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You’ll also be very relieved to learn that John Hunter has never lost in the nearly 40 years he has been playing. (Talk about hope for the future!)

In response to what he ultimately though of this experience, Mr. Wallace said, “I think it tends to magnify the social scene in a good way. A lot of things that weren’t obvious became obvious, in terms of interactions. That can make things difficult, and, for some, it made things very difficult. There are a lot of emotions that come out when you’re Prime Minister and you’re trying to get your cabinet together but they don’t want to be together. It’s a hard role for some students who have never been put in those roles before, having to lead others and so forth.”

Although having willing volunteers would makes things easier for both participants and for the facilitator, the EPG became a real lesson in how to make something work when the situation is not straightforward or ideal. “That’s the real world, you know?” said Mr. Wallace. “That’s the cool thing. As far as a learning experience, it made it better for the leaders because that is the way the world works. It was real in that sense,” he said.

 

 

 

As far as how he thinks the game went overall, he feels it went just as it should. “There were times when students were really discouraged, which is normal, but they had to work together to get through it, and they eventually did.”

 

Now that he is trained, a process that involved watching John Hunter himself play the game, taking notes, then discussing what happened with other trainees,” Mr. Wallace thinks WPG could potentially happen annually at TNCS. “The philosophy of the game is that it can be run every year, but it runs better if students have no idea, going in cold.,” he explained. “Otherwise it may be too easy, especially for folks who volunteered to be involved. It’s not that difficult if you already know how to get it to happen. But the way I look at it, the game can go many different ways, and the facilitator can throw a lot of sticks in the wheel if he or she chooses to.”

For this initial game, our friendly facilitator did not intervene to complicate the already complex events students were embroiled in. However, Saboteur LR did a good job of gumming up the works from time to time: “His job is to just make things hard. And he is an anonymous person in the room, so the players don’t know who it is. They can have a trial to see if they have an accusations or suspicions about his identity,” said Mr. Wallace. “There are so many variables—like 350 pages of different possibilities.”

 

In some ways WPG shaped students or brought out nascent qualities that Mr. Wallace was very pleased to see. “I thought it was fascinating to see some really step up and try to help out in ways we don’t always see in the classroom.” Others who are usually motivated to try anything were not so surprising, if no less vital. “If we didn’t have these leaders,” said Mr. Wallace, “the game would have sunk, and there’s nothing I could do about it.”

It sounds like we’ll be in good hands once these youngsters grow up to take the helm! In the meantime, watch John Hunter’s TED Talk to learn more about this truly wondrous enterprise.

TNCS Elementary and Middle School Information Night 2017

What we learn with pleasure we never forget. – Alfred Mercier, 19th century writer and physician

 

tncs-elementary-middle-school-information-night-2017On November 30th, The New Century School hosted it’s annual “info night”—an event that provides prospective families with an opportunity to get a glimpse of TNCS’s elementary and middle school curricula. TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali presented a brief overview of TNCS, from history to language learning, school philosophy, and a peek inside classroom operations.

In 2006, the school was established with five students in a one-room schoolhouse in Patterson Park. The owners of this school are two like-minded Moms that wanted language immersion as a priority for their own children, so they got some other parents together and thought it would be a great idea to start this school. Here we are, 11 years later with 215 students! We start at 2 years old and go through 7th grade. Our main objective is to attract people who are interested in language immersion in Spanish and Mandarin. We also practice Montessori principles, and I want to talk a little bit about how that overflows into our elementary/middle school program and what things we take from the Montessori preschool into to that program, especially for those families who are currently enrolled in our preschool.

First, some practical points: We have more than 50 staff members, and we offer before care all the way through to after care program. We open at 7:30 am and close at 6:00 pm, wth the school day running from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.

Back to the benefits of multilinguism, what sticks out in my mind as most important and why I like to work in language-immersion environments is that it offers you many ways to problem solve. When you’ve had that language background, your brain will work in a more elastic way—it helps cultivate executive function skills as well as aspects of what I call the ‘invisible curriculum,’ like tolerance. We learn about the world around us through language learning.

If you’re currently in our preschool program, you’ll see that some things stay the same, including our overall approach to whole-child development through differentiated instruction as well as student-driven learning. A typical elementary/middle class size in this school is no larger than 16 or 17 students. We keep it small so that we can meet everybody’s needs in the classroom, regardless of level. Our classroom management system, the Daily 5 (or 3 or 4) Rotation, ensures that every student is getting one-on-one contact with the teacher, collaboration with others in small groups, and time to work independently. Students are given specific parameters to work within that allow them to understand what their responsibilities are. Technology and computer time is also a component of the daily classroom rotation cycle.

Teachers work in pairs or groups of four, depending on grade. Each child has a homeroom class where they are designated to start and end the day as well as to engage in various subjects. Then students have a block of time with, for example, the teacher who handles ELA and Math or Global Studies. Throughout the day, they transition to other core subjects as well as receive daily targeted language instruction for 30 to 45 minutes. In addition, they get a focused subject area in Mandarin and Spanish, such as Global Studies. In this format, language really starts to emerge.

We also have a very strong arts program. K through 8th-grade have two music classes with Music Director Martellies Warren each week. They also have two art classes and two physical education classes every week. Currently we partner with Coppermine.

Our greenhouse and chicken coops, when operational, give children the chance to cultivate plants and livestock, and we also offer a vegetarian, locally sourced lunch. Finally, we offer the Ozone Snack Bar, a student lounge where older kids can relax, socialize, and enjoy a healthy snack at select times.

IMG_2605After Mrs. Danyali spoke, each teacher briefly described his or her classroom approach and particular subject area. Following these teacher presentations, audience members asked specific questions of the presenters.

Info Night is a great way to get an initial introduction to TNCS. Additional highlights of this event can be found in Elementary and Middle School Info Night 2017, a helpful powerpoint presentation. However, to really get to know the school and discover the wonder that takes place in classrooms here every day, attend an Admissions Friday or Open House event and witness the magic first hand. Subsequently, your child will spend a shadow day with other TNCS students and experience what it’s like to actually enjoy learning.

Meet the Teacher: Krysta Jenks Joins TNCS Elementary!

The New Century School welcomed Krysta Jenks as first- through third grade English Language Arts and Science teacher for the 2017–2018 school year. Mrs. Jenks has a special claim to fame in TNCS annals–she has the first-ever all-girls homeroom! She loves this, saying, “It’s really interesting to see what the dynamic is with all girls. They’re so much fun. They want to learn. They’re just excited to be here.”

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Mrs. Jenks came to TNCS from a charter school in Anacostia, but, living in the Federal Hill area of Baltimore, she found the commute to D.C. was taking up too much of her time and was stressful besides. She moved here in 2009 after earning a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at Penn State, which is located in central Pennsylvania, where she grew up. “From there I started working in special education,” she said.  In fact, her background is primarily in special education, where she worked for about 7 years. She has also obtained a Master’s degree in Leadership and Special Education as well as a Post-Master Certification in School Administration in this time. “I feel like I’ve gotten a wide range of experience from my administration certification and working in special education in the private, public, and charter school settings,” she said. “This is my first time working in a school that is mostly student-directed learning, so that has been really fun. It is also my first time working in a multilingual school.”

The student-directed learning aspect of TNCS is what appeals to Mrs. Jenks most about TNCS. “A lot of what I’ve done in the past has been more teacher driven, with the focus mostly on the teacher, and a lot of my experience has been in direct instruction, which doesn’t lend a lot of room for creativity,” she explained. “I really like the flexibility that comes with student-directed learning.

When we do our Daily 5 rotations, they have choices within each rotation. So, for example, the word work rotation has a multitude of activities they can choose to do—they could play a game with their words, they could write index cards with their words, they could write a story or comic book with their words from Wordly Wise for that week. They also cycle through read-to-self; listen to reading, which is primarily Raz-Kids; use SuccessMaker; meet with me; or work on writing.

In science, I also I try to do rotations because we are doing a lot of hands-on activities. In the first quarter when we were working on electricity and magnetism, I had a circuit board at one table that they can play with, a magnet station at another, so they have the flexibility to choose where they want to go.

Although the TNCS classroom style has been somewhat of an adjustment for Mrs. Jenks, she has acclimated beautifully. “It’s definitely different for me, but it’s great,” she said. “Also, the kids are fantastic, and all of the parents have been really supportive.” And that’s another aspect of teaching at TNCS that has been new for her: “I’ve always worked with high-risk populations, but at the end of the day, kids are kids. It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic status or what backgrounds they have, I’m learning that they all have the same needs. Having said all that, the kids here are really bright, they are really curious, and a lot of them are very intrinsically motivated. They seem like they genuinely want to learn.”

One thing that was not new to Mrs Jenks is using restorative circles in the classroom, such as introduced by Head of School Alicia Danyali during the previous academic year. Mrs. Jenks explained:

A big component of our classroom community is that we start and end the day with a restorative circle. So we have a talking piece, and then we come up with a question and go around the circle. Then, at the end of the day, we’ll go around and everyone will say what their highlight and lowlight was. And that’s been really fun because they love getting in the circle. I want our students to feel like this is a positive classroom community and environment that they want to be a part of and feel safe in. I think that academics are super important, but I also think building emotional intelligence and peer relationships is something that I really focus on just as much.

Next month will be an important one for Mrs. Jenks, who, although married to her military husband currently, will be having her “real wedding” then. We wish her well on this occasion and are so glad she has joined the TNCS community!

Meet the Teacher: Barbara Sanchez Joins TNCS!

tncs-spanish-teacher-barbara-sanchezThe New Century School welcomed elementary teacher Barbara Sanchez for the 2017–2018 school year to lead a 1st- through 3rd-grade homeroom. She came to Baltimore in 2007 from Coamo, Puerto Rico when her husband accepted a position as a police officer here. She was at first sad to leave her beautiful home town and also because she thought she might have to give up teaching, but then other opportunities beckoned her. She embraced the idea of learning another language (English) as well as the benefits that the United States could offer her son with autism. She reports that he has grown a lot since being here.

In Puerto Rico, Sra. Sanchez earned dual bachelor degrees in special education and elementary education. She worked for 3 years there as a special education teacher in a group and also individually. When she arrived here, she began working in a school cafeteria, but being among students stoked her desire to teach once more. She decided to try getting a Spanish language teaching position in a city school and met TNCS’s own Professor Manuel during this time. After getting state certified to teach in Maryland in 2010, she started teaching at the Baltimore International Academy (BIA), where she was thrilled to be in the classroom again and taught there for several years. At Professor’s Manuel’s suggestion and with her husband’s support, she applied to TNCS.

IMG_2454Although she enjoyed BIA and still misses her former students and their parents, she says, “once I started here, I thought, ‘this is my place.’ I feel like this school is a part of me.” She feels she was destined to be a TNCS teacher and is constantly inserting Spanish instruction into daily school life, even on the playground. Her subjects, however, are Math and Global Studies. “I don’t teach Spanish class, but I use the Spanish to talk with the students,” she explained. “These kids are amazing. The kids here want to learn, they respect me, and they respect each other. This school is amazing and is perfect for me. I’m happy,” she said.

What she really wants parents to know is this: “Every child learns differently, but these children really want to learn, which is unlike what I experienced in a public school. If they students are learning, I’m happy,” she said most sincerely. “And that is our promise to this class, to every kid that we have in this class.”

Sra. Sanchez, TNCS is very glad to have you here!

TNCS’s Inaugural Student Awards Ceremony!

Head of School Alicia Danyali leads The New Century School in many ways, not just practically and administratively. She mentors in unseen realms as well, gently promulgating what she calls her “invisible curriculum” that fosters kindness among students. During the 2016–2017 school year, Mrs. Danyali debuted the four pillars of TNCS, Compassion, Courage, Service, and Respect, as a cornerstone of her invisible curriculum and held biweekly student assemblies to discuss what these concepts mean in practice—how students can apply them to their daily lives.

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Later in last school year, she began implementing restorative circles in the classroom, which can be used to heal rifts as well as be simple communication forums. These also allow her to maintain relationships with all of her students, something as important to her as running TNCS.

That’s partly why, on Friday, November 3, 2017, she held the first-ever awards ceremony to celebrate 3rd- through 7th-grade student achievement. These achievements did not take place in academics; rather, they are indications of gains in emotional intelligence. “I wanted to focus on the TNCS student learning profile, which includes character development” she explained, “as well as to acknowledge those students that stand out demonstrating the behaviors.”

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She began the ceremony with an introductory speech to explain to students what was happening:

We have all worked very hard on identifying what makes a TNCS learner, and there are four words that can describe each and every one of you. They are compassion, courage, respect, and service, and they’re shown in different ways throughout the school day—what you do in the classroom that exemplifies one or more of these qualities. I met with your teachers and other staff, and we talked about all of the ways you exhibit the TNCS learning profile. So we are going to honor those of you at the end of each quarter who are representative of our TNCS learner. I want to emphasize that all of you have demonstrated all of these qualities, everyone has. But today we are acknowledging students who have really stood out during the first quarter.

IMG_2517She explained that two or three students were chosen in each category and reminded the audience to be happy for and congratulate friends who receive awards. (Last names have been omitted for student privacy and safety.)

In the compassion category, Bridghid, William, and Desmond stood out by having empathy for a friend; for helping out a fellow student in the classroom; or for helping students work through an  academic or social problem.

Schonbeck and Ryan exemplified courage in the first quarter by adapting to new environments and making new friends.

In the category of respect, two students—Flora and Mia—markedly demonstrated the proper behavior expected of the TNCS student.

Chloe and Livia went above and beyond in service without being asked to help.

Mrs. Danyali closed by saying, “I think everybody here is a winner and part of this group and shows compassion, courage, respect, and service. We will acknowledge students at the end of every quarter, and we’ll also begin awarding those of you who have demonstrated perfect attendance.”

The ceremony was a highlight of the school year so far, and all students were happy to learn how their efforts to be kind to one another are recognized and appreciated. Said Mrs. Danyali, “This is a nice reminder that social-emotional learning is as important in development as academics.”

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