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.

TNCS Elementary and Middle School Students Visit AVAM!

Last week, Immersed profiled self-taught Baltimore multimedia artist Matt Muirhead’s visit to The New Century School to present his crankie to a rapt group of preprimary students (read TNCS Preprimary Gets Wounds Up for a Very Special Art Show). This week, some of the older students give their inner artists a turn.

Teachers Nameeta Sharma and Jon Wallace escorted the 3rd- through 7th-graders on a field trip to the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), a true Baltimore gem. “We wanted to expose the students to Baltimore art as well as make that connection with what [art teacher Jenny Miller] teaches and frequently discusses,” said Mrs. Sharma. “These students love to be hands on, and we try to make opportunities available to them to deepen their understanding and engage them.”

“We are the National Museum for Self-Taught Artisans”

(No really–Congress said so!) It’s a great fit. Like TNCS, AVAM is special in so many ways. AVAM was founded in 1995 by Rebecca Alban Hoffberger who envisioned a “museum and education center that would emphasize intuitive creative invention and grassroots genius.” Rather than displaying specific artists or styles, themed exhibitions circulate through AVAM to complement its permanent installations.
The museum’s 7 educational goals are:

  1. Expand the definition of a worthwhile life.
  2. Engender respect for and delight in the gifts of others.
  3. Increase awareness of the wide variety of choices available in life for all … particularly students
  4. Encourage each individual to build upon his or her own special knowledge and inner strengths
  5. Promote the use of innate intelligence, intuition, self-exploration, and creative self-reliance.
  6. Confirm the great hunger for finding out just what each of us can do best, in our own voice, at any age.
  7. Empower the individual to choose to do that something really, really well.

TNCS’s visit began in the Jim Rouse Visionary Center with an introduction and a run-through of the rules by museum educators Sara and Emily. They explained that AVAM features truly visionary art, which they defined as “art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.” The visionary artist typically receives an inspirational message or vision that he or she is compelled to manifest, often not considering the manifestation to be actual art. Another key characteristic of visionary art is the use of unusual materials.

To get the most out of this wondrous experience, the large group split into two, with 3rd- and 4th-graders first taking a docent-led tour of the exhibits in the main building, and 5th-, 6th-, and 7th-graders heading upstairs to make some art in The Thou Art Creative Classroom. The groups then switched activities.

The Great Mystery Show

The main exhibit currently is The Great Mystery Show, which “. . .  artfully peels away the veil of the unknown, playfully exploring mystery as that one secret power behind great art, science, and pursuit of the sacred . . . [in a] wildly visual exaltation of the strangeness and wonder of Life itself.” The viewer gets transported to other-worldly realms, lost in the experience. TNCS students deemed it “cool.” 

Planetary Pendants

The group not touring was busy making. In a craft inspired by featured AVAM artist Edward Woltemate and also tying into The Great Mystery Show exhibit, TNCS students created their own wearable planets out of Perler beads. Woltemate and other visionary artists create imaginary worlds or explore the mysteries of the existing universe through their art.
To get their minds spinning, TNCS students were asked to consider whether they would create an imaginary planet or reproduce a known one. Would it have rings? What kind of weather would it have and would the weather be visible in the planet’s atmosphere? Is the planet inhabited? If so, by what or whom? What do the inhabitants eat? 

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TNCS students are incredibly fortunate to not only have this world-renowned museum of “outsider art” (also known as “intuitive art,” “raw art,” or “art brut”) just a couple of neighborhoods away but also to have teachers who understand the importance of taking them there. Visiting museums and engaging with art paves the way for students to live richly and meaningfully. It also connects them with their fellow humans and their humanity, helping them to become responsible world citizens.

More Great AVAM Offerings

The list would be never-ending, but here are some highlights that shouldn’t be missed!

Meet the Teacher: Pei Ge Rejoins TNCS!

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Pei Ge first joined The New Century School as an assistant in 2016 after earning a bachelor’s degree at Towson University. She then decided to pursue a master’s in early childhood education also at Towson. On graduating this past January, she returned to TNCS in an enhanced role.

“Peggy,” better known as “Pei-Pei Laoshi” to her students, is originally from Shanghai, in China. There, she taught children ages 3 to 6 years. In 2012, she came to the United States and taught in the English program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Now, living in Towson and back at TNCS, she assists as a floater among the primary classrooms during the mornings, and then teaches the Mandarin Chinese language each afternoon to the lower elementary classes. In fact, the kindergarten/1st-grade level is her favorite grade, but she is certified to teach toddlers up through 3rd-graders. “I’m kind of flexible for the grade,” she said. “My hope is that, maybe next semester if they have a position available for me, I can take the whole class. The Chinese immersion program would be perfect for me.”

Pei-Pei Laoshi is really a perfect fit for the TNCS approach to education. “I really like it here because they have a lot of choice for the language,” she explained. “Teaching Spanish and Chinese provides children with a really great opportunity to learn new languages at a young age. I really think that’s a good idea for young kids, especially with Chinese, because they are able to correctly reproduce the tones when they’re that young. When they’re older, there will be no problem for them.”

She also appreciates the TNCS emphasis on meeting each child at the child’s level: “Because in my class I know there is a Chinese level difference, I try to make sure that I meet everyone’s needs. I use differentiation for each one to make sure that they can learn based on their level.” She works with Li Laoshi to get an idea of each student’s learning profile, as many of her current students were formerly taught by Li Laoshi. They communicate regularly.

Her own style also aligns with TNCS’s overall approach:

For me, my goal is that students can play while learning—not just sitting there while I say, ‘you have to remember this and remember that’—we play and have fun, but we learn something, too. They enjoy it more and learn more when they have hands-on activities. For example, instead of rote memorization of vocabulary words, they might create their own books and vocabulary charts, which will be fun for them as well as being something they created.

For the Chinese Lunar New Year, she and her students made dumplings together. Pei-Pei Laoshi is a lucky rat in the Chinese zodiac.

In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music, reading, and painting. She also likes to relax at home and favors Towson for being a small, quiet town. When she feels like being social, she watch movies with friends and scouts out new restaurants to try (for good, authentic Chinese food, she recommends Orient Express, near the Hopkins campus).

Traveling is also important to Pei-Pei Laoshi. So far, she has visited San Diego; Los Angeles; Seattle; Las Vegas;IMG_0910 and, of course, Orlando.

In closing, she affirmed, “I want the students to want to come to my class everyday, and happily. Then, parents will feel the same, and that’s my goal, too.”

Well said, indeed, Pei-Pei Laoshi!

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!”