First-Ever TNCS International Service-Learning Project!

The 2018–2019 school year has been an epic year for The New Century School in so many ways, but certainly not least for having the Middle School in full bloom—now all the way through 8th grade! TNCS has anticipated this moment for years, growing closer and closer to a fully fledged Middle School, and, in a few weeks, TNCS will graduate its first 8th-grade class.

But not before we take a peek at another first they pioneered—TNCS’s first-ever international service-learning project. In March, three girls and one boy (known here as Z, F, B, and J), ages 13 and 14 years, went to Puerto Rico for 6 days! This trip has been in the works all year, and fundraising efforts, such as twice monthly pop-up hot beverage shops, toward travel expenses really paid off.

Why Service? Why Puerto Rico?

Service is a TNCS Core Value, and, throughout the year, students take on various initiatives toward their service-learning goals, from intra-campus projects to broader, community service–oriented endeavors. To really bring home what service learning means, though, TNCS students should experience how their efforts can have farther-reaching impacts.

Puerto Rico was the natural choice:

  1. The island is readily accessible—no passports are required for TNCS students, and it’s relatively easy to get to.
  2. Availability of resources and advice from TNCS community (staff, parents) with knowledge of Puerto Rico was an enormous help for planning.
  3. It’s a Spanish-speaking country for students to use their developing Spanish skills
  4. There’s a clear need: The island is still restoring itself after hurricane damage.

Puerto Rico: Here We Come!

Adriana DuPrau escorted the group and said just prior to their departure: “They are very excited—this is the trip of a lifetime for some of them!” She facilitated getting them school IDs, helped create packing lists (hats, bug spray, closed shoes for hiking, beach gear, etc.), and generally did all of the planning with advice from Ms. Madrazo and a very helpful TNCS dad who hails from Puerto Rico. You might be wondering how Mrs. DuPrau got to be the sole chaperone, but you’d have to look no farther than back at the past school year, during which she has grown very close to the middle schoolers, such as while helping them prepare for their big transition to high school, and has discovered that she really enjoys that age group. Mrs DuPrau also spent 6 weeks in Puerto Rico in college, teaching English. “Traveling is a big part of who I was, but I haven’t been able to do that with three small children. I think this will be good for us.”

In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, a one-two punch that ravaged the island, we saw an opportunity to help affected communities, and in doing so, to deliver an unforgettable experience for our 8th graders. I got to be the lead organizer of the trip, and got to team up with multiple members within the Puerto Rican community to maximize the relief effort and add an interdisciplinary scope to the students’ experience! It was such an awesome experience and I never, ever thought I could be away from my family for 7 days . . . but I did it, and I’m so happy I did. The four 8th-grade city students completely stepped out of their comfort zone and completely killed it! I’m so incredibly proud of them!

Now, let’s break down their itinerary day by day, interspersed with some additional debriefing from Mrs. DuPrau.

Sunday

The group left on Sunday, March 17th at 5:00 pm, departing from BWI airport and arriving in Puerto Rico at 9:00 pm. After they picked up their rental minivan, they drove to their digs in Luquillo, a small beach town close to the rain forest that was recommended by TNCS English Language Arts teacher Ilia Madrazo, who is from Puerto Rico.

B was like the mom of the group; she wanted to make sure everybody was okay. She always made sure that everything was tidy. I had them wash their own dishes and clean up, so our living space was always very organized. J was also so helpful, carrying the groceries in, for example. I got to see a really nice side of him, very kind and respectful.

Monday

The group kicked off their first full day with a sail on a catamaran and snorkeling, both firsts for most of them.

As urban children, not accustomed to being around the ocean, this thought made them nervous, but we went to a very secluded spot to give them the space to get comfortable in the water. And they did it! It was really beautiful; the water was crystal blue and warm.

After their big days, they all ended up usually falling asleep watching a movie on the couch. We would have breakfast at home and usually packed lunch. They didn’t really love going out to dinner; they were more into coming home and chilling.

Tuesday

The group’s main plan on Tuesday was to explore El Yunque rain forest on the “Off the Beaten Path” tour. They also walked to waterfalls and got a chance to swim and goof off.

It was a really good trip. The kids got to see something really different, and they experienced this trip on many different levels—yes, it was service learning, and that was definitely the focus—but they got to experience so many other things, and now they all want to keep traveling. So that’s also important. We always had a full day planned, and when you’re traveling it’s important to take advantage of the fact that you’re somewhere new. This group was just so relaxed. I loved that they got to do more than just service learning because they had so much fun. I never had to calm them down. They never had any anxiety about all the new things they were doing.

Wednesday

On Wednesday, the group had planned a trip to Camuy River Cave Park, the third largest underground cave system in the world and formerly among the top 10 attractions in Puerto Rico. However, the caves have not been open to the public since the twin ravagers Irma and Maria paid them visit. So, they did some sightseeing San Juan and Ponce instead. “We had a good time visiting the forts and shopping around and seeing all the architecture of old San Juan,” said Mrs. DuPrau.

I loved seeing them speaking Spanish. I think it’s important to visit places that are Spanish speaking. All the kids practiced their Spanish—they ordered food in Spanish and tried to speak Spanish to any of our tour guides. They’d also help each other, and that was really nice.

Thursday

This being Math Kangaroo day back at TNCS, the travelers took the Math Kangaroo exam in a conference room where they stayed and then mailed in their scantron sheets. Afterward, it was time to hit the beach!

They opened up a lot as well, sharing the emotions they go through in middle school. We’d have these conversations while we were driving in the van, and they’d have all these questions. They started talking a lot about how what they go through when they’re feeling down, and I think it’s so important to equip them with how to handle those emotions. They think no one understands, but we do understand even if we’re not all in the same set of circumstances. I think community within the class is how we have to move forward and doing things all together, even though it’s 6th through 8th grade. It will help them with the social and emotional part of being a middle schooler. We can definitely add more of that in our curriculum.

Friday

The service-learning stint took place in Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve in Fajardo, which is “a bioluminescent lagoon, mangroves, coral reefs, dry forests, sandy and rocky beaches set between headlands.” “We went to what used to be a coconut palm conservatory, but those trees are not native to Puerto Rico,” explained Mrs. DuPrau. “They were planted there and were completely wiped out after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. So the nature conservatory wants to now plant native trees, which are stronger and better able to withstand any future hurricanes.”

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Este día de las madres, sorpréndela con una membresía AMIGOS Para la Naturaleza. Pon al alcance de tus seres queridos la posibilidad de disfrutar durante todo el año de nuevas experiencias transformadoras en lugares históricos y ecosistemas únicos en Puerto Rico.

Working in pairs (they had to share shovels), the overall group planted more than 100 native trees of various species up and down the beach and into the forested area, with the TNCS contingent responsible for a large fraction of that number. The tour guide spoke only in Spanish.

The service learning part of it was awesome. It was really physical, and I’m hoping that it impacts them in a way they’ll remember. We were working with a whole bunch of other people of all ages to plant these huge trees. It was hard, but the students didn’t complain because they knew it was their community service. One thing that I’d like to change about the trip is having them do a little bit more community service, such as with animals. There were so many homeless dogs and cats, and the students really wanted to help them. I reached out to a few places but it was hard to find any that would accept younger than high school age. We met a lot of older students, who were very nice to our students.

Saturday

As they were departing Puerto Rico at 3:00 pm, they used their last hours to have some down time and enjoy the beach!

I definitely want to do it again. I was just so proud of the kids again for stepping out of their comfort zone. There was no homesickness or complaining, and, in fact, they all got along great. One of the things that I pulled away from the trip is that they all got to know each other on such a deep level. They walked away calling each other best friends. They were all really respectful of one another, yet they’re all very different. It was was also great to see how open they were to meeting new people. I felt like I saw who they really are. Z, for example, helped an elderly man across a stream without any prompting. It was nice to see how many people thought that they were such great kids—I was told multiple times that this was the best-behaved middle school group they’d ever seen.

Interview with Students

Along with Mrs. DuPrau’s great overview of the trip, let’s hear about it from the students’ perspective.

Immersed: What was your overall impression of your trip?

Z, F, and J (as a chorus): It was fun; it was amazing, great, awesome, exciting.

F: It was full of opportunities to get out of your comfort zone.

Z: Oh yes. All three of us jumped off a cliff! I was so scared to do it because I thought I was going to drown! But Carlos, our guide, made us feel more comfortable.

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J: I was scared of heights, but I did it.

Immersed: What other experiences did you have?

Z: I liked planting trees.

Immersed: Planting trees—was that the service project?

Z: We planted more than 16 native baby trees altogether.

(B joins our chat. Which was really more like their chat :).)

J, F, B, and J (all completing each others’ sentences): There were a lot more trees before the hurricane, but they were palm trees. They want to get rid of those and replace them with native species because they are stronger and will be less likely to blow over in a hurricane. We planted them in the rain forest.

Immersed: Tell us more about being in the rainforest.

Z: It was very dry, surprisingly, and there were so many vines and roots snaking out.

Immersed: Tell us what you learned about your service.

F: I felt like I was helping out after the hurricane.

Z (with lots of support from F): Yeah, there are still a lot of houses that are torn down or without roofs, and they’re still fixing everything to this day. I feel like I was doing something really good by planting trees because when the next hurricane comes, they won’t be the kind of trees that knock down houses!

(Many inside jokes ensue, none of which were comprehensible to an outsider.)

Immersed: What was the best part of your trip?

Z, F, B, and J (as a chorus): The rainforest! Not where we planted the trees but where we went hiking—El Yunque.

Z: Then there was the catamaran. It was good! We went snorkeling. We saw a sea urchin.

J: I almost fell over from trying to walk in the flippers.

(Cascades of giggles.)

Z: The flippers were so hard to walk in; we looked like penguins.

Immersed: What other wildlife did you see?

Z, F, B, and J (as a chorus): We saw a huge snake! And some huge iguanas at the old fort in San Juan. They were really big.

Immersed: Wow. You guys really did a lot.

Z, F, B, and J (as a chorus): We did; we did. We went to a lot of beaches, too.

Immersed: Tell us about meals—did you cook in your apartment? Did you mostly eat out? What kinds of new foods did you try?

Z, F, B, and J (as an excited but unintelligible chorus except for a few words): Good, non-spicy, eggs, guacamole.

Z: On days that we went to the beach, we would return to the apartment and make spaghetti or pizza or cereal or something. On days we were out, we would eat out.

Immersed: What else do you want readers to know about your trip?

Z: If you go there, bring a lot of sunscreen.

F: Don’t go to Wendy’s or Burger King.

(Lots of agreement from the gang.)

Immersed: How do think this experience changed you?

Z: It made me have a closer bond with these three. It helped us understand each other more. Before we went on the trip, I was probably the only one who really spoke to J, and I was one of his first friends here. Now we all hang out.

F: This changed me in so many ways. I go to know those three better, and we have a better bond.

J: It made me appreciate them a lot more. Because honestly B and F and I weren’t that close. But once we got to Puerto Rico, and I actually got to spend time with them, it was just all fun.

(Next the group reflected on their changing dynamics back at school and how other students also have begun respecting them more.)

F: Even the teachers see us differently. We may be more mature.

Immersed: Think about the service aspect of your trip. Did it make you want to do more?

Z: I now look around at things and see what I can do at the moment.

J: I’ve been helping out more around the house and saying hi to strangers when I pass them on the street.

(After several attempts to wrap things up, it soon became clear that the group was stalling in order to miss science class. Ahem.)

Immersed: Did the trip awaken the love of travel in you?

Z: I like travel—I just don’t like airplanes!

F: I enjoyed my first airplane ride.

J: There was a lot of turbulence, but it was fun to be on a plane.

(Next we had a bittersweet conversation about where they are going to high school. Sniff.)

Immersed: Okay, any last thoughts? Anything at all?

Z: We are very grateful for all of the people who came to our fundraising and also to the private donors—other TNCS parents. We wouldn’t have been able to go without them.

Immersed: What will your next service projects be? Anything over the summer?

Z: I’m coming to volunteer here as a camp counselor over the summer.


The energy the four students had as they reflected on their international service-learning trip was so tremendously positive—this was clearly a very wonderful experience for them. Interestingly, they took away from it exactly what we would hope: expanded horizons and a broader outlook on life and on people as well as a deepening sense of the beneficial impact they can have on the world.

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Souvenir from the group.

Well done, you four—you’ve made an indelible mark on 724 S. Ann St. We will miss you next year but know that you will make your respective high schools all the nicer for your presence!

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The group reflects on a wonderful experience . . . and looks ahead to the amazing adventures awaiting them.

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.

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“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 Gardens for Earth Day!

Earth Day happens on Sunday, April 22nd this year, with the theme “End Plastic Pollution”. But celebrating our planet is an everyday occurrence at The New Century School—green energy, ecological conservation, and sustainable gardening practices are themes TNCS students are very familiar with, as these are fundamental tenets of the school.

Earth Day itself is always special, though. For the second year in a row, for example, the TNCS Parent Council headed up Sakina Ligon, will host a Family Fun Day that, among lots of other super fun activities, includes crafting with recyclables (see below). TNCS Past year’s Earth Day observances include TNCS Takes Earth Day by Storm and Go Native for Earth Day 2016!

Greenhouse Effect!

Earth Day 2018, however, is extra special. Why? The greenhouse is back up and running, to the delight of students, staff, and families alike. With the changes in the lunch program for the 2017–2018 school year, the greenhouse lay dormant for a few months. Not so any longer! Meet Manuel Cueva, who joined TNCS in September as part of the new kitchen staff and has now taken over as Gardener.

tncs-earth-day-greenhouseSr. Cueva is originally from Cajamarca City, Peru, where he was a construction supervisor and engineer. “I worked at an NGO, IINCAP Jorge Basadre, focused on community development. I worked on projects related to the environment, youth development, health, community banking, and ending child labor,” he said. He came to the United States in June 2016.

Now that he’s here, he has begun working with TNCS students, teaching them to grow produce from seeds. “I like working with my hands and working outside, and I love taking care of nature,” he explained. They started last month, planting indoors, and, as the seedlings have grown sturdy enough, they are gradually moving them into the greenhouse beds (lovingly built last year by TNCS volunteers).

Sr. Cueva has worked with every TNCS class, from the 2-year-olds right on up through the middle schoolers. They have planted marigolds, beans, strawberries, tomatoes, and radishes, and any edible produce will be used in school lunch.

Trabajo del Jardin Abajo

On Friday, April 20th, Sr. Cueva took Professor Manuel’s students to the greenhouse for some transplanting.

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From the photos, it’s clear that students thoroughly enjoyed their greenhouse time as well as all of the advance preparation with the seedlings they lovingly raised. But children also learn and benefit in many other ways from growing things.

Through gardening, they can develop new skills, such as the sense of responsibility they derive from caring for plants; the scientific understanding they gain as they learn about cause and effect (plants will die without water, but thrive when they are properly tended); self-confidence from achieving their goals and enjoying the nutritious food they have grown; and the love of nature that develops as they learn about the outdoor environment in a safe and pleasant place. From there, stewardship of the environment also develops naturally.

Physical activity, collaboration, and discovery are also built-in benefits that TNCS students will realize through gardening. For more on the science-backed ways gardening is good for children, read, Gardening with Kids: How It Affects Your Child’s Brain, Body, and Soul.

Do you have suggestions, recommendation, advice, or questions? Sr. Cueva is eager to hear your thoughts. “If anyone has ideas or suggestions for the green house, please let me know,” he asks.

Baltimore Gets a Special Visitor from the North Pole!

On Friday, December 22nd, something truly special occurred in Baltimore, MD: A Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) flew all the way down from the Arctic to land at Masonville Cove overlooking the Patapsco River, as shown in the photo below (lack of resolution due to distance from the owl).

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“What’s the big deal (and what does this have to do with The New Century School)?” you may be asking. To find out what made this event so extraordinary, Immersed spoke to Jim Rapp, Co-organizer of Baltimore Birding Weekends (scroll below for details) and lifelong aficionado of the natural sciences.

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Jim Rapp, Co-organizer, Baltimore Birding Weekends

Snowy Owl FAQs

First, check out this video about Snowy Owls on Assateague Island that Mr. Rapp filmed just a couple of weeks before our visitor graced us with its presence.

So, what’s all the fuss again? Mr. Rapp explains:

For birders, a Snowy Owl is considered a birding rarity. Although a few usually show up in the mid-Atlantic during the winter months each year, it is such an unusual occurrence that birders will travel for miles to see one, or to add the species to their life list.

Every 4 or 5 years, a natural phenomenon known as an irruption occurs. During an irruption, Snowy Owls fly south into the United States during the winter months following a very successful nesting season in the Arctic. The successful nesting season is attributed to large populations of lemmings, the Snowy Owl’s favorite prey species.

Once in a birder’s lifetime, a “mega-irruption” occurs, when massive numbers of owls migrate south. The last mega-irruption occurred in 2013–2014, when owls made it as far south as Florida and Bermuda.

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Photo Credit: Dave Messick, Hooked on OC/Unscene Productions.

Also read Snowy owls come back to Assateague island.

Masonville Cove: Your Chance to See the Owl!

As to how and why Masonville Cove is temporarily hosting a Snowy Owl, no one really knows, but this is a great chance to see a beautiful creature that you may never again see in your lifetime. According to its website, “Masonville Cove is 70 acres of water and 54 acres of cleaned-up wetlands, nature trails, and a protected bird sanctuary, all soon-to-be protected by a conservation easement and part of the Shores of Baltimore Land Trust.” In partnership with Living Classrooms, this environmental education center (located at 1000 Frankfurst Ave., Baltimore, MD 21226) connects students with the rich habitats and inhabitants of this piece of Baltimore’s biodiverse waterfront.

Mr. Rapp continues:

Irruptions are still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Years ago, the southern movement of Snowy Owls was believed to have been caused by a lack of prey in the north. Scientists thought the owls were leaving in search of food, and were starving when they arrived in the United States. Thanks in part to capturing live owls to study and band them, researchers have instead found that owls wintering in the United States are typically fat and happy. Snowy Owls that winter near the water, such as near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor or Assateague Island, will feed on wintering ducks. The spark that causes the owls to migrate is still a bit of a mystery, but it appears that irruptions are connected to a bounty of food rather than scarcity.

There’s a good chance that the Snowy Owl spotted at Masonville Cove in Curtis Bay on Friday, Dec. 22nd will remain there through the winter months. The open habitat is just right for Snowy Owls, and there are lots of Buffleheads and other ducks on the water. If you choose to go see a Snowy Owl, please remember to obey property rules, and never get so close to a resting owl that you cause it to get nervous or fly away. A calm owl will sit in the same spot for hours during the day, conserving it’s energy for night-time hunting. If you get too close, Snowy Owls will fidget and bob their heads back and forth, and will fly away if really anxious. Surviving the winter is hard enough without being harassed while you’re sleeping, so give our visiting owls a break and keep your distance.

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Says Mr. Rapp, “I love how Snowy Owls connect non-birders to nature. This bird has charisma that extends far beyond the birding world, perhaps due to Hedwig from the Harry Potter books and movies, or simply because these Arctic ambassadors are just so stunningly beautiful. Whenever a Snowy Owl is reported, you’ll find a nice diversity of people willing to bundle up to take a hike just to see one.”

Besides getting this lovely visit from our current friend, Charm City has another special connection with Snowy Owls. A young male owl named “Baltimore” made history in 2015 by revealing more about the routes a Snowy Owl might trace in a year than ever before recorded. In fact, aptly-named Baltimore is the “best known Snowy yet”! This video from NPR tells Baltimore’s story—and follows his amazing journey.

As the video also describes, “to study their behavior in more detail, scientists have partnered to form Project Snowstorm,” explained Mr. Rapp. “Some Snowy Owls that migrate into the United States. are captured and outfitted with small transmitter backpacks. Using cell phone technology, scientists can track their movements in the United States and southern Canada while the owls are in cell phone territory. When they move into the Arctic out of cell service range, the tracking ability ceases to work, but the owls can “blink” back on if they fly south in future years.” For more information, visit www.ProjectSnowstorm.org.

Finally, says Mr. Rapp, “If you want to go winter birding in Charm City with a knowledgable guide–and maybe see a Snowy Owl!–check out the Winter Baltimore Birding Weekend, hosted by Patterson Park Audubon Center. The event will be held February 10–11, 2018, and will include birding field trips at Masonville Cove, Fort McHenry, and boat trips on the Inner Harbor.” For more information, visit www.BaltimoreBirding.com. A second birding weekend is planned for May 2018.


Rare Bird Sightings as Reported on Baltimore eBird

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

TNCS School Lunch Program Gets a Refresh!

You may have noticed that The New Century School has been cooking up some fun changes for the 2017–2018 school year. One such change is happening in the the kitchen, where two new faces have appeared. With former chef Emma Novashinski* moving on to embark on a new professional chapter, TNCS school lunch has been taken over by veteran TNCS parents Danielle and John Moomau. Kibnesh Anebo, who assisted Chef Emma, now takes on the role of Lead Cook. (Click Garden Tuck Shop and Lunch Goes Global to read about the origins of TNCS school lunch.)

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Team School Lunch: Danielle, left; Kibnesh, middle; John, right.

Their kitchen takeover came to pass over the summer, when TNCS Co-Executive Director and Co-Founder Roberta Faux asked the Moomaus to consider assuming the role of kitchen manager. “At first we thought it would be impossible,” said Mrs. Moomau. “Considering that we operate our own full time food safety training and consulting business, how could we do the job of Chef Emma?” In fact, their proposed role would take a different shape. “Kitchen manager includes creating menus, overseeing production, maintaining regulatory compliance, food safety, inventory, and ordering,” she explained. With Ms. Anebo as Lead Cook and an additional new hire to assist with prep and clean-up coming on board, they realized they could manage. “And the idea of being able to engage more with our daughter, connecting with her classmates, all the teachers, administration, and other parents was appealing as well,” said Mrs. Moomau.

Wth a combined experience of over 50 years in retail food management, the Moomaus were a natural choice. “John and I both put ourselves through college working in the restaurant industry, working every position in the restaurant from dishwasher to bartender, and later working nationally doing multi-unit openings, culinary training, and finally regional operations.” They even met while working in the food-service industry. Mrs. Moomau is originally from New Orleans, and Mr. Moomau is from Silver Spring, MD, but they co-managed a restaurant in Washington, D.C. located at 14th NW and F Streets in 2003.

Then, in 2006, they left the corporate industry to start QRS Training, their own food consulting and training company, which offers classes and certification programs for food and alcohol licenses in the Mid-Atlantic region.

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Kibnesh prepares sesame noodles with faux chicken.

Now, 11 years later, they are bringing all of their expertise to TNCS students! The Moomaus are responsible for all food inventory and ordering of any supplies needed to run a smooth kitchen. They will oversee daily quantity of lunches needed and turn over the production line to head cook Ms. Anebo. Said Mrs. Moomau: “A local and clean path had been taken on by former TNCS Chef Emma and the founders of the school from the beginning when creating the lunch program. We seek to continue this and implement ways to influence the children with more international foods, but foods they will eat because it’s colorful, delicious, and fun.”

Although school lunch has a slightly new “flavor,” by far, most aspects of the program will stay the same. Mrs. Moomau explains:

Chef Emma started the school lunch with a different perspective. Understanding that she had to be compliant with the Maryland State Board of Education, which requires a protein, vegetable, fruit, and grain, she created menu’s that were colorful and different than what traditional school lunch programs offer. Keeping with TNCS’s promise to parents and students to be vegetarian and nut free, she researched and created lunches that offered children a new palette of flavors: soy nuggets that look and taste like chicken nuggets, colorful micro greens, and vegetables that the children planted and cultivated in TNCS’s own school garden. She got the kids excited and involved about the food they were eating. We wouldn’t change that piece of the program. Changes to the menu, however, will come as we get to know the children more and their likes and dislikes. But, whenever we introduce a new menu item, we promise to keep it delicious, healthy, fresh, and fun.

These menu adjustments have already started appearing in the form of food themes corresponding to each day of the week: American Mondays, Latin Tuesdays, Pasta Wednesdays, Asian Thursdays, and the already infamous and popular Pizza Fridays.They are trying new twists within these themes, too, such as avocado and cream cheese sushi rolls. “We don’t want to offer the children food that they don’t like, but we also want them to eat healthy, well-balanced, and low-sugar meals. So, we will continue to offer plenty of fruits and veggies that can be dipped into yogurts, hummus, guacamole. The children love to eat food with their hands, and dips are some of their favorites,” said Mrs. Moomau.

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Keepin’ It Clean and Green!

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Monica is making strawberry-blueberry parfaits.

Other ways that the Moomaus are ensuring continuity with the lunch program include continuing to order from food vendors who supply organic, fresh local produce, whenever possible; non-GMO ingredients; and no artificial coloring. “We’ve been establishing a clear expectation with our food providers that we want ‘clean and green’ food for our school,” they explained.

Of course, with any new venture, adaptations are inevitable. As before, one thing the new kitchen team wants to ensure is that the children they are feeding are eating. “We watch what goes into the trash everyday,” said Mrs. Moomau. “We approach the menu with the children’s perspective first. For example, today was ‘Asian Thursday’ and we offered Sesame Noodles, but our first thought was, the kids probably won’t favor rice noodles, so we’ll make the dish with an American twist and substitute whole-wheat, fat spaghetti noodles. It was a hit!”

Acclimating to the role might have been another challenge, but the Moomaus have found that support from the school administration has enabled them to surmount would-be obstacles:

Ms. Faux is so flexible and understanding that it makes the transitional period a lot less stressful. She has a solution for almost anything. When the founder of the school tells you, ‘don’t worry, if we absolutely have to, we can always order pizza,’ you know it’s going to go very well. And, although the first 3 weeks have had some bumps and learning curves, we’ve managed to get through without having to order pizza delivery!

They had this to say in closing: “We strive to do what’s right for our children and to make decisions that benefit their health.” And, let’s be honest, since kids like simple food and love to eat with their hands, dipping veggies in ranch or tortilla chips in guacamole or bean dip, for example, are not only kid favorites but are packed with vital nutrients.”

*Wondering how Chef Emma’s doing? She, too, has new adventures to share, and Immersed will keep you informed. Here’s a teaser: Emma’s Tea Spot will be opening in Hamilton soon . . .

Chicken Check-in at TNCS!

IMG_1628Wednesday, May 31st was a colossal day in The New Century School‘s chicken run. (No, the sky was not falling.) On this monumental occasion, two of TNCS’s small brood moved into their permanent residence after having been lovingly incubated in primary teacher Maria Mosby’s classroom and even hosted on weekends by both Ms. Mosby and Chef Emma Novashinski in their homes over the last several weeks. Having attained a size large enough to be able to weather nights and weekends without continual supervision, they were permitted to take up housekeeping in their lovely new coop and run. (“Cluck” Great Things Are Hatching at TNCS for additional details . . . and super cute pictures of TNCS students coddling their new feathered friends.)

As you’ll see, the pair took to the coop beautifully, and who can blame them? Carefully crafted by TNCS dad Blair Nahm, this structure is palatial by chicken standards. (Shouts out to the two other TNCS dads who constructed the run!)

But that’s not all. TNCS chickens have officially been named after a whole-school vote overseen by Head of School Alicia Danyali. Say hello to Sapphire and Nugget!

Chicks 3 and 4 have also been named. Mrs. Cluckington and Henrietta (aptly named by Chef Emma, a special dispensation for all of her hard work in getting this initiative up and running) hope to join the chicken run soon and look forward to meeting the TNCS community.

Without further cockle-doodle-ado, here are Sapphire and Nugget enjoying their new habitat and friends!

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TNCS Elementary Talks Some Serious Trash!

. . . Litter-ally. Last month, Baltimore artist and activist Bridget Parlato, a.k.a., “the RecyQueen,” paid a visit to The New Century School at the invitation of TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali. Ms. Parlato gave a salient and illuminating two-pronged presentation on what trash does to Baltimore neighborhoods and waterways as well as how plastics harm the health of our global environment and the health of Earth’s inhabitants—including us.

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Ms. Parlato graciously shared select slides from her presentation to give Immersed readers an idea of what she teaches students. (Click the pause button on each slide to allow yourself time to read all of the alarming but critical facts.)

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Of the event, Ms. Danyali said, “The presentation was wonderful—eye-opening to the realities we face and inspirational.” A few days after the RecyQueen’s presentation, Ms. Danyali visited elementary classrooms to gauge their impressions of the “Trash Talk.”

The “circling” technique she uses in the videos below was detailed in TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices, and you can see it being used here in a novel way, that is, to give students the opportunity to share something they found surprising about the presentation and/or something they found to be inspirational.

It’s abundantly clear that Ms. Parlato’s presentation struck home with them, from the scary new oceanic feature called “gyres” (swirling vortexes of microplastics such as what is found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) to the physical harm and disfigurement done to aquatic animals who encounter plastic trash. The studnets began to grasp how vast the plastic problem is in terms of scale and of impact. The fact that plastic never breaks down but simply gets smaller and disperses more widely (and consequently does greater harm) was something that got them thinking about how to dispose less and re-use more. They learned about the dreaded bisphenol A (BPA) contained in plastics that disrupts the human endocrine system with downstream impairments in neurological, cardiovascular, reproductive, and metabolic systems. (By the way, the recent “BPA-free” label sported by many plastic products these days probably means very little—manufacturers have likely just substituted bisphenol S [BPS], the effects of which are as yet unknown.) These problems do not have quick fixes, which makes the RecyQueen’s crusade to educate children so important. It will take a concerted global effort to prevent further harm.

They learned some good news, too, in that a brilliant young inventor named Boyan Slat has engineered a machine to help rid the oceans of trash through his organization The Ocean Cleanup. And shout-outs were, of course, given to Baltimore’s own water-cleaning wonders Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel.

About the RecyQueen

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Merging her two vocations, Ms. Parlato uses art to convey her important messages about trash and sometimes even uses trash to make art. (And then there’s the royal recycled regalia she designed entirely out of would-be trash—bags and boxes held together by tape, paperclips, and string—that is not only thought-provoking but exquisitely beautiful as well.) She explained that RecyQueen and her community organization Baltimore Trash Talk (BTT) are “offshoots” of her career as a graphic designer/artist at her studio Full Circuit Studio. She also happens to really love nature, so finding ways to protect and preserve it come, well, naturally, to her. She describes how she brings all of these threads together, starting with discovering her inner artist:

Most of my family is creatively gifted in some way. My mother went to art school. My father was a woodshop teacher. However, it was a teacher I had both in grade school and high school that helped direct my life. She even scheduled my interview and loaded me into the car and took me to Alfred University where I got the last spot in my class. I have a BFA and an MFA in fine arts concentrating in graphic design and sculpture (ceramics) as well as minors in writing and literature.

The tools, programs and social media I use as a freelance designer are heavily used for Baltimore Trash Talk. I love the idea and concept end. My past experience in writing is utilized all the time—coming up with campaign themes and writing my own copy for posters and print materials. My MFA in sculpture (as well as past job experience in events) has helped when thinking through installations.

I am also a person who feels like we should always be growing and learning, so as often as time permits, I try new stuff.  I just won a small scholarship and a month of studio time at Baltimore Jewelry Center. It is pretty exciting to think of how I can apply what I am learning about metals to my previous training in sculpture.

One such installation, well known to many in Baltimore was the River of Recycling, which grew out of her keen belief that we should be throwing away less stuff, such as by encouraging “bottle bill legislation.”

I planned and executed two grant-funded bottle deposit events. All the items were assembled into a River of Recycling in Patterson Park and then taken to the recycling facility. The data from my events was used to support a bill that was being considered at the time. Sadly, it died.

But, the River of Recyclables went on to happen at JHU, Artscape, and Loyola University. The JHU River was a partnership with MICA grad Chris Beer for his curatorial thesis. His event was on a work day so drive-up item return was going to be low. We utilized can/bottle drives at area schools for our recyclables. In return, schools got a small stipend and a presentation. Waterfront Partnership/Leanna Wetmore provided the stipends, and I presented at the schools.

Pickups of trash are great but never ending. Hitting trash from top down (legislation) or bottom up (education) is going to have bigger impact. I have had my hands and head in the policy end and continue to do so. In fact, it is through support of bottle bill legislation that the RecyQueen program started. Bottle deposits exist in 10 states—a 5–10-cent deposit is paid on a can or bottle and received back when the bottle is returned.

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“Hey, Let’s Teach More Kids!”: Further Outreach

Ms. Parlato’s cause has so far been funded entirely by BGE, but she has to find more grant money to keep going and must reapply regularly (“keep your fingers crossed!” she urges). In the meantime, though, she is eager to get the word out in as many ways as possible to as many students as possible. “Learning about sustainable practices and how to battle litter and how to keep our water clean can happen in so many ways. Let’s partner,” she says. (Click Baltimore Trash Talk schools to learn what is covered during a BTT school presentation.)

She also is willing to meet students off campus for special tours, projects, trips, etc. She has “canoed and scooped” with students from Bard Early College, taken a trip to Annapolis to support policy with Western High School students, and acted as teacher/student guide to American Visionary Art Museum for a Loyola University STEAM project.

She is actively looking for schools, organizations, or clubs to present to throughout the summer and into the fall. Contact Ms. Parlato if you want a presentation!

She also attends festivals where she educates about litter or makes art out of litter—or both. Got a festival coming? Contact her!

“As a result of Baltimore Trash Talk,” she says, “my freelance work has really become far more cause-related. Purpose is good—not always lucrative, but rewarding in other ways. One particular project that would be really really useful to any of the readers is the Baltimore Clean City Guide. Please check it out—there are all sorts of good pointers in there, from reporting 311 issues to bulk trash to recycling and rat abatement quick guides.”

New Century School (2)In keeping with TNCS’s commitment to community and environmentally related service, Ms. Danyali hopes to welcome Ms. Parlato back soon to work with students: “I thank [the RecyQueen] for sharing her important vision and mission and hope to continue the conversation for possible initiatives with TNCS students before the school year ends,” she said. For her part, the RecyQueen also wants to stay connected with TNCS, saying “Presenting at TNCS was such a lovely experience. What a great school. It really was a great morning and I left feeling really happy. I would love to do something else with the school—let’s think about other projects!”

Don’t forget to like Baltimore Trash Talk on Facebook to see how Ms. Parlato tackles trash problems through political, artistic, and social engagement.