TNCS School Counselor Daphnee Hope felt that TNCS students needed to end the year on a very positive note so she found the nonprofit group who brings therapy dogs to people in need of a cuddle. For her Cuddles and Crafts event, students engaged in a mindfulness craft for 45 minutes and then got to pet and hug the dogs.
“Cuddles & Crafts was a huge hit this morning! We had 3 beautiful therapy dogs visit our K-8 classrooms while students completed mindfulness crafts that included coloring mandalas, creating coffee filter butterflies, and designing a chain of calm. Students were so excited to see these furry friends and give them hugs,” said Mrs. Hope.
And that’s really all that needs to be said: in this post, the photos tell the story (you can even see the smiles behind the masks!). Fur real.
With autumn leaves falling, cooler weather in the air, and the holiday season imminent, people will likely be spending more time indoors and possibly in larger groups. How do we do that safely during a pandemic? On Wednesday, October 21st, The New Century School presented a special virtual Question and Answer session to answer these questions and many more.
Note to readers: Chances are very good that you’ve had many of the same questions. This post is a comprehensive accounting of the event, so if you don’t want to or are unable to read it in its entirety, skim to the topics that concern you most.
TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux emceed the event, beginning with some relevant announcements and updates.
TNCS Safety Announcements
After zero cases of COVID-19 in Quarter 1 of the 2020–2021 school year and no forced school closings, it’s clear that the hybrid model is working. With Quarter 2 beginning November 5th, in-person attendance will increase. About 60% of K–8 families will be on campus full time, another 23% will be half time (every other week), and about 17% will be fully virtual.
A second announcement was about the community pledge to consider getting a flu shot to keep everyone feeling a bit more comfortable. Of the approximately 149 students and 39 staff, 53% reported getting vaccinated. “We’re hoping to get to at least 70%,” said Roberta, “so fingers crossed.” (Her wish was granted—just a few days later, the rate of vaccination is 75%.)
Finally, TNCS began biweekly “Safety Audits” to check for proper mask-wearing, that the intake/outtake fans are running, and that desks remain 6 ft apart. In general, compliance has been excellent: 3rd- through 8th-graders are consistently 100%, K–2nd-graders are averaging 91%, and preschoolers are ranging between 73%–91%. These statistics are regularly shared with staff to encourage increasing compliance.
After this welcome and updates, Ms. Faux gave the Wellness Team the chance to say a few words each about themselves and encouraged attendees to type in questions in the chat box along the way to make the evening as interactive as possible.
Meet the TNCS Wellness Team!
Drs. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, David Griffith, and Nishant Shah comprise the TNCS Wellness committee. Here are their takes on COVID-19 risk management and best practices, both in and out of school.
Dr. McDonald-Mosley began by explaining her long history with TNCS: “I am a parent to a current 7th-grader at TNCS and a recent graduate. We have been a part of the TNCS community since before it was officially The New Century School, back when it was Patterson Park Montessori. So this community to be honest feels like more of an extended family to me than just a school, and that’s the passion that I bring to this team during the tumultuous last few months.”
She is currently the Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, where she has been navigating health care delivery in these “interesting times,” including implementing COVID-specific policies for seven health centers of about 120 staff and 35,000 patients a year. She is an Obstetrician/Gynecologist by training and also has a public health background, having attended Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“I want to take a second to applaud Ms. Faux and Señora Duncan and all of the staff who’ve been working tirelessly to balance keeping the doors open with keeping everyone safe and all of the work that they’ve been doing there,” said Dr. McDonald-Mosley. “I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to convene with you this evening and hopefully answer some of your questions.”
What Dr. McDonald-Mosley felt was an important topic to discuss is the looming holiday season. “For my family,” she said, “Thanksgiving is the ultimate holiday. For those of you who don’t know, my husband is a chef and the owner and proprietor of Black Sauce Kitchen. At Thanksgiving, we throw down! We get together as a huge family and it’s a huge deal.” But with elderly family members, she described needing to be really thoughtful about exposure during the holiday season and what that will mean.
We don’t want to take actions because we miss our family that could potentially put them at risk of being admitted to the hospital or worse by the end of the year. So, my ‘pearl’ is be mindful, be thoughtful, try to think ahead and make some plans. We all want to spend time with our family and friends but perhaps finding a way to do that more safely and implementing some risk-mitigation strategies during your holiday plans would be my advice. If you have specific questions about your plans, we’d be happy to touch base on those offline.
Dr. Griffith has a kindergartener and a primary student at TNCS. He is a pediatrician and internal medicine doctor with special training in pediatric and adult infectious disease. He works at Johns Hopkins, where he cares for pediatric patients admitted to the hospital, and also at both outpatient adult and pediatric infectious disease clinics. “I’ve been focused clinically on the active disease, and it’s been nice to be part of this group and to think about how we mitigate risk and what we can do to help our school community,” he said. “I also want to echo how nice it’s been to work with the school and administration. As a parent, I feel the messaging has always been very clear and the staff has been really responsive, so I’d like to commend Ms. Faux and Señora Duncan on all the work they’ve done.”
Dr. Griffith brought up the topic of “COVID fatigue.” We’re tired of this thing and yet it’s an important time to check in and discuss the coronavirus because we’re likely going to continue seeing increasing cases. Although we’ve learned a lot over the last 7 months, this is a novel virus, and its transmission and disease course was largely unknown. “We must make sure we’re doing everything we can as a community to keep all of us safe.”
Dr. Shah has a 3rd-grader at TNCS and says he considers TNCS a part of his extended family. They have been in Baltimore for 5 years and love being part of the community. Dr. Shah is a family medicine physician and works with Dr. McDonald-Mosley at Planned Parenthood. Before coming here, he worked in a public health department at the county level in Martinez, California doing infectious disease outbreak investigations. “The language is familiar,” he said, “but this disease is not.”
As the newest member of the Wellness Committee, he thanked the others for the work already done to get us to where we are now and feeling more confident about making decisions.
It’s new to all of us, and I feel like I’m learning something new every day. It’s changing what I’m saying to people and it feels kind of crazy, but I’m doing my best, and my mantra to all through all of this has been ‘safer not safe.’ Whatever I do, I try to make it safer because there’s no way to know whether it’s actually safe or not. So, ‘is there a way I can make a situation safer?’ is kind of the way I think about it.
Dr. Shah got some audience love with his closing statement: “Little by little, things will get better and things will get safer. But winter is coming.” As chilling as any Night King, we’re bracing for what winter will bring.
Parents could submit questions ahead of time or while the Q&A was happening. The topics raised are most apropos—again, you’ll likely be seeking answers to many of these same questions. Committee members handled the issues in a “round-robin” fashion.
How Will We Celebrate Halloween?
With Halloween right around the corner, Dr. McDonald-Mosley recommends using Dr. Shah’s framework of safer and thinking about risk mitigation as we’re wondering how to celebrate Halloween. The CDC and Baltimore City are not recommending traditional trick-or-treating.
So, to be safer, think about other ways to celebrate: you could organize an outside gathering with people wearing masks and kids swap prepackaged treats. You could plan a scavenger hunt or pumpkin carvings or a costume parade in your neighborhood. Think about activities that allow you to recognize the holiday and allow the kids to dress up (if that’s important to you and your family and your culture), but do it in a way that doesn’t involve direct interaction with large groups of people or large numbers of strangers.
Dr. Shah added that it’s okay to back out of a commitment. Have a backup plan and set expectations so you can always change gears if you don’t feel comfortable.
Timeline for Mask-Wearing and Social Distancing?
Dr. Shah fielded this one. “As we’re getting more COVID fatigue,” he said, “we’re all going to start to try to figure out safer ways to see family, to participate in activities, to let the kids do sports or whatever. Even in those contexts, COVID won’t be behind us.” Most scientific communities are acknowledging that COVID is going to be around for some years to come, and even when we have an effective vaccine and better treatments, “effectiveness” just means less rapid spread rather than 100% elimination. “Mask-wearing and social distancing give us the most bang for our buck in preventing transmission,” said Dr. Shah. “I anticipate that those principles are going to stay in place this year and probably the next school year. They might change a bit, but just know that the antibody treatments and vaccinations you hear about on the news are things that even when approved and available are going to be slow to roll out.” Maryland just released their plan for vaccination, and high-risk groups will be first. As vaccines and treatments aren’t being tested in kids, they will not be in the first rounds of vaccinated individuals, so it wouldn’t serve the TNCS community to compromise the safety protocols currently in place until we fully understand what the rollout of vaccines will involve.
Dr. McDonald-Mosley agreed, adding, “We’ve never had a vaccine development at this speed before and at this scale and so many uncertainties surround it. What we do know are that masks and and social distancing help. The vaccine will catch up eventually, but I don’t think we can hang our hats on that being the solution any time soon.”
Are Play Dates Still a Thing?
Dr. Griffith discussed whether it’s okay to have play dates outside of school. “It’s along the same lines of knowing your family’s own assessment of risk and trying to make things as safe as possible,” he said. “I think it’s very reasonable if you are outside with smaller numbers—maybe one other child or family at a time wearing masks and doing activities that allow the kids to be socially distant.” For younger children that’s harder to pull off, but some families are consoled by the knowledge that their children are in school and able to have some time with friends that way. Children in virtual school, however, really need that social connection and to interact with their peers, all of which helps them learn and develop. Unstructured play is likewise important for development. “So, if it’s feels comfortable for your family in terms of your personal risk,” said Dr. Griffith, “I think there are ways to do it safely as I described as well as by choosing families you’re on the same page with. And, as Dr. Shah said, if it doesn’t seem right, you can always leave if you get uncomfortable.”
Routine Testing at TNCS?
Dr. McDonald-Mosley took on the viability of routine COVID-19 testing for students and staff. “This is something the Wellness committee considered over the summer, but back then it was extremely difficult to find a place to get a test within a reasonable amount of time, and then sometimes the results were taking upwards of 10 days to come back back, which essentially made the test useless,” she said. She also explained that for someone who is asymptomatic, a screening test basically amounts to a snapshot of your recent exposure over the last week and not much else. “So, while widespread testing on a routine basis is ideal, at that point it didn’t seem reasonable or helpful, and we would also want to make sure that everyone has equitable access to it if we’re going to make it a requirement.” If cases in Baltimore rise once more, however, routine testing may be something that TNCS revisits, especially as testing has become much easier to obtain and the results are coming back faster. At this point, though, TNCS does not plan to mandate testing, but the Wellness Team can certainly help provide resources for individuals in particular circumstances (e.g., recent travel) who would like to get tested.
Dr. Shah chimed in to point out that testing is not a replacement for standard risk mitigation (i.e., social distancing and mask-wearing) as well as that the tests are not 100% accurate by any stretch.
To Pod or Not to Pod?
With folks desperate for personal interaction, the rise of the pod, otherwise known as a “social bubble,” in which a couple of families agree to socialize with one another but no one else, has staved off insanity for many. Pod families hang out without social distancing but agree to follow recommended social-distancing and mask-wearing rules outside of the pod.
Dr. Shah pointed out that forming a pod has risks and that you must take careful stock of who you are joining with and who they have other contact with such as at work (and vice versa). Another point is to be clear about the purpose of the pod—is it to participate in an activity important to me? Is it so my kids can have social interaction? Is it a school pod? Know your goal and make sure the pod is truly allowing you to obtain it. And it doesn’t have to be a slippery slope—just because you’re podding with three families, doesn’t necessarily mean you expand that number, which exponentially increases your exposure to other people.
“Be thoughtful about each step you take because it will impact the others in the pod as well as other people you come in contact with in your life,” urged Dr. Shah. He also recommends setting ground rules, making very deliberate decisions, and always striving for “safer.” Safer can take the form of parents wearing masks while the kids aren’t required to, for example. Also be willing to pod with people that you’re willing to share your health risks with (in other words, you probably wouldn’t want to share your risks with your grandmother). “Finally, just kind of know that infection is going to happen, and contact tracing will mean that you all have to quarantine for 14 days because members of the pod will all be considered each other’s close contacts. Be prepared with a plan that addresses how you’ll deal with work and with your kid being at home for 2 weeks. Call your doctor know their process for testing,” said Dr. Shah.
Holiday Travel: What Will It Mean?
Thanksgiving and Christmas are times when families traditionally gather. Ms. Faux brought up the TNCS Community Compact and explained that so far, TNCS is not looking to ask for additional requirements beyond what it states, which follow Maryland State guidelines. In essence, if you travel to a place with a positivity rate higher than 10%, get tested or quarantine for 2 weeks. Dr. Griffith elaborated: “Within that state recommendation is that nonessential travel should be reconsidered. I know that’s hard for a lot of families with the holidays coming, but my recommendation is to not travel.”
Nevertheless, if you are going to travel, do it as safely as possible (e.g., drive rather than fly, be outdoors if possible, limit interactions, test before and after) and carefully assess the risk of your particular travel—to where, for what, and around how many people? As for what this means for TNCS, Dr. Griffith again defers to Maryland’s guidance and says to consider testing when you get home even if you don’t go to a hotspot and quarantine until you have a negative result. Despite the imperfections of our current testing model, it’s better than nothing. The kids can switch to virtual learning—in fact, the TNCS Wellness Committee encourages you to switch to virtual if you ever have a concern, which is much easier to deal with than a forced all-school closure.
“Everyone is a part of this community,” said Dr. Griffith, “and our decisions affect each other’s kids and families. What’s important for this committee is what are you doing to help ensure the health of the school. We do think about how it impacts our community.”
And yet . . . those grandparents really need to see the grandkids. Lay ground rules, advises Dr. Griffith, and be prepared to have to enforce, and re-enforce, them! If a visitor is coming to your house, for example, ask them to get a test. “In every circumstance,” echoed Dr. McDonald-Mosley, “ask yourself, ‘is this necessary?’ and ‘is there a safer option?’.”
Winter Is Coming . . . Will TNCS Students Be Outside?
The short answer is yes, although lunch is starting back up November 9th and will be served indoors. (Students must eat at their own desks, spaced at least 6 feet apart and they may not talk while eating.) “As far as how cold is too cold,” said Señora Duncan, “we follow a metric from the MSDE office of child care. We will eat outside, but not in extremely cold conditions.”
Do make sure your student has clothing for colder and inclement weather, however, because part of TNCS’s identity is spending time outdoors. As one parent put it, “we really appreciate that TNCS is determined to get students outside and give them some freedom to move, take walks around the neighborhood, and spend some time away from their desks.” Señora Duncan responded, “Yes! Send those rain boots; send the accoutrements. We do go outside, so it’s really important that the students are dressed for the weather.”
How Are Preschoolers Doing?
A parent who joined TNCS during the pandemic asked how the 2- and 3-year-olds are doing with mask-wearing, and Interim Preschool Director David Sarpal fielded this one: “I’m very pleased to say that whenever we prompt young children to put on or fix their their masks, they respond immediately. They know it’s something that needs to be done in general.” Señora Duncan agreed: “It’s like second skin to them. They don’t really pay attention to it; they just put it on and go!”
What Social and Emotional Learning Is Happening?
Another parent question was about social and emotional support. TNCS teachers are very attuned to what’s going on with students, explained Señora Duncan. The younger ones do various activities during circle time, and the older students do journaling and ELA activities, for example. Teachers have even found ways to have on-campus outdoor activities for all-virtual students to optionally attend so that they can actually be with their in-person classmates safely. Said Señora Duncan:
We don’t have a formal program per se, but we’ve been finding out where our kids are and addressing needs as they arise. It’s such a changing environment, and there isn’t a COVID Social and Emotional Handbook yet. Our students are in such a different place right now, and there’s so much going on in our world with social justice issues, the pandemic, the election . . . Our kids are feeling all of it, so it’s really important that we take stock of those feelings.
Ms. Faux encouraged parents to continue sending questions that the Wellness Team will compile and address in forums and Q&As.
For Dr. McDonald-Mosley, the takeaway message is: “We’re going to need to be flexible as we move through the fall and the disease starts to surge again in our area, as it probably will. Continued communication and flexibility are going to be critically important. Again, I just want to applaud Señora Duncan and all the teachers who, despite all of the uncertainty, pushed through and have continued to provide an excellent educational experience to our kids.”
Dr. Griffith closed with, “I was just reflecting on kind of the first calls we had about this back in March and how little we knew and how much more we know now. We’ve come a long way, but we’re still learning.”
Dr. Shah offered three pieces of advice: “1) If you’re concerned about your kid being sick or you’re not sure what to do, stay home and call us or email us; 2) get your flu shot and start figuring out what you’re going to do if and when someone in your family gets sick; and 3) at some point, TNCS will have to close, so let’s be supportive of each other as a community, whatever that takes and whatever help you need, just ask.”
Señora Duncan said, “We didn’t know how this was all going to go—it was nail-biting and hair-raising at times, but it has been truly wonderful to have the support that we’ve had from all of you to get through this, especially the Wellness Team. Thank you so much; we could not have done it without you. You answered our calls and a billion questions and you answered away. This is just such an amazing and supportive community, and we really appreciate what we have here.”
For more information on what TNCS is doing to protect students from COVID-19, see updates posted regularly on Blackbaud, including additional safety measures, how to talk to students about COVID-19, and precautions for the holidays.
Remember, students can move to virtual classes as needed and everyone should STAY HOME if they are sick!
“Thank you everyone for being a partner. Together, with exceptional diligence we will tackle the upcoming months.”—The TNCS Wellness Team
Hey, folks—it’s been a minute! But never fear, The New Century School is ready to welcome you back to school, and Immersed is here to tell you how! (We’ll spare you the litany of pandemic grievances so we can get right to the good stuff!)
We all know that things will look a little different on September 1, 2020—in fact, Head of School Shara Khon Duncan describes it as “a school year like never before.” This post is your guide to how TNCS will safely open, what the physical campus will look like and how instruction has evolved.
But first, a word from Sra. Duncan on education in general. Amidst all the upheaval we’ve weathered and in spite of what may yet come, she sees the silver lining and offers an incredibly uplifting perspective:
Over the last weeks, I’ve shared with teachers some tools they can use to step back and reflect on how they’re teaching so that they don’t do it the same way they always have. This is an opportunity for us in some ways—an opportunity for all teachers everywhere to look at their teaching and see it differently and make improvements. I think it’s a great time for educators. It will force us to look at how we’re delivering our instruction. We can’t keep doing things the same old way.
Although TNCS remained open in various capacities (as a childcare site for essential personnel and for limited summer camp) since the pandemic shutdown last March, gearing up for the imminent school year has brought a host of new challenges, and TNCS admin, staff, and faculty have been hard at work all summer to meet those challenges with creative, innovative solutions.
As stated on the new Reopening page on the TNCS website: “As we work through the complex questions surrounding potential scenarios for reopening, we are relying on guidance and recommendations from recognized experts and authorities in the field of public health. Our mission, philosophy, and core values also help guide us in our preparations.”
TNCS families were also asked to participate in a community Compact. As Sra. Duncan wrote recently in a letter to TNCS families, “TNCS has remained committed to keeping true to who we are as a school and community while focusing on mitigating the risks that will help keep our community safe. . . we are confident that if we, as a community, work together and support each other, we will be able to provide our students with a safe, engaging, and enriching experience.”
TNCS Wellness Team
A taskforce called the “TNCS Wellness Team” was established in the spring and comprises an epidemiologist and other clinicians. This team of medical professionals ensures that TNCS has the most up-to-date information available from local health departments and the MSDE Office of Child Care to execute safe reopening.
Keeping the TNCS community safe involves a variety of measures that range from enhanced cleaning to adopting new on-campus practices and protocols to offering a hybrid approach to education. During the week leading up to reopening, teachers and staff returned to TNCS (both in person and virtually) not only for annual professional development but also for intensive training on the new policies and protocols.
The buildings are closed to parents and nonessential staff.
Movement of students and teaching staff is restricted to predefined indoor zones.
Social distancing will be practiced as much as possible; no interaction between classes will take place including at lunchtime and recess.
Outdoor space will be used to its fullest potential.
Classrooms are well ventilated using our HVAC systems in conjunction with open windows and fans.
Classroom spaces in all divisions and in both buildings have undergone adaptations and reconfigurations as shown.
All students are encouraged to wear masks provided by their families (TNCS Wellness Team recommends reminding your child at drop-off to put their mask on).
Students ages 2–4 years will be asked to remove them if they are handling the masks too much.
Older students (ages 5+) are expected to wear masks while in the building.
All adults wear masks when inside the building or if they are outside in close proximity to others.
Drop Off & Pick Up
Families should allow extra time for drop off and pick up.
Both drivers and walkers must drop off and pick up outside, in dedicated cohort zones, as outlined in procedures sent via Blackbaud as well as in this presentation.
Drivers must remain inside their vehicles at all times.
Temperature Checks & Health Screening
On arrival, staff and student temperatures will be taken and must be below 100.4ºF to attend school; screening questions will also be asked before staff and students can enter the building.
Children and staff will be sent home if they exhibit signs of respiratory infection, fever, acute onset of cough, sore throat, or new shortness of breath.
Implementing these measures will mitigate the risks that are within TNCS’s control. So that’s what the physical aspects of the 2020–2021 school year will look like, at least to start, but what about the education itself?
Adapting to Changes
This year, TNCS will have two Kindergarten classes, two 1st/2nd-grade classes, a 3rd/4th-grade class, a 5th-grade class, and a middle school class (6th–8th grades). The pandemic brought changes not just to class configurations but also to staffing, and TNCS is pleased to welcome some new faces (stay tuned for more on that).
Agility during this school year will be vital. The best laid plans for remaining on campus will depend on the circumstances of the city, state, and world, recommendations from health and government entities, and what is best for the overall health and safety of the TNCS community. “I know parents are nervous; we’re nervous too,” said Sra. Duncan. “But that means we care about getting this as as right as possible, and we try to think of different angles. We’re constantly questioning, making sure we’re thinking of all the pieces.” She explains that it’s a bit of a trial-and-error process, and that adjustments may have to be made as we go. “We haven’t done this before, and we just don’t know what it’s going to look like yet.”
One of the most difficult things that parents need to prepare for is establishing a backup plan for childcare in the event that the physical campus cannot stay open. Another aspect that Sra. Duncan stresses is the importance of multi-directional communication: “Students are going to have to be self-advocates. They’re going to have to speak up in class. Parents will need to communicate directly with teachers; it’s really important that they do that. We will also still have the weekly communication through Blackbaud.”
Perhaps most important of all? TNCS students will be the beneficiaries of all the planning, thought, and hard work that has gone into making the 2020–2021 count.
Adopting the Hybrid Model
With the overarching goal of continuing to deliver a high-quality and rigorous academic curriculum, TNCS faculty and admin have made smart modifications to educational programming. These curricular adjustments were made alongside a dual focus on the social and emotional well being of all students, staff, and families.
The hybrid model of instruction ensures that students receive instruction while continuing to be a part of their classroom and school community. Families elected to send their student to campus full time, participate virtually full time, or alternate on-campus and virtual weeks.
“The teachers have been working hard all week,” said Sra. Duncan. “We’ve been doing our virtual meetings, we’ve gone through protocols, and we’ve looked at how we can deliver lessons more effectively across the various ways that students are going to be taking classes.” She says they also focused on how to make classes feel engaging and to make sure students at home do not feel isolated. “We want on-campus and virtual classes to feel like one class.”
Independence is another key area. “We want students to learn how to take charge of their education, which is really important. We want to foster a sense of student agency and having some more choice in their learning because that will help with their motivation, especially in an environment where they’re virtual.”
“We’ve got to reach kids and break things down in a new way,” said Sra. Duncan. “When you teach new things, it gives you a chance to break down and figure out how you’re going to deliver that instruction. It helps you to have a new perspective on things, which I think is good.” She explains that faculty and admin analyzed curricula over the summer to make sure everything that is most important for each subject is getting covered. “We’re revamping so we can help TNCS students reach all the benchmarks for each grade and know that they are getting exactly what they need.”
Should transitioning to an all-virtual model become necessary, technology cannot be a barrier that inhibits students’ ability to learn. So, TNCS has optimized programs so that a smooth transition is possible. “We identified the foundational technology skills that students need to know in order to function in a digital environment, and the teachers will spend time on those skills in the beginning of the school year. Whether students are fully virtual from the start or the ones in school have to move to fully virtual, they’ll know how to do the things they need to do,” explained Sra. Duncan. “All of these things will take some time, but we’ll get it done. We’ll make it through!”
She also wants parents to understand that it’s okay to let your student work to figure things out. “I know that’s hard, but it’s something they have to learn and that they learn by doing. We don’t want them on the point of breakdown, but at the same time it’s okay for them to struggle a bit. It’s a balance of knowing when to step in and when not to.”
Here again, communication with the teacher is important. “We’re trying to make sure that directions are very clear and that they truly help students navigate in the digital environment. It’s okay if they don’t get it the first time. They’ll learn by doing. Of course, we don’t expect preschoolers to do this; that’s a different story. But we want our K through 8s to have that independence.”
Here We Go!
“We’ll get through this,” said Sra. Duncan. “We just have to keep working together and just be prepared as much as we can. It’s like trying to pack for a trip but you don’t know where you’re going. Do we pack for the cold or the rain or the beach? We don’t know, so we have to pack for everything all at once, so we’re prepared.”
At The New Century School, students show heart every day by being kind to one another and the greater community and showing respect. February is a chance to emphasize kindness and compassion with Valentine’s Day looming, and, across the school, initiatives are coalescing into a big service push (more on that next week). But February is “❤️” month in another sense of the word as well in that it presents an opportunity to focus on heart health, the cardiovascular kind.
Meet Coach Jake!
Jake Hayden’s main gig is with Coppermine Fieldhouse, with whom TNCS has had a long and fruitful partnership. For Coppermine Fieldhouse, in addition to teaching physical education (PE) at TNCS, he has run recess at area schools like Hampstead Hill Academy and Ohr Chadash and taught “Lil’ Kickers” soccer classes on Saturdays. He is currently coaching more lacrosse classes, including player development classes for club lacrosse and “laxaroo” classes at Coppermine, which is lacrosse for 4- and 5-year-olds. “I just love those,” he says. “At that age, they are just learning how to pick up a stick. I love teaching kids the basics because I get to see if they really like it or not.” He also runs lacrosse scrimmage at Coppermine as well as refereeing flag football on Saturdays.
Sounds like a lot of sports! He comes by his athleticism honestly. Originally from Calvert County, he grew up with with three older brothers and an older sister, and family life, he says, revolved around sports and athletics. In high school and on, his sports foci were lacrosse, soccer, and basketball. After high school, he attended division III Ferrum College for lacrosse (go Panthers!), then transferred to Salisbury University for mathematics. So, it all adds up, right?
Coach Jake at TNCS
Back to what Coach Jake does at TNCS, he teaches four PE classes each Friday on campus: 5th- /6th-graders, 7th- /8th-graders, K/1st, and 2nd- through 4th-graders in that order. Clearly differentiation is necessary, but the overall theme is developing age-appropriate gross physical skills. “For the older classes,” explains Coach Jake:
I like to focus more on the individual skills involved in playing whatever game or sport we are playing that particular day. For the little ones, I usually have them focus on basic hand-eye coordination and balance while running. Most of their games (tag, relay race games, and obstacle courses) involve mostly running. Of course, my main emphasis for all classes is that we play the games the right way, the safe way, and have fun in the process.
Coach Jake also has to be ready to adapt each class, depending on what’s going on at school. “With specific units/sports in mind I encounter every class with the same diagnosis. How many kids are in the class that day, are we inside or outside, questions like that. From there I decide if my original game plan will work or if I have to switch it up and wing it.”
During the past wet Friday, for example, PE class had to be held indoors, but half of the gym was occupied by the Scholastic Book Fair. Thinking on his feet, Coach Jake salvaged the day, and students played games (with cleverly built in skills cultivation) in the back half of the gym. They were moving almost nonstop, getting that cardio workout in, but they were so into the game that they probably never noticed their increased heart rate!
One popular indoor game they play is “Body Guard Dodgeball,” in which ball throwers attempt to (gently—and no aiming for faces) hit a “celebrity” who is being blocked by a body guard (who ends up taking most of the hits). Everyone got a turn, and the action intensified as the rounds progressed.
Next up was a spin on relay races in which the object was to create the highest non-toppling stack of Imagination Playground foam pieces. It quickly became clear that the 5th- and 6th-graders had aged out (or up, as the case may be) of this one!
In Obstacle Course Tag (a game without an official name because TNCS students made it up), obstacles (again made of Imagination Playground foam) are stacked around the gym, and players have to avoid both being tagged by who’s “it” as well as avoid knocking over any obstacles. Either infraction gets you out!
“I particularly love teaching at TNCS,” said Coach Jake, “because I enjoy each and every student from all classes. The kids respond to instruction and are also fun kids to be around. Sometimes it does not feel like work. Compared to past job settings, TNCS is an all around pleasure to work at.”
What’s Coach Jake’s Game Plan?
For the future, Coach Jake says, “I plan on coaching for as long as I can, whether it grows to be my career or slowly becomes a hobby. My big dream is to become a college lacrosse coach, although it is a rather difficult job to get.”
Although he is not currently on a sports team, he would like to join a men’s lacrosse league. “In the hotbed area of Baltimore,” he says, “the passion for lacrosse is abundant.” Lax to the max, Coach Jake!
Team TNCS: The Race Is On!
While we are still on the subject of cardiovascular health, let’s look at some other ways TNCS is embracing heart month. TNCS students get PE twice weekly, and only one of those classes is led by Coach Jake. The other PE class is teacher led, and Upper Elementary and Middle School ELA and Global Studies teacher Daphnée Hope has taken this opportunity and run with it! You may have heard that since the fall, Ms. Hope has been getting the older students out on weekly jogs—and they love it! “I was so excited to introduce running into our PE curriculum because I believe that it provides multiple benefits to both our students and staff,” she explained. “Running instills discipline, creates endorphins, and builds camaraderie between students and their teachers.”
I also believe in the power of leading by example for my students—when I am running right alongside them and pushing myself mentally and physically as well, I think they are more likely to buy into the conversations that we have about positive physical, mental, and social-emotional health.
Well said. And off they go for a mile or so run around the Fell’s Point neighborhood. They are building up stamina to eventually run the Sole of the City 10K this April (participation is optional).
The bottom line is, during the month of February, TNCS students are showing their hearts some love.
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.”
The 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.”
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.