Congratulations on an Extraordinary Journey, TNCS Class of 2020!

On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, The New Century School was proud and thrilled to graduate its second class of 8th-graders, a monumental accomplishment in more ways than one. In a year during which the out-of-the-ordinary became the new ordinary, these middle schoolers faced not only the challenges inherent in adolescence and making the huge transition to high school, but wholly new kinds of challenges as well, including embarking on their coming-of-age journeys during a worldwide pandemic and then witnessing the massive and ongoing societal protest against racism in all its many forms.

Through all of this upheaval, TNCS graduates stayed connected to their values and to each other. While the pandemic forced them to stay physically remote from each other, they nevertheless drew closer together. In fact, the same can be said for the TNCS community as a whole, and we should be proud of this, too.

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The TNCS Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2020 took place over Zoom. For anyone worrying that the 8th-graders missed out on not being able to walk across a stage, shake hands, throw their caps in the air, and embrace each other, be consoled. This ceremony—though different, to be sure—was beautiful. Although we can’t show the whole recording here to protect TNCS students’ privacy, participants dropped regularly from the Zoom screen to wipe their tears off camera. Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 12.38.32 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.44.41 PMThe ceremony began with TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan’s welcome. “While we cannot be in person as we had hoped,” she began, “we wish to make this celebration as special as we can. We appreciate you being here as a community and as a family.”

Next, came a video of the TNCS String Ensemble playing “Red Wing,” a feat of production pulled off by former TNCS Strings Instructor Yoshiaki Horiguchi.

This was followed by some “Words of Wisdom” from several 8th-graders to 5th-graders, who also graduated (from the TNCS Elementary Program) this year and will begin Middle School for the 2020–2021 school year.

“Middle school is a short and fun ride,” began one student, “but you have to make it that way by beginning with a positive attitude. The work will be harder, and the workload bigger, but that’s life. Think of middle school as a stepping stone for high school, college, and the ‘real world.’ It’s important to let work come before recreation so you can reap the rewards later in life. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask your elders for guidance. After all, experience is one of life’s greatest teachers.”

“Always do your homework,” warned another. “It will pile up otherwise, and you will fall behind. To handle the workload, make a schedule and do your work with energy.”

Said a third student: “My words of advice are to not always hang out with the same people. You can get to know new people and realize how cool they are. And be yourself.”

“I want you to know that a lot of exciting things are about to happen to you,” said yet a fourth. “It may seem like there are a lot of obstacles in middle school and a lot of work, but use your time wisely, and you’ll persevere. If you’re going to go to a good high school, you’ll need good grades. Something I learned about myself is that I’m strong. There were times when I wanted to give up and times when I lost faith in my myself, but I pushed myself, and look where I’m at.”

“To be the best version of yourself, avoid the drama—just be yourself. Also put 100% in; don’t do things halfway so you can feel proud of your work.”

“Middle school can be a great experience, but it all depends on your mindset. It will be challenging, but if you decide to face difficulties head on, you will succeed. It all pays off in the end. Stay confident and work hard. These years will shape you as a person. Make good use of them because you’re not going to get them back.”

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These sage pieces of advice were followed by an “Homage to the Graduates” by the 7th-graders, some of whom have known each other since kindergarten, in TNCS’s very first days. This segment was especially poignant, as most graduates will attend different high schools, and paths will diverge. In their clips, 7th-graders reminisced about how they met their 8th-grade mentors, celebrated their positive attributes, and wished them good luck. Cue the waterworks!

“See you later friend,” said one. “Hopefully we cross paths another time.”

“Without [my friend], I wouldn’t be the person I am today, taking me out of my comfort zone and encouraging me to be my best,” said another. “Good friends are like stars,” she quoted. “You can’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.”

“I look up to [my friend]. She is full of bright ideas, and I admire this. She is an amazing leader and has an adventurous and caring spirit.”

“[My friend] showed me a lot of things that I couldn’t have gotten from anyone else. He showed me my now favorite instrument, the bass guitar. He’s such a caring person. Something I like about him is his plentiful amount of determination. He could always make it work. We’re all rooting for you.”

“[My friend] always stands up for what she believes in. She is a natural leader. Although it is sad to say goodbye, I know we will never forget each other.”

“My favorite thing about [my friend] is his sense of humor, which matches mine. I also admire his smartness. Thank you for being such a great friend to me. Hopefully, we can stay in contact.”

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Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 2.37.13 PMRemarks by one of the six graduating 8th-graders came next. He was challenged more than he thought possible in the last year, he recounted, and was surprised to learn that he enjoyed the creative writing assignments Mrs. Hope gave him.

He feels his creativity, open-mindedness, and intuitiveness have all benefited. He went on to explain what he feels sets TNCS apart.

TNCS prides itself on four core values: Compassion, courage, respect, and service. These are great traits for any student to have, and the teachers and staff put a lot of effort into emphasizing their importance. Perhaps the most impressive feature of TNCS is that it has plenty of both Mandarin and Spanish teachers. The ability to speak the three most spoken languages in the world will be fundamental to ur success. I know this skill set will open many doors for us. Finally, as a parting gift, I’d like to give my fellow graduates a lesson of my own. Until recently, I hadn’t realized the value of hard work. However, I now have purpose and determination to succeed. Congratulations, graduates. I bid you a merry farewell and a great life ahead of you.

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.11.46 PMAdriana DuPrau spoke next. Although she is now TNCS’s Curriculum Coordinator, she also has the distinction of being one of TNCS’s very first teachers and taught some of these 8th-graders when they were in kindergarten and 1st grade—she taught many of them to read! Mrs. DuPrau remarked that it has been a privilege to watch them learn and grow, and she has been with them the whole way in one capacity or another. It was especially moving to hear her remember them as small children “sitting criss-cross applesauce” on her classroom rug, and then describe them now on the brink of the next big step. “Your journey at TNCS may be ending,” she said, “but the journey of your life is just beginning.” She quoted from “Oh, the Places You Can Go” and closed by saying that it was an honor and pleasure to have watched them “blossom into young scholars, scientists, environmentalists, artists, musicians, mathematicians, and authors. You are articulate and thoughtful, she said, “You have strong voices to express yourself and deep insight to think about the world. You have grown as individuals, too, and what it means to be a kind and caring classmate, friend, and world citizen. You have taught me so much.”

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Mrs. DuPrau also thanked parents for entrusting their children’s education to TNCS as well as TNCS teachers for “having great expectations and loving these kids each and every day.”

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Surprise guests spoke next, as former TNCS teachers, recent friends, and a Class of 2019 graduate shared their well wishes with the graduates. 

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“Yours was the very first class I ever taught. In my time at TNCS with you, I knew I met some students who are going to change the world.” –Lindsay Duprey, former TNCS Teacher

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.20.50 PM “I’m so excited for you guys to be moving onto high school. I absolutely loved being your art teacher and to see you grow as artists over the years. Together, we learned about taking chances and sharing ideas. My wish for you is to keep on dreaming and drawing to make this a more just and beautiful world.” –Jenny Miller, former TNCS Art Teacher

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.26.23 PM“I wish you good luck your whole life!” —Sr. Ronnie, driver Costa Rica capstone trip

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.28.00 PM“Hola todos! I am very proud of you, and I wish you the best. I’m so happy I had the chance to see you again when you came to Costa Rica!” –Raquel Álvarez, former TNCS Teacher

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.31.23 PM“You’re about to face a huge turning point in your life—be ready for it!” Zaila, TNCS Class of 2019

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.34.18 PM“I’m extremely proud of all of you, and I’m looking for you to do amazing things in the future.” –Martellies Warren, former TNCS Music Teacher

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At this point in the ceremony, Sra. Duncan gave her Commencement Speech.

This year began like so many others, getting back into the routine of going to school. You met Mrs. Hope and rose to that occasion; there was a flurry of activity, such as Hispanic Heritage Night, preparing for high school, and the Winter Concert that made the fall just fly by. We then added two new community celebrations to the winter calendar with Lunar New Year and Black History Month.

It seems especially poignant to me that both of these events occurred not long before we had to close the campus and move to virtual learning. My last memories of all of us together were celebrations of what makes TNCS a wonderful place. The richness of our cultural diversity, the incredible dedication of our teachers and students, and the way we come together as a community. This has served us well during this time when we are most separated.

I have listened to your teachers talk with admiration about how you have adapted to the virtual learning environment. You have supported each other, taken time to read to primary students, and have looked beyond yourselves to talk about your place in the fight for social justice. Members of the Class of 2020, you embody the spirit of our Core Values, Compassion, Courage, Respect, and Service, through leading school drives or service initiatives that you chose, having thoughtful and profound conversation with Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Danyali during social-emotional learning lessons, and acting as ambassadors for admissions tours and open houses.

Throughout the planning of this ceremony, it was mentioned repeatedly how much we will all miss you. Your thoughtfulness, your ability to speak up, your care for your school community and the world around you are just a tiny portion of what makes you special. My hope for you is that, as you depart TNCS, you will continue to be the outstanding individuals that you have grown to be, that you heed your own advice that you gave to 5th-graders as you move on to high school—be individuals have a plan for your work, avoid the drama, and cherish the time you have. Please remember TNCS, come back to visit us often, and make your indelible mark on this world that you were destined to make.

The TNCS gate is open; it’s time for you to go. It’s your time.

After her moving and heartfelt words, Sra. Duncan thanked everyone who made this event, and the 2019–2020 school year, possible. Just when the audience thought it couldn’t get any better, the final segment of the ceremony brought the house down.

Tribute to the 8th grade was produced by a TNCS 8th-grader, who is also a TNCS original, having been at the school since its inception.

And with that, goodbye 2019–2020 school year—it’s been not just out of the ordinary . . . it has been extraordinary.

Take pride in how far you have come; have faith in how far you can go. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey.

–Nameeta Sharma, quoting Michael Josephson

“There’s a reason I’ve never taught 8th-grade—I have such a hard time saying goodbye to my students after just one year, and I’m definitely realizing it today as I’m saying goodbye to you. You are such an incredible group of students and humans, and I’m privileged to have been your teacher and to have watched you grow academically and socially and emotionally. . . I can’t wait to see how you transform the world and what kind of mark you leave on it.”

–Daphnée Hope

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TNCS Admissions 2020: The Name of the Game is Flexibility, Authenticity, and Patience!

The New Century School welcomed Suzannah Hopkins to take over as Admissions Director for the 2019–2020 school year . . .  and then the pandemic hit. Despite having only a few months under her belt as TNCS Admissions Director before schools were ordered to close down, Ms. Hopkins has managed to continue her work from her dining room table—including, believe it or not, introducing TNCS to new prospective families!

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But it’s certainly not easy. “It has been a challenge to sell the school, especially since we are wearing even more hats. The common saying among Admissions Directors is,” said Ms. Hopkins, “if we can get them on campus, they’re sold. But I can’t do that! That’s the rub for independent schools right now.”

Making Connections

So how does one showcase a school that can’t operate as a brick-and-mortar enterprise? That’s where TNCS Virtual School comes in to help tell the story. “That’s how people see who we are and what we’re all about,” explained Ms. Hopkins. “I also think that pivoting in our social media is allowing me to direct prospective families to our Facebook page and Immersed to show them virtually since we can’t do it in person. I only have a small window to provide a sense of what the school culture is about, so the social media becomes even more important. I am grateful to our team including Karin Cintron, who did not miss a beat pivoting with me to change our social media focus and creating resource pages on our website such as the new Support for Prospective Parents page.” In addition, the entire brochure package is also now on the website as a pdf.

Other aspects of admissions also needed to be adjusted, such as with the process for prospective students themselves:

We can’t do a shadow visit, so with rising 2nd through 8th graders, I’ll do student and parent interviews, separately or together, but definitely making sure I get to talk to the student. For the younger ones, we’re doing parent interviews, but I’ve been encouraging parents to make sure I have a sighting of the child or even just hear him or her in the background to get a sense of the family dynamic. That part is tricky, though, because kids are so different at home than they are at school, so you’re sort of getting their most comfortable self, and sometimes that can be pretty funny.

Ms. Hopkins says she relies a lot on Zoom these days, as do many of us, and values the ability to be able to connect with people, even if it can’t be in person. “I get so excited to get on a Zoom call and see some new faces,” she said. “Families seem to be feeling the same in terms of enjoying talking to somebody new or outside their own households. I start every call with, ‘How are you doing? How’s it going over at your house?’ Everyone wants to know that someone is thinking about them and feeling a sense of connection. Periodically, I’ll see a child enter the scene, and it’s the same on my end. Anything goes, and it’s all good! The mantra for virtual admissions is flexibility, authenticity, and a whole lot of patience.”

Her efforts to make connections are paying off, and prospective families with students of all ages have been reaching out for information. “Amazingly enough, we’ve gotten signed contracts even though the families don’t get to walk through the halls and hear our students and teachers interacting,” she said. In some ways, this is perhaps not so surprising as parents come to terms with realizing that we have to be ready for whatever the fall is going to look like. Schools in Maryland will not reopen this school year, and options may not be as abundant as they once were.

TNCS on the other hand, moved quickly to get up and running virtually, and has now hit a rhythm with it that seems to work for everyone. I give our faculty and administration a lot of credit for that. With so much uncertainty regarding how schools will reopen, I’m so in awe that we are trying to think of every possible scenario. It’s a whole lot of work to do that and figure out these contingencies. How can we split up this room to maintain smaller groups, for example? Do we have preschool on campus and elementary and middle stay virtual for now? Do we implement A and B days? For now, we’re all in the dark and watching the news together.

Virtual Discover TNCS Events

In addition to operating classrooms virtually, TNCS is offering Virtual Admissions Events. The first took place in April, and a second will take place Wednesday, May 20th from 10:00 am–11:00 am.

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“The fact that we’re doing virtual open houses is awesome,” said Ms. Hopkins. “We basically took the in-person event that I did in January and turned it into a Zoom event with updated slides and additions for virtual school. Josh Birenbaum gave the parent perspective, and we had nine prospective families in attendance.” One advantage to doing the event virtually is that people were able to ask questions via chat. One family is now enrolled, and a few others are “in the funnel,” as they say in admissions speak.

This month’s event will take a slightly different format: The first half will be admissions in general, and the second will be about summer camp.

Summer Camp?

Yes, TNCS Virtual Summer Camp will be a thing! TNCS Aftercare and Summer Camp Director Hannah Brown will handle that portion, with support from Paula Kupersanin and Adriana DuPrau, who are helping to create summer curricula. “It’s been a challenge running our aftercare program from home and preparing for summer camp, under uncertain circumstances,” said Ms. Brown. “But, it has been an opportunity for creative problem-solving, and I’m really proud of what the team has come up with so far.” They are currently working on virtual offerings for K through 8th-grade students. “I think that’s where the demand will be this summer. We’re looking at academic enrichment mornings in math and ELA, and then the afternoons will be geared toward social–emotional learning with specialty camps, like art and physical activity.”

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The actual offerings and the final schedule will be available on the TNCS website soon, thanks to the invaluable work by Karin Cintron to get that and registration up and running. “I’m really excited to get the word out to parents,” said Ms. Brown. “We don’t yet have a sense of how many people will register,” she continued.

Right now it’s really a balancing act for families. We want our students to have a high level of readiness for the fall, but what’s especially important to me is for them to have a sense of connectedness this summer and get some social interaction, even if it is remotely. And we really want the experience to be fun, too, whether it’s an academic enrichment or a specialty camp. Every kid’s threshold for how much virtual interaction they can profit from is different. In that spirit, we’re parsing out the day so families can do as much or as little as they need.

What We’re Grateful For

“It’s such a scary time for admissions. The job of an admissions officer is to get students into a school so there are students to teach. Hearing about schools teetering or even having to close is so sad,” said Ms. Hopkins, but she’s not one to end on anything but a positive note. “I’m so grateful that Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner are doing everything they can to make sure we’re thriving. Admissions is challenging, but the fact that we’re still getting interest from families and getting them through the pipeline makes me really happy. People are talking about us, and our name is getting out there.”

Then there’s the fact that the fundamental part of her job is still intact—more or less. “My favorite part of my job is getting to meet families and students, and I don’t get to do that in the same way now. I like to be with people—I like to talk and connect. That’s why I like admissions so much.”

Finally, there’s you, TNCS community. “We have such loyal families who have been really supportive during this time; I think it makes all the difference,” said Ms. Hopkins. “I want to thank our current families, and I also want to thank new families for entrusting their children’s futures to us. I really am so grateful for that.”


Visit Virtual Discover TNCS to register and tell your friends!

TNCS Dean of Students/Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali Presents at AIMS Learning to Lead Conference 2020!

On March 3, 2020, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, Alicia Danyali, the Dean of Students and Head of the Lower School at The New Century School, presented at an important and now exponentially more relevant conference: The Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools (AIMS) annual Learning to Lead event, this one on the theme of “Handle the Pressure: Building Social Media Leadership in Our Students.” The impetus behind the conference was this:

Social media continues to transform the educational landscape in our schools, as well as the emotional development of our students. These young people are being asked to grow up faster, and the implications of their decisions now have grand consequences that can affect their social lives, mental health, academic performance and, in some cases, college matriculation and career path. Never before have our young people been faced with such pressure to be perfect … in every way.

Now, with shelter-at-home orders in place across the state, many students are spending even more time online to varying degrees, whether it’s for entertainment or educational purposes. TNCS students, for example, are attending virtual classrooms, which is a wonderful thing (read all about it here). But this often dramatic increase in screen time has some parents wondering, “Are my children practicing safe online habits? What is their level of social media literacy?”

The Social Institute

The 2020 conference was hosted by the Severn School in Severna Park, with Laura Tierney as the keynote speaker. Ms. Tierney founded  The Social Institute, whose mission is to “. . . empower 1 million students nationwide to navigate social media and technology in positive, healthy, and high character ways. As a team of digital natives, we bridge the digital divide between students and adults by offering schools a comprehensive, student-led curriculum and presentations that students respect and embrace.” The Social Institute is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of social media, Ms. Tierney “has created a dynamic curriculum that inspires leadership and reinforces smart-decision making through a positive, growth mindset.

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“The audience was about 80% middle and high schoolers, and our focus was to give them tools to be school leaders,” said Ms. Danyali.

Self-Care, Self-Discipline, and Self-Reflection: Three Principles to Guide Your Online Presence

“Ms. Tierney and her group basically talk to students about healthy relationships and what character means as well as how that translates into their everyday lives,” explained Ms. Danyali. Three concepts she focuses on are self-care, self-discipline, and self-reflection. “She emphasizes that how they present themselves on social media can affect them long term, such as when it’s time to apply for college or get a job. Regarding attitude in general, how do you send positive messaging? How do you still remain friends with people that you don’t agree with on social media? All of those things that they’re going to face challenges with.”

After the keynote presentation, the audience broke out into four groups to workshop some of these concepts related to social media. They were given a quiz about their habits and privacy, which Ms. Danyali hopes to replicate for TNCS 7th- and 8th-graders to help them investigate, for example, what their habits are and what habits they might be looking to change, what has benefited them or improved their lifestyle.

WE Schools

One of the benefits of attending a conference like this is networking. During one of the breakout sessions, Ms. Danyali describes connecting with a representative of WESchools, “an innovative series of experiential service-learning programs that engage educators and youth globally to empower them with the skills, knowledge, and motivation to bring positive change in themselves and the world.” Sound like something Ms. Danyali would be interested in? In fact, she plans to partner with them in the near future, possibly for extracurricular activities.

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“Generation Z and How to Forge Accountability”

Ms. Danyali, who has been teaching TNCS elementary and middle school students about social media literacy for years, was an ideal presenter—one of only two, in fact. Her talk was titled “Generation Z and How to Forge Accountability.” Although she has spoken on this topic before, this time, she says, she approached it a bit differently. “I started out asking whether anybody was able to cultivate accountability from somebody else, whether it was a personal or professional relationship. How did that play out?” She got a lot of response, and students shared their school social and emotional learning experiences. She explains, “Where I was going with this is, most of these independent schools, including TNCS, use four or five words to describe what they hold as their Core Values—but how do you actually cultivate those and how do you hold the community accountable for upholding them? How are they represented in your school in a way that contributes to people taking responsibility for their actions?”

For example, one of TNCS’s core values is Service. Ms. Danyali recounts how Ms. Lee’s 2nd- /3rd-grade class assembled hygiene kits to donate to the Baltimore Rescue Mission, an authentic and worthwhile service initiative. But they took it a step further and shared their experience of why they undertook the project and why it was important with the much-younger students in Ms. Mosby’s primary classroom to help establish this concept with them, so they can build on it meaningfully as they grow. That’s how TNCS brings it full circle. “But some educators confessed that they never talk about the actual words,” said Ms. Danyali, “and I think they now see why they should perhaps start doing so, such as by relating the values back to books the students are reading. It can be that simple.”

In some schools, such as the Park School, social and emotional learning even becomes part of the student’s assessment. Although it’s certainly subjective to evaluate someone’s degree of, for example, empathy, Ms. Danyali says that’s how you not only “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk.”

“I wanted my talk to open the door for more conversation, which is how I presented it,” said Ms. Danyali. “This is just planting a seed that maybe resonates with you as relevant or so that you can pick the conversation back up in your school house with your colleagues or with your family at home. I want the conversation to be ongoing.”

Speaking of ongoing, Ms. Danyali will bring many of the valuable insights she gained by attending and presenting at the conference home to inform new initiatives for TNCS students. One example is the One Love foundation, which also focuses on healthy relationships. She wrote 20 words on a chalkboard and asked members of the TNCS 3rd and 4th grades to circle which ones signified a healthy relationship. “We talked about the words,” she said, “but what was striking is that they were able to do it without picking any of the wrong ones.” After this “test drive” of One Love, she will undertake some of these initiatives with the older students as well.

To bring all the various threads in this post back together, in this time of increased socializing via screens, let’s make sure we—and our kids—are being who we want to be, both in real life and on social media.

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TNCS 7th- and 8th-Grade Capstone Trip: Costa Rica!

For the first time in several weeks, Immersed is pleased to bring you a post about something that starts with C-O that is not COVID-19! This week, we return to the halcyon pre-pandemic days when things we used to take for granted, like travel, happened all the time. For 7th- and 8th-grade students at The New Century School, this meant their capstone middle school trip to Costa Rica.

In the nick of time, TNCS students accompanied by homeroom teacher Daphnée Hope and Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau (who chaperoned the first such trip in 2019), departed Baltimore on March 3rd, destination, San José. The trip was a success from the moment it started—even the flight over was fun! “For example, the flight attendants asked one of the students to come up and share what our school name is and what we were doing,” said Mrs. DuPrau. They returned home on March 8th.

Getting Acclimated

On arrival in San José, they met their wonderful driver, Ronald (whom the students affectionately renamed “Ronnie” and then “Uncle Ronnie”). Uncle Ronnie drove them to their first house just outside of San José in the mountainous Cloud Forest region. “We went in first to see how we wanted to set up the kids—two to a room in bunks, boys with boys and girls with girls,” explained Mrs. DuPrau. “Our first house was really nice,” said Mrs. Hope. “It had a big, beautiful yard and dogs, so the kids loved playing outside. They would play tag, play with the dogs, go on a little hike. There wasn’t a TV in the first house, which meant that we were really together. We also took away their phones; they were only allowed to have them to call their parents. This was so the kids actually hung out with each other without that technology barrier. [Mrs. DuPrau] had learned that from prior experience,” she continued.

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“Our landlord was so helpful and really wanted to find ways to make it a learning experience for the students, even arranging for us to have a Costa Rican cooking lesson!” said Mrs. DuPrau. “Cooking is one of our funniest memories, and the students still talk about it,” added Mrs Hope.

Legend of the Psycho Sauce

—As recounted by Mrs. Hope with asides from Mrs. DuPrau.

The experience of our first grocery store was pretty awful. I’m a really good cook when I have the right ingredients, but our driver misunderstood when we said we needed groceries but didn’t want to spend a lot of money and took us to a budget store that didn’t have what we expected. We had been traveling since 2:00 a.m., the kids were hungry, and it’s already evening. So, we decide we’ll just make something simple—how about pasta? Well, they didn’t have normal pasta sauce—just little tiny packets of tomato sauce and salsa. Everything’s in Spanish, we were confused, we couldn’t find fresh produce, we’ve never fed 13 people before . . . (that was the hardest part). I find a carrot and what I think is spinach (it wasn’t—I still don’t know what it was) to throw in the sauce because I’m thinking the kids probably need some vegetables. Then, we realized at home we don’t have enough tomato sauce. So, we add in some salsa. It was just disgusting and way too spicy. The kids thought it was so funny—they call it the ‘psycho sauce’.

After tasting it, some students decided they weren’t actually hungry. Others got really silly and blamed it on the psycho sauce. We were all deliriously laughing.

One night we did make really good tacos. We explained to Uncle Ronnie that we needed a different store.

Saint Gregory School Visit

88129714_10157336338973983_479570348849758208_nOnce they were all settled in to their new digs and (somewhat?) well fed, the group trundled off to their first big adventure—a visit to Saint Gregory, former TNCS teacher Raquel Álvarez’s current school. Sra. Álvarez and her husband Robert are well known to the TNCS community, and Sra. Álvarez and Mrs. DuPrau taught together in the very beginning of TNCS, Sra. Álvarez teaching a preprimary Spanish immersion homeroom as well as Spanish to the kindergarteners, and Mrs. DuPrau teaching kindergarten homeroom. As a side note, some of the graduating middle schoolers on this trip were taught by those two as little ‘uns, so, it was really like one big happy family reunion! The Álvarezes also helped plan the trip and activities, being locals! They also know Uncle Ronnie very well—he is a cousin of Sr. Álvarez!

Via Facebook chat, Sra. Álvarez described the experience from her perspective:

When I returned home after leaving TNCS, I always had the dream of having students from Baltimore come to visit my country. In March, my 3rd-grade class was extremely excited to welcome Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Hope and their students to our school. Some of the students were even mine, when I taught at TNCS. It was a wonderful experience for our students from different grades to interact socially with TNCS students and playing soccer and basketball together. However, for me, the best part was watching the kids carry out conversations. We highly enjoyed having a piece of TNCS here in Costa Rica, and we look forward to having more opportunities like that in the future. Pura Vida!

The group’s visit to Saint Gregory’s was designed as both a service-learning activity and to get an idea of what education in Costa Rica is like. The school itself is a private English immersion school with a student body starting with preschool and going all the way through high school. “They were really thankful for us to be there and to speak English with them,” explained Mrs. DuPrau. “We separated the TNCS kids into groups of three or four, and some sat in with elementary classes and some in upper elementary. We also worked on organizing the library, which the principal was so excited about as well as about our visit in general.” Mrs. Hope agreed: “They loved it—the kids there loved it, and our kids loved it. They got to just sit and chat together.” They also had lunch altogether and played sports games at recess. “Our 8th-graders were completely schooled by their 4th-grade boys in soccer,” laughed Mrs. DuPrau.

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“Now that they know us, they want us to come back. Next time we could help more with their library, for example, by everybody bring two favorite books to add to it,” said Mrs. DuPrau. “We came in with good intentions,” agreed Mrs. Hope, “but next time we’d like to do more.”

Nature, Here We Come!

After the school visit, Uncle Ronnie drove to them to their second house by Esterillos beach. “This was a really big house with a beautiful backyard and a pool,” said Mrs. Hope. “The kids swam every morning and every night. Being so near the beach was really fun, and the kids especially loved the pool,” she said. Mrs. DuPrau agreed:

We let them swim each morning because they would always be ready to go when we asked, no matter how early. They were very cooperative and had very good attitudes. We set some rules in the beginning, for instance, they had to stay in their rooms until at least 6:30 am (a few of our friends had shared that they are early risers). When they did come out, they were so respectful and quiet. Mrs. Hope and I would wake up and find a few of them just hanging out. We also asked the kids to clean up after themselves as well as help clean the kitchen in small group rotations.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The next day they visited La Paz Waterfall Gardens, where they were inches away from some adorable sloths. “We got to see all of the beautiful plants and the flowers—Costa Rica is so lush and green. We also saw lots of other animals, like jaguars,” said Mrs. DuPrau.

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The next day was their “day off.” “We went tourist shopping, had a typical Costa Rican lunch (rice, beans, meat, plantains), and then headed to the beach for about an hour, but the kids wanted to get back to the pool,” explained Mrs. Hope.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Next up: an amazing tour of Manuel Antonio National Park. “The beach was absolutely incredible. It was like kind of like an inlet, so there were no big waves or undercurrent, and the water was so warm and clear. We spent our whole last day just relaxing there,” said Mrs. Hope.

Reflections on the Trip

With this trip becoming an annual event for TNCS middle schoolers, Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Hope are finding ways to refine it and make it better each time.

Mrs. DuPrau’s Takeaways

Something I’ve learned is that I tend to overbook. I did this with Puerto Rico and maybe here again in Costa Rica. Middle schoolers do need time to chill, as they kept telling me. We did a lot with nature, which the kids would maybe prefer less of because they really just wanted to hang out at the pool! They did use their Spanish a lot, which is important. I really want to go back to Costa Rica on future capstone trips.

Our saving grace for the trip was having our own personal chauffeur. He took us to great restaurants we never would have been able to find on our own. He always connected me to wi-fi in his car, so that anytime parents sent me a message or a question, I was always able to respond quickly.

Both of our houses ended up working really well space-wise. And the kids could not have been better behaved. Mrs. Hope and I still talk about that. Nobody got in trouble; we never had to call parents. It was really nice. We really get to know a lot of the kids in a different way.

I wanted them to have a new experience—to enjoy being teenagers away from their parents and showing that they could be independent and responsible. I wanted them to get to be happy for a week straight and hang out with their friends. They have such a small cohort, and I just loved seeing them love each other so much and getting to have so much fun.

IMG_7503-M.jpgMrs. Hope’s Takeaways

In the second house, our bedroom was on the first floor, and so was the boys’ bedroom—they were all in one big room. We couldn’t believe how quiet they were being, even all together like that. Then, on the last day, we realized it was because our bedroom door was soundproof. We happened to open it at one point and discovered how loud it actually was out there!

Maybe we should rebrand this capstone trip as less of a service trip, because nobody wants middle schoolers as volunteers, just high school age and up. We’ve learned what works, what doesn’t. We’ll do some service, but I also want to make it fun.

This cohort was like one big family the whole time. Everybody got along from the moment we met at the school at 2:00 in the morning to getting dropped off to their parents at 2:00 in the morning a week later. Everybody was a big fan. They were so supportive of each other, especially with the zip lining. They were each other’s biggest cheerleaders. They all got along really, really well. I feel like this trip really unified them afterward; they have been even more vulnerable and open and honest with each other since then. It’s really neat to see that.

I feel like the best activity we had was the zip line because it got everybody out of their comfort zone. But for me what was most important was the kids just having fun, getting to experience a new culture, and introducing them to the idea that it’s a big world. It was really neat to watch them open their eyes to it.

“My favorite activity was zip lining on the Superman course!”

Student Takeaways

The students’ reflections are quite touching and will also help inform the planning of future trips. Note that many of their quotes have also been interspersed with photos as captions throughout this post.

The pool was where we got to hang out as as real, real good friends and not just as classmates.

What stuck with me was how similar Costa Rica’s landscape and architecture is to Indonesia, my mother’s birth country. There was a volcano near us.

I got a lot closer to the class. That was definitely one of the biggest things.

I wasn’t that close with everyone in my class, and I bonded more with them during the trip. It was nice. I want to stay in touch with them after we go to our separate high schools.

It was good practice speaking Spanish. We have been learning it for so long—it was fun to use it.

I enjoyed getting to see another country and especially being able to do it with my classmates.

I left feeling like a different person and realizing that I can just be myself. I grew a lot by being around so many other people who were kind and wanted to be good friends.

I’m a big beachgoer so I really liked Manuel Antonio beach, with the clear water and being able to see the rocks and coral underneath. I’ve been to a lot of beaches, but this one was pretty special. It was also memorable because one of the other guys was pretending there was a poisonous vulture in the water. It was rather amusing. Squawk!

I would say that I grew some because I got somewhat more confident, like from the zip lining and being 130 feet in the air. My friendships were also strengthened.

It was my first time going out of the states, so I was pretty jittery, but Costa Rica was nice because it was a new feel of things and a new place to see and explore. The climate was so different. In Baltimore, the weather is just all-around crazy. But, in Costa Rica, it’s always sunny and hot—it’s a good climate to hang out in. I also liked learning about a new currency, the colón (plural, colones).

I grew a lot socially, because I didn’t really use to like talking to people. I realized that once you get to know them, they’re usually pretty cool. I also liked practicing Spanish with Uncle Ronnie.


This post would not be complete without a huuuuuge thank-you to TNCS parent Damian Mosely, who so generously hosted two Blacksauce Kitchen (his restaurant) breakfast biscuit sales at TNCS and donated all of the proceeds to the middle schoolers. Their trip would not have happened without his incredible support.

A Spring Break Message to Thank You, TNCS!

A very different Spring Break starts next week amid the shutdown, but students at The New Century School already have 3 full weeks of TNCS Virtual School under their belts and can sit back and enjoy their well-earned time off from academics.

Before they do so, though, students across several divisions—yes, even the preschoolers—took a moment to express their gratitude for all the hard work, forward thinking, and can-do attitudes that went into keeping them productively occupied and maintaining their educational momentum throughout this period of massive adjustment to our new way of life.

These thank-you messages (progressing roughly by division) go out to you, TNCS teachers, staff, faculty, administration, and founders.

And don’t forget these beautiful handmade thank-you paintings and drawings!


Not only has TNCS made all of this possible, but they continue to innovate ways to engage students. Even during Spring Break, TNCS is hosting virtual activities. Staff and assistants are running daily interactive sessions in each grade (pre-primary through 8th) that you can log on to Google classrooms each morning to explore.

There is also a K–8 reading challenge for students to log minutes spent reading (either reading or being read to). The homeroom class with the most time logged gets a prize (TBA), and the top three individual students no matter what homeroom will receive ice cream for their immediate families.

Finally, parents can use some of their volunteer hours, to lead “hangout activities” for their child’s class. Examples include making paper aircraft or painting on cardboard.

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