TNCS Welcomes Shara Khon Duncan as Head of School!

As The New Century School continues to grow and develop, day-to-day operations and school supervision have also become increasingly complex. For this reason, TNCS school Co-Founders/Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner, along with current Head of School Alicia Danyali, decided it was time to expand the administrative structure. Starting this summer, Baltimore native daughter Shara Khon Duncan will become year-round Head of School, while Mrs. Danyali will be Head of the Lower School as well as schoolwide Dean of Students. This framework will increase operational efficiency, while allowing both Heads of School to fully engage in their respective roles as not just administrators, but also what they are at heart—deeply committed educators.

tncs-garden-tuck-shop-refreshmentsOn May 3rd, TNCS hosted a Meet & Greet with Mrs. Duncan (“Shara Khon” to parents) to give attendees the chance to meet her in person and snack on coffee and refreshments provided by the Garden Tuck Shop. Immersed subsequently interviewed Mrs. Duncan to give those unable to attend the Meet & Greet an opportunity to get to know her as well.

As you’ll see, she is an eloquent, thoughtful speaker, with a warm, engaging manner.

Meet TNCS’s New Head of School!

Immersed: How did you become the TNCS Head of the School?

Shara Khon: I was drawn to TNCS’s unique distinction of having such a valued foreign language program, unlike any other that I’ve seen, where students learn two foreign languages. And music and art is such an integral part of the program as well. As a teacher of Spanish, my subject has always been a special or an extra, but, here, the specials rule. That really drew me, because things that are often seen as extras are really seen where they should be here—as an invaluable part of a child’s education. They are part of how a child as a whole should be seen and just as important as what are now  known as the “core subjects.” They all fit together to help educate a child.

Other aspects that drew me to TNCS are the project-based learning and how instruction is differentiated for students, which is just amazing. To be able to do that, where it’s not just rote learning, and providing the opportunity for students to learn through doing is just fantastic. I’m really excited to be a part of that.

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Immersed: Can you explain a little about your history with Spanish and why you became a Spanish teacher?

Shara Khon: When I was a child, my mom exposed me to a lot of languages. She thought language was important and would learn as much as she could—and this was before the Internet and YouTube. Spanish, Swahili, French, Hebrew—whatever she could find, she would try to learn it and take the time to help me learn as well. So, the love of language started for me at a very young age.

I then took German from 2nd grade through 12th grade and continued it in college at Dartmouth. I added Spanish in 9th grade because I thought it was an important language to have; I could see that it was a growing language in the United States. When I got to college, I majored in Spanish, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time living in different places. I studied in Mexico, for example, and I lived in Turkey for a summer via American Field Service (AFS) when I was in high school, which was wonderful. That gave me my first bug of spending some time living with people and getting to know other cultures, which is really important to me. I don’t like to travel as just a tourist; I’d rather spend time with people and get to know them. I can be a tourist here. I’d rather go and learn about the people.

Immersed: What made you decide on Turkey as a destination?

Shara Khon: Interestingly, you don’t usually get to pick. I actually wound up originally with Sri Lanka, but the day that I found that out, the Sri Lankan Civil War started. So, AFS pulled everyone out and gave us a choice between Greece and Turkey. I figured I would probably go to Greece anyway one day, so I chose Turkey in order not to miss that opportunity. That’s the kind of person I am: I like to choose the road less traveled. And I just loved it. It’s wonderful. I’m still in contact with my Turkish family, and my youngest sister is named after my Turkish sister. We all have a very special bond. These kinds of things are what are important to me—spending time with other people in their cultures and learning their languages are really key to me.

Immersed: How many languages do you speak?

Shara Khon: Not a lot anymore. I speak primarily Spanish now, although I used to speak German as well. Now I understand German better than I can speak it. Likewise, I now understand written Hebrew better than I can speak it. But, if you drop me somewhere, I can pick it back up. I can fight my way out, but you lose it if you don’t use it.

Immersed: It sounds like a lot of your passion for language and culture originated with your mother. What do you think it is about languages that had such a draw for her?

Shara Khon: She wanted to learn Spanish because of “I Love Lucy.” She wanted to know what Ricky was saying—at least that’s what she told me. She has a wonderful sense of humor. But she’s always been one to love other cultures. Take my name, for example. She loved Rudyard Kipling books, so I’m named after Shere Khan, the tiger from The Jungle Book. My mom was always one to try different things and explore other cultures. She would make kimchi when I was a kid, for instance. It was amazing.

Another example is that most of my friends at the time were Jewish and went to Hebrew school, and I wanted to enroll in Hebrew school. My grandfather was a baptist minister and took me to a local synagogue to try to get me into Hebrew school. It would have meant converting to Judaism, but my grandfather the black Baptist minister was going to try to make it happen for me if I wanted to do it. It’s amazing how much they valued language for me. It all worked out in the end, because my mom was a police officer and worked at the training academy with someone who spoke Hebrew, and he would teach me here and there. I did more of it in college. I was the only person like me in the Hebrew class in college. In fact, I think I was actually the only non-Jewish person in that class. I just love learning languages and about cultures.

Immersed: Where did your career take you after graduating from Dartmouth?

Shara Khon: When I graduated, the first Gulf War was underway, and corporate recruiting just wasn’t happening. I had always wanted to teach, but I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford it, having graduated with a lot of student loan debt. However, since there was no corporate recruiting, I figured I would teach for a bit and wound up teaching for 7 years. I first taught for 1 year at Purnell School, which was a boarding school in New Jersey for girls and a great place to start my teaching career. It was dedicated to students with learning issues, so I learned how to teach to different learning styles and how to celebrate everything about a student, not just her academics. Particularly because it was a boarding school, you could see other things about a student that weren’t just in the classroom. That was something wonderful, so I tried to keep that as a piece of my teaching—trying to find things that a student loves and really try to hold that up and remind them that class isn’t everything, to remind them that ‘yes, you are really special and wonderful.’ I then returned to Baltimore and taught at Bryn Mawr for 6 years.

At 30, I decided to go into the corporate world because I wanted to see what it was like. I don’t like to live with regrets, and I didn’t want to turn around one day and say, ‘why didn’t I try?’ So, I worked at Legg Mason for the next 5 years. I started off as an office manager, then did some marketing and investor relations specialists kinds of things with their private equity group. It was a lot of long hours and a lot of work, but it was a great experience, and I’m glad I took the opportunity to do it. But, I’m also glad that’s not the path I took. I needed to spend more time with my very young children, Mary and Marina.

So I stayed home for a year and got very involved in their lives and wound up teaching at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, where they attended. The principal at the time had been trying to get me to teach there for years because I taught her daughter at Bryn Mawr and talked me into first just helping out as a parent. I thought, ‘they’re little, they’re scary, they cry, I don’t want to do that,’ and wound up loving teaching elementary and being with elementary kids. I was an assistant in a kindergarten classroom for a couple of years and loved it. I later taught middle school Spanish there.

When my youngest moved over to private school in 4th grade, I went back to private school because it didn’t make sense to be the only one on a public school schedule. So I switched to Calvert, and I’ve been there since.

Immersed: What do you think made you love teaching elementary so much?

Shara Khon: First and foremost, the students are always happy to see you. How can you have a bad day when people are happy to see you when you come to school? And then, no day is ever the same, ever—you never know what they’re going to say or do. They keep it interesting. And when they make a connection, it is amazing—you can almost see the spark happen. They absorb everything, and one of the things that I’ve loved about teaching them Spanish is that almost everything I’ve thrown at them, they’ve done with no problem. And it’s all them. It’s not me. These kids have such a capacity to learn. If you give them the right environment, and you water them, they grow.

Immersed: Let’s now talk about what you’re going to do here at TNCS. How do you characterize your role as Head of School, your understanding of it?

Shara Khon: This summer I plan to take a look at some behind-the-scenes operations to help us run a little bit more smoothly, like solidifying staff roles, getting some more systems in place, prepping for teacher professional development to start the year off right, and taking a look at our curriculum vertically. I want to look at each one of our subjects and how they flow and connect from grade to grade going up. That process will continue throughout the year, but this summer I’ll be seeing where we stand right now and start getting the map and process set, so that when the teachers come back in the fall they can have input into how we proceed. They are the ones doing the teaching, so they need to a have a say in processes.

The next big thing will be our 8th grade. We will be working out that process of getting them in high school, so there are things that I will get started this summer toward that end, like finding out what they need to do and who needs to do it and getting that down. I’m very much a person who likes to have all procedures clearly outlined, and I really want to make sure we have a good handle on how that operates.

Immersed: Do you think that all of your experience at other jobs informs your organizational abilities?

Shara Khon: I see a lot of spreadsheets in my future. There are a lot of things from Legg Mason that will definitely help me with that. There are a lot of things from managing people there and doing some management with my team at Calvert that will help as well.

Immersed: I think a question that a lot of parents may have is, how will yours and Alicia’s roles work together?

Shara Khon: I think that’s a good question, and some of it will probably evolve over time. Alicia is going to be the Head of Preprimary and Dean of Students, and I’m Head of School, mainly K–8. I’m sure there will be some overlap in roles, but usually a Dean of Students handles any issues with students that come up. I think her restorative practice work will be a major part of her Deanship. I also imagine a large piece of it will be community outreach.

We’ll be feeling our way along as we go, but at this point we feel good that we are going be able to work together well. Our shared goal overall is to make sure that TNCS is the best school that it can be, so whatever we can do to work together to make that happen, that’s what we’re going to do.

Immersed: To wrap up, is there anything else you want parents to know?

Shara Khon: For me, the children are our primary objective, and what we need to do to help them achieve their goals is to work together as productively as possible. I firmly believe that as parents, teachers, and staff, we all need to do the best that we can to all work together to help our kids. Making that relationship as productive and communicative as it can be is really important. Sometimes those communications can be tough on either end, but it’s really important that we keep the lines of communication open and be ready to listen as well as to share information. The more we know, the better we can help students. The more we can share, the better we can help students.

tncs-new-head-of-schoolI really want to hear from parents over the summer. I will be here starting June 18th, so if you are around and want to pop by, definitely let me know by email or calling. I am interested to hear what your thoughts are about the school. I may not always agree, but I do like to listen and gather as much information as possible before making decisions. I also consider all aspects as much as possible. I don’t like to have just one opinion, and I’m not looking for people to always simply agree with me. I’m also pretty straightforward, and I don’t mince words, so you don’t have to worry about trying to figure me out. What you see is what you get.


#SpecialsRule #RoadLessTraveled

Internet Safety Assembly at TNCS

The New Century School takes the health and safety of every member of its community very seriously.

As part of an ongoing Quarter 4 Health and Safety unit for upper elementary and middle school students, TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali hosted a special assembly on May 2nd to talk about safe practices to use while online. “This week we are starting to look at different topics related to all the tools you need as students as you continue to develop and grow,” she explained. As is becoming more and more evident, the risks of unsafe cyber practices include identity theft and various forms of exploitation, among others. Teaching children how to safeguard themselves in the digital realm is therefore critical.

Building Cyber Awareness

To start off the discussion, Mrs. Danyali asked students to fill out a questionnaire about their Internet and computer use: “This is not going to be shared with anyone else, but it’s very important we have this conversation. If you don’t know how to answer something, skip that question. Try to answer honestly, and remember that there are no right or wrong answers here. Also, do not put your names on this survey; we are keeping this anonymous.”

The survey came from the Institute for Responsible Online and Cellphone Communication, known more familiarly as IROC2.org. This organization’s mission is to “. . . [communicate] a necessary Digital Consciousness™ that serves as the foundation for a uniform and proactive solution to any digital issue. The Institute is an ambassador to Digital Enlightenment™, and desires to construct a global digital community free of negative and sometimes irreversible consequences resulting from poor digital judgment.”

tncs-internet-safetyThe survey is quantitative, with a lower score correlating to less risky online behavior and practices. Mrs. Danyali explained the scoring system, and students tallied their results.

As you become more dependent on digital technology—you probably can’t avoid it, neither for personal nor for school life—we need to learn about digital safety and being consciously aware of what that means. It is probably unrealistic for any one of us to maintain a score of 0 our whole lives, but if you fell into the category of 0–30, you are using your digital tools and technology responsibly.

She then gently explained that a higher score might indicate a need to be more conscious of online behavior. “We’ll continue to talk about what all this means, but everyone should make sure you are changing your passwords regularly and that you are only visiting websites your parents have approved.”

The group then talked about the concept of a digital footprint with students defining that as what other people can see of their online presence. Mrs. Danyali then closed the discussion by reiterating her basic message: “This is a very important life skill. We can’t get away from technology, but we can choose to use it responsibly at school and at home. This conservation we’re starting is about how to manage technology and make conscientious choices. We’re talking about healthy habits so you stay safe. We’re here to learn and support each other.”

How Can You Get in on the Discussion?

If you would like to see the questionnaire in its entirety and/or assess your own cyber risk, visit: http://www.iroc2.org/CyberSafetyRiskAssessment.html.

It’s a good idea to revisit these topics at home with your children. For one thing, you’ll want to understand what their online habits are and explain any needed adjustments. Secondly, these topics are complex, and some students may not have completely understood what they were being asked. In order to respect students’ privacy, the discussion and Q&A held at TNCS was general in nature—again, everything was kept completely anonymous. Addressing individual questions, however, can and should be done safely at home.

For a free 28-page Digital Guide for parents in pdf form to help jumpstart the conversation, click here: https://www.iroc2.org/149.html.

TNCS Elementary and Middle School Students Visit AVAM!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Mystery Show

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

Planetary Pendants

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

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

More Great AVAM Offerings

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

Writer in Residence Joins TNCS: Meet Ilia Madrazo!

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

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

About Ilia Madrazo

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

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

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

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

Writing Program at TNCS

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

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

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

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

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

TNCS Students Save the World!

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

Teaching Children the Work of Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tncs-world-peace-game

Playing the Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

World Peace Is in Their Hands

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

TNCS Elementary and Middle School Information Night 2017

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TNCS’s Inaugural Student Awards Ceremony!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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