A month into the new school year, The New Century School is adapting and adjusting to the vagaries inherent in having school during a pandemic. As always, TNCS tries to make the most of the opportunity such adjustments may offer. One such change came when TNCS K–8th-grade Spanish teacher Fabiola Sanzana temporarily returned to her native Chile over the summer. And, since we’re smack in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, now seems like the ideal moment to feature Laura Noletto, who took the helm in Sra. Sanzana’s absence.
A Cool New Role
“Sra Lala,” as she is lovingly known throughout campus, has been with TNCS for several years, until now as a Lead Teacher in one of the Spanish Immersion preprimary classrooms. After some reshuffling of classrooms, Sra. Lala found herself in a brand-new role. “For me it’s the perfect time to learn something new,” she explained, “because with the pandemic, anyone can change careers. Nobody knows exactly how the world is going to work, so it’s a good time to switch gears and to learn different things.”
Even so, in the face of such a big transition, some would be easily daunted. Sra. Lala, however, finds comfort in the challenge.
I think because we are all in this together, I have felt very supported. In a way, we are all learning platforms to teach online, we’re learning from the kids, we’re learning from one another, so I feel less intimidated. I feel somewhat nervous, but that’s good because it prompts me to make the best effort. I’m not in this alone, so I took the chance. I’m also not a new face to the kids, and that has helped. This is my 4th year in this community, and I feel very much embraced and taken care of, so that also helps with the challenge.
It’s also not her first big career transition. Back in Venezuela, where she’s from, she taught middle schoolers and even college students. At TNCS, she swung to the other end of the age spectrum and taught 2-year-olds.
Now that she’s teaching K–8, she is finding new kinds of challenges such as adapting the Spanish curriculum to be age appropriate and to meet the needs of every TNCS student without leaving anybody behind. Some students are bilingual and who can already read fluently; others are just beginners, and beginners in just about every division. “So the challenge for a Spanish teacher,” she says, “is don’t leave anybody behind but challenge those who are already advanced.”
Another laudable challenge she has taken on is to help “make Spanish look cool.”
I think that the more the pre-teens and teenagers hear Spanish daily, they’ll loosen up and lose some of their self-consciousness. I want to be the role model they get inspired by. They even reply to me in Spanish sometimes. So, at that age of coolness, I am trying to be as cool as possible to make Spanish look cool, which is one of my main goals. Another is to be a good example of the culture and get them to open up their hearts and minds to the language.
In order to “meet them at their level so they can feel challenged and keep learning,” she has been conducting ongoing individual assessment in an informal way. She might say a letter, for example, and ask her students to write Spanish words that start with it in the Zoom chat. Other assessment activities she uses include games, conversations, hearing a story in Spanish and then describing it, and spelling contests.”The sum is that the older kids are very much more advanced than I expected, and now I just have to adapt the curriculum to their needs. I’m very excited about this!”
The Art of Teaching Spanish
If you know anything about Sra. Lala, you know she loves art, and she incorporates it regularly into her teaching.
I’m working with a methodology designed by the director of education at MoMA called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) that you use works of art to develop critical thinking and observational and conversational skills. For example, to assess their color vocabulary, I asked them to do a colorful work of art and name them in Spanish.
I use art as a tool of teaching Spanish. If your hands are doing an oil pastel or a water color, or you’re doing print making or an art workshop, of it’s easier to learn Spanish art vocabulary. Visual images and art processes are important in the curriculum and also Latin American and Spanish culture, such as carefully chosen authors representative of each country. And, of course, geography and music. Music is so important for Latin Americans, for everybody, but music is very rich in the South American region, so I definitely try to follow in the footsteps of Sra. Sanzana in incorporating rhythm, salsa, meringue, etc.
You mentioned spanish heritage, will there be any kind of spanish heritage night?
Sra. Lala is enthusiastic about how the 2020–2021 school year is progressing so far.
Oh I love it. I love it. I feel more challenged as an educator. I love it because I love early childhood education, but that was like baby therapy for me. I was feeling all the love of the little ones, and I was feeling secure with my little classroom, but now I feel this is very much a step forward, and I’m excited. I have to prepare more because it’s my first year doing this with these students, so there’s this novelty of creating and creating.
She wants parents to feel free to contact her with any concerns or questions but is confident that the year will be a great one for her and her students. “We are all transitioning to a new era of education together, and I feel very proud and honored that TNCS trusts me as the Spanish teacher. Every day, I’m going to do the best I can to keep it up. Sra. Sanzana is a great teacher, so I’m talking to her a lot, and she is helping me.”
How cool is that?
Note: We don’t yet know what an Hispanic Heritage Night (Noche de la Herencia Hispana) will look like this year, but we can at least look back on previous years events and cantar y bailar con alegría!
A brand-new school year brings changes, including welcoming new members to The New Century School community. It’s no exaggeration to say that this year brought more changes than normal, but it’s also true that TNCS has made sure these changes are the good kind.
Enter Robert Brosius, who teaches English Language Arts (ELA) and Global Studies to 3rd- and 4th-graders and Science to 3rd- through 8th-graders.
Meet Rob Brosius!
Mr. Brosius hails from Queens in New York City, from a storied neighborhood called Middle Village, which he describes as originally being built on a swamp that was later drained and turned into park areas. He came to Baltimore in 2008 to attend Loyola University then moved here permanently in 2012 after graduation. “I enjoy being in Baltimore more than being in New York,” he says. “Although New York has its flair and chaos, Baltimore allows me to slow down and process what’s going on around me. It’s a more community-oriented town.”
At Loyola, Mr. Brosius studied Biology and was a pre-med student for a while (he changed course a bit to go into more of the research side of things). He also minored in Chemistry as well as Italian Studies. This “Renaissance Man” is, in fact, half Italian (and German) and spent 4 months living in Rome in a Study Abroad program. He says his reason for pursuing this experience was to connect with his family roots and—of course—the food. “Who can argue with basil and tomato sauce?” he joked.
Road to Teaching
“My path to becoming an educator was interesting to say the least,” said Mr. Brosius. His first experience was at Loyola helping to set up and stock the teaching labs there and supervising and advising 15 work/study students. (He also liked taking care of the lab plants and animals.)
He then worked at TALMAR Horticultural Therapy Center, with TALMAR being an acronym for Therapeutic Alternatives Maryland. Their mission is to “. . . offer an innovative, therapeutic environment in which to provide work skills development, and vocational, educational and recreational programming in horticulture and agriculture.” Mr. Brosius explains that grant-funded TALMAR started out as primarily a greenhouse-oriented florist and then got more into horticultural therapy over the years. He taught farming techniques to high-schoolers and college students but was primarily involved in managing vegetable, flower, and egg production. When TALMAR pivoted to programming for adult military veterans, Mr. Brosius realized he preferred working with younger students. “The adults were great, but I felt like I could use my talents more effectively with kids.”
From there, he sought a formal teaching job and wound up with a position at The Wilkes School, where he taught Math for 4 years to 2nd- through 5th-graders and earned his 90-hour teaching certificate along the way. He also helped out with the aftercare program, leading a Dungeons and Dragons–style club and exploring basic game theory. During the summer of 2019, he also ran a program for the Rosemont Community Interfaith Coalition, which he describes as both a very challenging job and one of his greatest learning experiences. “It was difficult to engage 50 kids ranging in age from 4 to 13 all at the same time,” he says. “But it made me really evaluate what education is and how to balance their academic and physical education. I figured out a lot of my classroom management style from that experience.” Some tools he brought to TNCS include call and repeat exercises. “You make a basic rhythm or beat, and you set the expectation that if you produce a beat, such as by clapping, the student will return that beat to you,” he explained. Another trick he picked up was moving groups of students safely from place to place, something that will come in handy on TNCS’s urban campus. “These skills are invaluable in the teacher’s toolbelt!” he said.
After his summer directorship ended, he returned to Wilkes, but COVID-19 came along, and, sadly, the school was forced to close. His boss, though, kindly introduced him to TNCS, after attending an independent schools professional development program and meeting TNCS Co-Executive Directors there.
Welcome to TNCS, Rob!
And that’s how it happened! Mr. Brosius joined TNCS in the summer to help out first with facilities upkeep and then running an art and science camp. “And now we’re moving and grooving!” he said. “I even taught tai chi to my classes today!”
Mr. Brosius can claim a very special first at TNCS—his classes take place on stage, even his 3rd/4th homeroom. He has seven in-person students and another eight participating virtually in his homeroom. He’s very comfortable with the small class size, being something Wilkes had in common with TNCS. He likes to be able to individualize instruction.
“The year is going great,” said Mr. Brosius. “The students are following the social distancing protocols, and the technological aspect has been pretty smooth for the most part. At first there were some difficulties, but I’ve learned to switch between different cameras and when to mute, so that’s going extremely well now.” He also appreciates the curriculum and how organized everything has been. Some aspects remain unknown, such as how to adjust when the weather turns cold. For now, students are comfortable eating lunch outside and otherwise getting lots of outdoor time. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” he says. “I have a lot of confidence in this group of kids. They’re very bright and can rise to the challenge. Some luck wouldn’t hurt, either.”
Form and Function Junction
As mentioned, Mr. Brosius’s specialty is science. As science teacher, his mantra is, “environment equals form; form equals function.” He elaborates:
In any particular environment, you’re most likely going to find things that are suited for that environment, which creates the form. Then the form helps determine what the function is—although it really works both ways. But through the evolutionary process, plants and animals and other organisms exist in the way they do because they were brought up in the environment and evolve in the environment they are best suited for. For the most part, you can learn a lot about an organism’s function based on what it looks like.
His approach in the classroom is not only underpinned by science, it’s also lively and fun. “I try to incorporate music a lot and sing songs. Sometimes I play the piano, and the kids get a kick out of that.”
Is it starting to sound like Mr. Brosius is particularly well-suited for the TNCS environment? “I love teaching. It’s just one of those things that comes naturally to me,” he said. Form equals function, indeed.
Psst—some virtual extracurricular offerings might be forthcoming from his general direction. . . don’t tell the kids, but he might sneak some math and science concepts in. #CouldYouBeOurHealer?
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.
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.
The 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.”
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.”
Remarks 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.
Adriana 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.”
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.”
Surprise guests spoke next, as former TNCS teachers, recent friends, and a Class of 2019 graduate shared their well wishes with the graduates.
“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
“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
“I wish you good luck your whole life!” —Sr. Ronnie, driver Costa Rica capstone trip
“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
“You’re about to face a huge turning point in your life—be ready for it!” Zaila, TNCS Class of 2019
“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
Thank you for making that happen, Mrs. DuPrau!
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.”
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!
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.”
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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
“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.