TNCS Middle School Capstone Trip: Return to Puerto Rico!

At The New Century School, when the student body aged out of elementary school in the spring of 2016, TNCS added a middle school division the following fall. Just as with all other TNCS divisions, however, middle school at TNCS needed to be something extraordinary.

Adding to all of the characteristics that make TNCS essentially TNCS (like small class sizes, mixed-age classrooms, multilingual curricula, differentiated instruction, learning by discovery, and so on), the administration decided to cap off this critical development period with an international service-learning trip. The first students to complete TNCS middle school would graduate in the spring of 2019, and to commemorate that momentous occasion, they were also the first to head out abroad on what has become known as the aptly named Capstone Trip. That destination was Puerto Rico, followed by Costa Rica in 2020 just before the pandemic halted international travel, no trip in 2021 because of the pandemic-related travel restrictions (but graduates had gone to Costa Rica the prior year as 7th-graders), and now back to Puerto Rico in 2022.

Puerto Rico, Here We Come!

After school and a quick meal of pizza on Monday, April 25th, TNCS 7th- and 8th-graders were BWI bound, accompanied by chaperones Adriana DuPrau (TNCS Dean of Students), Daphnee Hope (TNCS School Counselor), and Lori Gorbey (TNCS Front Desk).

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They landed in San Juan around midnight and went straight to their dormitory-style lodgings at The Inter American University of Puerto Rico/Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico – Recinto Metro in Cupey. Their kind handler Pedro would be with the them for the duration of the trip.

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Tuesday, April 26th: No Rest for the Weary!

Their first day in PR was packed, so they were up an at ’em early that morning. They had breakfast and headed out to  the Centro Ambiental Santa Ana (CASA), located in the Julio Enrique Monagas National Park in Bayamón. The CASA (Santa Ana Environmental Center in Englsh) provides educational programs for the appreciation, study, and conservation of the environment. Perfect for the first day of service learning!

TNCS students toured the park, had lunch, then spent the afternoon cleaning and painting at CASA. This urban forest has great ecological, cultural, recreational, and educational value, as the slideshow below will demonstrate. CASA promotes the reconnection of people with nature through educational programs; research; thematic, organized fun; and relevant interpretative experiences.

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The exhausted but happy kids returned home then met up for dinner and a movie with CeDIn students (more on CeDIn below). From there, things got pretty goofy!

Wednesday, April 27th: CeDIn Day!

This day’s itinerary was all about CeDIn (a laboratory school from preschool to 4th-grade). Its mission is:

to provide a humanistic education, of excellence, sensitive to changes in the world, that prepares for university life, tends to the integral development of the individual, and provides a space for practice and research for students of education and professions related to behavior.

The educational process is framed by universal Christian-ecumenical values; the development of knowledge skills; the integration of fine arts, technology and sports, and the promotion of a Culture of Peace.

TNCS students spent the day with CeDIn middle schoolers, visiting their classrooms, which Mrs. DuPrau described as themed and that teachers had clearly put a lot of work into. They also went into a forest together to get their eco on, then returned to school to make bracelets and play water games. Friendships blossomed! Ms. Gorbey said she particularly enjoyed meeting the students here and spending the day doing what they normally do. “It was really cool to sort of see how the kids were so different and also exactly the same,” she said. Mrs. DuPrau said, “All of the teachers there were so kind and excited to meet our students and had so many fun things for them to do. We were all excited to see what we could offer to their students and what their students could offer us. We became close with some of those kids, and it was really fun to see all of our students jump right into their recess and lunch and feel comfortable just hanging out with them.” Phone numbers and SnapChap info was exchanged!

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Later that afternoon, TNCS students got a much-anticipated trip to the beach!

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Thursday, April 28th: Tutoring!

On Thursday, TNCS students headed out to Academia Interamericana Metro (AIM), a school that emphasizes differentiated learning for preschoolers through 12th-graders. TNCS students tutored kindergartners through 5th-graders, helping them with their daily schoolwork, reading aloud to them, and playing math games. Mrs Hope explained that AIM was passionate about not separating students with disabilities (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, for example) from the traditional student population but instead to find ways to give them any additional support they might need. “The students and the faculty were so warm and loving—you could just feel it when you walked in; you could tell everyone had the same goal,” she said. Ms. Gorbey said she was extremely proud of how TNCS students comported themselves with their AIM friends.

These photos will make their parents so proud as well!

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As a special treat for their generous volunteering at AIM, the gang had a little fun exploring Old San Juan later that day and into the evening.

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Friday, April 29th: Hola El Yunque!

El Yunque National Forest, the groups Friday destination, is the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system! The favorite activity for Mrs. Hope was this trip to El Yunque. “We went on this really beautiful, tranquil hike. Some of the kids decided to swim and others wanted to explore the rocks and climb them upstream. You feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere and can just breathe” she described.

After exploring that beautiful locale, they headed to Playa Luquillo for a swim.

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Saturday, April 30th: High Altitude!

On their last day, a beach-cleaning activity had been planned, but the weather had other ideas, so after a hearty breakfast . . . they went to a trampoline park instead!

Altitude Bayamón is one of the largest in the world, and there, TNCS students reached new heights!

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After a quick stop at a restaurant to refuel, they returned to Inter American and expended more energy in the gym.

Back Home and Final Thoughts

Once back in Baltimore, the three chaperones had a chance to reflect on the trip and share some takeaways. In the end, beaches and waterfalls aside, the capstone trip is about personal growth—a chance for the students to demonstrate how they’ve matured.

Ms. Gorbey, who described the trip as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said she was impressed by the empathy she saw TNCS students display each and every day. This trip was remarkable for being the most service-learning focused so far. “Their all-around willingness to help was a highlight for me,” she said. “They really threw themselves into the service learning.” At the end of the trip, they circled up and discussed their favorite moments: several students ranked the service learning above the “fun stuff,” another thing that made Ms. Gorbey happy. (As a quick aside, they also held nominations, and one student was named Most Likely To Have an International Romance. So cute! We love that for them!)

A third thing that struck Ms. Gorbey was how game the students were to use their Spanish-speaking skills and how well they did—ordering their food, conversing with their new Puerto Rican friends, and so on.

Mrs. DuPrau witnessed some personal growth in a few students and a dawning realization in one in particular that things were about to change in high school in the fall. Like Ms. Gorbey, she also appreciated all of the students’ willingness to really be there and do what was asked. At the same time, she feels strongly that these trips should be fun and memorable. “In some ways it was a typical middle school trip—everybody was losing their voice and maybe not sleeping as much, because they all couldn’t stop talking and having fun,” she recounted fondly.

For Mrs. Hope, the highlight was the school visits. “It was so amazing to be able to partner with the schools and have our kids meet their kids, to see the differences, and also how they interact. That was really rewarding for our students, too.” Like Mrs. DuPrau, she also saw an individual student find themselves in a new way. This student became a terrific helper and a real asset on the trip.

For Mrs. Hope, this trip was bittersweet in more than one way. Her husband was about to be deployed, and she would be sacrificing that week that she could have spent with him to go. The scales tipped in favor of going when she remembered how well she and Mrs. DuPrau travel together (and imagining what Ms. Gorbey would bring to the mix), plus this: “It was also a nice way to close off my chapter at TNCS, this last thing with them. They have been my students for 3 years . . . it was really good to be able to spend that time with them and see so much growth in individual students.”

Ultimately, this trip caps off an academic career at TNCS for the 8th-grade students and so much more. It’s the end of an era, in a way, but also opens the door for a new era at TNCS to dawn.

Hasta el año que viene!


As always, the TNCS community—families, faculty, and everyone in between—plays a tremendous role in making the capstone trip possible, from hosting fundraisers (shout out to Damien Mosely and Blacksauce Kitchen!) to planning (Mrs. DuPrau worked tirelessly!) to teaching the language (Señora Noletto made sure her students were good and ready!), to seeing to all of the details that go into such an enormous undertaking (literally, everyone!).

And for this particular trip, we have another very special person to thank: Inter American Chancellor Wayland, who generously helped coordinate the trip from inside Puerto Rico and gave TNCS students access to the wonderful Inter American sister schools (CeDIn and AIM) they visited. If that name rings a bell, it’s no accident: Chancellor Wayland (aka, “Tata”) is the grandmother of two TNCS students. Gracias por todo!

March Madness at TNCS: In Like a Tiger, Out in a Blaze of Glory!

At The New Century School, a lot happens all year long . . .  especially in the month of March!

Year of the Tiger Lunar New Year Celebration

March blew in like a “tiger” with a new take on Lunar New Year celebrations. On March 2nd, Mandarin Chinese teacher Li Laoshi gave students and families a visit to “Chinatown,” with actual vendor stalls set up in the TNCS auditorium and hosts to help us navigate the lanes!

Li Laoshi was very proud of her students, who worked very hard on their Lunar New Year projects. “We did an amazing job in presenting Chinese culture of 12 animal zodiacs, Kung fu, traditional clothes, crafts, pandas, and Chinese food in 2 days of celebrations,” she said. The shops and stalls were not only fun to visit and sample the wares, they had a very important purpose: fundraising for the middle schoolers’ fast-approaching capstone trip to Puerto Rico! “Our students also feel very proud that they can support the 7th and 8th-graders’ service trips,” continued Li Laoshi. “It was really exciting and enjoyable!”

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Science Fair 2022

Next up was the annual Science Fair, hosted by TNCS science teacher Mr. Brosius. Presentations were broken out by division, with 4th- through 8th-graders presenting on March 14th and 15th, 2nd- and 3rd-graders presenting March 16th and 17th, and kindergartners and 1st-graders the following week.

For much of Quarter 3, prepped for their projects, assembling materials, creating lists of methods, and collecting data. Projects could either follow the scientific method or veer into engineering and design territory. Mr. B. was on hand to oversee and advise: “A few projects required some amendments in order to increase their testability, but the students enjoyed their work in science class,” he said.

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Although the Science Fair ended, the STEM fun did not! Mr. B first sent a thank you out to families: “Thank you to all who viewed science fair presentations last week. It means a lot to the students. They have worked diligently this past quarter and should be proud of their efforts.”

Then he sent an update that students continued working on improving the quality of their data collection and analysis. “This past week, 4th through 8th graders have engaged in measurement activities that help them to better develop these skills, while younger students have primarily continued working on their individual projects. The 2nd- and 3rd-grade students also briefly used a petri dish computer simulation to further discuss data collection and analysis,” he explained. In the coming week, he said, “we will review all steps of the scientific method and engineering design process when we resume the peer review process.” The peer review process is new this year and replicates how scientists perform their studies in real life.

Firetruck Day!

TNCS preschoolers got in on the March Madness fun, too, with an extra special visit by Baltimore City firefighters on March 25th.

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And with that, March at TNCS ended in a blaze of glory!

TNCS Elementary and Middle School Students Hop To It in 2022!

The New Century School breaks the mold in so many ways that achieving new “firsts” has almost become the norm. Yet here we are with 2022 just having begun, and TNCS is already doing it again—this time with fur!

Out of the Hat and into the Classroom!

On Tuesday, January 18th, the TNCS Student Government headed to the Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Center, better known as BARCS, on a very special mission: to pick up a rabbit to be fostered in TNCS ELA teacher Gab Sussman‘s homeroom.

Seven Reasons To Foster
1. Fostering increases an animal’s chance of getting adopted.
2. Your own pets will learn more social skills.
3. You get to see if you’re ready to own another pet.
4. Fostering is temporary.
5. You can choose how to foster.
6. Fostering keeps animals out of shelters.
7. You are saving a life.

The idea for fostering a pet at TNCS originated with Ms. Sussman, herself a small animal lover. After making the arrangements with BARCS and finding Freckles’ biography on the BARCS website, the rest is TNCS history.

“Whether they have scales, feathers or hopping feet, BARCS is a safe haven for all animals in Baltimore City.”

Among the Student Government members to bring Freckles to her temporary home were Natalie Lawner, TNCS Historian, and Hanako Dillon, TNCS Public Relations. We have these two dedicated 6th-graders to thank for the following photos and interview.

Interview with TNCS Student Council Public Relations

Immersed: What does fostering a pet involve?
PR: Fostering a pet involves wanting animals to live in a loving home while they are still up for adoption. It is also very important to take good care of the animal as expected from the shelter. We are responsible for feeding, keeping her cage clean, and socializing her.
Immersed: How did Freckles get chosen?
PR: Freckles was chosen because she was the only small furry animal at the shelter at the time.
Immersed: Who named Freckles?
PR: We are not sure who named freckles but she came to us with the name.
Immersed: What is Freckle’s backstory—how did she come to BARCS?
PR: There is not a lot of information about how or why she came to BARCS but the came to BARCS on December 15, 2021
Immersed: How will students take care of Freckles?
PR: Students in Ms. Sussman’s class will help feed Freckles and clean her cage every day.
Immersed: What will happen to Freckle when school is not in session, such as over weekends?
PR: As of now Ms. Sussman will be taking Freckles home on the weekends, and will eventually begin to socialize Freckles with her own bunny Bunnicula. We are exploring what it would look like for students/families to take her home too.
Immersed: What would you like readers to know about this TNCS initiative? What is the takeaway message?
PR: We would love to share the importance of rescuing animals from shelters rather than buying animals from a breeder because there are so many animals without a home, and that you don’t have to spend lots of money to get a sweet and loving pet. We would also like to show people that fostering an animal is a great way to bring a pet into your family if you are unsure or unable to take care of an animal long term. By taking care of Freckles as a class we want to encourage kids to be more involved with taking care of pets and caring for them.

Freckles at TNCS

We know! We know! Everybunny wants to see how Freckles is doing! Just see for yourself . . .

Ms. Sussman says: “Freckles has already opened up in just the few days we’ve had her! When I had visited her a few times at BARCS, she always hid in the back of her cage and was not open to being picked up. Now, she is freely moving around her little cage, happily accepting pets from students, and is more tolerant of being held!”

She has delegated the care of Freckles to students, explaining, “there is a special job in my classroom dedicated to managing the foster pet! Two students feed Freckles twice a day, refresh her water, and clean her cage. Cleaning is not so difficult because Freckles has taken well to litter box training (yes, that’s right, rabbits can be trained to use a litter box!).”
But the real magic Freckles has brought to TNCS is this: “It has been such a joy seeing how loving and excited students have been since we took her in on Tuesday,” said Ms. Sussman. “I feel like Freckles is bringing us one more special reason to look forward to coming to school, which I know in these times can feel more stressful and exhausting for some.”

Looking for ways to help care for Freckles? We’ve got you! Check out Freckles’ wish list for items to contribute to her health and well-being.

Ms. Sussman says, “An extra special thank you to all those who have already contributed! We are excited to get her set up with supplies that will help us adequately care for her in the classroom. Even after she moves on to her new, permanent home, these gifts will stay so that we can continue fostering small, furry animals in our classroom from BARCS.”

Want more? Consider adopting Freckles and making yours her forever home! Ms. Sussman says, “Any TNCS family that is interested in adopting Freckles can email me at sussman@thenewcenturyschool.com to set up a little Meet & Greet after school one day (following all of the Wellness Committee’s guidelines, of course!).”

Book Review Number Two: Finding Courage and Growth in the Classroom!

With this final post of 2021, Immersed returns to an idea from Gab Sussman, English Language Arts (ELA) teacher for upper elementary and middle school students at The New Century School. Ms. Sussman thought it would be nice to feature stand-out book reviews by her students, both to recognize their hard work as well as to encourage others to give these worthy assignments their all.

Immersed sees yet another advantage to this scheme: highlighting the exemplary ELA program at TNCS. Ms. Sussman has worked hand in hand with TNCS school counselor Daphnee Hope and TNCS Dean of Students Adriana DuPrau to integrate her core class subject with the important social and emotional learning that has been emphasized this year. Reading books and writing about them is a way to connect to our inner selves as well as to the world outside, a truth Ms. Sussman holds dear. And this book? It’s tailor-made for teens in tough situations.

A Book Review of Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes: By Dez Horvath

Bronx Masquerade is written by Nikki Grimes, and was awarded the Coretta Scott King Award, which is awarded annually by the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table, and is only awarded for “the most distinguished portrayal of African American experience in literature for children or teens.” Nikki Grimes was also awarded the 2017 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, the 2006 NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, and the 2016 Virginia Hamilton Literary Award. Ms. Grimes also has published other books, such as What is Goodbye?, Garvey’s Choice, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Talkin’  About Bessie, Jazmin’s Notebook, The Road to Paris, Words with Wings, and Dark Sons. Ms. Grimes is also the author of Meet Danitra Brown, and lives in Corona, California. Fun fact, Ms. Grimes had the idea for this book for 5 years before starting to write it down, and it’s a good thing they did because this book had such an impact. It has such an impact, schools started their own “Open Mike Fridays.” With all these awards Ms. Grimes has gotten, Bronx Masquerade has GOT to be good.

All of Ms. Grimes awards are amazing, but the only way to get awards is to have a good story. Bronx Masquerade’s partly main character is Tyrone Bittings, and I say “partly” because they are the only one that speaks after everyone else’s chapters, and they are the character that introduces you to the story. Tyrone is currently in high school, along with pretty much all the other characters introduced in the story. Wesley Boone, Chankara Troupe, Raul Ramirez, Diondra Jordan, Devon Hope, Lupe Algarin, Gloria Martinez, Janelle Battle, Leslie Lucas, Julianne Alexander, Tanisha Scott, Sterling S. Hughes, Amy Moscowitz, Sheila Gamberoni, Steve Ericson, Raynard Patterson, and Porscha Johnson. All these characters are important because they all interact and impact each other’s lives, there is also one or more chapters written from their perspective. All these characters are in an English class together, and their teacher, Mr. Ward, starts an exercise called Open Mike Friday where students read their poems aloud to the class. At the start, everyone thought of everyone a certain way, that didn’t fit who they actually are and everyone started as not caring about everyone else, but then over time, all the poetry encouraged people to open up, show who they really are, and bring everyone together. Everyone respected each other and grew afterwards. Then came the end of the school year, and the book, and an assembly was organized, and it would be the final Open Mike Friday. Tyrone got up on stage and shared how Open Mike Friday made them feel, and what it resulted in. “I just wanted to say I’m really glad I got to do this poetry thing because I feel like, even though the people in our class are all different colors and some of you speak different language and everything, I feel like we connected.” Then some final poems were shared, and the book came to a close.

The two themes I have found in Bronx Masquerade are “courage” and “growth.” The reason I have found “courage” is because at the end of every single chapter, there was a poem. In the book, the students had to go up in front of the whole class, and read their poem, in high school. That takes some courage. And a lot of the characters’ chapters showing their perspective stated they were nervous (I would give an example, but I don’t remember the people that said they were nervous, and I don’t want to have to read through the whole book). The reason I found “growth” is because at the beginning of the book, people thought school was dumb, some people were bullies, etc. and then grew and matured from the Open Mike Fridays. An example is on page 160, “The first time he got up there, I rolled my eyes like half the sisters in class, certain he was going to spout something lame or nasty about girls and sex, or gangsters. I mean, that’s all we ever heard him talk about, right? But there was nothing lame about this poem, and none of it was about sex. It was about what’s going on in the world, and about trying to make sense of it. It was a poem by somebody who really thinks about things, and that somebody turned out to be Tyrone.” Open Mike Friday really had an impact on all the students.

The events of the book really had an impact on the characters, but what about the impact it had on readers? The point of Bronx Masquerade is to, “ignite dialogue and facilitate discussion in the classroom on a wide array of topics concerning, and affecting, teens.” When writing this book, Ms. Grimes wanted schools to think about what might be going on with a teenager, and take action. You never know what could be going on in someone’s life, especially a teen’s. Ms. Grimes doesn’t mean just sit down, and have a small discussion. They aren’t even just saying to ONLY discuss it. There are many ways to facilitate discussion concerning teens, like “Open Mike Friday.” Nikki Grimes’ hope to impact schools in the way they wanted worked amazingly, and I bet if certain readers read the book, they might realize what a teen could be going through, and do something. 

Only some people can be impacted by Bronx Masquerade, knowing its message, and do something. A kind of reader I would recommend this book to is some sort of school staff so they could help Nikki Grimes’ hope of getting schools concerned about teens. An employee of a school could orchestrate something with staff higher in ability, and help any teens in their school. Another kind of reader I would recommend this book to is someone who likes poetry, drama, and school settings in books because Bronx Masquerade has all of that. Whoever enjoyed the things I listed would love Bronx Masquerade. What a person would need to know to enjoy this book is that people can change in general, but also for the better. They would need to know that people aren’t perfect. People can be good, they just need a certain push to do so. Everyone in Bronx Masquerade start off in the book with some kind of flaw about them. At the end, they’ve all grown, and realized their past ways were wrong, or they can do something about what happened to them in the past, and move on. Bronx Masquerade is a great book, the goal it was written for was accomplished very well, and you should go read it (there’s a reason it has a big award).

Courage: A TNCS Core Value!

If this rings a bell, it’s because courage was also a primary theme of TNCS student Shonbeck Glazer’s book report. Let’s find out why Ms. Sussman chose this review as the next to spotlight:

Dez’s book review stood out to me immediately. His appreciation for Bronx Masquerade is crystal clear, and it was wonderful to hear him share his reflections, both in class with his reading buddy, and through his writing. I know that this book provided many windows for Dez, and he highlighted so many important nuances of Bronx Masquerade. I’m excited for his hard work to be featured in Immersed, and in turn, be celebrated by the TNCS community. We’re so proud of you, Dez, and are grateful for your insight!


And we are grateful to you, Ms. Sussman, for helping TNCS students find their own courage and growth and ending the year on such a high note. Here’s to an even better 2022 at TNCS . . . one that includes in-class poetry slams, perhaps? (Hint, hint.)

TNCS Student Book Review: An Immersed First!

At The New Century School, language-learning informs much of the spirit of the academic program . . . and English Language Arts is a core subject!

In the beginning of October, ELA teacher Gab Sussman assigned her middle school students the book Starfish by Lisa Fipps. Written in free verse, Starfish recounts the trials and tribulations (and triumphs!) of an 11-year-old girl bullied because of her weight. This theme tied in perfectly with the Q1 emphasis on stomping out bullying (see this post for more).

Ms. Sussman got a lot of mileage out of Starfish, weaving in lessons on metaphors, puns, proverbs, and idioms, and asking students to mark any use of such figurative language. After about a month, students were asked to complete a culminating book project comprising three components: a video assignment, a comic design, and a book review essay. “Would Immersed like to feature a stand-out book review,” asked Ms. Sussman? “Spotlight a TNCS student’s literary efforts? Yes, please!” answered Immersed, and so, without further ado, we give you . . .

A Book Review of Starfish by Lisa Fipps: By Schonbek Glazer

Lisa Fipps, the author of Starfish, grew up in a small city named Kokomo, located in Indiana. Lisa Fipps is an award-winning former journalist who graduated from Indiana’s Ball State University. She loves collecting rocks. She stated, “Everywhere I go, I find an interesting one and then bring it home to put in jars with all the others to remind myself of my travels.” Her favorite rock in her collection is a white rock from Nice, France.

The main character, Ellie, is what people may call “fat,” and she has been bullied about it. She is primarily bullied by her classmates Kortnee, Marrisa, as well as her brother Liam and her mother. The next obstacle she encounters is when her next-door neighbor/”bestie,” Viv, moves away to Indiana. She’s heartbroken, but a new neighbor named Catalina moves in. In the beginning, Ellie is skeptical of Catalina but then learns that she is an ally and doesn’t make fun of her. They both go on adventures together and overcome obstacles, she realizes that she can trust Catalina, and she makes Ellie feel better. Ellie spends most of her time in her house’s swimming pool where she feels “weightless”. Ellie then gets a therapist who she likes, she learns from her that she can let her emotions go and stick up for herself, and to love herself even more. Ellie knows that she and her body are beautiful and she stands up to her bullies.

Two themes in this book are self-love and courage. There are many aspects of self-love in the book. An example is on page 171 when she takes off all the articles her mother has hung up on the refrigerator about weight-loss and replaces them with very specific articles that are the opposite of what her mother thinks. Some titles include, “Studies show a family’s comments about an overweight child add to a negative self-image,” and “Studies show it’s not just kids and teachers at school who make fun of overweight kids; parents also bully them.” These headlines show that Ellie loves herself and worries about herself, and doesn’t agree with what her mom thinks. She tries to make the articles visible for her mother to see. She isn’t crying or anything, just sticking up for herself. An example of an act of courage is on page 226 where Ellie stands up to her bullies, Marisa and Kortnee, because they have held her dog hostage and will only give it back if Ellie eats a whale cake on camera. Ellie ends up tossing the cake at the bullies and steps up to them. Fipps writes, “I’m defending myself, I close in on Marissa. I said, ‘Give me my dog!’” This shows that she stood up against her bullies and it takes a lot of courage to do that.

The purpose of Starfish is to stand up for yourself, have self-respect, being fat is not bad, be proud of who you are, and many other things. Fipps does a lot by sharing essential details and writes from Ellie’s point-of-view. The reader feels like they are in her shoes. I think Fipps was trying to say that you never know how other people feel. She also tried to share details about herself and others suffering from fatphobia so that her readers could feel it for themselves and maybe understand a little more.

As a whole, I recommend this book to everyone. The author does an excellent job of hooking you into the book. I believe it’s a great book and has great life lessons. In my opinion, this book is for all those who like to read, who are bullied, or who don’t like their own appearance. Before you read the book, you should know that it does get shocking and a little bit sad at some parts. It demonstrates the problems we have in life but it has a valuable point of view. This also is good for people who experience fatphobia because you may be able to relate to it a lot  and have a great connection with the main character, Ellie.

Courage: A TNCS Core Value!

Although it can be no mystery why that excellent review was chosen, Ms. Sussman factored in more than just good writing, when she selected this 7th-grader’s work for special attention:

I was drawn to Schonbek’s report for many reasons. His writing is clear, honest, and it met the assignment requirements. However, the most important and poignant reason I chose to showcase his writing on Immersed is because even after only teaching him for 3 short months, I’ve seen him embody so much self-love and courage. I know that Starfish was a powerful mirror for him and he showed up to ELA class each day, bursting with connections, reflections, and deep insights. Thank you, Schonbek, for allowing us to read your work and celebrate you!


Want to learn more on how to avoid “fatphobia” and “fat-shaming”? After wrapping up their Starfish project, Ms. Sussman showed her students Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s Tedx Talk, “Enough with the fear of fat.” “[Students] answered comprehension, analytic, and reflection questions about what they learned. Her speech contextualizes and builds upon a major theme from Starfish, fatphobia, and explains how unfortunately common and harmful this problem is in our society. Many students shared how inspired they were by her words and the work she does,” said Ms. Sussman.

Thank you, Schonbeck for your inspirational work, and thank you Ms. Sussman, for giving your middle school students a space to flourish in. Finally, thanks to you both for helping make the world a more body-positive place.