As we keep saying, a lot happens at The New Century School in the month of March, but perhaps no event is more anticipated than the annual Science Fair. This year’s presentation of projects by TNCS 3rd- through 8th-graders had to be done a little differently since we can’t gather en masse yet, but the projects themselves were no less remarkable for their creativity and all-around innovation.
The Science Fair is important, explains elementary and middle school science teacher Rob Brosius, because, “It’s challenging and rewarding. [Doing science experiments] teaches you how to approach any problem with a solution-oriented perspective.” Students made their presentations via Zoom, which Mr. Brosius painstakingly stitched together. This way, TNCS parents will be able to view all student projects and presentations at their leisure. Another benefit stemmed from this new approach—TNCS students were more relaxed as they presented and were able to really explain their experiments in a deeper way. You can sense their (well-earned) pride. They demonstrate a thorough understanding of the science underpinning the project as well as the process that got them to their conclusions—the Scientific Method.
Mr. B. said:
I am making sure that all students can present their research even if they have not completed their data collection and analysis. We have highlighted the importance of each step of the scientific method in relation to personal and group projects. I have tried to communicate the idea that even if your project does not prove your hypothesis, it can still be considered a valuable experiment.
When compiling all of the videos took longer than expected, Mr. B. made a preview video as well as a couple other Science Fair–related videos to keep parents in a state of eager anticipation.
Now, let’s get to the real deal!
Third and Fourth Grade Projects
These March-Mad Scientists were clearly inspired by their inventive hypotheses and pursued answers to their problems with tenacity and vim! Mr. B. says that he was very impressed with the 3rd- and 4th-grade projects.
The stand-out in this group was a project on Mask Effectiveness—very topical!
Sixth through Eighth-Grade Projects
The stand-out in this group was the project on Water Filtration.
As the independent and dependent variables varied, and the hypotheses were proved or disproved, in addition to following the tenets of study design, students also had to evaluate their work to determine how they could eliminate any confounders next time around.
As you can see, topics ran the gamut of scientific disciplines, from chemistry, biochemistry, physics, and biology to psychology, ecology, and economics, to robotics and engineering. These students are clearly mad for science, thanks in no small part to Mr. B.’s enthusiasm and commitment to the subject!
We leave you with these two words: Elephant. Toothpaste.
More than anything else, the 2020–2021 school year at The New Century School has been a testament to what can happen when a community thrives. In the midst of the many and ongoing upheavals we’ve collectively experienced, the members of the TNCS community at all levels continue to not only surmount would-be obstacles, but turn them into new opportunities to connect and grow. This echoes a sentiment expressed by TNCS Co-Founders and Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner a year ago, when they entreated the community to support each other through the crisis we faced, emerge stronger from it, and look back proudly on our conduct. Their steadfast vision of what TNCS can be and do has also grown stronger.
That’s why, having debuted a Black History Month Celebration just last year in characteristically stellar fashion, TNCS was not about to forfeit the promise to make this essential sociocultural event an annual occurrence, despite the practical challenges of not being able to gather in person. TNCS finds a way to forge ahead. While last year’s event was a celebration of music and culture and largely composed of student performances, this year’s event took a different tack to grapple with some of the United States’ societal ills—some of the very issues that underpin why Black History Month evolved. (Note that last year’s event certainly also brought its share of gravitas, especially when renowned artist Harold Caudio took the stage.)
To back up a bit, earlier this year, TNCS Head of School Señora Shara Khon Duncan and staff announced their plans to implement the Pollyanna Curriculum throughout school as one way to give TNCS students a way to talk about what they were seeing and hearing about racial and social injustice—the spring and summer of 2020 were socially turbulent not just because of the pandemic. According to their website, “Pollyanna is a national nonprofit helping academic and other institutions achieve their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.”
That brings us to the Black History Month event on Wednesday, February 24th, which featured a talk and Q&A by illustrious Guest Speaker Jessy Molina, currently of Molina Consulting (and a consultant for Pollyanna, among many other institutions and organizations). Ms. Molina founded Molina Consulting in July of 2020 in her Baltimore home after having served as the director of diversity, equity, and social justice at two local independent schools as well as working in nonprofits for the prior 15 years. She describes her path to Molina Consulting this way:
I am an attorney, a mediator, and a facilitator. I decided to move into full-time consulting work because I wanted to support more organizations and institutions to make long-term, sustainable change around equity and justice. I also had an interest in doing more conflict mediation and healing work with people and communities.
This is the best professional decision I have ever made. I am thrilled that I get to support people in healing from racial trauma every day, and in doing so, continue my own healing journey. Our bodies are carrying the weight of racial stress, anxiety, and trauma, and I’m grateful to support people to find more freedom and joy. We have to learn how to talk about race and racism in this country, and to make systemic changes with big impact. I am grateful to be part of that.
Schools are ideal places to start these conversations and to develop “racial literacy.” “Racial literacy,” explains Ms. Molina, “is the ability to understand race and racism in the context of our history, understand race as a social and political construct, understand how racism is institutionalized and perpetuated through systems, and know how how to shift practices, policies and protocols to make systemic change that leads to more equity and justice for more people.” Her presentation, “Talking to Children about Race and Racism,” was designed to help us parents understand our own orientation toward these subjects to better, more productively engage with our children. This starts from the ground up. “Parents are a critical part of helping our children develop healthy racial identities and learn how to stand up for—and build—more racial justice in the world,” she explained. “We can model being open and honest, acknowledging and repairing mistakes, leveraging our privilege for equity, and sharing resources and power. Research suggests that children learn more about racial justice from what we do, not what we say. Our children are watching everything we do—the best way to teach them is to be our best selves.”
After opening remarks by Sra. Duncan, Ms. Molina took the (virtual) stage.
The event was exceptionally well attended (thank you, zoom!), and Ms. Molina’s presentation generated some very robust audience engagement. It was clear that parents were ready to talk about this. They were also overflowing with gratitude for Ms. Molina’s eye-opening talk and for Sra. Duncan’s efforts to make the event happen.
Ms. Molina is obviously committed to her work, and the world will be a better place for it (Molina Consulting’s fitting tagline is “Training to Change the World“). “The most important part for me was connecting to my purpose,” she says. “Who am I and what I am here to do? Serving as a mediator, facilitator, and trainer helps me get closer to my purpose of building connection and community among people and supporting people to live full, free, and whole lives.” In addition, she gets more family time, which many of us are also experiencing. “I’m thankful that I get to work at home with my children. It’s a joy to help them with their homework, sneak in a favorite episode, or make cookies after lunch. It’s certainly difficult to balance on some days, but overall, I am loving the extra time we have together.”
What TNCS Students Had to Say
And let’s not forget, all that extra “together time” translates to time spent modeling an open, honest, and compassionate way to be in this world. Something is paying off, if these student presentations that followed Ms. Molina’s talk are any indication. At the behest of ELA teacher Jalynn Harris, students could read a Black History Month–themed poem (some in tanka form) they recently wrote for class or present research on a world-changing Black figure (or both in the case of one enterprising 8th grader!).
The evening ended in just about the most perfect way possible, with a beautiful rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing by high school students in Tallahassee, Florida. The audience was moved beyond description and came away brimming with thoughts and feelings about the event that could very well lead to important changes.
Resources from “Talking to Children about Race and Racism”:
At The New Century School, farewells usually also mean hellos! That’s why, when former TNCS middle school homeroom teacher Daphnée Hope went on maternity leave unexpectedly early, Jalynn Harris was ready to step in. “Ms. Lynn” as she prefers to be called, began acclimating to TNCS in October, learning the ropes alongside Mrs. Hope to ensure a smooth transition for students. But, as you’ll see, her joining the TNCS community seems almost destined.
Before becoming the 6th- through 8th-grade homeroom teacher and English Language Arts (ELA) and Global Studies teacher for the 5th through 8th grades, this west Baltimore native was immersing herself in her craft—writing. She studied Linguistics as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After her years as a Tar Heel, though, she felt called back home and pursued a Master’s of Fine Art at the University of Baltimore in poetry and book design. “I really learned a lot and enjoyed my studies,” she said. She also began teaching Writing Composition to undergraduates during her time at UB and graduated in the spring of this year. “I’m finally out of school,” she joked.
But she never really left the classroom. Earlier this fall, she taught a book-making class for the Baltimore Youth Film Arts Program, an affiliate program of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. They wrote, took photos, and designed their own books. “It’s a really great program that starts at age 16 through high school,” explained Ms. Lynn. “I encourage kids to enroll. They even give you a stipend for your work.”
The Story Begins
And now here she is! She says that she saw the listing on Indeed for a daily substitute, and something clicked:
I was thinking I felt ready to teach but hadn’t been applying for teaching positions yet. When I saw that listing, I knew it was time to do what I knew I wanted to do. Prior, I was feeling kind of shy about it, and then, of course the pandemic made me question whether this was the right time. But I really knew I want to be in the classroom. So I applied and spoke with Señora Duncan. When I learned that Mrs. Hope taught ELA and Global Studies, it was like serendipity—my major was Linguistics, and my minor was Geography. I was like, wow, my two favorite subjects—it was obvious alignment!
Although hybrid teaching (simultaneously virtual and in-person) might seem especially daunting to any new teacher, Ms. Lynn has adapted beautifully, probably largely due to her approach that will sound familiar to anyone among the TNCS community. “This is totally new, so I’m making mistakes and learning as I go,” she said. Being willing to try something new and challenging is just the resilience that we need right now, and it’s a great attitude to model for TNCS students. On top of the special demands placed on educators this crazy year, this is also her first experience teaching this age group. Nevertheless, she is particularly well suited for this new role she has adopted:
I’m very passionate about certain aspects of ELA. I’ve had two incredible writing teachers in my life who basically inspired me to write and to teach. The model is one of toughness combined with nurturing. They were always pushing me to pursue my curiosities and my work. That’s the kind of teacher I am—I really am very excited about student work. I encourage them to do their best and find their voice because I really believe writing is so powerful and potentially life-saving. Reading and writing saved my life, and I want kids to be able to engage with that and express themselves. Being able to express yourself is the most important thing. I also really hope to reach students who aren’t super excited about ELA as a subject. I hope to figure out what is interesting and see if I can pull that out.
Ms. Lynn credits Mrs. Hope for setting expectations. ELA requires rigor, but it pays off in so many ways. She describes her students as very independent. “I’m very impressed with how independent they are at such a young age. They are a mix of types of learners, so I’m still learning how to get to everyone, but I’ve encouraged them to explore EdTech tools, little add-ons, to try to engage them differently.”
Although her writing has had to take a bit of a back seat currently as she’s teaching full time, she is still writing. As a creative writer, she writes poetry: “I self-published my thesis, which was my poetry debut,” she said, “and I had a few poems published this year.” Of late, she says her writing has taken more of an editorial, journalistic turn. As these pieces published in BmoreArt show, Ms. Lynn is a fan of the late Lucille Clifton, who lived in Baltimore for many years and was the Poet Laureate of Maryland. In fact, Ms. Lynn says Clifton is her inspiration.
And she also recently published a piece in the archival journal Black Archives.
This dovetails nicely with what her students are working on—personal narratives followed by expository writing. For the reading component, the theme this semester is historical nonfiction:
A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park: 5th grade
Path to the Stars, by Sylvia Acevedo: 6th grade
Every Falling Star, by Sungju Lee: 7th grade
Night, by Eli Wiesel: 8th grade
In class, they hold literature circles, do peer review workshops on each other’s writing, and enjoy the occasional pep talk from Ms. Lynn about doing their best on quizzes and tests. She has students write about their writing strengths and weaknesses as well as make a plan for improvement. She also meets one-on-one with each student to get to know them better.
“I am very excited to be a part of this community and learn from the students,” said Ms. Lynn. “Teaching has taught me so much, and I’ve learned something from my students every class. I don’t know if they realize how much I’ve learned from them.” Another important thing she wants the TNCS community to know is how much she wants to get to know everyone:
I’m excited to meet everyone’s parents. I’m disappointed that with this coronavirus year there will be some people I won’t ever meet in person or won’t for a long time. I wish I could have more of a relationship with both students and parent, but it’s just not what’s going to happen. I’m very much still open to talk, though! If parents want to reach out and just say hello, I would love that. Parent communication is very important here, so I’ll make sure I keep everyone in the loop and don’t exclude anyone.
Jalynn Harris at the beach in Cape Town earlier this year, a favorite spot of hers. She studied abroad there during her undergraduate friends and made a lot of friends. “I go back almost every year to soak up the sun and chill with my friends,” she said.
“This community is so awesome, I love how small the school is, the greenhouse . . . there are so many aspects of the school that are unique. I felt really invited and welcomed,” said Ms. Lynn.
We are so glad you are here, Ms. Lynn, and are excited to see how you help our children find their voices, as you have so wonderfully found yours!
Through all of the pandemic-associated upheaval we’ve seen in 2020, The New Century School has stayed true to its mission to challenge students to realize their richest individual potential through progressive, multilingual education and meaningful participation in the world community.
That has been no small feat. TNCS administration, staff, and faculty rallied together and found innovative ways to keep TNCS open and its students flourishing. Many of those ways happen behind the scenes but are no less vital to TNCS’s success. One of these behind-the-scenes heroes is TNCS Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau, who has held this position since 2017. Although a lot has changed since then and also since we last checked in with her in early 2019, Mrs. DuPrau still describes her primary role as two-fold: teacher-facing and student-facing. However, this year she has also taken on a bit more of a parent-facing role as well.
Curriculum Coordinating: Teacher-Facing
Mrs. DuPrau acts as a communication liaison between TNCS teachers and Head of School Señora Duncan, filtering teacher requests and untangles snags they might be experiencing to allow them to focus on their day-to-day teaching. “The majority of my time is still working one-on-one with teachers, either coaching them, or figuring how to make their schedules work, or setting up virtual classrooms,” she explained. Speaking of the virtual classrooms, that’s obviously one of the biggest changes this year. “Teachers are working both virtually and in person, which is stressful for them. I can provide an outlet for them to talk it out.” She validates their feelings but also keeps the conversations constructive by steering them toward finding solutions.
She spent the beginning of the year making sure teachers had the curriculum that they need. She researches all of the offerings out there and tries them out to see if a certain program is a good fit. One example is Word Voyage Vocabulary Builder that is designed to help students in Grades 4 and up build and strengthen their vocabulary. Another is Discovery Education, that enhances global studies and science lessons. In past years, watching the webinars and speaking to the company representatives was something of a shared task between Mrs. DuPrau and the teachers, whereas this year, she took on the responsibility of onboarding these new programs to save teachers’ some time. For their part, they were happy to let Mrs. DuPrau make those decisions this year, even though normally their input is such an important part of the process.
Even with all of the advance vetting she does, adopting something new can still be difficult for teachers. “I’m learning that teachers are already so stretched this year that tacking on new information almost seems like dumping. I’m finding that it’s just a different year in general.”
Another new aspect of the curriculum this year is the social justice component, which everyone is excited about. “I’m finding resources to use and organizing them. I’m taking a really fun course to keep my teaching certification up-to-date, where I’m actually able to learn about these new tools and figure out ways to help the teachers without overwhelming them,” said Mrs. DuPrau.
“I also still try to be in the classrooms,” she said. “Not as frequently as I have in the past because I’m trying not to mix in too much with the cohorts, but I’ll jump in on a zoom meeting or be there in the classroom. We have some new teachers, and I want to be present to see in person what’s happening. In this new learning environment, if I want to be able to make suggestions and advocate for teachers, I actually need to see the difficulties, not just hear about them.”
Curriculum Coordinating: Student-Facing
TNCS students, too, are feeling the stress inherent in pandemic-influenced academic life. By and large, though, those resilient youngsters have adapted remarkably well to all of the changes thrown at them. After some initial student hiccups at the beginning of the year, such as with technology, Mrs. DuPrau has lately been able to concentrate on her real passion–working with students who need extra support. “Whether it be giving them more work or figuring out how to help them keep up, I try to help with all dimensions of student life. How can we work with these kids to make sure they are getting what they need?”
One way she has always helped outgoing 8th-graders is by researching schools—going to information nights or signing up for admissions tests—and ensuring that students make all of the associated deadlines. She also spearheaded creating a virtual hangout for them to share their experiences of applying to high school.
As part of what she calls “student life,” the school store is also up and running, and Mrs. DuPrau says she felt that getting more Spirit Days on the calendar would be a boost for students. (TNCS has t-shirts and accessories on sale for our students, teachers, and families at this link!) Such community events are wonderful ways to maintain student engagement, as are the invitations for safe, on-campus activities for virtual learners to optionally participate in and spend some time in person with their cohort.
Another brand-new initiative Mrs. DuPrau just launched is the K–8 Community Classroom, where all sorts of fun things will take place (via the Google Classroom platform), including a Thanksgiving recipe exchange. The recipes shared here may even be compiled in a TNCS cookbook—stay tuned for more updates on that.
The recipe exchange is intended to bring some holiday fun for students to share with their families, but the forum will offer ongoing community-building activities designed to engage all students.
Curriculum Coordinating: Parent-Facing
As mentioned, somewhat of a new role Mrs. DuPrau has adopted this year is acting as a messenger between parents and teachers, sitting in on meetings, for example, and again always trying to be solution based.
“Parents are also feeling stressed and that stress comes in to play in the way they are feeling about how everything’s going,” said Mrs. DuPrau. Normally trivial problems like a technical glitch can bother us to a different degree. “So, in general, I try to keep everybody positive and looking for the good and making sure everyone’s flexible.”
Bringing It Home
With all of the work Mrs. DuPrau does to support TNCS teachers, students, and families, it’s easy to forget that she, too, has a life! This school year has presented challenges for her also. “I think the biggest challenge for me honestly has just been trying to keep everybody’s morale up,” she said. She finds little ways to provide “pick-me-ups” like passing out Halloween candy to teachers (shhhh . . . our little secret) or offering to cover classes. Having been a teacher for many years, she can certainly sympathize with the difficulties they face during this year of hybrid teaching, but she strongly believes that a solution-based attitude is necessary. Again, though, that’s in itself pressure. “My biggest challenge this year has been trying to keep everybody’s spirits up.” Mrs. DuPrau says her husband and dark chocolate provide the pick-me-ups she needs. A “good morning” would also do wonders to start her day off on the right foot!
Mrs. DuPrau sees the education-during-a-pandemic situation from multiple perspectives. She is sympathetic to teachers (some of whom are understandably concerned about returning to school after the Thanksgiving holiday, when students may have traveled or been exposed to more people than usual), as mentioned, but she also thinks TNCS is overall very lucky to be open. Her husband, who is a teacher, would love to be seeing his students in person, but is instead teaching from home and has a 3rd-grader simultaneously learning form home. Here again, she is also extremely sympathetic to overworked parents in similar situations.
“We’re all on the same team,” said Mrs. DuPrau. “We continue to find new ways to celebrate the TNCS community as we look to the future.”
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!