TNCS’s Annual Elementary and Middle School Back-to-School Night: Your Source for Need-to-Know Info for the 2019–2020 Academic Year!

Now that summer has unofficially ended, and school is back in full swing, The New Century School kicked off the 2019–2020 school year with its annual Back-to-School Night on Thursday, September 5th. The focus of the evening was to meet your student’s teachers and to present the student’s daily schedule, a curriculum overview, and school policies. In other words, students have had 2 weeks to acclimate—now it’s our turn! However, many parents were not able to attend, so this post will outline some of the more important bits of information you’ll need to get ensure a great year ahead.

As TNCS enters its 10th year, it’s worth noting how the school and its programs have expanded and grown to what they are today. Changes each year are inevitable, but TNCS has stayed true to its identity and has successfully weathered those changes, transforming would-be obstacles into opportunities and continuing to grow the student body.

An overview of tips and policies is given here, and specific documents can also be downloaded accessed via the TNCS Parent Hub (as well as Blackbaud—see more info below).

Welcome to the 2019–2020 School Year!

The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Shara Khon Duncan warmly welcoming parents, new and returning: “It’s nice to see all of your faces again—welcome,” she began. She next introduced the new staff and elementary and middle school teachtncs-back-to-school-night-2017ers, who then returned to their classrooms to prepare for the group breakouts by division. (Immersed will profile Suzannah Hopkins, Admissions; Lindsey Sandkuhler, K–1; Loretta Lee, 2–3; and Daphnee Hope, 7–8 in the annual “Meet the Teacher” series so you can get to know them better.) Chef Danielle provided tasty refreshments for attendees.IMG_2827 copy

Sra. Duncan then addressed the parent audience and presented four primary points about this school year at TNCS.

Blackbaud Comes to TNCS

Never fear, it’s not a swashbuckling pirate! Blackbaud is a brand-new student information platform rolling out for the new school year. Led by Sra. Duncan, TNCS had been on a quest for an effective, efficient system for more than a year, and Blackbaud rose to the top after a thorough vetting process. Said Sra. Duncan,”with a student information system, we should be able to get information about a student; make queries within the database; and, most importantly, we should be able to communicate with families.” Sra. Duncan gave well-deserved props to Karin Cintron for setting up Blackbaud and getting it out to parents.

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In addition to everything Blackbaud will make easier to accomplish from an administrative perspective, like admissions, re-enrollment, and so on, the parent experience will be greatly enhanced as well. The system houses class pages, an interactive calendar, community groups for networking (e.g., class parents, Parent Council, volunteering), resource boards, a newsfeed, links to Family ID and other sites, and more. Throughout this school year and as parents get familiar with it, Blackbaud will become the go-to for just about everything school related. “No more digging back through emails to find out what concert attire is supposed to be,” said Sr. Duncan. “It’ll all be there for you in one convenient location.”

The rollout will continue in a piecemeal fashion, as TNCS administration recognizes that too much change all at once can be overwhelming. This initiative is to help make school processes easier, after all. “I really want everyone to buy in to Blackbaud as our primary communications tool,” said Sra. Duncan. “However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t email a teacher—please continue to do so. Blackbaud is more for our school-wide points of business.”

Communication: It’s Not Just Talk

Speaking of communication, this brings us to Sra. Duncan’s second topic. “Last year was my first year as Head of School, and I learned a lot. One thing was the importance of communication. I really want to beef up communication with parents, but that’s a two-way  endeavor.” She urges parents to speak up when they have a concern, not to wait around and let a situation get out of hand or cause bad feelings. “If something’s bothering you, please let us know,” she said. “It’s better for all of us if we can address a problem from the outset and possibly make a difference. You’re not bugging us—these are your children. We’re supposed to be working together.”

Sra. Duncan has a way of getting to the heart of a matter! Keep the lines of communication open through emails, phone-calls, conferences . . . but preferably not during drop-off.

Carline: Ins and Outs

And that brings us to the third topic of the evening: drop-off and pick-up. The most important take-away here is safety. There are children and adults walking about, and their safety is paramount. The carline is a wonderfully convenience for parents, but it only works the way it’s supposed to when everyone follows the rules.

Drivers: The speed limit is 5 mph. Not any higher for any reason. Please obey the traffic directors and their signals.

Walkers: Use crosswalks–don’t walk through the parking lot! Drivers are obeying traffic directors and might not see you. The directors themselves might not see you. Do yourself and your child a favor and use the crosswalks!

Double parking: Don’t do it! You might get ticketed, as police officers are really cracking down on that this year. It also causes numerous circulation problems and causes frustration for TNCS’s neighbors. What is double parking? It can mean temporarily parking next to a legally parked car and leaving your car with the hazard lights on, but it also applies to leaving your car at all anywhere on the street that isn’t a designated parking spot. “It gums up the system,” said Sra. Duncan.

Obey traffic laws: For example, avoid blocking the intersection of Ann and Aliceanna streets.

You may have noticed that Sra. Duncan is no longer directing exiting traffic. Unfortunately, not to mention unacceptably, she was nearly hit three times last year and is not willing to repeat that risk. “I love my life,” she said, “and I would love to continue being Head of The New Century School with my legs intact.”

“I don’t know of any school that has a carline that everyone likes,” said Sra. Duncan, “and it never goes perfectly. But, we all have to work together. We are doing the best that we can to get the students out of the school buildings and into your cars. So, your patience is really important and appreciated.”

Grades Get Real

“I saw way too many high grades last year,” began Sra. Duncan. “While you might think, ‘great—that’s awesome!’, it’s really not. High grades are great only if they are truly earned.” So, she met with teachers to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what the grades mean. How are children earning their As, Es, and 1s? Indiscriminately serving out high grades now will not serve students well when they move on to high school, and reality sets in. “One, we’re not setting our students up for success with this approach,” continued Sra. Duncan, “and two, we certainly don’t want to get the reputation that we inflate grades.” She also pointed out that students will not try harder if they have already achieved the pinnacle of success. “They need room to grow, something to work toward. There’s room to grow in a B, and it means that teachers will be working with your child in those specific areas.”

“Please don’t panic if you see some honest grades come home. We really want to do what’s best for our students.” Inflate gate deflated! Homeroom teachers will provide more information on grading rubrics.


And that was the gist of Back-to-School Night. More homeroom-specific information will be communicated by teachers, via Blackbaud, and from Class Parents. Enjoy your school year!

Musical Theatre Camp 2019 Welcomed Some Very Special Visitors!

The New Century School is special for a great number of reasons, and several of those reasons come together in this week’s Immersed. To start with, TNCS offers hands-down the city’s most varied and exciting lineup of summer camps, and Musical Theatre camp led by the always marvelous Martellies Warren is a perennial favorite. Then there’s all that goes into what makes such a camp so effective and so wonderful for young learners—the arts, the music-making, the mixed ages collaborating so beautifully! Not to mention skills relating to the camp  theme! But there’s one extra-special aspect to this year’s Musical Theatre camp that elevated it even further: four attendees from China joined the fun!

Meet Mike, Jane, Coco, and Alex!

“Mike” (Zimo Han), age 11, is from Hunan. “Jane” (Xinyi Ma), age 11, and “Coco” (Jiarui Sunn), age 9, both live in Beijing. “Alex” (Qinghua Shang), age 6, is from Tianjin. The group was in Baltimore for 1 week, after which they headed to New York, NY for 4 days of sightseeing (Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Times Square, etc.). It was everybody’s first visit to the United States. Mike and Jane were accompanied by their mothers (Aili Mao and Jing Li), and Alex was accompanied by both his mother and grandmother (Yu Zhang and Aixian Zhang). The group also had a “handler” of sorts from the Harvest Company of China to help facilitate activities and make sure everyone was comfortable. They stayed in two furnished Baltimore row houses in the Bolton Hill neighborhood and enjoyed having three spacious floors of living space to run around in. Their evenings after camp were mostly spent relaxing at home, playing chess and other boardgames and watching tv—they even learned the idiom, “to click around” when referring to not watching anything in particular but channel surfing. The adults in their party cooked breakfast for them each day, but they had plenty of opportunity to eat their favorite food—pizza! Lunches and dinners were often enjoyed out at restaurants.

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The kids spoke wonderful English as a result of lessons in school, but they also appreciated the chance to speak Mandarin Chinese with TNCS students. They reported having a great time and made lots of friends at camp. Back at home in China, their hobbies included playing basketball (Mike), drawing (Alex), reading (Jane), and figure skating (Coco). See some of their other talents below! While the kids were in camp, the adults did some sightseeing around town, taking in Johns Hopkins University and the Peabody Library, for example, as well as visiting the Naval Academy in Annapolis and getting some shopping in at Arundel Mills Mall. A Target run was also de rigueur!

Behind the Scenes

Because Peter and the Wolf only has a handful of roles, the 25 total campers took on roles as a group, so, for example, the character of “Duck” was actually four campers. Campers ranged in age from rising 1st-graders to rising 7th-graders, and they hailed not from just China and TNCS but from schools all over the city like Patterson Park Public Charter School, Hampstead Hill Academy, St. Casimir’s, and the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Helping Mr. Warren lead camp was intern Carrie, who came to TNCS from China in early July and will stay for 1 year.

They learned important technical skills like stage blocking related to being part of a musical theatre production. Mr. Warren reported that they had the whole performance mapped out on the first day and so were able to devote their remaining days to rehearsing. After each rehearsal, Mr. Warren provided some debriefing notes for each group.

Comments like, “Wolves, wonderful job today! You were in time with the music, and you have amazing music to play off of!” and “Remember AIC? Always in character!” were common. The performers themselves likewise offered suggestions for how to improve a certain scene, like “Grandpa(s) should hang their heads and look disappointed in Peter.”

As per usual, campers made art to decorate the stage front. These are stunning!

They also crafted props and costumes and made great use of the Imagination Playground for set pieces.

The Play Is the Thing!

Mr. Warren introduced the performance and vowed not to interfere but to let his pros handle anything that came up. “They did an amazing job acting and putting up with my silliness,” he said. “It was wonderful!”

And now, we present Peter and the  Wolf, in its entirety!

Farewell, Friends!

On the last day of camp, after the performance of Peter and the Wolf, Mike, Jane, Coco, and Alex treated the audience to some performances of their own.

They were also presented with Certificates of Participation in their English language immersion camp.

The adults who accompanied them were thrilled by the whole experience and were kind enough to share some of their impressions of the program. Alex’s mother is an English translation teacher at a college in Tianjin. Mike’s mother both promotes literacy and runs an Adidas store in Hunan. She also takes her job as mother very seriously and was very happy to be able to spend mornings with her son, here in Baltimore, cooking special meals. Jane’s mother is also in education.

They had various reasons for wanting their children to attend camp at TNCS. They wanted the authentic experience of a customized trip and did not want to be stuck on tours such as what a typical travel agency would offer. They wanted the flexibility to be able to have their possibly changing needs met, as Mike’s mom described it. They also wanted the chance to practice their English. Furthermore, their children tended to be shy, they reported, and they were hoping that an immersion summer camp might bring them out a bit. An ancillary reason is that they were very curious about immersion-style learning itself, which is quite rare in China. “The way you teach students and the way you live so freely is totally different from China. It really impressed me,” said Alex’s mother.

At TNCS Musical Theatre camp, Mike, Jane, Coco, and Alex were doubly immersed, in a sense, because they also had to get comfortable being on stage and making new friends. For this, the adults were beyond grateful. They saw their children bravely trying new things and quickly becoming comfortable doing so. “I still remember the first day Alex went to school,” said his mom, “and when he came back home he told me he didn’t want to go again because he was too nervous. The next day he came back and something had changed. He tried his best to join the class, and he was so happy from then on.”

Jane had a lovely time, too. She wrote a letter to her friends back home completely in English, which made her mother very proud. She was having so much fun with them that she stayed up late to make gifts for them. “She really cherishes the friendships she has made,” said her mom.

Normally very independent Coco experienced some homesickness at first but quickly adapted and returned to her gregarious, social self.

Jane’s mom mentioned that she noticed a big change in all four of the children after their week at camp. At first they were reticent, but they very quickly embraced the experience and were livelier than she had ever seen.

Mike’s mom’s nicest surprise was the Orient Express restaurant owned by a TNCS family. She said the Chinese food there was better than what she can get in China!

Alex’s grandmother was most taken with the arrangement itself. She appreciated being able to learn from the trip on their jaunts, while the children were having such a rich immersion experience. She also enjoyed feeling so welcome and commented on how friendly and thoughtful everyone has been. Monica Li got an especially warm compliment for all she did to make their time comfortable and smooth. Monica is indispensable to TNCS!

On their last evening in Baltimore, they were going to Tokyo Seafood Buffet, where they would be trying their first taste of Maryland blue crab. We miss them all already and hope they remember TNCS and Charm City fondly, as we will hold them dear as well!

 

Chinese Immersion Camp 2019—Wǒ Kěyǐ (我可以)?

From July 1st through 5th, The New Century School hosted a Mandarin Chinese Immersion summer camp that not only boosted participants’ language acquisition and speaking skills, but also emphasized the importance of having fun while learning. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain proficiency faster when they are doing something while learning a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around activities, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to those activities. Did you notice the name Xie Laoshi? You read correctly! TNCS campers welcomed back their dear former teacher, and she brought along some new friends from her current school to join the fun. The group also included a raffle winner from Patterson Park Public Charter School (see more about that program in this post from summer 2018)! Students came from all over the city; other schools included Greenspring Montessori and Baltimore International Academy.

You may be wondering, with such a varied group of students, how did Chinese immersion camp come together? In fact, the 14 campers ranged in age from 4 to 12, but Jewel—like always—rose to the challenge. Instead of focusing on a single theme as past camps have done (see here and here), Chinese Immersion Camp 2019 took a slightly different approach and emphasized interaction. This meant lots of practice communicating with each other and partaking in various activities in groups.

Jewel has a lot of experience in teaching Mandarin summer camps for children. (She taught Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015 as well as developed her own camp the following year.) She employs the 5 Cs of language acquisition developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that TNCS has been using all along in its multilingual language program curriculum. Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities inform every language-learning activity the day holds. The most effective language program designs activities in which these five concepts intersect, which is exactly what Chinese Immersion Camp achieves, as photos throughout this post eloquently demonstrate. Now let’s take a peek at camp!

Camp Day to Day

This year, Jewel was joined by assistant Miss Pung, which allowed the camp to subdivide for part of the day, with older campers working on skits to be performed at the end of the week and younger campers practicing conversation while working on related art projects.

 

Although camp was not specifically themed, each day had a standard framework. Mornings were devoted to lessons, which progressed to applying what they just learned in practice.

 

Even the vocabulary lessons, however, were extremely interactive. See Jewel and her devoted students in action!

After lunch and recess, afternoons usually meant art (working with clay, making dragon fans, creating blue “porcelain” plates) and other cultural activities—singing, dancing, cooking, and so on . . . even some martial arts displays!

 

Building Blocks of Conversation

Key here is that everything was interrelated; vocabulary was specific to the day’s activities—in other words, campers were acquiring the tools they would be using throughout the day. In addition to placards and the whiteboard to teach language, Jewel also employed Chinese Buddy, a collection of YouTube video songs designed to teach discrete conversational units and grammar points. Campers watched and sang along, clearly enjoying them. Each unit built upon the next, and campers ultimately used what they learned to write, produce, and perform their end-of-week skits.

If your child is learning Mandarin, you’ll want to meet Chinese Buddy. The songs are funny, catchy, and adored by kids. Start with the very memorable, “Stinky Tofu Song (臭豆腐之歌)” that focuses on how to communicate “want”:

Now see TNCS campers!

How about the “May I/Can I (可以吗)” song?

Move and Learn!

Attendees really did learn by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet. Plenty of movement and physical activity took place each day, and multiple benefits accrue from this approach. Kids obviously need to move around and release some of their boundless energy, but research shows that learning while moving deepens learning. (Read more about this theory called Total Physical Response here.) In the following short video clips, you’ll see campers competing in short physical contests. They comprehend Jewel’s commands given in Mandarin effortlessly, and she mixes in new vocabulary with the Mandarin campers are already familiar with, like counting, which gives them both practice—so important for language proficiency—and new brain food to chew on. They are having so much fun they don’t even realize they are learning! And don’t forget the cultural component—in China, school children do daily calisthenics, much like what TNCS campers are doing here!

And Now, for the Skits!

In their skits, campers put it altogether. They were all, thus, variations on a theme, but each group put their own stamp on it! The basic premise was a child asking a parent permission for something, the request being denied, and the child moving on to another parent, who then grants the request. Some marital friction might ensue, depending on the group. Or, dad might be Captain America—again, it depends on the group. Jewel said, “They didn’t have a lot of practice, but they really did an amazing job and did everything by themselves.”

Míngnián Zàijiàn (明年再见), Chinese Camp!

Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered—campers prepared and gobbled up Chinese noodles with gusto! What did Jewel think of camp? “I was very happy to be at The New Century School and working with the students here again,” she said. The week went great, and we had fun together. I felt like I have never left. TNCS is always close to my heart.”

If you notice a bump in your child’s Mandarin skills over the next few weeks, you have the rich cultural experience of TNCS Chinese Immersion Camp 2019—and Jewel—to thank.

 

 

TNCS Head of School Wraps up the 2018–2019 School Year!

Shara Khon Duncan has been Head of School at The New Century School for a full year.  Immersed had another sit-down with her for a nostalgic look back at her first year, what goals she set and accomplished, what went well, what she’s continuing to address, and what she’ll tackle next.

Immediately, Sra. Duncan expressed her pleasure and gratitude for what she called a great year.

It’s really great—I love it. Friends, family, and former colleagues will say things like, ‘you don’t look tired enough,’ or ‘you’re still smiling; how is that possible?’, and it’s because I love what I do. It’s not a job. I love coming to this place everyday, where I have such wonderful people to work with as well as wonderful students and families. I tell people that this is one of the most diverse environments that I’ve been in. It’s a blessing to be here.

Diversity and languages are, indeed, important to Sra. Duncan, who was a Diversity Coordinator at one of her former schools. She is amazed that TNCS doesn’t even need one—it organically attracts a culturally diverse population and is inherently inclusive and respectful of the community’s various needs. And the languages really elevate the school for her; in fact, that’s what originally drew her to TNCS (see TNCS Welcomes Shara Khon Duncan as Head of School for her rich history with languages). She gets to use her adopted language Spanish daily, and she is even picking up some Mandarin, thanks to the perseverance of Li Laoshi. Sra. Duncan joked that, so far, she can tell you whether it’s raining or not. “In all seriousness, though, it’s just wonderful to hear the students speaking in Spanish and Mandarin,” said Sra. Duncan. It amazes me to hear kindergarten students who just started in the fall and spoke only English singing in both languages at the spring concert and sounding like they’ve been doing it all their lives. It gives me chills.”

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Goals Accomplished

The year went really fast in a lot of ways, and in a lot of ways I feel like I’ve been here a long time,” said Sra. Duncan. “It presented some challenges in the sense that there was a lot of work to do just putting systems into place, trying to make it so that we can run more efficiently in the background, which was one of my goals.” She explained that in order to be as visible and out and about on campus as she’d like to be, she needed to first work behind the scenes to establish a framework.

One such system is a new student management system, which the TNCS community will learn about in the coming weeks and will launch for the 2019–2020 school year. It’s called Blackbaud, and it will provide a much more efficient platform for communication—think school delay and closing announcements—as well as much, much more. Staff will be able to readily send out notifications, and teachers will have individual web pages that parents can access to find out what’s going on in the classroom rather than receiving such information from a sometimes unwieldy email platform. Resource boards will also be available to house other kinds of information so parents don’t have to go spelunking through their inboxes to find out, for example, what is the requested dress for an upcoming student performance. It’s right there in one easy-to-access place.

“That process of vetting various systems to see which one would work best for us took a good deal of my time,” said Sra. Duncan, “but we established teams, and I talked to other schools. Things like that take time; you want to do your due diligence. There’s no one system that works well for everyone, perfectly, but our hope is that this one will probably work the best for us.”

Blackbaud will also facilitate the application process as well as the administrative workflow for teachers and other staff so that they can maximize their time. “When you’re a small school, you wear many hats. But anything we can do to make people’s jobs better, so they work smarter not harder, is really important. We can, including me, find ways to use our other skills more effectively,” said Sra. Duncan. Curriculum is one thing that is very much on her mind that Blackbaud will help streamline.

See what other successes the year held in Thoughts on the First Half of the Year from TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, and read on for what’s to come!

What’s Next

One important change is with the upcoming implementation of i-Ready supplemental work. “We used to use SuccessMaker, but it didn’t really work for us the way we wanted it to this year. What we found through our research is that i-Ready will give students the ability to practice their skills in ELA and Math in a classroom rotation,” said Sra. Duncan. The advantage is that, as a supplemental program rather than a primary curriculum, it will help diagnose any problem areas students might be having and feed that information to the teacher.

Narrowing the focus a bit, with TNCS having graduated its first-ever 8th-grade class this past year, the Middle School is very much on everyone’s mind. One thing that this class showed Sra. Duncan is that test-taking skills are critical. “It’s a double-edged sword,” she said. “Being a school that doesn’t do standardized testing, per se, we nevertheless have to prepare our students for the standardized testing they’ll need to enter high school. So, we’re working on test-taking skills for our middle school students, in particular, and they all took the ISEE test this past year.”

She says she wants to make the TNCS Middle School the best it can possibly be and is focusing on strengthening that program over the summer.

Our goal is to help people understand that we go all the way through 8th grade. We want people to see this as a school that doesn’t end after preschool or even after elementary, it ends at 8th grade, and we want families in for the long haul. Families who enter in preprimary or primary believe that something is good about our program, so why not see how that can continue in their child’s life? They know that language is important, and they get to see it in action. I’m in awe everyday of what our teachers do, but we want that to continue all the way up. So that’s something we are working on.

Another thing the first crop of 8th-graders revealed to Sra. Duncan and to Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau, TNCS’s “resident expert on high school applications,” is that middle schoolers must get used to doing daily homework, so they increased the amount mid-year. “That may sound like not a popular thing, but it helps them get that time management piece down that they really need in order to be prepared for high school,” explained Sra. Duncan. “Students adapted to it wonderfully, and parents were right along with us!”

With the test pilot of increased homework having gone so well, this new initiative will continue for the coming year. Additionally, research and other long-term projects are on the horizon. “There’s a lot more that we need to teach our students, such as understanding how to use and be critical of technology. There are pieces that they have to learn about the whole process, and what’s important is helping them understand what goes into the process of researching. It’s almost as important as the writing process,” said Sra. Duncan.

She continued: “We feel very good about our first graduating middle school class, and we learned an awful lot about the whole process. Ultimately, we just want to make sure that we have everything we need to make sure our students are prepared for when it’s time to move on from here.”

It’s a Partnership

With everything that Sra. Duncan and the rest of the school is doing to ensure that TNCS students are learning and flourishing, it’s vital to remember that parents also play important roles in this process. One big theme of Sra. Duncan’s is the importance of two-way communication and that her door is open. When community members hear things thirdhand, for example, but don’t bring their concerns forward, uncertainty spreads. “When people are talking to others about something they’ve heard regarding the school, but they don’t come to me, I can’t address it. If you have a concern, I’m happy to talk to you about it,” she said.

She’s going to be straight with you, but she also really wants to hear what you have to say and is going to be very fair about that. “I know I have more peace of mind if I just say my piece or ask my questions. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they can’t come talk to us. This is your child. Come talk to us. We may not agree, but we’ve got to talk about it. I get it—I’m a mom, too.”

A second important theme is that TNCS is a work in progress—a very innovative and exciting work in progress—and that there’s no such thing as a perfect school.

The advantage is that we will always keep trying to be better. We are a young school, but that’s a good thing, because we’re trying to figure out how to make this work beautifully every single day. We are trying to learn from every little thing that doesn’t quite work the right way. We fix what doesn’t work, and we figure out how to do more of what goes great. This hidden gem down here is pretty amazing, and when people really find out about it, they are duly amazed.

Final Thoughts

When asked what the main thing she wanted parents to know about her first year at TNCS, Sra. Duncan said: “This is what I was made to do. This is my thing. I’ve been working toward this my whole life, and I didn’t know it. It’s just so wonderful. This is my place. I love it. I really love it.”

And, with characteristic good humor: “Also please don’t run over me while I’m directing traffic. Please.”

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TNCS Middle School Students Go to Town on Chinese Culture and Communication!

On Monday, May 20th, middle schoolers at The New Century School took a very special jaunt to Washington, D.C.—they went on a Chinese field trip! The trip was organized and led by TNCS Chinese teacher Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”), and middle school student whisperer Adriana DuPrau also accompanied the group.

Culture (and Communication) Club

“I really want students at our school to know more about Chinese culture as well as practice their Chinese in an authentic environment,” said Li Laoshi, and so off to D.C. they went! They first toured the Freer|Sackler Gallery of Asian art and then strolled through Chinatown and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Li Laoshi’s twofold objectives of culture and communication were thus perpetually being met.

download.jpgAnd with very good reason. If the point of teaching Mandarin Chinese to non-native students is for them to learn and use the language, those are two big factors in achieving proficiency. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), The five goal areas of the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages establish an inextricable link between communication and culture, which is applied in making connections and comparisons and in using this competence to be part of local and global communities.” The five goal areas are also known as the “5 Cs“; download them here.)

ACTFL characterizes communication as, “. . . at the heart of second language study, whether the communication takes place face-to-face, in writing, or across centuries through the reading of literature.” At TNCS, Li Laoshi has always made sure that communication occurs in “real-life” situations to emphasize what students can do with language rather than what they know about a language, such as how many vocabulary words.

As for culture, ACTFL says, “Through the study of other languages, students gain a knowledge and understanding of the cultures that use that language and, in fact, cannot truly master the language until they have also mastered the cultural contexts in which the language occurs.” It’s knowledge. It’s not just a cultural event—it’s a connection between the language and another subject. TNCS students regularly engage in everything from Chinese cooking (dumplings, noodles, pancakes) to learning how to use an abacus, to practicing calligraphy. The field trip for middle schoolers brought a lot of these experiences home.

Chinese Art

As the national museums of Asian art at the Smithsonian Institute, “the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery preserve, exhibit, and interpret Asian art in ways that deepen our understanding of Asia, America, and the world.” TNCS students were treated to a private tour of the exhibit Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644–1912, which “provides an insightful look into the public and private lives of imperial women during the Qing dynasty. This first-ever, in-depth exhibition focuses on five empresses to reveal their long-overlooked influence on the arts, religion, politics, and diplomacy of China.”

tncs-middle-schoolers-visit-chinatown-in-dcThe tour was extremely well constructed for students. The guides provided supplemental objects that students could actually touch. The girls in the group got a big kick out of being able to try on the long, gold, talon-like fingernail guards that the empresses used to wear—telling the world that they were far too imperial to work. Boys and girls alike were astonished by the slight size of a pair of silk shoes worn by wealthy Chinese woman who practiced foot-binding, and were equally relieved to learn that the Manchu women of the Qing dynasty did not partake in that cruel custom.

download-1Guides also provided interactive activities at regular intervals. For example, after viewing the empresses’ splendid and very elaborate wedding gowns, students were asked to design their own, incorporating some of the important symbols and colors that they had just learned about: Dragons represent imperial authority, fish represent fertility, and the lotus flower represents purity, to name a few. The phoenix was the most recurring symbol, as it represents empress, or queen. Likewise, the color yellow is the imperial color. Symbols like those shown above were also carved into frames and objets d’art.

 

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There were even clever riddles to solve!

1. What has the claws of a hawk
the horns of a deer
the eyes of a rabbit
the teeth of a tiger
the neck of a snake
the belly of a frog
the head of a camel
the scales of a fish?

Hint: The answer is also the symbol of imperial authority.

“The exhibition was awesome. The tour was very educational, and the tour guide was very knowledgeable,” said Li Laoshi.

2. What has the head of a golden pheasant
the body of a mandarin duck
the tail of a peacock
the legs of a crane
the mouth of a parrot
the wings of a swallow?

Hint: The answer is also the symbol for empress.

Chinatown

After a wonderful time at the museum, TNCS students got to walk around Chinatown a bit in the warm, pre-summer afternoon. So warm, in fact, that the Chinese Rita’s was all anyone could talk about!

 

While in Chinatown, the group stopped at Full Kee Restaurant for lunch. This was their chance to speak Mandarin in a real-life situation, and the middle schoolers were instructed that they had to at least order in Chinese as well as try to use as much additional conversational Chinese as they could. They did great, and even tried some new dishes. “I was very proud and touched when I watch my students use Chinese  for ordering food in the Chinese restaurant,” said Li Laoshi. She had one other request—that her students attempt to eat with chopsticks. Here is her tutorial in Mandarin:

Warning: Do not watch the slideshow below on an empty stomach! Delicious food photos ahead!

 

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Everyone had a wonderful experience, and it was a lovely way to close out the 2018–2019 school year and bid farewell to the graduating 8th-graders (sniff). To them, we say:

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Wait—what? You still don’t know the answers to the riddles??? Okay, okay—here you go: 1. Lóng (龙) 2. Fènghuáng (凤凰). Happy now?

TNCS Hosts Second Group of Students from China in 2019!

As mentioned in an Immersed post earlier this month, The New Century School hosted a second group of school-age Chinese children for a 2-week stay. All from Beijing, Jiaxuan Bai (“Tracy”) and her sister “Elisa,” Jiaming Jin (“Michael”), Junze Ma (“Frank”), Chuxuan Zhang (“Alice”) and Jiran Li (“Mia”), escorted by Elisa and Tracy’s grandmother,  Shuling Zhang, arrived Saturday, February 9th and depart on Saturday, the 23rd. Their first day of school at TNCS was Monday, the 11th, and TNCS students couldn’t wait to meet them, having had such a nice time with Lucy, Meg, Tiger, and Tiffany during the preceding 2 weeks.

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Once again, Candace Moore was the group’s Exchange Coordinator, and she gave them an orientation on Saturday in their Airbnb, followed by a trip to the grocery store. Sunday was a rest-and-relax day and a chance to adjust to the new hours. On Monday, school closed due to inclement weather in the greater Baltimore area, so Ms. Moore took the group shopping at Target and Five Below (city roads were clear, so driving was safe within the city). Their excitement and wonder to be inside those two Hallowed Halls of Worldly Goods are quite evident!

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At The New Century School

On Tuesday, their routine began. They would arrive at TNCS by 8:30 am, attend assigned classes including such specialty classes as English as a Second Language, Music, Art and others, have school lunch, and return to their Airbnb for dinner. Tracy and Alice, both going on age 12, and Michael, age 14, all joined Mrs. Madrazo‘s middle school classroom. Elisa and Mia, ages 8 and 9, respectively, joined Mrs. Biancaniello‘s 2nd- 3rd-grade class room, and Frank, a 4th-grader, joined Ms. Sharma’s 4th- and 5th-grade classroom. They participated in lessons, in-class activities, and the odd walkabout!

No visit to TNCS is complete without a cooking session, and this one was no different. Li Laoshi likes to use Chinese class time on Fridays to do something fun, culturally fun, and so each class made Chinese noodles from scratch. The prize noodle was made by Michael!

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Students also got to try their hand at bucket drumming with TNCS strings teacher Yoshi Horiguchi, another activity that is quickly becoming de rigueur at TNCS (see videos of Yoshi bucket-drumming with some of last-year’s visitors here).

Other Activities

The group’s visit coincided with the Presidents’ Day holiday, so they had a 4-day weekend to sightsee in and around Baltimore during their stay. On Friday, the 15th, accompanied by some of their TNCS friends, they played indoor laser tag and mini-golf at Monster Mini Golf in Parkville, which was a huge hit. The next day they traveled to Washington, D.C. to see the White House, among other important U.S. landmarks. On Sunday, they toured the Baltimore Museum of Art and ate at TNCS’s favorite Chinese restaurant, Orient Express. On Monday, the 18th, they visited the National Aquarium and walked around the Inner Harbor.

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The students got unexpected breaks from the classroom as well. A second inclement weather–induced school closing happened on Wednesday, the 20th . . . this time with 5 glorious inches of snow blanketing the ground! When it snows in Baltimore, kids head in droves to Pagoda Hill in Patterson Park, as our Chinese friends soon learned—they couldn’t believe how many of their TNCS friends were there!

They enjoyed sledding very much, a special treat, as snow in Beijing is a rarity. After their escapades in the snow, they visited TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Jennifer Lawner’s house for an afternoon of games and some fun in the kitchen.

Interview with the Group

On their last day at TNCS, Immersed was lucky enough to sit down with the four older children (Michael, Tracy, Frank, and Alice, in the order shown left to right below) to hear firsthand about their experience. (Elisa and Mia were occupied in class.) It should be noted that both Tracy and Alice have been to the United States before, having come with their parents who came to expand their work in medical research. Tracy lived in Washington, D.C. for 2 years in 2015, attending Stone Mill Elementary during that time, and Alice in Boston for 1 year, attending Pierce School. The interview is transcribed below—you will see some clear themes emerging!IMG_2066.jpg

Immersed: Why did you want to come to study at TNCS?

Tracy: Because I wanted to see what the people my age are doing, like, how they study.

Alice: Because the air is fresh and I can play in the playground.

Michael: I like America.

Frank: Because the air is fresh, and everything is so good so I can study better. Also, the food is better than at my school in China.

Immersed: What did you think of TNCS? Did you notice anything different about TNCS from your school?

Tracy: TNCS is great. I like the teachers; they’re nice to me. When I have questions, like about a word I don’t know, they’ll explain it. What is different in my school, after lunch, we get into the classroom and start working on our homework because we have so much. We don’t have recess.

Alice: I think TNCS is very good. We can play in the playground. I notice that he homework is not too much.

Michael: It’s very good. The students in my class were very nice to me and want to be friends with me. The teachers are good, too. What is different is that it’s so active in the classroom.

Frank: [Holding up two thumbs and two big toes] What I like is the same as the other answers.

Immersed: What was your favorite activity outside of school?

Tracy: I like spending so much time outside. I liked the aquarium.

Alice: I liked the aquarium, too. The art museum.

Michael: Visiting the Aquarium and the White House.

Frank: Going to Target and Five Below!

Immersed: What are your hobbies?

Tracy: Skiing, ice-skating and making crafts.

Alice: Ice-skating and making origami.

Immersed: Did you go out to eat anywhere?

Tracy: My grandmother usually cooked dinner, but once we went to a place to eat chicken. While we are in school, Candace takes her shopping and to see things. She takes a lot of photos outside like the sculpture of the blue crab.

Immersed: Okay, last and most important question—what was your favorite food?

Tracy: Tacos! Candace might take me to Taco Bell tomorrow for lunch.

Alice: French fries!

Michael: Pizza!

Frank: Hamburger, fries, pizza, juice!

Farewell, Friends!

As has become the tradition, TNCS hosted a closing ceremony with speeches of thank-you’s from both hosts and guests, presentation of certificates, and snacks.

TNCS was so honored to have you and will miss you, Tracy, Elisa, Michael, Alice, Frank, and Mia! Please stay in touch Bǎochí liánxì (保持联系)!

Happy Chinese Lunar New Year 2019, TNCS Community!

The Chinese Lunar New Year is a favorite annual celebration at The New Century School. In 2019, Chinese New Year officially began on February 5th, 2019, and ends on February 19th. The occasion is subdivided into phases, however, with the so-called “Little Year” having started on January 28th and lasting until February 4th (New Year’s Eve). The “Spring Festival” ran from February 5th through February 15th, and the “Lantern Festival” phase begins February 16th and ends February 19th.

This is The Year of the Pig (猪—zhū)—a most auspicious animal representative, as pigs with their chubby faces and big ears are symbols of wealth in Chinese culture, despite their reputation for bringing up the rear.

Pig Zodiac Sign

According to the website Chinese New Year.net:

The Pig is the twelfth of all zodiac animals. According to one myth, the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the order in which they arrived to his party. Pig was late because he overslept. Another story says that a wolf destroyed his house. He had to rebuild his home before he could set off. When he arrived, he was the last one and could only take twelfth place.

Pigs might not stand out in a crowd. But they are very realistic. Others may be all talk and no action. Pigs are the opposite. Though not wasteful spenders, they will let themselves enjoy life. They love entertainment and will occasionally treat themselves. They are a bit materialistic, but this is motivation for them to work hard. Being able to hold solid objects in their hands gives them security.

They are energetic and are always enthusiastic, even for boring jobs. If given the chance, they will take positions of power and status. They believe that only those people have the right to speak, and that’s what they want.

Celebrations at TNCS

Although every Chinese New Year is special, this year stands out thanks to some very special guests from China. Tiger, Lucy, Tiffany, and Meg and their parents joined the TNCS community for 2 wonderful weeks of fun and cultural exchange (see more about their visit here).

Although Chinese New Year represents “out with the old, in with the new,” so wearing new clothes, often in red, is common practice, February 5th just happened to coincide with Pajama Day as part of TNCS’s Spirit Week.

Red Pockets

TNCS students did observe other Chinese New Year traditions including the always-popular “Red Pockets”! These delightful red envelopes known as hóng bāo (红包) contain “lucky money,” which is to help get the recipient off on the right foot in the new year. At TNCS, Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”) has her older students pass out hóng bāo to the preprimary and primary students (who don’t mind a bit that the yuan inside are counterfeit).

Dumpling Making

If there’s one thing TNCS students absolutely love to do, it’s make—and eat—jiǎozi ( 餃子), dumplings! On the first day of Chinese New Year, they were led by their Chinese friends’ parents, which was an added treat.

The Performance

On the first day of Chinese New Year, TNCS students and their Chinese guests collaborated on a very special performance of singing, dancing, and playing instruments.

These videos are presented to you in the order of the show. Prepare to be seriously wowed.

It was such a wonderful way to start off 2019 . . . or, rather, the year 4716. No matter how you count your years, this Chinese New Year at TNCS will be remembered for a long time to come!


For past years’ celebrations at TNCS, see: