TNCS Veteran Teacher Laura Noletto Takes Over Elementary and Middle School Spanish Instruction!

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!

You can also visit the TNCS YouTube channel and search for Spanish Heritage Night music videos from past events. Try the World Languages Playlist!

TNCS Admissions 2020: The Name of the Game is Flexibility, Authenticity, and Patience!

The New Century School welcomed Suzannah Hopkins to take over as Admissions Director for the 2019–2020 school year . . .  and then the pandemic hit. Despite having only a few months under her belt as TNCS Admissions Director before schools were ordered to close down, Ms. Hopkins has managed to continue her work from her dining room table—including, believe it or not, introducing TNCS to new prospective families!

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But it’s certainly not easy. “It has been a challenge to sell the school, especially since we are wearing even more hats. The common saying among Admissions Directors is,” said Ms. Hopkins, “if we can get them on campus, they’re sold. But I can’t do that! That’s the rub for independent schools right now.”

Making Connections

So how does one showcase a school that can’t operate as a brick-and-mortar enterprise? That’s where TNCS Virtual School comes in to help tell the story. “That’s how people see who we are and what we’re all about,” explained Ms. Hopkins. “I also think that pivoting in our social media is allowing me to direct prospective families to our Facebook page and Immersed to show them virtually since we can’t do it in person. I only have a small window to provide a sense of what the school culture is about, so the social media becomes even more important. I am grateful to our team including Karin Cintron, who did not miss a beat pivoting with me to change our social media focus and creating resource pages on our website such as the new Support for Prospective Parents page.” In addition, the entire brochure package is also now on the website as a pdf.

Other aspects of admissions also needed to be adjusted, such as with the process for prospective students themselves:

We can’t do a shadow visit, so with rising 2nd through 8th graders, I’ll do student and parent interviews, separately or together, but definitely making sure I get to talk to the student. For the younger ones, we’re doing parent interviews, but I’ve been encouraging parents to make sure I have a sighting of the child or even just hear him or her in the background to get a sense of the family dynamic. That part is tricky, though, because kids are so different at home than they are at school, so you’re sort of getting their most comfortable self, and sometimes that can be pretty funny.

Ms. Hopkins says she relies a lot on Zoom these days, as do many of us, and values the ability to be able to connect with people, even if it can’t be in person. “I get so excited to get on a Zoom call and see some new faces,” she said. “Families seem to be feeling the same in terms of enjoying talking to somebody new or outside their own households. I start every call with, ‘How are you doing? How’s it going over at your house?’ Everyone wants to know that someone is thinking about them and feeling a sense of connection. Periodically, I’ll see a child enter the scene, and it’s the same on my end. Anything goes, and it’s all good! The mantra for virtual admissions is flexibility, authenticity, and a whole lot of patience.”

Her efforts to make connections are paying off, and prospective families with students of all ages have been reaching out for information. “Amazingly enough, we’ve gotten signed contracts even though the families don’t get to walk through the halls and hear our students and teachers interacting,” she said. In some ways, this is perhaps not so surprising as parents come to terms with realizing that we have to be ready for whatever the fall is going to look like. Schools in Maryland will not reopen this school year, and options may not be as abundant as they once were.

TNCS on the other hand, moved quickly to get up and running virtually, and has now hit a rhythm with it that seems to work for everyone. I give our faculty and administration a lot of credit for that. With so much uncertainty regarding how schools will reopen, I’m so in awe that we are trying to think of every possible scenario. It’s a whole lot of work to do that and figure out these contingencies. How can we split up this room to maintain smaller groups, for example? Do we have preschool on campus and elementary and middle stay virtual for now? Do we implement A and B days? For now, we’re all in the dark and watching the news together.

Virtual Discover TNCS Events

In addition to operating classrooms virtually, TNCS is offering Virtual Admissions Events. The first took place in April, and a second will take place Wednesday, May 20th from 10:00 am–11:00 am.

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“The fact that we’re doing virtual open houses is awesome,” said Ms. Hopkins. “We basically took the in-person event that I did in January and turned it into a Zoom event with updated slides and additions for virtual school. Josh Birenbaum gave the parent perspective, and we had nine prospective families in attendance.” One advantage to doing the event virtually is that people were able to ask questions via chat. One family is now enrolled, and a few others are “in the funnel,” as they say in admissions speak.

This month’s event will take a slightly different format: The first half will be admissions in general, and the second will be about summer camp.

Summer Camp?

Yes, TNCS Virtual Summer Camp will be a thing! TNCS Aftercare and Summer Camp Director Hannah Brown will handle that portion, with support from Paula Kupersanin and Adriana DuPrau, who are helping to create summer curricula. “It’s been a challenge running our aftercare program from home and preparing for summer camp, under uncertain circumstances,” said Ms. Brown. “But, it has been an opportunity for creative problem-solving, and I’m really proud of what the team has come up with so far.” They are currently working on virtual offerings for K through 8th-grade students. “I think that’s where the demand will be this summer. We’re looking at academic enrichment mornings in math and ELA, and then the afternoons will be geared toward social–emotional learning with specialty camps, like art and physical activity.”

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The actual offerings and the final schedule will be available on the TNCS website soon, thanks to the invaluable work by Karin Cintron to get that and registration up and running. “I’m really excited to get the word out to parents,” said Ms. Brown. “We don’t yet have a sense of how many people will register,” she continued.

Right now it’s really a balancing act for families. We want our students to have a high level of readiness for the fall, but what’s especially important to me is for them to have a sense of connectedness this summer and get some social interaction, even if it is remotely. And we really want the experience to be fun, too, whether it’s an academic enrichment or a specialty camp. Every kid’s threshold for how much virtual interaction they can profit from is different. In that spirit, we’re parsing out the day so families can do as much or as little as they need.

What We’re Grateful For

“It’s such a scary time for admissions. The job of an admissions officer is to get students into a school so there are students to teach. Hearing about schools teetering or even having to close is so sad,” said Ms. Hopkins, but she’s not one to end on anything but a positive note. “I’m so grateful that Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner are doing everything they can to make sure we’re thriving. Admissions is challenging, but the fact that we’re still getting interest from families and getting them through the pipeline makes me really happy. People are talking about us, and our name is getting out there.”

Then there’s the fact that the fundamental part of her job is still intact—more or less. “My favorite part of my job is getting to meet families and students, and I don’t get to do that in the same way now. I like to be with people—I like to talk and connect. That’s why I like admissions so much.”

Finally, there’s you, TNCS community. “We have such loyal families who have been really supportive during this time; I think it makes all the difference,” said Ms. Hopkins. “I want to thank our current families, and I also want to thank new families for entrusting their children’s futures to us. I really am so grateful for that.”


Visit Virtual Discover TNCS to register and tell your friends!

A Spring Break Message to Thank You, TNCS!

A very different Spring Break starts next week amid the shutdown, but students at The New Century School already have 3 full weeks of TNCS Virtual School under their belts and can sit back and enjoy their well-earned time off from academics.

Before they do so, though, students across several divisions—yes, even the preschoolers—took a moment to express their gratitude for all the hard work, forward thinking, and can-do attitudes that went into keeping them productively occupied and maintaining their educational momentum throughout this period of massive adjustment to our new way of life.

These thank-you messages (progressing roughly by division) go out to you, TNCS teachers, staff, faculty, administration, and founders.

And don’t forget these beautiful handmade thank-you paintings and drawings!


Not only has TNCS made all of this possible, but they continue to innovate ways to engage students. Even during Spring Break, TNCS is hosting virtual activities. Staff and assistants are running daily interactive sessions in each grade (pre-primary through 8th) that you can log on to Google classrooms each morning to explore.

There is also a K–8 reading challenge for students to log minutes spent reading (either reading or being read to). The homeroom class with the most time logged gets a prize (TBA), and the top three individual students no matter what homeroom will receive ice cream for their immediate families.

Finally, parents can use some of their volunteer hours, to lead “hangout activities” for their child’s class. Examples include making paper aircraft or painting on cardboard.

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Having technical problems with Google classrooms? View this helpful video for troubleshooting.

Virtual TNCS: A School and Its Student Body Continue to Thrive!

On Friday, March 13, 2020, The New Century School shuttered its campus at the end of the school day, closing down along with the rest of Maryland schools, then U.S. schools, then all nonessential businesses, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This necessity to try to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the virus disrupted normal life for just about everyone on Earth. With cooperation, collaboration, and community-spiritedness, we’ll get through this. In the meantime, people are adjusting to how to live full lives while staying at home.

For our children, this is especially imperative. Their education and development must continue, but how? Parents across the globe face this dilemma. What, if any, are the expectations and academic requirements for students while school is out? What is the threshold for how much school they can miss before they start to lose ground they might not be able to regain?

TNCS is a success story in this otherwise quagmire of uncertainty. TNCS admin and faculty had already begun working feverishly behind the scenes to prepare for what would become known as “distance learning.” By Sunday, March 15th, a team of student volunteers had been appointed to help transition all TNCS students to a virtual learning environment. In other words, classes would continue, just like every other day, but TNCS students would “attend” from home, meeting up online. On Monday, March 16th, the student volunteers sent messages and made phone calls to the parents of the younger students on their lists to get them set up in Google Classroom, an online platform to “organize assignments, boost collaboration, and foster better communication.” Meanwhile, staff were being trained on the new platform and designing and adapting curricula. By Tuesday, March 17th, nearly 100% of TNCS students were up and running (yes, even preschoolers!), and parents received a very welcome message: “TNCS Virtual School begins tomorrow!” (Read the message in its entirety here.)

TNCS Virtual School

And so began what has been an utterly remarkable experience for TNCS students. As periods of closure extend longer and longer, and social distancing grows wider and wider, these children have not skipped a beat in their education. Classes are synchronous, meaning that students can interact with each other and the teacher, not just with a screen. Using ingenious combinations of Google Hangouts and Zoom, teachers have kept students in their classes connected and engaged. Right from the start, students had a regular school day, signing on at 8:30 and progressing through their class schedule—including language classes and even art and music in addition to core academics—until “dismissal” at 3:30.

At the close of Day 1, March 18th, parents received another encouraging message from the TNCS Virtual School Team:

It was a great start for many, and not-so-perfect for some. There were many wonderful moments worth celebrating—students interacting with one another, connecting with teachers, and dedicating themselves to learning a new routine. Your support of the school in interactions with your children has created a strong foundation and we deeply appreciate it as we embark on this learning journey . . . Grit has a stronger effect on success than IQ and many other factors. Let’s cultivate our students’ grit. Let’s cultivate our own grit and use this experience to become stronger and more capable than ever.

In the days and weeks to come, TNCS Virtual School will emphasize:

  1. Continuing academic growth/readiness for next school year
  2. Supporting student social and emotional and well-being
  3. Showing Virtual School in action

Remember that Immersed promised you adorable photos of TNCS students last week? Well, let’s get to it!

TNCS Virtual Preschool

Here are the littlest learners “showing some TNCS e-learning spirit,” as Señora Salas puts it. Among lots of other great activities below, find her “Arts and crafts of the day: Oruga (caterpillar).”

Another sample preschool activity is as follows:

“En La Casa” (At Home): Matching “Colores” (Colors)
Materials:

  • Pom poms assorted colors
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Shower mats/shower pads/soap suction pads
  • Kitchen bowls/containers
  • Kitchen utensils (spoons, measuring spoons, etc.)
  • Trays/place mats
  • Tongs/tweezers (optional, for a more challenging activity)

At school, each activity is arranged from left to right, as children work on their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. These activities are also placed on a tray or a place mat to create a sense of order, making it inviting and interesting to our “amigos”!

Speaking of hand–eye coordination, what about physical activity? Covered!

Virtual Montessori!

TNCS Montessori teachers nurture order, coordination, concentration, and independence in their students . . . from the computer! Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Culture areas of the “classroom” are all intact!

Sample Schedule

  • 9:00 Story or Yoga
  • 10:30 Food Preparation, Making a cucumber sandwich
  • 1:15 Chapter Book
  • 2:00 Math, Bead Stair Lesson
  • 2:30 Language, Rhyming Work

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Virtual Service Learning

Yep, we got that, too. Here’s one example of how a TNCS student is giving back while social distancing. She made bookmarks to encourage children with reduced literacy to hang in there and keep reading.

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She also wrote a letter to TNCS Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali:

Hi Ms. Danyali,

Hope you are doing OK. My family and I are keeping busy at home, and schoolwork is a large part of that. My parents are happy that I am still learning.
To answer your questions:
1) I love that books help me to learn.
2) Books help me build my curiosity by learning how to spell new words and by learning about new ideas.
3) Reading is important because it makes you smarter and helps you grow.
4) When I learned to read, it helped me to spell.
5) I hope the student feels joyful.

Thank you for this project!
Best,
Vivian (written with Mom’s help)

Other service initiatives in all divisions can be found here.

From here on, we’ll dispense with the descriptions and just let you feast your eyes.

Virtual Science Class

Virtual Global Studies

Virtual Language Classes

Virtual Math Class


Virtual Art Class

Miscellaneous Elementary & Middle School


As school systems around the country are facing the reality that they will have to devise online schooling, with many, including Maryland’s, hoping to start in April, TNCS students will enter Week 3 of their brave, new education next week. They will have gotten through the adjustment phase, untangled the technical snafus, settled into their routines. And let’s not minimize those challenges. This transition has been overwhelming to varying degrees for all of us. (Read Guest Blog to see how one stalwart TNCS 8th-grader is helping us through it.) But we can be reassured by at least one aspect of this unprecedented circumstance—our children are flourishing, just like usual, thanks to The New Century School.

Also a big thank you to parents who so graciously allowed us to see what TNCS Virtual School looks like at their house. With yesterday’s announcement that MD schools will be closed through April 24th and possibly longer, TNCS Virtual School is a blessing and a marvel—even the next generation is getting in on the act!

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TNCS Reading Buddies Program Expands to “Buddy School,” Wolfe St. Academy!

The New Century School‘s reading buddies program has long been a popular activity on the TNCS campus, uniting younger and older students and enhancing camaraderie among divisions. The social and emotional benefits are enormous; additionally, the mentor–mentee dynamic has other built-in advantages like instilling confidence in participants on both sides as they develop together. The cognitive benefits are likewise tremendous. The increasing confidence in burgeoning readers, for example, allows them to take bigger and bigger risks such as with trying out new words and so on—just believing they can do it is huge. Let’s face it, it’s also just the cutest thing ever. (But don’t take our word for it—check out Cooperative Learning at TNCS: Reading Buddies, Budding Readers for details . . . and adorable photos.)

Image-7With all this wonderful social, emotional, and cognitive magic happening, thought TNCS Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali, why not share it on a broader scale? It just so happens that Ms. Danyali has been partnering with Leah Beachley, MSW, LMSW, the Community School Coordinator for Wolfe Street Academy #023. Ms. Beachley is also a Clinical Instructor, Social Work Community Outreach Service (SWCOS) at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Together, Ms. Danyali and Ms. Beachley coordinated on a plan to team up TNCS and WSA students for a new Reading Buddies trial. Ms. Beachley explained that many of her students speak English as a second language, and their ELA reading skills can lag behind the expected proficiency for grade level. She has been working on ways to close this gap since she came to WSA 3 years ago. Adult volunteers from the community have come to WSA to practice reading with the students, but Ms. Beachley sensed that a more effective plan was possible. “With adults,” she explained, “WSA students were not as comfortable and would show that by losing focus and disrupting the sessions.”

So, on March 6th, TNCS 5th- and 6th-graders accompanied by homeroom teacher Ms. Sharma took a walk to WSA to try out the new Reading Buddies program. They arrived at 1:30 pm and were given a brief orientation and tour of WSA’s lovely building and grounds by Ms. Beachley.

TNCS students met with WSA 1st- through 4th-grade students until 2:30 pm. They brought along books they thought would make good read-aloud choices and were also given access to WSA’s library. In their 30 minutes of reading, some students had to make multiple trips to the library to re-up!

Interestingly, TNCS students seemed to gauge their particular situation immediately and adapt to what it called for. For example, some WSA students preferred to absorb the experience of being read aloud to, whereas others preferred to take the reins and do the reading themselves but appreciated the ready support.

The initial Reading Buddies trial was an overwhelming triumph, with WSA and TNCS students alike enthusiastically reporting positive feedback. Several WSA children didn’t want the session to end! Said Ms. Beachley, “I am so happy to report that we had such a successful Reading Buddies session today! I spent some time with our Wolfe Street students at dismissal and they were gushing about how much fun they had with their TNCS buddies!” Ms. Beachley also noted how well her initial match-ups of TNCS and WSA students went and has decided to use the same pairings for future sessions. All students wore name tags, too, and became very friendly with each other.

Ms. Sharma was in complete agreement: “Thanks to you, [Ms. Beachley] for making such a perfect arrangement for the reading buddies service opportunity. The TNCS grade 5,6 students were also very satisfied and happy with their experience! They will definitely be bringing more books to read to their buddies next time. We can’t wait to be back to greet our new friends!”

Ms. Beachley summed up the experience perfectly:

The Reading Buddies activity is extremely valuable to the Wolfe Street Academy students. Not only do the WSA students receive literacy support from an older student, but they also have the unique opportunity to form a friendship with a student close to them in age. During the course of the Reading Buddies meetings, I observed Wolfe Street and TNCS students bonding over their favorite books, and I saw the WSA students growing in their confidence to read aloud. After TNCS buddies left, the WSA students already began to ask when they would be back next! We hope that our continued collaboration will grow the bond between WSA and TNCS students so that they can learn from each other, learn about their different school settings, and share their love of reading!

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TNCS 7th- and 8th-graders will also take a turn at this marvelous example of service learning, although that may be delayed due to Baltimore City school closings related to the COVID-19 outbreak beginning March 16th.