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:

TNCS Hosts Interns from China!

In China, the weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year, culminating on February 15th this year, are generally a time off for many Chinese. For the past few years, The New Century School has hosted many visitors from China coinciding with this break, with 2019 seeing the largest overall numbers of visitors yet (see last year’s visit here).

As Guest Teachers at TNCS

The first group comprised six university students, who clearly wanted to have a good time in addition to learning about TNCS’s unique educational approach. They had fun and made sure everyone around them did as well. Yanfei Wang (“Fei Fei”), Xinyu Liu (“Stella”), Leyi Jin (“Xiao Jin”), Jun Zhou (“Abbie”), Ajing Wang (“Janice”), and Shuyin He (“Shu Yin”) all came from Shanghai, being students at Shanghai Normal University, and they made a very lasting impression on TNCS students as well as the families who opened their homes to them.

Their visit started with an orientation presented by their Exchange Coordinator (“handler”), Candace Moore, who, though having only very recently joined TNCS, jumped in with both feet—as well as her extraordinary organizational skills—and made sure their visit went smoothly. She also gave them a presentation on Social_Emotional Education, her specialty. After that, into the classrooms they went!

 

TNCS students fell immediately in love with their six new friends, and the sentiment was very much reciprocated. They played lots of interactive games together, including math games, Go Fish!, and a Chinese New Year character game. The interns lavished attention on the students and shared their wealth of talent, too.

As Guests in a Host’s Home

The Eib family once again generously hosted and played their roles, as always, graciously and with a desire to expose the interns who stayed with them (Fei Fei and Xiao Jin) to as much U.S. culture as they could during their brief visit. They were also kind enough to share their experience (and their photos!) with Immersed. During the school week, the interns joined in, cooking and eating together (mmmmm . . . hot pot . . . ) and experiencing family life.

During any school breaks and on weekends, they explored Baltimore and made satellite trips to neighboring cities. In Baltimore, they toured Penn Station, Federal Hill on a cold and windy day, Hampden, and downtown Baltimore at night. They dined at various restaurants and stopped in at Hampden’s must-have ice cream shop, the Charmery. (“We had ice cream almost every day!,” joked Mr. Eib). They went to Annapolis to see the Maryland State House and the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Philadelphia was next to meet up with a friend and see Reading Terminal Market and City Hall.

They also traveled by train to Washington, D.C. to see Union Station and the National Portrait Gallery and have bubble tea and the famous double patty burgers at Kramerbooks and Afterwords in DuPont Circle. However, it just so happened that this trip took place during the historic government shutdown that lasted 35 days, so the interns got to know American government in an entirely unexpected way.  “We got to experience the government shutdown firsthand,” said Mr. Eib. “Everything was closed, including the National Portrait Gallery—thus the long faces siting outside. Instead we went to the Phillips Collection and saw Xiao Jin’s favorite painting!”

 

Farewell, Dear Friends!

On their last day, January 25th, they gave TNCS students gifts and thank-you cards.

 

Abbie also kindly shared her thoughts on the experience:

It was super great luck for me to have been given the chance as an intern in such a nice school so as to interact with the loveliest students and the greatest teachers. Through my internship at TNCS, my scope of knowledge was expanded as I was able to apply what I acquired at TNCS back to China. Also, I was eager to learn firsthand several advanced and innovative teaching methods in a multilingual school such as:

  • Differentiated Instruction, as I saw every teacher give special tasks to each alternating group.
  • Cross-Age Mentoring, as I attended the class in which 4th- and 5th-grade students came to read stories for those who are at 2nd grade. (I really love this part!!)

Another big thanks to the amazing school headmaster, teachers of all grades, and teachers who gave presentation to us, which led us to a brand new world of how to develop emotional intelligence and how to give authentic praises. Also, putting ourselves in students’ shoes, I think, is probably the best way to be more attached to students.

Thanks to brilliant and truly outstanding students in TNCS, too. It was always a pleasure coming to school with them, so lovely and willing to explore.

Last but not least, I would like to thank aftercare teachers for their patience, staff for preparing healthy and delicious meals, and my five close friends as a group for their cooperation. I remembered the first day when I came to aftercare classes, I happened to meet three 1-year interns and saw how they communicate with kids with love and care.

Less is more. Two weeks for us student-teachers was brief, but the activities which teachers offered were quite full and meaningful. We attended ELA, Art, Math, Science, Chinese, Global Studies, PE, Music, and Spanish. In this independent school, we were glad to help mentors at class and check homework after class. We even had the first overseas teaching experience to share our Chinese culture (especially the Spring Festival) with students all over the world. Thus, more connection is coming.

Not only was it an unforgettable experience to meet kids from 1st to 8th grade, but I was lucky enough to stay with Calvin Eib’s family as well. “Cultural Shock,” which I heard from one of my friends actually didn’t happen at all. Honestly, I enjoyed every minute with my host family and every person at TNCS.

The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning. Hopefully we’ll meet next time! Thank you so much! Gracias! 谢谢! By the way—WELCOME TO CHINA!!


TNCS will miss you six wonderful women!
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Thoughts on the First Half of the Year from TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan

Although it may be hard to believe, the first half of the 2018–2019 school year at The New Century School has just drawn to a close. Boy, did the last 3+ months fly by!

However, when we look back at everything that TNCS students have done since August 27th, the real surprise becomes, wow—how’d they squeeze so much active learning into such a short time span?! So, Immersed sat down with TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan to get her perspective on how the school year is progressing so far as well as how she is settling in to her role.

The Skinny from Señora Duncan

SONY DSCIt’s clear right off the bat that Señora Duncan has embraced her position as TNCS Head of School. But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing all the time. “It seems like just when I feel like I’m starting to cruise a little bit, a new event pops up, or something new is about to happen, or I have to prepare for something coming up down the road. But that’s expected; it’s the first year,” she said smiling. So many things are happening, many simultaneously, that she’s pretty much on her toes all the time—“good thing I danced as a kid,” she joked. She ticks off a partial list of some of the events she either kept track of or oversaw in the preceding weeks, both during and outside of the school day, and each with its own particular set of needs: Observation Week and the Fall Festival for the Primary program, whole-school Book Character Dress-Up Day, Elementary and Middle School Information Night and Open Houses for prospective families, Winter Concerts . . . and the list goes on. “They come so fast, yet they seemed so far off back in June. Now June seems far away, and here we are in December,” she said. “So sometimes it feels like I’m just about to take a breath, but we have to keep moving to get ready for the next thing. It’s great because I either learn something new about the school, or I get to meet some more people, which is even better.” Speaking of new people, she recalls the Maryland Secretary of State’s visit, saying, “Important visitors to our campus brings even another level and layer of excitement and preparation, which makes it all so interesting.”

She means it when she says that she finds all the hubbub exciting:

I’m loving it. I’m really loving it. My friends and family ask, ‘how do you like it?’I tell them, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some challenges. It’s not like it’s all sunshine and roses, but it’s so exhilarating to have a new challenge in my life at this stage of my career.’ To be able to do this is wonderful. All of these things that have been in me that I’ve been gathering in my career backpack for education over the last 25 years, I get to pull them out and really use them. It’s all coming to bear. At the same time, I’m still learning, which is just wonderful. I have not taught all of the subjects we teach here, so learning about those I was previously unfamiliar with and listening to our teachers and to our parents about how we can make them better really helps. It gives me an idea of where we need to go.

A Day in the Life

When asked for a description of a typical day as TNCS Head of School, Sra. Duncan laughed. “See, that’s another thing I like about education, there are no typical days!” She explains that some days she visits classrooms to keep track of what’s going on in those environments, whereas other days might find her confined to her office, conducting meetings, handling all of her communication, and the myriad other tasks her position demands of her. “I don’t like those days as much,” she admits. “Not that what goes on in there isn’t important, it is, but I’d rather see what’s going on in the classrooms. There are so many wonderful things going on during the day—I love to sit and listen and watch. I find it utterly amazing.”

Being a linguiphile (she grew up in a household where her mother encouraged all forms of language exposure), she finds Pei Ge‘s (“Ge Laoshi’s”) classroom particularly difficult to tear herself away from and is starting to pick up some Mandarin with Wei Li’s (“Li Laoshi’s”) help.

I want to sit there and be with the kids and go right along with them as they go through the daily routine in Mandarin or talk about fruits in Mandarin. It’s amazing to me that even students who just joined the program this year can become so proficient so fast. It’s magical to see live what happens with the students and their brains. You can talk about studies, you can see them online, you can read all the papers—but when you actually see children speaking the language and then turn around and start speaking English to me or speaking Spanish to Sra. Sanzana . . . it’s just amazing how their brains switch effortlessly to the very next thing.

Another interesting aspect of her role is that not only did she assume it this year, but it is itself new, or maybe refurbished, this year. The school administration expanded to include a Head of School as well as a Head of Lower School/Dean of Students, which position Alicia Danyali took over. Both roles are well defined and eliminate the guesswork that can plague an organization when chain of command is unclear. When asked how this new division of roles has worked out so far, Sra. Duncan wasted no breath: “I don’t know what I would have done without her, and I don’t know how she did it all these years by herself. I mean this is a big job, a really big job!” She also appreciates how well they work together, not just alongside each other: “We’re very like-minded in our philosophies about school, which is ideal. It’s great to be with her,” said Sra. Duncan. And, their strong suits complement each other:

Ms. Danyali has done wonders with handling preschool, which admittedly is not my bailiwick, so having her really cover that has been so wonderful. And having her experience and institutional knowledge has been invaluable. If I have a question about a situation, she can tell me how it was handled last year, 3 years ago, and so on. I feel so lucky to have that. How many people get to work with their predecessor? It should almost be required because it’s so helpful.

Work–Life Balance

Apart from enjoying a new position and being able to handle it, any big career change also has to fit into an individual’s broader life. Fortunately, that, too, is working well for Sra. Duncan. With her two daughters away at college, the daily demands of raising children have largely evaporated, leaving more time, space, energy, and nurturing that Sra. Duncan can direct elsewhere. Also, her husband has been very supportive. Even when she needs to stay late, such as for a school potluck, he will sometimes join her or make sure she has what she needs to get through a long day (“He packs fruit for me everyday”). “But, even though this job does fit into my life pretty well at this stage, I have learned long ago that I have to make a separation between home and work. So, I really try to make sure that I leave TNCS at TNCS, and, when I get home, I’m at home. That’s something I’ve really worked hard to do,” she said.

Her ability to achieve this work–life balance serves her well, but it also serves TNCS and the TNCS community of students, teachers, staff, and families. Sra. Duncan has already earned our love and respect for her unflagging composure, ready smiles, and judicious leadership. We can’t wait to see what the second half of the school year brings!

 

TNCS Preprimary Workshop, Fall 2018

If you were unable to join the Fall Preprimary Workshop or if you are interested in learning more about the preprimary language immersion program at The New Century School, this blog post is for you!

Head of Lower School/Dean of Students Alicia Danyali describes the program in this overview:

Our youngest students at TNCS are immersed in Mandarin or Spanish all day by native-speaking educators who are passionate about sharing their language and culture. In the preprimary program, the child is the curriculum. The classroom offers an environment that includes a balance of structure, play, and social development.  Students are given daily opportunities to use their imaginations to create with age-appropriate materials as well as to strengthen their fine and gross motor skills.  Milestones, such as “toileting readiness” are supported throughout the school year.  Partnership with families is critical at this stage in development.

Preprimary Focus

The key point here is that language is the program focus and is hands down what sets the TNCS preprimary program apart from other preschools. But let’s back up a step—why is learning a second language important at an age when most children are still learning a first, in the first place? Language acquisition actually remodels the brain in ways that ultimately improve cognitive function. This article describes how language-learning supports brain function: Why Multilingual People Have Healthier, More Engaged Brains. You’ll see how this flows naturally in to the primary curriculum and how intentional is the interplay between the two divisions.

And now, on to the business at hand. “The workshop went really well,” said Ms. Danyali, ” and we had about 30 families in attendance.” She led the presentation and discussion with support from the three preprimary teachers: Donghui Song (“Song Laoshi”), Laura Noletto (“Sra. Lala”), and Elizabeth Salas-Viaux (“Sra. Salas”). Each teacher additionally has two or three assistants and one floating assistant. She first explained what TNCS does have in common with other preschools: “Your child will still get circle time, nap, playtime, snacks . . . but the format will be in the target language.” She also explained the importance of parents sharing enthusiasm for the program and for the child’s experience in it. “If you’re enthusiastic; they’ll be enthusiastic,” she said.

Another important message she wanted parents to come away with is to not expect your child to be speaking fluently on a timetable. They will develop at their own rate, as appropriate, and quantifying their language-learning is not the point at this stage—it’s brain development. “If they are responding appropriately to instructions, they are demonstrating comprehension, and, not only is the first step in learning, but this also transfers beautifully into the primary Montessori program, which focuses on ‘the absorbent mind’ and the taking of the next step—how you apply what you’ve learned.” (The focus of the primary program is on gaining independence: how teachers can encourage independence and what it looks like at school and at home.) Teachers know when a child is ready to transition to the primary program when he or she can demonstrate the ability to focus for brief periods. Back to that notion of interplay between the two curricula mentioned above, one of the ways that multilingualism reshapes the brain is to equip it resist distraction (read more on how in the article linked above).

Making the Transition to Primary

The Spring Preprimary Workshop will delve into this topic as well, but the moment your child enters the preprimary classroom, teachers begin the process of readying them for their next steps. They learn about structure and the rhythm of the day, for one thing. They learn how to participate in a community, even if they are still nonverbal. “Creating those boundaries throughout the day provides young children a sense of security and a sense of what comes next,” said Ms. Danyali. Once they feel secure, their confidence grows; from there, the desire to branch out and take (healthy) risks is possible, and that’s how true learning happens.

There are different milestones that students should have attained, such as toileting, but there are other aspects as well. Importantly, they will learn so much from making and subsequently correcting mistakes. (The “self-correcting” nature of the Montessori method will be covered in an upcoming post on the Fall Primary Workshop.) Thus, they have to demonstrate a willingness to take some risks, meaning to show the beginnings of what will blossom into independence.

The primary classroom is partial immersion in addition to following the Montessori method. Language-learning is still very much in evidence, but the goals for the primary program are on developing the ability to sustain focus. The ratio of teacher to student grows a bit wider, too, from 1:6 in preprimary to 1:10 in primary.

How Can You Support the Language Experience?

Whether you speak more than one language or not, you can readily incorporate language and model your support: Express your “likes” about the language environment they are experiencing, and avoid having expectations that student will speak immediately in the target language. “Know that the environment will support your child, and the learning will happen organically,” said Ms. Danyali. To facilitate your ability to engage in some of the activities below, use the resources (see bulleted list) to reinforce vocabulary your student is learning in class. Also, says Ms. Danyali, “The preprimary teachers make it really easy to extend learning at home by outlining what books they have been reading in class and what songs they have been singing as well as tips and suggestions in their weekly communications.” Here are some activities you can try:

  1. Play music in the language at home or in the car; combine with dancing.
  2. Experience the culture by exploring its holidays, food, and traditions.
  3. Watch short (2–3 minutes), age-appropriate videos in the language.
  4. Read story/picture books, especially about relevant topics for the age group (e.g., identifying feelings, understanding social settings).
  5. Play games and role-play with puppets in the language.

Books, Websites, and Resources for Your Family’s Language Journey

Finally, Ms. Danyali feels it extremely important to help dispel the pervasive myths about bi- and multilingualism. These “fast facts” are taken from The Bilingual Edge.

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Closing out the preprimary workshop, Ms. Danyali said, “On behalf of TNCS’s preprimary team, we look forward to continuing the immersion discussion and your continued partnership.” A preprimary Observation Day will be scheduled for spring 2019 to give you the chance to see all of this beautiful learning taking place in your 2- and 3-year-olds!

MD Secretary of State Visits TNCS!

On Wednesday, October 17th, The New Century School welcomed some very illustrious guests. Maryland’s Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith, Director of International Affairs Mary E. Nitsch, and intern Rosanna Mantova (Intern, International Division, Maryland Office of the Secretary of State) visited the TNCS campus to see the Mandarin Chinese program firsthand. Secretary Wobensmith met TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux earlier this year, who told him about TNCS. Based on her description of how Mandarin Chinese is taught at TNCS, he was eager to see it for himself. As part of the Maryland Sister States Program, Secretary Wobensmith and his team find ways to promote the connection between Maryland and Anhui Province of China, and education is a key area.

Ms. Nitsch explains:

Anhui Province, China, is one of 20 Sister States that Maryland has around the world. It is also the state’s oldest Sister State partnership, having been established in 1980. The program was established to provide a forum for the promotion of international cooperation and understanding. Through broad-based citizen participation in a wide variety of exchanges in areas of mutual interest, like education, arts, and culture, and economic development, the Sister States Program offers countless opportunities to develop partnerships around the world.

Mandarin Chinese Program at TNCS

It was easy to showcase TNCS’s program, owing to the amazing teachers and students who participate. The members of the Office were met at reception by Ms. Faux, TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, TNCS Dean of Students Alicia Danyali, and staff member Monica Li. After a brief welcome, the group began a tour of the school, starting from the ground up with Donghui Song’s preprimary classroom of 2- and 3-year-old students. Song Laoshi’s class is immersive; students are spoken to in Mandarin Chinese throughout the day. They are expected to understand and respond with the appropriate action to instructions given in Mandarin—and they do so beautifully. Not long after entering the classroom for the first time, they begin speaking a few words and singing songs.

The group next visited Lisa Reynolds’ primary classroom on the second floor. At ages 3 through 5 years, primary students are no longer in an immersion environment but are taught both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish (in addition to the Montessori curriculum representative of the primary program) and have native-speaking assistant teachers rotating through the classrooms and conversing with and instructing students in their native languages. At these ages, students are not just responding to instructions but are rapidly increasing their verbal skills. They demonstrate perfect intonation and pronunciation. They begin to recognize Chinese characters.

They charmed the visitors, saying “hello” and “welcome” in Mandarin.

Hope to see you again!

The group continued their climb through building south, headed next to Pei Ge’s kindergarten/1st-grade classroom on the third floor. The members of the Office of Secretary of State were very impressed by what they witnessed here. The entire classroom was bubbling with eagerness, a testament to Ge Laoshi’s teaching skills, and their Mandarin is nothing short of amazing.

Throughout the tour, Ms. Faux explained details about the school and its approach. “It’s less about being a linguist,” she said, “and really more about becoming a global citizen.” Thus, culture is an important emphasis and taught alongside the target language. So the visitors could get the full picture, the group also visited Barbara Sanchez’s 2nd-/3rd-grade Spanish classroom. These students also learn Mandarin, but, at the mid-to-upper elementary level, core subjects are partially taught in the target language, so, in addition to Spanish Language Arts, Sra. Sanchez integrates Spanish into her Math and Global Studies lessons.

Ms. Faux gave a quick powerpoint overview of the school, including the background, history, and overall ethos, and then the group finished up their classroom tour in Wei Li’s middle school lesson. Li Laoshi led the 6th- through 8th-graders in a conversation in Mandarin, then had them write sentences using Chinese characters and finish by making a presentation.

The group wrapped up the tour in TNCS’s beautiful Union Box space inside building North, which provided a chance to talk about the history of St. Stanislaus Cathedral and the Mother Seton Academy, and how they became part of TNCS’s campus.

Said Ms. Nitsch in a follow-up email: “One of the nicest parts of my job is having the opportunity to personally experience so many of the wonderful international programs and projects that are taking place around the state. As a former ESL teacher, I truly appreciate how important multilingualism and multiculturalism are to our state and country’s future success. And, as a Baltimore resident, it’s inspiring to know we have such wonderful resources like TNCS here in the city.”

For his part, Secretary Wobensmith declared himself “totally smitten” with TNCS. “Your enterprise. . .  is a remarkable effort, and it struck me that you have done it exactly right in all aspects. Congratulations!” he said. When he asked Ms. Faux about the possibility of expanding to other locations, she thought for a moment and then replied, “We have built a very strong community here, and that might be hard to replicate somewhere else.” It’s true—that foundation of families, teachers, students, staff, and everyone else who is part of the TNCS community is integral to the school’s continued success.

The visit by the members of the Office of the Secretary of State will not soon be forgotten. TNCS will cherish the memory of this great honor!

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