TNCS 5th- through 8th-Graders Take the Youth Chinese Test!

On Wednesday, November 13th, upper elementary and middle school students at The New Century School accomplished another big first—they sat for the Youth Chinese Test (YCT). The YCT is an international standardized test and was launched by Hanban (Confucius Institute Headquarters) to encourage non-native students to learn Chinese and improve their Chinese language proficiency. It assesses students’ abilities to use Chinese in their daily and academic lives and consists of a writing test and a speaking test, which are independent of each other. The writing test is divided into four levels; the speaking test is divided into Beginner and Intermediate levels.

From a handout that TNCS students were given:

The YCT Speaking Test assesses test takers’ ability to express themselves orally in Chinese. It is the counterpart to the Level I and II Chinese Proficiency Scales for Speakers of Other Languages and A Level of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEF). Test takers who are able to pass the Beginner YCT can understand and use familiar everyday expressions that meet specific needs for communication.

Miss Lily and Miss Jasmine, both from the Confucius Institute at Maryland in College Park, came to TNCS to proctor the tests, which Wei Li (Li Laoshi) had arranged well in advance. Li Laoshi had been preparing TNCS students for the test for weeks. It lasted about 20 minutes and was divided into three parts comprising a total of 25 items:

  • Part I: Listen and Repeat (15)
  • Part II: Listen and Reply (5)
  • Part III: Describe Pictures (5)

See how a select few TNCS students fared (understandably, only a few consented to having a videographer in the room!).

“The students did a great job on the test,” said Li Laoshi afterward. “Our school will get the final results after 1 month, and the certificates will ship to our school from Beijing 2 weeks later!” The maximum score of the YCT is 100, and 60 is considered a passing score. Li Laoshi also offered an explanation about why this test was important:

The reasons why our students need to take the YCT are, first, they can improve their test skills, which is very crucial when they move to middle or high school. Meanwhile, through the test, our students can realize what their current Chinese levels are, which can help them to set a clear learning goal for their Chinese learning in the future.

For practice in the meantime, here are two Chinese websites Li Laoshi uses in class for Daily Three rotations:

Good luck, TNCS students! Zhù hǎo yùn! 祝好运!

TNCS Fall 2019 Open House: Your First Taste of TNCS!

On Saturday, November 2nd, The New Century School held its annual Open House, an event designed to introduce prospective families to TNCS academic programs and overall educational approach. This one was hosted by Admissions Director Suzannah Hopkins, who made the most of this opportunity to spotlight TNCS:

Open House signifies the kick-off, for many schools, to the admissions season. It is one of the many opportunities to see the school. In addition to private tours during the school day or the information night later this month, the Open House offers families a chance to visit the school on a Saturday and ask questions of our amazing lead teachers. The Open House allows us to showcase our faculty, students, and facilities.

Ms. Hopkins, a veteran Admissions Director, feels it’s important to establish a relationship with prospective families, so she started the event off with a bit of a mixer. Families mingled in the auditorium over fresh fruit and baked goods provided by Chef Danielle, while chatting and settling in. At 10:00 am, they were treated to a lineup of student performances that Ms. Hopkins felt would show the audience how both important music and language-learning are at TNCS, two of the many features that set the school apart.

Oral and instrumental performances by a willing group of TNCS students impressed even the babies in the audience! Note that the performances that follow were simply a few elementary and middle school students who volunteered their time to help out; they do not represent an official school performance. . . and yet, they certainly have wow power!

That last Spiderman bit was not only arranged by “Spidey” himself, but also closed with a backflip by way of exit—audible gasps from the audience indicated how successful the performances were in demonstrating the breadth of talent TNCS cultivates and celebrates. “The student performers and ambassadors were terrific. I wanted prospective families to feel welcome and to get a sense of our community,” said Ms. Hopkins.

This performance was followed by brief talks by Ms. Hopkins herself as well as TNCS Head of Lower School and Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali and finally a slide presentation about TNCS by Head of School Shara Khon Duncan.

After that, the student ambassadors Ms. Hopkins just mentioned took over, escorting families to classrooms, showing them around, and answering their questions. What better way to show families, yes, you want your children to attend TNCS and emulate these paragons of student excellence!


“The event went well,” reflected Ms. Hopkins. “We had nice attendance and, from what I could see, families seem happy to be in attendance. We even received two applications over the weekend!” After the event, she surveyed both attendees and faculty about their experience. “I am hoping to use the information I receive to build on the event for next year,” she said.

Open Houses are wonderful ways to start to get to know TNCS, so please, tell your friends and coworkers who might be looking for schools about these great events. As great as they are, though, they are but an “amuse bouche”—to get the full flavor of TNCS, contact admissions@thenewcenturyschool.com so Ms. Hopkins can arrange to give you a tour while school is in session.


By the way, you can see some of that magic happening this month at the TNCS Middle School Preview Wednesday, November 20th from 9:00 am–10:30 am, where you can observe classes in session. Also, the TNCS annual Elementary and Middle School Information Night is taking place on Thursday, November 21, 2019 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm. These are must-see events for parents of rising middle and elementary schoolers!

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.

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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?