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.

Artist Harold Caudio Sweetens Up TNCS’s Black History Month Celebration!

Rounding out the month of February, students at The New Century School put on a first-of-its-kind show at the school. Although celebrating Black History Month has always been a theme in classrooms, this year, at the suggestion of TNCS Parent Council Director Sakina Ligon, it expanded to the stage. (Read about TNCS’s Inaugural Black History Month Celebration and see photos of projects as well as videos of choral and other performances here.) Also note that Head of School Shara Khon Duncan and Curriculum Coordinator Adriana Duprau ensure that African Americans—as well as people from a variety of backgrounds—are represented across the school curriculum throughout the year.

In last week’s post, Immersed hinted at what made the Black History Month celebration extra special even beyond all the wonderful student efforts led by Javan Bowden (aka, “Mr. B”)—the visit by Florida artist Harold Caudio—but this visit warrants a post all of its own. So, it’s time now to meet Mr. Caudio, take a closer look at his one-of-a-kind art, and hear his inspiring message.

Welcome to TNCS, Harold Caudio!

Asked to present at the evening by family friend Ms. Ligon, Mr. Caudio made the 13-hour drive from West Palm Beach to Baltimore in a single day. This huge effort was not lost on the TNCS community, and the audience continuously demonstrated their immense appreciation. Something else elevated his visit to legendary status. . . the date, February 26th. On the same day back in 2012, high school junior Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, by a neighborhood watch captain, launching nationwide protests. Trayvon was unarmed, carrying a bag of Skittles candy and an iced tea. He was 17 years old.

The Colored Collection

That injustice haunts the country, but for Mr. Caudio it was the impetus to create “The Colored Collection,” a series of portraits of iconic black individuals, the first of which was Trayvon Martin titled “Justus.” The medium he uses? Mr. Caudio’s portraits are done in Skittles, in honor of Trayvon. The name of his collection is thus a play on words on many levels: In an artist bio, the author writes, “Harold named the artwork ‘The Colored Collection’ because we, as ‘colored’ people have had a huge impact on society and culture; we color the world. It’s a way of flipping an insult and making it impactful pop art. The idea of the collection is to bring people together, no matter what color or background while spreading unity and peace.” It’s also a nod to the Skittles themselves, which are known for their bright colors that invite us to “taste the rainbow.”

The story of Trayvon resonated with Mr. Caudio personally. As a black (Haitian American) man, it struck him—again, quoting from the bio—“how easily it could’ve been him, or his son, brother, cousin, or friend.” That sense impelled him to do something, to make art, in fact.

Mr. Caudio was not new to the creation of art. “From as far as I can remember,” he says, “I have been making art since I first learned to pick up a crayon and color, doing kiddy stuff like drawing on the walls and getting trouble,” he joked. Although he didn’t necessarily take art seriously at the age of 3, he has since worked with several media, including clay, bronze sculpting, acrylic, pastels, and so on. In addition to his portraiture, he currently has a clothing line called Cultured Revolution that he talks about briefly in this clip.

Back to the “The Colored Collection,” other individuals he has immortalized include Michael Jackson; Tupac; Xxxtentacion; Beyoncé, Rihanna (pictured below, though many mistake this one for Lauryn Hill); Toussaint Louverture (also pictured below; hint, he’s the only one wearing epaulets) Bob Marley; Will Smith; ; Michelle Obama; and, his most recent work, Kobe Bryant, which he débuted at TNCS. That was one powerful moment, with Kobe and his daughter Gianna having tragically died in a helicopter crash only a few weeks prior.

So how does Mr. Caudio choose the people he portrays?

I choose people that I relate to Skittles candy. Those who make people feel good, who move the culture forward. If they have a sweet, positive impact on society, I aim to immortalize that message with my art. When I think of Skittles, I think of the mantra ‘taste the rainbow.’ The different colors represent us as a people. If we come together, we can be beautiful just like the figures I choose to do are doing.

The process he uses to capture these faces so beautifully, he says, is all about lighting. “I maximize seven colors and play with the lights from darks until it makes sense.” He had to borrow white Skittles from the UK, where they were made to celebrate LGBTQ Pride, but otherwise, he buys Skittles by the gallon from Walmart. White Skittles don’t have a special flavor—they taste like another color, but the taster won’t know which one until it’s on the tongue! Even in the white Skittles, though, there is inherent symbolism. Although white is itself achromatic, it reflects all the visible wavelengths of light. According to the “additive color theory,” all the colors of light together create white. Apply that to Mr. Caudio’s art, and you again get his idea that society comprises people of all colors, and their individual contributions are beautiful, as is what those collective contributions create.

Most of Mr. Caudio’s 17 total pieces are on exhibit in South Florida, but he accepts commissions for custom portraits (“dog, cat, bird,” he joked) and is also willing to auction pieces for charity. JUSTUS, for example, was purchased by Queen B’s mom for her WACO (Where Art Can Occur) Theater Center. His works are designed to last, he explains. “They’re coated with resin and mixed materials to last forever, from what I can see. They don’t attract bugs,” he later joked. They take, on average, about 2 weeks to create. JUSTUS, though, his first, took 6 months while he got the hang of his process and absorbed the import of what he was creating.

If you’re detecting an influence from another Haitian American artist whose pop art–esque portraits were also saturated with color, you wouldn’t be off base. Mr. Caudio cites Jean-Michel Basquiat as a primary influence as well as Bob Ross and Roy Lichtenstein in the modern world. He also appreciates many of the Renaissance painters.

Q&A with Harold Caudio

After the student performances on Black History Month night, Mr. Caudio gave a brief presentation about his work, then Ms. Ligon facilitated a question-and-answer session between audience members and the artist.

Ms. Ligon also made sure to give TNCS students a chance to grill Mr. Caudio. (Perhaps not surprisingly, many of their questions are about candy.)

Mr. Caudio’s works remained on display in the auditorium after the student performances so attendees could get a closer look at the portraits and meet the very generous, very warm, and very funny Harold Caudio. His visit will certainly go down in the annals of great moments at TNCS!

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Artist Harold Caudio and TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan are shown here flanking Mr. Caudio’s portrait of François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, celebrated general of the 18th-century Haitian Revolution.


More From the Artist Bio:
His most recent collection was featured at Art Basel Miami 2018 and Art Palm Beach 2019. Harold created the ‘The Colored Collection’, an emotion-evoking series of portraits made entirely out of Skittles. Word has traveled and continues to spread rapidly about this collection, it’s already been viewed by millions of people, gone viral on social media sites and featured in numerous big publications & networks such as Business Insider, Young Turks, NBC, ABC world news, Palm Beach post, LA Times, Fox News, Wearable Art Gala feat Beyoncé, 60 minutes, and more.

TNCS’s Inaugural Black History Month Celebration!

At The New Century School, celebrations of culture and heritage are held regularly throughout the year, as befits the school’s mission. On Wednesday, February 26th, TNCS held a brand-new celebration/performance in honor of Black History Month. This wonderful, already much-loved event will be held annually, joining Spanish Heritage Night (that debuted in 2017) and Lunar New Year Celebration (that debuted last month).

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Black History Month Celebration grew out of a shared desire among TNCS parents, teachers, and staff to observe Black History Month from the (upper) school-wide perspective to complement the in-class explorations regularly undertaken. TNCS Music Director Javan Bowden (aka, “Mr. B”) led students in a short choral concert, then students made division-specific presentations in their respective classrooms. These took the form of in-depth investigations of individual influential African Americans to special performance art.

At least, that was the original plan. A few days before the event, TNCS parent and Head of the TNCS Parent Council Sakina Ligon announced a very special surprise: Haitian American artist Harold Caudio agreed to join the celebration and present his one-of-a-kind (truly!) art. This presentation happened after the choral performances by students and deserves a post all of its own. Look for Immersed’s interview with Mr. Caudio next week. You won’t be disappointed. In the meantime, enjoy this preview.

Choral Performances

Mr. Bowden has been working hard with TNCS K through 8th-grade students all year on harmony. Nowhere is this more evident than in America the Beautiful (music by Samuel A. Ward, lyrics by Katherine Lee Bates, arr. Paul Jennings), a song that hit the perfect note to start off the evening. To briefly address the elephant in the blog, we wouldn’t be celebrating Black History Month were it not to begin to surmount the historic blight of slavery.

Next, students joined together in a traditional West African song (arranged by Rollo Dilworth). “Since music is an integral part of African life and culture,” read the student emcee, “every citizen is expected to develop basic skills in singing and dancing. One song and dance tradition found all over west Africa, including Liberia, is called Fanga Alafia. It is a dance of celebration use to welcome all people. The words in the Yoruba language are as follows: “fanga alafia, ashé, ashé.” Fanga means “welcome.” Alafia means “peace, good will.” The word ashé means “I agree.” This West African folk tune exhibits call and response—one singer calls with a melodic statement, then is answered with a response.

After this rousing, upbeat song, students sang Dry Your Tears, Afrika (music by John Williams, lyrics include an adapted excerpt from the poem “Dry Your Tears, Africa” by Bernard Dadi, arranged by Rollo Dilworth), another uplifting song that translates:

Dry your tears, Afrika,
Your children are coming home. We’re coming home, Afrika.
Hush child, don’t cry.
Sing a song of joy.
We’re coming home, Afrika.

Said the student who introduced it:

This piece was . . .  was composer John Williams’ contribution to the film Amistad. Amistad is a 1997 historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg based on the notable mutiny in 1839 by newly captured Mende slaves who took control of the ship La Amistad off the coast of Cuba and the international legal battle that followed their capture by a U.S. revenue brig. It became a U.S. supreme court case in 1841. The language that is sung throughout is Mende, a West African dialect primarily spoken in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

A TNCS stalwart came next—good old, Stand By Me (words and music by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, and Ben E. King, arranged by Roger Emerson), a song that fits so many occasions.

They closed out with Lift Every Voice and Sing (words by James Weldon Johnson, music by J. Rosamond Johnson, and arranged by Rollo Dilworth). The student introduction tells you everything you need to know about this song of solidarity:

It was right at the turn of the last century in which James Weldon Johnson wrote the poem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and his brother John Rosamond Johnson later set those words to music. Often referred to as the ‘Negro National Anthem,’ this song of justice has been and continues to be performed in a variety of contexts, including civil rights marches, concerts, community gatherings, church services, commencement ceremonies, and celebrations of black history. While this piece remains prominent within African American culture, it is widely performed by people of all races and backgrounds. Its universal themes of liberation and perseverance enable us to reflect on our shared history while at the same time encouraging us all to become agents of social justice and social change.

Student Projects

As their Global Studies unit for the beginning of quarter 3, students researched and created visual presentations of a black leader, whether in politics, the arts, sports, or any other realm. They got extra points for supporting props!

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The Play

Finally, TNCS 5th- and 6th-graders, wrote, directed, and starred in a play that highlights some of the brilliant achievements by African Americans that have made everyone’s lives better the world over.


Maybe it’s because they needed something to throw themselves into during the winter doldrums, or maybe they were just deeply, deeply inspired. Whatever the reason, students gave this night their all. We’re already looking forward to next year! In fact, Ms. Ligon spoke for many of us when she expressed her gratitude to TNCS admin: “Thank you for taking my passion and concern and making Black History night at TNCS. I am over the moon with the efforts of the staff and students.” It is, however, Mr. B himself who said it best: “Black history is American history.”

And, don’t forget, we get to ride these great vibes another week in anticipation of a post on Harold Caudio!

A Day in the Life: Peeking into TNCS Division by Division!

What happens at The New Century School does not stay at The New Century School. Instead, the magic that fills each and every day enriches the lives of the students who experience it far beyond the classroom. Imaginations are sparked, perspectives broadened, values instilled, skills honed, spirits of adventure awakened. All while students pursue rigorous academics in an environment that allows them to learn and progress at their own paces.

Although this last attribute is typically understood to mean that a student who is not ready to work at a standard age level is not forced to try to do so and therefore burn out, and that’s of course the case at TNCS where applicable, it often means the inverse here—students are not asked to wait for anyone to catch up to them but can soar as high as they so desire.

Among the TNCS community, we have watched this magic transform our children lives, but it can be difficult to articulate to someone unfamiliar with the school. Sometimes, it  just needs to be seen to be believed. So, this week’s Immersed is trying something a little different. Throughout the past years, we visited classrooms unannounced to get inside glimpses of what any given day looks like in each division. You can bet there’s almost always something special going on. Maybe that’s because with daily triple language learning, visual and performing arts, an emphasis on service learning, and a pervasive atmosphere of inquiry, there’s just no such thing as quotidian at this school. We invite you to look closely at the montages to follow. There are worlds to see.

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A Day in the Life: Preschool Division

TNCS’s littlest learners in the preprimary classrooms, ages 2–3, focus on social and emotional development. They learn to work in groups and cooperate with their peers. They are immersed in either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish, so, as they cultivate language skills, they do so bilingually. Take a recent visit from Spanish-speaking Clifford the Red Dog and Pete the Cat. In addition to being exposed to language in all forms, making music and art are their main in-class pursuits, and artists are invited to classrooms to present their age-appropriate art. As students are ready, they begin to explore the Montessori materials they’ll see regularly in the primary classroom.

In the TNCS primary Montessori classroom, students ages 3 to 5 develop the ability to concentrate—to start, work through and complete a given task. They use Montessori materials to hone fine and gross motor skills both individually and in small groups. They continue to develop socially and emotionally and begin to refine their language skills in, now three, languages. Art and music are daily pursuits as is an emphasis on peace and kindness.

A Day in the Life: Elementary Division

In elementary grades, K through 5th, academics become more rigorous, but the focus on visual and performing arts, music, and languages also amps up, with dedicated teachers in each subject, making for a truly well-rounded education. Fostering independence while celebrating community, the elementary program encourages students to ask questions then figure out how to find the answers. Field trips to local spots of interest as well as in nearby towns happen at least quarterly.

As elementary students age up, they move to building north, which they share with middle schoolers. Here, service learning expands to include the outside community as well as the campus.

A Day in the Life: Middle School Division

When TNCS students hit the big time, a lot changes for them at school. Academic preparation intensifies, as they ready for high school, but research shows that middle schoolers can flounder socially and emotionally, so TNCS students are given loads of opportunities to try out their burgeoning independence in new ways and develop self-confidence and self-agency.

This peek inside some typical days at TNCS (where a typical day is anything but typical) should make it clear—TNCS students have the world at their fingertips.

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Valentine’s Day at TNCS is about Spreading Love to the Community!

For Valentine’s Day 2020, students at The New Century School made a “wholehearted” push to spread some love. Compassion and service are two core values at TNCS and, along with respect and courage, are part of the day-to-day “invisible” curriculum. Nevertheless, this winter, students in all divisions have come together to put those values in practice in meaningful ways. From service-learning initiatives led by Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali, to student-led charitable collections, to extracurricular activities focusing on kindness, these kids are showing our community within and beyond the campus walls what’s in their hearts.

Before we jump in to all of the great acts of loving kindness TNCS students engaged in, let’s look at why this kind of engagement is so beneficial to their social, academic, and emotional development. According to research by Edutopia, “A schoolwide focus on cultivating traits like self-discipline, courage, and perseverance helps students meet high expectations.” This focus also stretches beyond the classroom, preparing students to contribute to the world as adults.

So many great things were happening all over the school, so the following account progresses in sort of let-the-love-flow-from-the-ground-up order!

Preprimary Service Initiatives

The preprimary division of 2- and 3-year-olds has been doing their part for the NexTrex challenge and have already filled a box—which is pretty impressive for this age group. Ms. Danyali is careful to restrict their service initiatives to what will be meaningful to them. So, they practice kindness in the classroom among one another and participate in those schoolwide initiatives like NexTrex that they can understand.

Primary and Lower Elementary Service Initiatives

The primary through 4th-grade classrooms (primary, K/1, 2/3, and 3/4) have collaborated on comfort kits for Baltimore’s homeless population. They realized that after the end-of-year holidays pass and the new year has begun, charitable donations taper off, which sadly coincides with the time of year those in need most require support and warmth. “We felt really strongly that we want to keep the giving going,” said Ms. Danyali. So, she reached out to Baltimore Rescue Mission and Karis Home (exclusively for women), who will take and disperse the kits TNCS students lovingly assembled. “We have an overflowing box of hygiene items, which is so great. It started kind of slowly and then really caught on. I’m amazed by the abundance our community has donated” said Ms. Danyali. The hygiene kits will be distributed at the organizations’ mobile shower unit.

Although the collection was originally supposed to end on Valentine’s Day, the  TNCS community has expressed interest in extending it, and Ms. Danyali is receptive to that idea.

In the coming weeks, K/1 will visit the Ronald McDonald House to prepare lunches for the residents/families getting treatment in March/April. Immersed will follow up on this important initiative!

Lower and Upper Elementary Service Initiatives

BluWater Baltimore is another partner organization with an upcoming service project. TNCS 2nd- through 4th-graders will stencil storm drains around the Fell’s Point neighborhood to remind passersby that what goes into those drains has a direct conduit to out precious local waterways. TNCS students have done this in the past as part of a science unit, but this time, their stencils will be in both English and Spanish! “We want to remind people in a pleasant way to not throw trash down the storm drains,” said Ms. Danyali, “because the repercussions are huge long term.” Visit Blue Water’s Storm Drain Art page to learn more.

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Another possible project with Blue Water Baltimore is to design and paint two rain barrels, one to keep and one to raffle off. Again, this is something TNCS has done in the past, but it was such a huge hit among the community that revisiting it a few years on with a different group of students seems like a no-brainer. (Visit Blue Water’s Harvest Rainwater page to learn more.) “It will be a nice feature to have at school with spring coming and the greenhouse reopening,” said Ms. Danyali. Raffle tickets will be on sale at TNCS Parent Council’s annual upcoming Earth Day celebration, and a portion of proceeds will fund additional student enrichment initiatives, while some funds will go back to support Blue Water Baltimore.

In the 5th- /6th-grade classroom, students have become more and more aware of homelessness in Baltimore. Ms. Danyali partnered with Live with Purpose to have students assemble Kindness Kits, which are similar to the Comfort Kits made by the younger students, except that these are intended to be distributed by students and families. The kits include basic essential items and toiletries that participants are encouraged to give out as they drive or walk around and encounter someone experiencing homelessness. This resonated so deeply with students that many asked if they could enhance the kits by adding special items not already included in what Live with Purpose provided. “That’s really where I wanted them to go with this,” said Ms. Danyali. “We also talked about homeless statistics—there are more than 3,500 people living on the streets in Baltimore on any given night, totaling more than 30,000 per year, and an even larger number seeking a return to a home—but we did not go into the roots of these problems. That’s overwhelming. But we talked about the potential impact of  everyone doing this little bit, given the degree of need. It created a really great discussion.” Discussion questions included:

  • What are some thoughts you have when you encounter someone who is asking for help on the street?
  • If you were no longer able to live in your current home, where would you go?
  • What are some injustices that you see in the world?
  • How can you commit to intervening to address these injustices this year?

(Note the socks, which are one of the most needed and least frequently donated items for individuals experiencing homelessness.)

New for Q3 2020 at TNCS, is the ECA Project Kindness for 3rd- through 8th-graders, led by Upper Elementary and Middle School ELA and Global Studies instructor, Daphnée Hope. On Thursday, February 13th, the “PKers” took it upon themselves to scour the multipurpose room and then decorate it with positive messages.

Middle School Service Initiatives

In the 7th- and 8th-grade classroom, Ms. Hope has incorporated mediation and yoga as stress relievers. “I’m very excited about this,” said Ms. Danyali, “because they are developing tools for better listening to each other without judgment, feedback, or anything else—just listening. That cohort already has a nice community feel, but they got a lot of out of this and showed even more kindness toward each other as a result.” That  will certainly translate into day-to-day social intelligence.

They’ll also soon be going back to the William S. Baer School for their Baer-a-Thon, and Immersed will keep you posted on that.


February is a big month for showing that you care. On the heels of Valentine’s Day comes Random Acts of Kindness Day on Monday, February 17th. Show your love!

Head of TNCS Lower School Alicia Danyali Attends Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education Presentation!

The New Century School cares about nothing so much as quality education, so when the “Kirwan Commission” was established in 2016, TNCS took note. In fact, just last week, Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali, who is involved in advocacy for this initiative, attended a presentation and was motivated to share her thoughts about what she witnessed.

“Dr. Kirwan worked with the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). to identify building blocks of high performing schools around the world for 1 year,” said Ms. Danyali. “During his year with NCEE, he researched gaps in Maryland, which led to the Kirwan recommendations.”

What’s the Kirwan Commission? 

Kirwan 2The Maryland Legislature established the Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education in 2016 to improve Maryland’s school system to world-class status. This commission has become known as the “Kirwan Commission” after its Chairman, Dr. William E. “Brit” Kirwan, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Maryland and nationally recognized authority on problems in education. With a long and illustrious career in education, starting in the classroom and working his way up to multiple university presidencies and chancellorships, Dr. Kirwan nevertheless calls this Commission, “the most difficult and important work of [his] life.”

Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) puts it like this: “The Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education is a multi-year initiative to research and develop major funding and policy reforms to improve the quality of Maryland’s public education system to benefit all of the more than 790,000 students, which will in turn benefit the State’s economy and quality of life for all Marylanders.”

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Key Policy Areas

The Kirwan Commission has a two-pronged goal: 1) Make policy recommendations that will improve Maryland schools performance overall, and 2) propose changes to current funding formulas for schools.

KirwanThe Commission has targeted five key policy areas to achieve their goal: Early Childhood Education, High-Quality and Diverse Teachers and Leaders, College and Career Readiness Pathways, More Resources to Ensure Success of All Students, and Governance and Accountability.

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Interim Report

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 10.53.36 AMAlthough the Commission was supposed to submit its final report to the legislature by December 2018, it ultimately took another year to work out how to achieve the necessary funding (known as the “Thornton formulas”)—a whopping $4 billion (a small fraction of which will come from casino revenues). The Commission issued a comprehensive Interim Report in January 2019.

Benefits for All Marylanders

That price tag—sounds like a lot to ask? Not when you consider the potential return on investment (ROI) study done by Strong Schools Maryland and the Sage Policy Group. along with David Hornbeck, another Marylander with a stellar career in education. “Mr. Hornbeck is gathering facts and statistics to support getting this bill passed,” said Ms. Danyali. For example, 12% more moms would return to the workforce if preK were more widely available. With a well-educated population, prison expenses as well as Medicaid expenses drop, because individuals are employed. The bottom line is, by 2046 the ROI is projected to be $6.3 billion—that’s a lot more than the initial outlay.

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Educating youth, starting at very young ages, and valuing educators has multiple advantages: individual empowerment; healthy, more sustainable communities; and a robust statewide economy. (Read the full Executive Summary.)

Kirwan’s Presentation

IMG_0949Said Ms. Danyali: “Through his social justice advocacy group, Dr. Kirwan is committed to high-quality schools and especially early childhood education (ECE), with mandatory pre-K4 statewide and expanded offerings for ages 0–3, which is why I got involved. He spoke a lot about Judith P. Hoyer Center Early Learning Hubs, also known as “Judy Centers,” that provide resources and support for ECE in every county in Maryland.”

Some of Dr. Kirwan’s speech really resonated with Ms. Danyali:

This is the right vision and focus to match needs and prepare students for the current work world and for the future. We have to be as good as the best. There are many good schools and superb teachers, but not enough—47% of MD teachers leave the profession after 2 years due to lack of compensation and support. Students need to perform at a grade 10 ELA and have completed algebra 1 to graduate, but only 40% of MD students meet this criteria. We can’t allow this to stand. It’s unacceptable. We need to make education a high-status profession. If we do not shift this point, there is no point.

Want to Take Action?

The 2020 legislative began Wednesday, January 8th, and there will be multiple opportunities to make your voice heard. Here are a few:

Join StrongSchoolsMaryland in Annapolis: http://bit.ly/AnnapolisSignUp
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Get your voice counted for fixing the funding gap: https://www.strongschoolsmaryland.org/email-your-leaders

The legislation goes to vote on April 6th, and this is it. Another such commission will not be possible within this decade and maybe even the next. The time is now to stand for great education for all Marylanders. “It doesn’t matter if you’re public or private,” said Ms. Danyali. “This is going to affect every school in some way.”

‘Tis the Season for Service at TNCS!

Untitled-2Service is a Core Value at The New Century School, and Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali always has multiple initiatives going including by class/division, schoolwide, and community targeted. (To read more about TNCS Core Values, click here.) What better time of year to take a look back at how TNCS students have given back in the first half of the 2019–2020 school year?

It has been a busy semester with lots going on, so, in no particular order, let’s just jump right in!

Flashcards for Hope

Live with a Purpose reached out to Ms. Danyali in October because the Esperanza Center expressed a need for English/Spanish flashcards for their afterschool program for children new to the United States who are learning English. So, students in Ms. Lee‘s classroom made 60 packs of flashcards to assist them in learning some of the basics, like numbers and colors.

“Creating these materials also reinforced for TNCS 2nd- through 4th-graders the importance and the benefits of helping others, especially immigrants that need support when they move to a new country,” said Ms. Danyali. “The fact that our students could be supporting other kids who are learning other languages was very important to me. If the shoe fits, we’re going to wear it.”

Bake Sale for Shelter Animals

“For the older students, I prefer that their service initiatives be student led,” explained Ms. Danyali. So, the 7th- and 8th-graders held a bake sale alongside their October 23rd coffee and lemonade morning. They broke up into four groups, each researching a different organization (three were for animals and one was for support for the homeless). As part of their assignment, they were required to submit a needs assessment and what the organization does. After narrowing the organizations down to two, they then had to make a presentation about their preferred organization to be chosen, ultimately deciding to donate their proceeds to the Baltimore Humane Society. They baked their sale items with Ms. Danyali. Altogether, they made $40, which isn’t bad when you consider that their baked goods were priced at only $1 each. Based on wha the photo below shows, that’s a steal!

tncs-service-learning-bake-sale

Reading Buddies

The always-popular Reading Buddies program provides mutual benefits to younger TNCS students paired up with older TNCS students and vice versa. Ms. Klusewitz’s and Sra. Salas’s classes comprise one pair, and Ms. Sandkuhler and Ms. Hope’s classes another (among others). “They’ve really been sticking to it,” said Ms. Danyali. “It’s so great to see.”

Biscuits (and More) for BARCS 

Ms. Klusewitz’s and Sra. Salas‘s classes also partnered on an initiative for BARCS (Baltimore Rescue and Care Center). Ms. Klusewitz’s class baked homemade dog treats with Ms. Danyali, and Sra. Salas’s class decorated holiday gift bags. The two classes came together to stuff the bags with biscuits during a recent reading buddy morning.

Although it turned out that BARCS cannot accept comestibles that are not factory sealed (for the safety of their animal charges), the exercise in partnering up with older/younger friends to do some good in the world was not for nought. A 4th-grader and her family who regularly support the organization volunteered to “be ambassadors on behalf of TNCS to deliver the holiday cards and cheer to BARCS,” as Ms. Danyali put it.

Said Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Rojas: “The cards were a hit and they definitely felt the love from the students! All the students should be proud—they were extremely generous in picking this organization, that helps so many animals each year!”

Ronald McDonald House

IMG_3394 copyBack to the Core Values for a moment, Ms. Danyali has been focusing on those with with lower elementary students and asked teachers to create an area in their classrooms where the Core Values can be prominent and interactive. Students might attach a slip of paper to the wall, for example, that starts with “I show courage by . . . ” to both remind and encourage them to exemplify TNCS’s Core Values.

Compassion goes hand in hand with Service, and Ms. Danyali wrapped up a unit focusing on those two words together in Ms. Sandkuler‘s and Ge Laoshi‘s kindergarten and 1st-grade homerooms. “We have started a service project to partner with the Ronald McDonald House to do an on-site visit and activity to help the families they serve after the winter break,” said Ms. Danyali. “To make this meaningful for that age group, we are making cards with compassionate messages. The messages were very mature, and they really internalized what compassion is.”

tncs-ronald-mcdonald-house

Not surprisingly, a “kindness wall” has evolved over the last few months in Ms. Sandkuhler’s classroom.

Giving Tree

The class partnerships are fluid and often mix ages. For example, Ge Laoshi and Ms. Lee’s homerooms spearheaded a “Giving Tree” drive to collect scarves, mittens, and hats for fellow Baltimore students at a nearby school. Other collections were also ongoing.

Adopt-a-Baer-Student

Ms. Hope‘s 7th- and 8th-grade homeroom adopted a student for the holidays from the William S. Baer School in Baltimore City that serves severely physically or developmentally challenged students from ages 3 to 21. TNCS middle schoolers brought holiday gifts for their “adopted” student, Rachel, then went with Ms. Danyali on a field trip to tour the school and understand how students are supported there. They also got to meet many of the staff members and students.

IMG_1798“Our students were deeply moved by the experience and would like to return to the school in the spring when they host the school Baer-athlon,” said Ms. Danyali. (More on that in 2020!)

Looking Ahead

Additional service learning initiatives are planned for quarter 3 in early 2020. Ms. Klusewitz’s students, for example have broken out into groups to research an organization of interest and present their ideas to Ms. Danyali.

Linus Blankets will be ongoing as well—in fact, you can register your child for the upcoming quarter 3 ECA! The postcard below is a thank-you for blankets TNCS made this fall.

“As long as it’s meaningful and helpful, and it supports our local community, then I’m board for it,” said Ms. Danyali.


Did you know? The amazing TNCS Parent Council has a Service Committee that you can join to partake in some service of your own! Sign up here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/30e0b4faea823a0fd0-parent

Or, you can get involved with planning a Community Event or a Fundraiser to enhance the TNCS community experience. Either way, we appreciate you!