New, Year-Round High School Coming to Southeast Baltimore!

Although it’s hard to believe so much time has gone by, The New Century School‘s oldest students will soon be facing a giant decision: Where will I go to high school? Baltimore City has some great options, and a very special new one will be opening in the Highlandtown area that might particularly interest TNCS families.

Introducing The DaVinci Collaborative!

11a8d397-eacd-4a4c-ba38-b1f80eb537d0The DaVinci Collaborative, as it will be named, is a “year-round high school with interdisciplinary, project-based learning opportunities infused with the arts and technology,” according to their website. In some important ways, this is a continuation of a key TNCS approach to learning—especially in being driven primarily by inquiry, by focusing on the whole student, and by cultivating mentor–mentee relationships.

As appropriate for high school students, DVC will not just be a continuation, however: “Students will take charge of their learning and the design of the collaborative. They will work and learn alongside community organizations and businesses that co-locate in our space.” In other words, the DVC model incorporates learning through internships with community business liaisons. It’s learning by doing at the meta level. By focusing on career from the outset, students will graduate into a world where they can thrive, not flounder, having cultivated skills as well as practiced making connections.


Helene Luce, Co-Founder, The DaVinci Collaborative

DVC is the brainchild of Helene Luce, who is passionate about education and about supporting Baltimore and helping its residents flourish. Ms. Luce joins her vast education experience that ranges from high school history teacher, serving on a charter school board, professional development for faculty, to curriculum design and writing, with a keen social awareness in cofounding the DaVinci Collaborative (along with an extended 25-member team including fellow Baltimore educators and others).

“I had this idea of starting a high school,” she explains, “that really got off the ground when we applied to win ‘super school’ funding with Project XQ.” Project XQ is an organization devoted to “reimagining high school”—because the status quo system has failed so many U.S. students in so many different ways. Schools that apply to be XQ super schools seek to revolutionize how high school is done to better serve our nation’s students and to optimize their development using their innate gifts rather than . “Out of 1,400 total applicants, we were 1 of 50 finalists,” continued Ms. Luce, “which validated that our ideas were worth pursuing. Even though we didn’t win, we knew we had something and decided to apply as a Baltimore City charter school.”

Big Picture Learning

DVC is currently at a critical point in its evolution: The application for charter school status will be submitted by the end of this month, and potential school locations are being scouted in Southeast Baltimore (psst—they have a strong lead on a great spot!). Ms. Luce feels strongly that DVC will achieve these short-term goals, the founders having spent the last 2 years building community support and awareness, making useful connections, and applying for grants. And, recently, DVC has come under the aegis of Big Picture Learning.

BPL’s mission is to “put students at the center of their own learning.” By educating “one student at a time,” they have flipped the conventional, grading-based school paradigm on its head. Instead of standardization, BLP adopts “an education system that inspires and awakens the possibilities of an engaged population of learners.” The organization began in Providence Rhode Island in 1995 at The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center and quickly attracted national attention with its immediate success in graduating students who were prepared to contribute meaningfully to the world. Just 1 year after it graduated its first class of students, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation named “The Met” its favorite high school and awarded funding to U.S. schools to replicate its revolutionary approach.

Being 1 of the 65 BPL schools nationwide will provide the DaVinci Collaborative with an immense library of resources, which will be an enormous help to a new school. “Our values and their values are very much aligned,” said Ms. Luce. “They will support with lots of innovative programs and services—we won’t be dangling out there on our own.”

It’s also an honor in it’s own right. What does it take to be a BPL school? BPL enumerates “10 Distinguishers“:

  1. One student at a time
  2. Advisory structure
  3. Learning through interests and internships
  4. Parent and family engagement
  5. School culture
  6. Authentic assessment
  7. School organization
  8. Leadership
  9. Post-secondary planning
  10. Professional development

Next Steps

With plans to open in summer 2019, DVC needs an essential component in place: founding parents. If you think the DaVinci Collaborative sounds like an educational environment that Southeast Baltimore students could benefit from, consider joining as a founding parent—no commitment to attend the school is required to do so.

Provide your support in bringing this exciting model of engaged learning to life by downloading and completing this form and sending it to by March 16th, 2018.

Meet the Teacher: Donghui Song Brings a Nice Note to TNCS Preprimary!

The New Century School accepts students as young as age 2 years into the preprimary program. The teachers who instruct the toddler classrooms, therefore, must be very special people in order to start their young charges’ academic journeys off on the right foot. Joining Laura Noletto and Elizabeth Salas on the preprimary team, Donghui Song took over as lead Mandarin Immersion teacher for the 2017–2018 school year.


Song Laoshi came to the United States in 1996 with her husband, who took a position in Oahu, Hawaii in oceanography research. While there, she began volunteering in her son’s preschool. She soon realized how critical these early years are for optimal social and intellectual development and started thinking about taking classes in early childhood education.

But first, she moved with her family to Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. After 6 years in beautiful Hawaii, her husband took a new research position at the University of Illinois. Although she earned a bachelor’s degree in music back in China, Song Laoshi saw Illinois as the perfect opportunity to get her early childhood education degree. She began working at a preschool with 2- and 3-year-olds. “The people are all so nice there,” she said, “and the preschool where I worked was very international, like here.”

Another move took her family to New York, where Song Laoshi’s husband was offered a position at Columbia University. In New York, she once again worked with toddlers. Three years later, in 2011, her family moved to this area.

Before joining TNCS, Song Laoshi worked at the McDonogh School, where she was a full-time substitute for 1st, 5th, and 6th grades. Now that she is at TNCS, she has a Chinese immersion classroom of 16 children. “The children we teach learn a lot and really remember, so I want to teach them more,” she said. “It’s very rewarding. I have two assistants, and we know what children need. It’s great.” She also says she has felt welcome and supported by her fellow teachers.

Her philosophy of teaching early childhood education is simple, but effective: “First, I think you have to make it fun and meet their needs. It’s very important for attachment, and you have to be loving, too.”


download.jpgShe also now has the opportunity to bring her music background back into play, as TNCS highly prizes music of all forms. For Chinese New Year last month, she brought her erhu to school and gave a performance. She also plays piano.

In addition, she has been teaching at the Howard County Chinese School for the last 3 years. Her students there are kindergartners and first-graders.

Her other pastimes include exercising with a group of friends who attend classes together. Her son, now college age, attends UMBC, and she also has a daughter in the 9th grade.

As for where oceanography will next take Song Laoshi’s family, she believes Baltimore is the last stop. “I think we will retire here,” she said. “Moving around was fun when I was young, but now I don’t want to move again.”

That’s music to our ears, Song Laoshi!

TNCS Welcomes Chinese Visitors for the Lunar New Year Holiday, Part 2!

As recounted in last week’s Immersed, The New Century School takes advantage of the 2-week holiday many Chinese have in the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year by hosting special programs and inviting various groups to TNCS. For the Year of the Dog, first came a group of 15 university students, eager to take home innovative education ideas, followed by three 3rd-grade students and their parents.


The purpose behind this second visit was some cultural exchange—immersion in an English-speaking classroom for the Chinese students for 2 weeks, and a chance for TNCS students to practice conversation skills in Mandarin with their visiting friends Myra, Tony, and Michael.

The outgoing and adaptable trio meshed immediately with their new schoolmates and were welcomed into Mrs. Sharma’s 3rd-/4th-grade homeroom with open arms. It must be said that having the visitors in class for 2 weeks meant that TNCS students got a bit of a holiday as well, getting to go on four field trips during that time!

First up was the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in honor of February being Black History Month.

Next the students visited ANG Pottery in Fell’s Point and saw a master at work, then crafted their own masterworks.

This was followed a few days later by bowling at Patterson Bowling Center.

The Port Discovery Children’s Museum was last, as appropriate, featuring Year of the Dog exhibits (among others).

Meanwhile, lots of fun things happened during school time as well, like making tacos with Chef Danielle!

Even after the school day ended, the visitors were made to feel a special part of the TNCS community, as TNCS families welcomed them into their homes for dinner. . .


. . . or for a musical interlude during an unexpected snow day!


Their stay culminated with a farewell and awards ceremony held at TNCS, as their proud parents watched.

TNCS students were sad to see them go, but plans are in the works for keeping in touch with Myra, Tony, and Michael, who will always remember TNCS!

TNCS Welcomes Visitors from China for the Lunar New Year Holiday!

In China, the weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year, culminating on February 16th 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 2018 seeing the largest overall numbers of visitors yet.

The first group comprised 15 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. They all came from various cities in Hunan Province—Chongqing (Holly), Wugang (Phoebe), Zhuzou (Dragon), Changde (Bella), Zhangjiaie (Jamie), Beijing (Elaine), Hengyang (Tiffany), Wenzhou (Bunny), Urumqi (Michelle), and the capital Changsha (Fire, Miki, Ishine, Shirley, Jane, and Smart).


Their stay at TNCS was brief, as they had lots of sightseeing around the country on their trip itinerary. So, to make sure they got the most of their time here, their 2 days at TNCS were very full. They visited classrooms and interacted with students among other activities, divided into two alternating groups. They were eager to learn firsthand how education is handled in an independent school, and they were very receptive to the innovative ideas presented to them.

They even got the chance to participate in some group exercises designed to get them thinking and problem-solving creatively. While one group played “Lost at Sea” in the Ozone Snack Bar with half of the upper elementary students, the second group joined the remaining upper elementary students in a bucket band with Mr. Yoshi. The late January day was surprisingly warm, so the bucket band played outside.


Not only was it a special treat to be outside in the middle of winter, but there were some subtle messages here as well. The Chinese university students saw that TNCS is an urban school, asphalt and all, and they also saw that with so much going on around the school campus, adaptability and flexibility are necessary (not to mention often make for fun surprises). Mr. Yoshi first gave a short talk, describing his background and explaining that he is a proponent of El Sistema—using music to promote social change. From there, he demonstrated some simple techniques until the group was able to play “Rufus My Dog.”

Then, it was time for the group to go off script and add their own flourishes, working in pairs of one university student and one TNCS student.

They all enjoyed that a lot. As one put it, “This kind of activity makes kids very creative and is very interesting. In China we just repeat, repeat, repeat.”


Back in the Ozone, TNCS Co-Founder and Executive Director Roberta Faux led the group in playing “Lost at Sea,” working in teams of four or five. “Imagine you chartered a yacht and are sailing from Baltimore to New York,” she instructed. “In 100 miles, your boat blows up. You’re on a little raft, wearing a life vest waiting to be rescued. There are 15 items listed. Number your paper from 1 to 15 and rank the items you would want from most to least. There are no right or wrong answers, and you have 5 minutes.”

The results varied widely, but no teams would have survived and only one individual scored high enough to just barely make it! Despite the high number of casualties, this exercise got everyone thinking as well as collaborating. Oh, and laughing.

Download the rules and how to play here. It’s loads of fun and would be perfect for Family Game Night!

The day ended with a cooking lesson and dinner from Chef Danielle.

The group left Baltimore a day later but were unanimous in saying that they would not forget TNCS and the fun they had while there!

Part 2 continues next week when Immersed checks in with the second group who came to visit TNCS during the Lunar New Year holiday. Stay tuned!


Meet the Teacher: Megan Dematteo Joins TNCS Lower Elementary!

Now in its 10th year, The New Century School continues to grow up, with a new grade added each year and an expanding student body. With greater numbers of students comes the need for additional teachers, especially in the elementary division. This year, TNCS welcomed Megan Dematteo to teach one of the four lower elementary classes.

Ms. Dematteo is one of those perfect fits that the school seems to attract, with her varied background, progressive approach to education, and her love of language and culture.

MeganHighRes7 copy.jpgBackground

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and growing up in nearby Harford County, Ms. Dematteo majored in Spanish at the University of Tennessee, with an additional focus on Journalism. On graduating with her undergraduate degree, she sought some real-world experience and joined AmeriCorps. “I volunteered for a year in Southeast Utah, primarily working for a non-profit that mostly served the Mexican community there,” she recounts. “We called ourselves the multicultural center and were open to serving any population, but we did have the only Spanish translation services in town. That’s where I began using Spanish on a daily basis.”

That experience made an impression on her that still informs her approach to education and life today. “I loved that community, and I felt like that was my first opportunity to see how language can open you up to meeting a whole new group of people and learning about them. A different perspective and a broadening world view comes with that,” she said.

After completing her volunteer service with AmeriCorps, she returned to the Southeast in 2015 and pursued a master’s degree in Creative Writing. During this process, she also took up teaching. “I got a job offer teaching part-time to K through 2nd-grade students at a Title 1 public school in Asheville, North Carolina doing literacy in small groups, which was was a skill set I had acquired. That was a lot of fun. I loved teaching and opening kids up to reading and writing,” she said.

The school where she taught had an incredibly diverse community, representing 32 countries ranging from Central and South America to Eastern Europe to the Pacific Islands. She enjoyed both the school and its students and the community surrounding it. She also found the experience to be “eye-opening” insofar as Asheville draws a lot of affluent tourists who do not necessarily reflect the social fabric of the people living there full time. “It was a very interesting place to be a public school teacher,” she explained, “because the public school kids don’t represent the facade that you see.” She realized that being a full-time classroom teacher was going to be her next step.

Although she was originally accepted into TNTP, an alternative credentialing program for public schools that seeks to “reimagine teaching,” in order to teach in Baltimore City public schools, she found herself instead at The Nueva School’s Innovative Teacher Program. Thus, her step turned out to be another big one, taking her all the way to the West Coast to teach at an independent school for gifted and talented students in the San Francisco Bay area. “I wanted to diversify my training,” she said. “That school has a progressive approach to education that I found really exciting, and I loved working with the gifted population. It was just fun. You could throw anything at them, and they would typically rise to the occasion.”


Although that experience was fun, she always looked on it as temporary: “I knew ultimately that I wanted to be closer to my family and be in a place where I could see myself settling down for a while, so California was my last hurrah.” And that’s how she wound up in Baltimore, at TNCS. “I’m only in my 4th year as a teacher, but I’ve tasted every little sampling from the platter of environments to work in, and TNCS is kind of a hybrid of all the different experiences I’ve had,” she explained. “I feel like TNCS is all of those pieces of training put together in one program.”

Things are certainly coalescing—she brings bilingualism, a service orientation, and a focus on reading and writing to the classroom, which are key elements of the TNCS identity. As for ways she integrates her background of creative writing, journalism, and Spanish in the classroom, she says:

We do writing workshop a lot. I think the kids like the opportunity to be creative. We’re going to switch our focus to a little more reading this semester because we got really excited about a writing project toward the end of the year—the kids created their own book. They learned about character and plot, the beginning, middle, and end. The created their own original books, then dictated them to me, and then illustrated them. It really made them come alive. Kids that formerly weren’t super interested in the technical aspects of writing, all of a sudden found that they had a voice and became really excited and proud of the stories they were telling. It was wonderful to see that process.

To bring Spanish in, I read stories in the language, such as Mexican folk tales. I also have a couple of ‘Spanglish’ books that are written in English, but the characters might have Spanish names, for example. The students are sometimes surprised to hear me, an English native speaker, speak Spanish. I like being an example to them of somebody who is bilingual. So, I try to use Spanish in the classroom a little every day, but I am primarily an ELA teacher, and I can’t switch too much because I don’t want to confuse my students.

Ms. Dematteo is glad to see TNCS flourishing as a school and is especially appreciative of the Mandarin Chinese and Spanish language teaching. “They are doing something in Baltimore that’s never been done before, and I think it’s really commendable,” she said. “It’s also a big year as far as reaching a critical mass of students and being able to be fully operational as a pre-primary to middle school. That’s very exciting.”

She and Profesor Manuel share classes, each having 15 homeroom students. Ms. DeMatteo handles ELA and Math for the cohort of 30 total, and Prof. Manuel, Global Studies and Science. “I’m enjoying this,” she said. “It’s good to be back in Baltimore!”

TNCS Students Fill Up with Kindness!

As the third quarter of the 2017–2018 school year ramps up at The New Century School, Head of School Alicia Danyali is introducing a brand-new initiative in character development as part of her invisible curriculum that is one of the distinguishing features of TNCS. Although new, the latest initiative integrates well with other programs she has put in place over the years, especially last year’s four pillars of the TNCS learner profile, in which, schoolwide, students began exploring actively implementing Compassion, Courage, Respect, and Service into their daily school lives. Even as those concepts continue to define TNCS students and inform their academic pursuits, Mrs. Danyali seeks ways to make them more and more concrete as well as apply them in new and meaningful ways.

Grab Yourself a Bucket

So-called “bucket-filling” is conducting yourself in a positive manner with the ultimate outcome that you not only make others around you feel good, but you also feel good about yourself. Mrs. Danyali explains, “the premise is, what are you doing to influence a positive environment that ‘fills you up’? It doesn’t necessarily have to be something tangible like opening the door for somebody or saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’—which should come naturally, of course—but we want to create a community that cares about each other.”

Maybe you’ve noticed some different behaviors at home and wondered what suddenly jumpstarted your child’s development . . . well, there’s a good chance it started in class at school. Mrs, Danyali has brought bucket-filling to each and every classroom at TNCS, sowing bucket-filling seeds among the 2-year-olds all the way up to the middle-schoolers.

“I feel like we’ve done a thorough discussion about character development,” she said, “and it’s time for putting words into practice. Bucket-filling looks different in different age groups, as it should, because I don’t have the same expectations of a toddler as I do of a 6th- or 7th-grader.” As such, she has distributed books and shared the concept in every class in varying length and depth. Younger classes were in a group setting and older classes in circles (see TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices! for her work with circles) that allowed individual student feedback. Overall, such student feedback has been very positive, and teachers are also getting into the spirit by regularly using the language of bucket-filling in their classrooms.

She gives examples during her discussions that they can relate to, to help them understand how they can shift their behaviors and reactions in a positive direction, such as, “Have you ever been at the lunch table and noticed some trash under it that isn’t yours, but instead of saying, ‘that’s not mine,” just going ahead and cleaning it up anyway? Wouldn’t that help make a nicer, cleaner community for everyone? Or, are you ever at the store with your parents and give someone a smile just to be nice?”

Bucket-Filling By the Numbers

For the 3rd- through 7th-graders, putting bucket-filling into practice involves reflecting and responding in journals. They were given notebooks with suggestions for each of 30 days on how to be a bucket-filler, or they could go off script and record their approach.  “It doesn’t mean to be a bucket-filler to everyone you meet,” explains Mrs. Danyali. “But it uses the same line of questioning every day and then asks the student to be reflective. In our follow-up, I’m curious to see how much they share or choose not to share, but they know that there is no specific expectation to be met through the journaling exercise.” In other words, they’ll get out of it what they put into it!


In other divisions, bucket-filling will take different, age-appropriate forms. At the 2- and 3-year old level, for example, the discussion centers more on, “what would you do?” in a given situation. In one of the K–1st-grade classes, students put a pom-pom in a makeshift bucket each time they did or said something bucket-worthy. In this way, the teacher made the concept less abstract, and students were able to visualize how good deeds literally filled their class bucket. It also demonstrated the value of working together, and even the children who didn’t initially grasp the concept (getting a bit stuck on their beach shovels and pails) came away thinking, “Wow, what a nice class we have!” Others came to the “aha moment” by hearing fellow students share during circle time, such as one child’s story of her twice yearly closet clean-out to donate clothes she has outgrown to needier children.

For the whole school, art teacher Jenny Miller will be creating a giant bucket for the multipurpose room wall so teachers can publicly recognize students who are exhibiting positive behaviors. Nevertheless, Mrs. Danyali is quick to note that acknowledgment is not what underpins bucket-filling: “What I really want them to take away from this is that you don’t always need recognition for doing something kind. Having more of a humble attitude and just knowing, ‘this is who I am and this is built into me’ and modeling positive behavior is the essence of bucket-filling, to my mind.” In fact, a newer concept to emerge from the bucket-filling juggernaut is “putting your lid on your bucket,” which basically means making sure that you are holding on to your positive energy and being sustained by it rather than going through the motions of bucket-filling just to impress somebody else.

Filled with Implications

There are many facets to bucket-filling, and its implications are far-reaching. For example, another component to bucket-filling is taking responsibility for not-so-nice actions, which can also contribute to an affirmative environment and, in that sense, is reflective of restorative practice. Another aspect concerns the Dr. Jekyll of bucket-filling. For instance, if you’re not being an active bucket-filler, let’s hope you aren’t becoming the dreaded “bucket-dipper,” which is consciously subverting classroom rules or refusing to take accountability for a transgression and thereby depleting someone else’s bucket. You can also deplete your own bucket by such a negative attitude. Fortunately, trying to find ways and strategies to turn it around leads back to bucket-filling.

“I’m trying to make us more aware that it doesn’t take a lot to change how we feel,” said Mrs. Danyali. “For example, I said, ‘let me see your best smile,’ and followed up with, “how does that make you feel?’ If we work on self, then it can be better for everyone else.”

What do we want for our kids? We want them to be happy and healthy, and bucket-filling can contribute to those states. If that positive message is given to them and modeled for them consistently by the teachers they love and respect, then there’s a strong chance they’ll adopt the corresponding behaviors. “Sometimes adults need the message as much as students,” said Mrs. Danyali. I ask myself, ‘is what you’re doing today bettering you and benefiting everyone else around you?’ ”

She noted that, so far, bucket-filing seemed to resonate most with students who are already strongly connected to service, but she thinks it’s going to catch on more and more as TNCS students cultivate their character strengths and grow and develop.

Future Buckets

“I’m hoping these conversations are ongoing, and I’ll continue going into classrooms and facilitating,” said Mrs. Danyali. I feel that if a good portion of the kids walk away understanding the concept and implementing it in their community and in the classroom, then it’s made the difference.”

“Becoming a bucket-filling classroom” is a thing, but Mrs. Danyali is hesitant to invite too much fanfare. She prefers to keep it “organic and authentic” to TNCS, which means that it must be differentiated among levels and it will be implemented differently in each classroom. All of the materials are available in Spanish so there may be opportunity for some bilingual bucket-filling. Other schools even make bucket-filling into a competition, but that is something Mrs. Danyali will not bring to TNCS, as competing is diametrically opposed to what she feels is the point of this whole endeavor—which is more or less to become aware of our how our conduct affects our fellows and ourselves.

“This year will be sort of an experiment,” she says. “I’m hoping it creates conversations, and we’ll see where it goes. I can see building on it year after year, like with our core values.”

If you’d like to reinforce bucket-filling at home and elsewhere, resources abound. The website ( provides useful information as well as links to social media platforms including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and more, showing everything from having a positive influence in how we talk, how we bucket-fill at home, and how it can be done in the community at large.