Music Is in the Air: TNCS Welcomes Back Martellies Warren!

As mentioned in a previous post, the 2022–2023 school year at The New Century School promises to be its best so far (and, if the trend continues, next year will top even this year!). Amidst all of the excitement of celebrating its 10th anniversary and welcoming a new Head of School, TNCS got some more good news: Martellies Warren rejoined the fold!

He’s Baaack!

As for how Mr. Warren returned to TNCS, we have TNCS Head of School Erika Johnson to thank. . . and maybe some cosmic good luck. “This is a period in my life where things are aligning,” said Mr. Warren. “I’m learning that what looks at first to be an obstacle can sometimes be necessary to have you in place for your next step.”

The sequence of events goes like this: Mr. Warren was about to start working at a Montgomery County Montessori school and had come to TNCS during the first week of the school year to gather some required paperwork for his new job. He encounters Ms. Johnson, whom he had coincidentally met briefly years earlier, and they strike up a conversation on realizing the acquaintanceship. “We had an existing connection that opened the door for us to sit and talk,” he explains. After they caught up a bit, Ms. Johnson realized she was talking to “the” Mr. Warren, the former TNCS Music Director who everyone still speaks so lovingly about, and she didn’t hesitate. They discussed Mr. Warren’s professional goals, and, it just so happens that one of his big goals—a leadership position—was put on hold temporarily due to an unexpected life event. This pause was going to mean that Mr. Warren was going back into the classroom full time, instead of joining the high school’s administration team. He was completely fine with this, but when Ms. Johnson offered him a spot back at TNCS as Director of Music and Extended Activities, he saw that maybe this is how it was supposed to be: one door closed in order to open a better one.

Mr. Warren describes his decision-making process as typically very deliberate and unhurried, and he asked Ms. Johnson for some time to consider her offer. He ended up not needing much and got back to her the same day. “I let her know I’m very interested, but my main concern is doing this right and not letting down the other school,” he explained. With his return to TNCS destined to be, however, the Head of the other school was nothing but supportive, telling Mr. Warren he couldn’t pass up this wonderful opportunity.

Where He’s Been

Mr. Warren used his 3-year hiatus from TNCS to develop professionally and to tie together all of the various threads he had been exploring. He is a certified Montessori teacher and taught as Montessori Lead Teacher for several years at TNCS—some of his former primary students are current TNCS middle schoolers, in fact! Teaching in a traditional classroom was a new skill he honed while at Woodlawn Middle School from 2019–2022. “I learned a lot there,” he said, “especially how important understanding the culture is and building relationships with students in order to be effective in that environment. You have to earn students’ trust.”

He says his experience at Woodlawn rounded out his knowledge of the school setting so that, in addition to being an expert in the Montessori method, he also knows state standards and the public school perspective. This well-rounded view has meant that in returning to TNCS, he is able to help out in all sorts of ways, where and as needed.

This versatility is actually nothing new. It may surprise no one to learn that Mr. Warren positively thrived in the all-virtual and then hybrid live/virtual instructional environments the pandemic demanded. “I absolutely loved it,” he said. “It took a lot of preparation, but I would have my fun slides ready, and then it’s just all about personality!” If anyone knows how to engage an audience, it’s Martellies Warren!

Speaking of engaging an audience, Mr. Warren is still vocalizing with Anthony Brown and group therAPy*, and they have earned an additional Grammy nomination since we last checked! Just as exciting, Mr. Warren is the proud recipient of a gold record for 2015’s “Worth”!

A new album is due out next year along the theme of affirmations. Performing in a musical group wasn’t easy during the pandemic, of course, but they held it together. “It made me realize how fragile the music industry is,” he said. “The pandemic took us off the stage, and fortunately that’s not what I was solely depending on for my livelihood. It helped me realize how lucky I am to have my other work. It also forced us to figure out how to make this work and do a lot of virtual things. It made us all technology experts,” he joked. So, affirmations is about finding the positive among the seeming negative.

Where He’s Going

At TNCS, Mr. Warren is teaching music classes twice weekly to all students except those in the preprimary division. These classes will start with some music theory, sight reading, solfège skills, and so on and then get right to singing. “I want to make sure that they’re getting the music skills they need. Especially my middle school students—I want to make sure they’re not walking into someone’s choral program ill-equipped. I want to give them everything to make them feel more confident if they want to pursue music,” he said.

Mr. Warren has also instilled in his students the importance of maintaining professionalism on stage, and many of his former students still remember this. When an artist is performing, we owe them respect, which means staying quiet and letting them do their thing without distraction. He says that, since back at TNCS, he has heard an older student tell a younger student, “You’ve already had recess; it’s time to pay attention. Music is serious.”

As if that isn’t adorable enough, it’s a sign of wonderful things to come: the return of the exalted winter and spring concerts. These are still very much in development, but “stay tuned.”

Also on the horizon are Fine Arts–related field trips, which fall under his Extended Activities hat. Those, too, are still TBD, as Mr. Warren navigates how to safely resume such excursions with vestiges of the pandemic lingering. On campus, extended activities means more than extracurriculars. He is seeking alignment between what students do in class and out (One school, One program, One community). This means talking with teachers, understanding their daily curricula, and incorporating those themes and reinforcing those lessons in all of the fun supplemental activities available at TNCS. “We’re trying to structure this in a way that it runs as smoothly as possible by taking the information that they’re getting from the school day and now applying that in a different way,” said Mr. Warren.

Finally, Mr. Warren is back not just for his former and new students, but also for the TNCS community, including faculty and staff. “Even if it’s not in my job description, what can I do  to help? The leadership team is amazing, and I’m so lucky to now be part of it.”


*Why is the AP in group therAPy capitalized? It stands for “Answered Prayers,” and how very fitting is that?

March Madness at TNCS: In Like a Tiger, Out in a Blaze of Glory!

At The New Century School, a lot happens all year long . . .  especially in the month of March!

Year of the Tiger Lunar New Year Celebration

March blew in like a “tiger” with a new take on Lunar New Year celebrations. On March 2nd, Mandarin Chinese teacher Li Laoshi gave students and families a visit to “Chinatown,” with actual vendor stalls set up in the TNCS auditorium and hosts to help us navigate the lanes!

Li Laoshi was very proud of her students, who worked very hard on their Lunar New Year projects. “We did an amazing job in presenting Chinese culture of 12 animal zodiacs, Kung fu, traditional clothes, crafts, pandas, and Chinese food in 2 days of celebrations,” she said. The shops and stalls were not only fun to visit and sample the wares, they had a very important purpose: fundraising for the middle schoolers’ fast-approaching capstone trip to Puerto Rico! “Our students also feel very proud that they can support the 7th and 8th-graders’ service trips,” continued Li Laoshi. “It was really exciting and enjoyable!”

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Science Fair 2022

Next up was the annual Science Fair, hosted by TNCS science teacher Mr. Brosius. Presentations were broken out by division, with 4th- through 8th-graders presenting on March 14th and 15th, 2nd- and 3rd-graders presenting March 16th and 17th, and kindergartners and 1st-graders the following week.

For much of Quarter 3, prepped for their projects, assembling materials, creating lists of methods, and collecting data. Projects could either follow the scientific method or veer into engineering and design territory. Mr. B. was on hand to oversee and advise: “A few projects required some amendments in order to increase their testability, but the students enjoyed their work in science class,” he said.

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Although the Science Fair ended, the STEM fun did not! Mr. B first sent a thank you out to families: “Thank you to all who viewed science fair presentations last week. It means a lot to the students. They have worked diligently this past quarter and should be proud of their efforts.”

Then he sent an update that students continued working on improving the quality of their data collection and analysis. “This past week, 4th through 8th graders have engaged in measurement activities that help them to better develop these skills, while younger students have primarily continued working on their individual projects. The 2nd- and 3rd-grade students also briefly used a petri dish computer simulation to further discuss data collection and analysis,” he explained. In the coming week, he said, “we will review all steps of the scientific method and engineering design process when we resume the peer review process.” The peer review process is new this year and replicates how scientists perform their studies in real life.

Firetruck Day!

TNCS preschoolers got in on the March Madness fun, too, with an extra special visit by Baltimore City firefighters on March 25th.

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And with that, March at TNCS ended in a blaze of glory!

Le Von White Brings His Special Brand of Mind–Body Fitness to TNCS!

The New Century School has a reputation for attracting multitalented, dedicated educators and other staff members. Le Von White, one of TNCS’s newest instructors who joined last fall, is the proof in the pudding.

Meet Le Von White

On spending mere moments with Mr. White, it’s immediately clear that he’s a true Renaissance Man. Among his many talents are acting, music, physical fitness, and meditation. He believes that the mind and the body are deeply connected, so to excel at anything, both the physical and the mental selves must be nurtured.

He radiates good energy!

Born and raised in Baltimore, Mr. White was educated in both public and private school environments. His experience at Calvert Hall College High School started him on his artistic journeys with acting and music, and he later majored in music at York College of Pennsylvania as well as earning a minor in political science. In addition, he served on the student senate and as a Resident Assistant and played trumpet in the college band. There he also ran track, establishing that mind–body connection that continues to sustain him. After taking a bit of time off after graduating, he earned a master’s degree in music from Morgan State University.

Mr. White at TNCS

Although classical piano is his passion, music is not what he teaches at TNCS. He started in the fall as a substitute teacher and is comfortable in all classrooms from pre-K right up through middle school. TNCS Interim Head of School Tad Jacks quickly saw that Mr. White needed to be a permanent fixture on campus, and now he does a little of everything, including teaching physical education, helping cover the front desk, overseeing recess, and doing aftercare. He remains part time, though, because if an acting gig becomes available, he must fly!

Teaching PE is a natural fit for Mr. White, who, again, believes very strongly in keeping both his mind and body in shape. During gym class, TNCS students do body weight strength training and ab work and also play games. Mr. White is waiting on some sports equipment to arrive so students can develop those skills as well.

“I really enjoy working out,” he said. “Physical fitness is very important and I feel like when I work out, I have the physical energy to do all the other things that I do, like recitals, acting, and so on. l want to be the best version of myself when I’m doing those things.” The connection, of course, works both ways. Not only do his workouts help fuel his mind, but his mental activity also helps him stay focused and motivated. Which brings us to yet another of his pursuits: meditation.

Physical fitness is very important to me, but mental fitness is just as important. If I keep my mind strong and clear, I’m able to inspire other people and stay motivated myself. Meditation makes all the difference to me, and when I began taking it or seriously, I felt my intellect expanding. I’ve always been able to play piano but now I understand the music better and can perform it better. Meditation really works on your prefrontal cortex, and that’s where concentration comes from. I’m big on telling people that meditation builds this part of our brain. Just like a bicep curl builds that muscle, meditation builds the prefrontal cortex so that you can really focus.

During his second year of graduate school is when Mr. White got serious about meditation. He says he couldn’t concentrate and felt like he was playing piano in a storm. He got back into meditating, which an uncle had introduced him to, and that “silenced the storm.”

If you are feeling inspired, Mr. White recommends starting simply. Sit for 5 minutes daily with your back and spine straight and focus on your breath. “Try to remain neutral, so that no matter what thought comes into your mind, you stay balanced and calm. That’s gonna silence the mind and stop the reaction process. In that silence, you’ll feel both more energized and more peaceful,” he explained. Another piece of advice? “Don’t judge yourself. If you don’t succeed right away, keep going. Walk your path to the best of your ability.”

Mr. White and Piano

So what about tickling the ivories? Before coming to TNCS, Mr. White taught music and music history in a city middle school, but he wasn’t reaching students the way he wanted to. He cared about his students, and it hurt him to see all of the obstacles they faced. On coming to TNCS, he found the right balance. “I really feel like I’m making a difference here. I feel like I’m inspiring the kids here,” he said.

He finds ways to work in some piano playing and gave a Black History Month concert for TNCS students last month. “I played some popular artists like Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin, the King of Ragtime Scott Joplin, and my personal love, classical music,” he explained. “Mozart, Beethoven, and other composers from Germany and Austria in the 1700s and 1800s are where my passion is. Schumann is my favorite composer, and I also compose some music.” He even whips out some Disney songs on his keyboard from, for example, the Aladdin and Winnie the Pooh soundtracks, when he’s in the pre-K classroom, making those students very, very happy.

Are you ready? Here are some clips of Mr. White’s piano playing (which, like his swath of talents, spans many genres):

You can also follow Mr. White on Instagram at Vandal_Savage1943, where he lists ventriloquist as yet another talent (see some TikToks below)!

If it seems like Mr. White leads a charmed life given his many gifts, like everyone, he has had his share of ups and downs. He recounts how he started skipping school in 6th grade. His mother, whom he credits for his success, made any sacrifice necessary to get him into a more regimented environment. She must be very gratified and proud at how her efforts paid off! He has found an outlet for his multitude of talents, and they have come together perfectly.


Mr. White sometimes gives piano lessons through City Strings if you’d like to avail yourself of his talents! You can also see him acting in various commercials (such as Disco Skincare for Men) and on the HBO Max series We Own This City, premiering April 25th, in which he plays a correctional officer. We hope this part gets him closer to his dream of making it to Hollywood!

Ventriloquism TikToks!

Devin Martin: Giving TNCS the Whole Picture!

Part of The New Century School‘s mission is to nurture the whole child. This means faculty and staff focus not just on academics but also on, among other things, social and emotional learning, physical education, and The Arts.

Background

For the 2021–2021 school year, art class has a brand-new teacher: Meet Devin Martin. She even has “art”in her name!

But that’s not the whole picture. Ms. Devin is a natural fit at TNCS in several ways, as you’ll quickly see. She originally came to Baltimore from Ithaca, New York, where she grew up, to attend Maryland Institute College of Art—which we all know as MICA, of course! She graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and also did some course work in Art Education.

She found that Baltimore felt like home to her and has been here ever since. “I’ve made great friends here, and I’m never bored in this city. The art community here is so collaborative, and every time I spend time with my friends we come up with something artistic to do together. People are always performing at each other shows and collaborating, and it’s just a really great place to make interesting art,” she explained.

As for what her medium as an artist is, she says that the general Fine Arts degree allowed her to pursue multiple ways to create. “Fine Arts is a little bit of everything, which works well for me because I used to get bored with just one medium. I bounced around from photography to miniature painting to book arts . . . but what all of that ended up coalescing into was shadow puppetry, which became my main thing. It’s cut paper, it’s more theatrical, and I really got into theater arts after graduating.”

Ms. Devin uses transparencies, water, and ink to illustrate scenes in a stage adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Art Meets Montessori

Alongside this passion for art, Ms. Devin also has known that she wanted to teach since she was 16 years old and has worked with children in various capacities since then. After college, she began leading after-school community art programs. Shortly thereafter, she got a job at the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School, and as you’ve probably guessed, became intrigued with Montessori education. “I was doing after-school things with them and realized that I wanted to be around there all the time! That was also one of the first times I worked with early childhood in the primary classroom. It was a good fit for my personality. Young kids and I have a lot in common in terms of enjoying tactile experiences in nature and art and animals . . . so I feel like I can engage them really easily.” She went on to tie that fascination with small objects to the Montessori tenet of the characteristics of the primary-age child.

So, she started working as a primary assistant (eventually going on to lead a classroom) and decided to pursue Montessori training. She did her assistant Montessori training at Loyola University Maryland’s Center for Montessori Education and her Lead training at the Barrie Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies, where she also worked for a while.

Here at TNCS

And then the pandemic hit, so Ms. Devin had to shift gears. She answered a job listing put up by a group of TNCS families who were interested in finding a Montessori-trained teacher to teach their young children in a home/pod setting. Says Ms. Devin:

It was a wonderful group of seven kids age 2 1/2 through 6 years, and met every day in the guest room one of the families had turned into a primary classroom. We also spent most of the afternoon in Patterson Park learning about nature. We learned all about what kinds of trees grow there, and we extensively studied the cicadas. We learned all about their life cycle, their body parts, and what they do and why they sing. It was a fun way to be able to bring my passion for early childhood science into this wonderful, wonderful park. It was a really great experience, and I think I learned a lot about myself as a teacher during that time.

As will now seem predestined, this is how she ultimately found out about TNCS. She first began long-term substituting in the primary classroom while Señora Salas is out on maternity leave but then saw the art education opening. “A lot of my background is in art education, and it’s definitely a major passion of mine, so I asked if I can do both. In the morning I’m teaching in the primary classroom, and then in the afternoon I’m teaching K through 8 art,” she said.

Although this schedule might sound daunting, it’s easy to see how she blends her various talents and makes it all work. (Puppets in the primary classroom? Match made in heaven! She also makes great use of her skill with miniatures.)

So how is she faring so far this year? Short answer: beautifully in both spheres. In the primary world, she says, “All the primary teachers are kind of new this year, so we were able to figure out how we wanted to run things ourselves. Although I have a lot of experience in primary classrooms, this year is totally different because of COVID. There are all sorts of different considerations for how to stay COVID-safe, from the way we do lunch to the way we do play time. So, there’s a lot of trying new things, but the kids are really adaptable, and I think we’ve fallen into a nice little rhythm and routine.”

As for art . . .

In the afternoon, I’m running around doing art in all the classrooms, and I’ve just been loving it. I think art teaching is really what I’m best at in the world. I’m always smiling so big when I’m walking around the classroom, looking at everyone’s art. They’re all elementary and middle school age and at that point where they haven’t quite decided whether they’re an artist or not. They might say they can’t draw, but they they can and with a bit of encouragement, they’re able to do things that really impress them. For example, we did a geometric tile project looking at Islamic, Moroccan, and Mexican tile-work, and we made simple designs using a straight edge and a circle. At the end of one of the classes, one of the students said, ‘how did you do that?’ and, I replied, ‘you did that.’ They responded, ‘how did you get me to do that?!’ It was funny, and she was so surprised at her own skills.

During the first quarter, students have been focused on building drawing skills through observational drawing as well as imaginative drawing. Recent projects have included drawings based on the colors, compositions, and motifs of Panamanian textiles and a street art–inspired project using bent wire to bring line drawings to life. “I like to take a skill and apply it in a bunch of different ways, but soon we’ll be moving on from drawing into 3D stuff like sewing and clay work. It’s been very fun to figure out what I want to teach and what areas of art I want to delve into.”


Ms. Martin will display student works of art around the two TNCS buildings—get a peek when you can!

TNCS Elementary and Middle Students Perform Standup Comedy for Theatre Class!

In late 2020, theatre teacher Alex Hewett returned to The New Century School, much to the TNCS community’s collective delight. Ms. Hewett has been with TNCS in various capacities since 2013. (Read Embrace the Bard from 2019, A Week of Wonder from 2016, Theatre Workshop and Drama Camp from 2014, and Summertime Theatrics from 2013.)

Here, we give you Immersed’s latest conversation with this artist, activist, and all-around wonderful human being just before her culminating project with her elementary and middle school students was about to begin.

Immersed: Since the last time we sat down for an interview, a lot in your professional life has probably changed.
AH: Yes! Currently, I teach a class at Johns Hopkins that I’ve developed on creativity inspired by The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I took a workshop with her a few years ago, and it changed my life, so I’ve incorporated some of her teaching. Each unit is different, from visual arts to music to writing and then performance. And in the past year the class was looking at how do you overcome trauma using creativity so that that’s how the class was structured. I have also produced a storytelling show called “Mortified*” for the past 6 years or so. We were not having live shows last year, although we did a few zoom shows to raise money for the Creative Alliance. In this show, adults share their childhood diaries, love letters, poetry—things they created as kids. So we look at the submissions and curate them, and then they share these things on stage. And it’s funny because at the time they were writing they never think they’re going to share it with anyone so it’s messy and hysterical and ultimately very cathartic. I’m also getting an MFA in creative writing and publishing arts at the University of Baltimore.
Immersed: Are you still doing anything with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company?
AH: I am not actively teaching classes with CSC now but have been involved with their Veterans ensemble.
Immersed: When did you actually come back into the school?
AH: I started teaching in person about 2 months ago and virtually in November.
Immersed: Teaching theatre virtually—was that difficult?
AH: I was working with an acting teacher taking classes as a student myself all last year, and I learned that there’s so much you can do to create some of the intimacy of being on stage through zoom. That really helped me. I also usually don’t teach as young as kindergartners, but I have lots of puppets so with them we were able to move around a lot and keep the younger students engaged. It helped keep them going because they spend so much time on the screen, so much of my class was up and active. It was interesting because they would listen more to the puppets than to me!
Immersed: That sounds wonderful (and funny!). So how was physical reentry for you and when are you here?
AH: On Mondays I’m here for the K through 2nd-grade classes and Wednesdays I’m here for 3rd through 8th grades. Also on Mondays the 3rd through 8th grades get an asynchronous assignment from me, and the K through 2nd-graders get one on Tuesdays. The first day back was a bit overwhelming because some students were still at home and some were in the classroom. I talked to my actor friends who also teach theatre to ask how they approach this, because we can’t be together in this space, we can’t hold hands, we can’t see each other’s whole faces. How do we do this? But this collaboration with my peers and a lot of creativity paid off. We started with the kids writing their own stories—kind of creating their own model of who they are. We did scenes from Shakespeare, “Into the Spiderverse,” and “Harry Potter the Musical” to start with material they’d be more familiar with. After that first day, though, it was pretty joyous.
Immersed: Wonderful. And yet it’s difficult to imagine how you pulled it off with students in two very different spaces.
AH: Oh, well, there were challenges. Sometimes they couldn’t hear each other, for example. But we did lot of yoga and movement and breath and meditation. With the younger kids, especially, we played more theater and movement games. Or, I’d read them a story and then have them act out the scenes according to their own interpretations. We’ve also done a lot of improvisation.
Immersed: Tell us a little more about how you created your curriculum.
AH: You know, theatre is fun, and I think the stuff that I’m teaching is fun. I know I was leaving the classroom each day feeling good, and the kids were laughing. I really tried to do things with them that they would enjoy and ask for their feedback. Sometimes I pull stuff from the Kennedy Center or from live theatre performances and have them watch a play or a musical or even some dance. It’s different for each class depending on what we’re doing at the time. I often had to adapt my curriculum in the moment, so that was stressful in a fun way. I also feel like I’m on stage all the time and, like,
‘Oh no, what am I not getting through to them?’ Because I ultimately just want them to believe in themselves. Theatre does that. So it has definitely been exciting and a creative challenge, but I’m up for that!
Immersed: If we know anything about you, it’s that you are certainly up for creative challenges! And now here we are at the end of the year! What are students presenting for you today?
AH: Well, I knew we couldn’t pull off a traditional play, but I thought, why not do some standup? The past year has been really difficult; let’s end with a laugh! I interviewed a few of my friends who are professional comedians, and I presented the interviews to the kids as their asynchronous assignments to familiarize them with how to craft standup. Unfortunately, standup is usually geared toward adults and not appropriate for kids, so I had to be very careful. But, basically, kids are the funniest creatures in the world, so it’s not that hard to access the funny. I think the biggest part of it is getting over the fear of being by yourself up on stage with a microphone. The microphone makes it so much more real.
Immersed: So what kinds of things did you teach them to “access their funny”?
AH: In crafting comedy, you look at the things that are the most difficult in your life . . . things that bother you, things you want to change, the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. We’re seeing more of that sort of comedy, and it shows that everyone has problems.
Immersed: And through comedy, we can start to come to terms with them.
AH: Exactly. Everyone’s life has been affected this past year, so how can we reflect and talk about it? As you’re talking about the things that bother you the most, everyone’s going to connect maybe not on the exact same things, but it’s that you’re honest and you’re respected for being up there. That takes a lot of courage, so I really tried to stress that we must be supportive of each other, and we’ve been working on helping each other with crafting our pieces. Everyone gave a pitch of what they want to talk about, and we provided feedback about what was funny, what we liked, or how to use your body your body language to tell the story more effectively. So that’s we’ve been working on, and everyone is going to come up on stage for 2 minutes and do their thing!

“I ultimately just want them to believe in themselves. Theatre does that.”–Alex Hewett

Without further ado, we give you the TNCS Comedy Troupe! We even have a recording from a student who was virtual the day of the presentations (and she slays!).

“The microphone makes it so much more real.”

 

*Read more about “Mortified” in this great writeup!