Meet the Teacher: Michele Hackshaw Joins TNCS Primary Division

michele-hackshaw-joins-tncs-primaryMichele Hackshaw joined The New Century School at the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year as a Montessori Lead Teacher with Gloria Jimenez assisting. A native Spanish speaker from Caracas, Venezuela, she moved to Baltimore with her husband in 2000.

In her home country, she pursued a macroeconomics degree but decided to come to the United States to immerse herself in English while earning a Master’s in business. She spent a few years working in the business field, and then, Señora Hackshaw says, the recession of 2008 hit. She began volunteering in her children’s school and found to her surprise that she really enjoyed that type of work. She liked childhood education so much, in fact, that she went for Montessori training. Once certified as a Montessori teacher, she worked at Bridges Montessori School in Towson for about 5 years. “I definitely prefer teaching to business, to my initial surprise. Then, even after the economy got better I told my husband that business is something I don’t want to go back to. I really love what I’m doing right now. I really love to get up and go to my work. This [gesturing to her classroom] is my vocation.”

The switch in careers from business to teaching might seem like quite an about-face, but Sra. Hackshaw believes that the work has greater significance for society. “We have such a a big impact on these children. How they turn out depends on what we do for them, show them, expose them to.” Besides her humanitarian reasons, teaching is also a lot more fun for her than working in an office was, where interactions with irate clients were often less than pleasant. “Here, it’s not like that. Somebody might be crying because I asked him to do something he didn’t want to do, and 10 minutes later, he’s got a huge smile. There are no bad work days,” she says.

Her children, a girl and a boy, are now 9 and 10 years old, respectively and have the good fortune to be growing up bilingual. The same can be said of Sra. Hackshaw’s 10 3- to 5-year-old primary students who are in a Spanish-immersion Montessori classroom. “In the beginning, teaching in Spanish was a bit challenging because it was a new language for my students, who were all new to the school. But they learned so fast, and now it’s just great,” she smiles.

About being at TNCS now, she says it’s not only a wonderful experience, but she is learning a lot, professionally. “This is a different environment,” she explains, “because I never worked in a full Spanish immersion classroom, although it was Montessori. But I have never taught Montessori in Spanish or given a Montessori lesson in Spanish. And, unlike teaching Spanish, for example, at an after-school program, which is mostly teaching vocabulary, here it’s different. I speak Spanish the whole time. It has been a valuable process of learning and discovery.” (Please see Montessori Language Arts, Match, Science, and Global Studies at TNCS to learn more about how Sra. Hackshaw and other TNCS primary teachers give Montessori lessons.)

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For now, Sra. Hackshaw’s “business” is nurturing her students within her warm and peace-loving classrom. “There’s so much that you can give to them, and they will learn from you. If you keep empowering them and model how to be good people, they learn that.”

Welcome to TNCS, Sra Hackshaw!

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Hosts with the Most—Rewarding Experiences!

Over 10 days in late January/early February, The New Century School welcomed 23 Chinese students to Baltimore for a Winter Exchange Program. The program, hopefully the first of many, was a smashing success, with the students merging seamlessly into TNCS classrooms and daily school life. Please read Immersed‘s coverage of the event from 2/10, linked above, for details. This post explores the experience from another perspective—that of two of the many families who hosted the students, welcoming them into their homes and their hearts. Their experiences were different in some ways, but what they have in common is the real story. (A forthcoming post will provide a slightly different host family point of view: what it’s like to host TNCS interns.)

The Wolds/Barrys

The Wolds/Barrys hosted three girls, ages 9, 11, and 14. Although they had originally signed up to host one student, they opted for another, and then another, during the home visit conducted by the program coordinator, Kerrigan Dougherty, who saw the Wolds’/Barrys’ multi-bedroom home as ideal for the visitors. Their car is also large enough to transport five kids (they have two of their own, a son in the primary division at TNCS and a daughter in elementary) to and from TNCS. In the end, they did not want any of the prospective exchange students to miss out on this opportunity and figured that they could make it work with three for the relatively short 10-day duration. Ms. Wold says the home visit had a dual purpose, first to make sure from the coordinator’s perspective that the exchange student(s) would have suitable accommodations and second to allow her and her family to ask practical questions (such as, What will the students’ day-to-day itinerary consist of? Do we need to pack them lunch? etc.) and address any potential concerns. Host families were given a stipend of $200 per student to cover food and any miscellaneous expenses.

Hosting Surprises

This kind of preparation was essential. Surprises are inevitable in a cultural exchange; the trick is in gathering enough information beforehand to be able to roll with any unexpected turns of events. Make them surprises of the pleasant variety, in other words.

For example, the Wolds’/Barrys’ visitors arrived around midnight on 1/16, and were very eager to see something new, having never been away from China before. Getting them to bed and rested for the next day, a full day of activities, was not going to be easy. But Ms. Wold had the inspiration to take them up onto her roof deck to look at the skyline and the city lights. After some talking and getting to know each other, the girls retired for a few hours and then went to TNCS for their first day. “This time difference and jet lag aspect was the most challenging part,” said Ms. Wold. “It’s harder for kids to get over jet lag, I think. Their little bodies just give out on them, and they can’t rally as easily as adults can. But they adjusted pretty quickly all in all.”

The oldest girl, nicknamed Lily, spoke the best English of the three and was helpful with communicating the needs of the younger two as well as provided the most insight into what their daily life is like back home. “I’m glad I had all three,” said Ms. Wold, “because I was able to normalize one’s behavior in comparison to the others. And, they had each other for camaraderie at the end of the day.”

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The biggest (and funniest) surprise for the Wolds/Barrys was with meals. Ms. Wold had gotten a rice cooker and taught herself how to make several Chinese dishes prior to the girls’ visit, but they made it clear from the start that they wanted American food . . . particularly spaghetti with tomato sauce and pizza. Every day. Even for breakfast.

Ms. Wold laughs, “I was not anticipating that. After 5 days of serving them my spaghetti, I took them to Chiapparelli’s Restaurant in Little Italy to have real Italian spaghetti. So we had a day out, which they loved, with all of our Western dining rituals, from the fancy tablecloths to the formal table setting.”

Silverware and table settings turned out to be a big deal for them and marks a culture-sharing moment. Ms. Wold describes this moment fondly:

For every meal, even breakfast, we set the table with a full silverware setting including salad forks—which we don’t normally do in our house—because they were so intrigued by it. They had never used silverware before. They were initially a bit clumsy with the knife and fork, but they got used to it. I offered chopsticks, but they declined; they wanted the Western experience. They had been prepared before coming to embrace the culture.

img_4851Some aspects of daily life were kept consistent for them, though, to ensure their comfort. For example, families were instructed to serve warm meals, never cold ones. The spaghetti for breakfast starts to make a little more sense to an otherwise American sensibility in this context—cereal was a no-no. “I tried to think in terms of their parents being worried about them not eating and attempted to serve enough of a variety that they would always find something they were happy with. So, in addition to spaghetti and pizza for breakfast, I would also put out watermelon, waffles, and toast. It sounds random, but they would eat little bits of all of it,” said Ms. Wold.

In fact, eating “family style,” with small servings from a variety of dishes is akin to what they are accustomed to at home, with dishes commonly being rotated around the table on a lazy Susan.

Naturally, some things were easier to embrace than others, and each girl embraced certain aspects of Western culture to varying degrees, with the youngest (nicknamed Annie) adapting most readily to the comparatively more relaxed daily structure.

The exchange students were not the only ones to be exposed to new ideas, however. The Wolds/Barrys gained both some cultural knowledge of China as well as a new layer of understanding for their own native culture. Explained Ms. Wold:

Every day saw a new discovery on that level. One thing that the oldest said a few times was that she really wanted to see a blue sky and breathe fresh air. That was eye-opening for me—just how accustomed they are to urban living and density and what it means to live in cities of tens of millions of people. Getting to see our daily life here through their eyes helped me appreciate it in a fresh way.

They especially commented on the architecture. It’s very European-looking down here in Fell’s, and they were charmed by all of the 18th- and 19th-century buildings. They’re mostly living in small flats in high rises, whereas Baltimoreans live in row homes.

They also described the differences in schools, not just academics, but also the approach. They start at 7:00 am and don’t finish until 7:00 pm. It’s very rigorous and much less fluid, than, for example, TNCS’s Montessori-inspired approach. They loved all the art, the drumming [see —Winter Exchange Program], anything outside the typical pencil-and-paper busy work.

It was important to the Wolds/Barrys to show the girls as much about their lives as possible and visited spots around Baltimore frequently, such as the American Visionary Art Museum, Fort McHenry, a paint-your-own-pottery studio, and the Science Center, In addition, they asked, “What do you want from this experience? We can take you places and show you things, but let us know if there’s a specific wish you want to fulfill.” Ms. Wold says her desire to show them as much as possible served several purposes. “What if this was their one chance to visit the United States or even to leave China?” was foremost, but she also needed to keep them occupied during daylight hours to facilitate their time adjustment. Simply getting them out of the house was another reason because, as this age group is inclined to do, they might otherwise hole up in the bedroom absorbed with their phones. Variety was yet another reason: “They’ll all each remember something different, and I was trying to make sure they would individually get something out of the experience.” For example, driving around one day, they saw a Tesla just ahead of them, which delighted Lily no end, as she has an interest in all things mechanical and liked to chat about topics ranging Elon Musk himself and Buckminster Fuller to Chinese poetry.

Rich Interactions

Not everything about the girls’ visit was surprising, however. As anticipated, and why the Wolds/Barrys signed up for this host experience to begin with, the interaction among the Chinese and American kids was “just awesome” in Ms. Wold’s words. “That was the best part. For example, Mary (a nickname), the 11-year-old, and my son had this connection. There was some magic between them. They would look for each other first thing in the morning and build Legos together, draw together, and play games together, and they sat together at every meal.”

At one point, Mary took pictures of her little friend, which her mother later sent to the Wolds/Barrys. “I got tearful,” said Ms. Wold. “Seeing my son through her eyes was really special.”

Annie and the Wolds’/Barrys’ daughter are about the same age. Although neither really spoke the other’s language very fluently, “to watch them form a friendship and a bond and to find their own way to communicate was magical,” said Ms. Wold. “The relationships our kids formed with the exchange students was pretty amazing.”

Annie was the most animated, and, even though she spoke the least English, she was the easiest to communicate directly with. Ms. Wold says facial expressions and hugging told her almost everything she needed to know about how Annie was doing. Once, she misinterpreted Annie’s meaning, though, with very touching results.

The last day, she was crying in the back seat of the car on the way to school. I asked Lily to explain to her that she was almost done and would see her mom soon. I thought the homesickness was catching up with her and she was just breaking down. ‘No, no,’ Lily told me, ‘she’s crying because she doesn’t ever want to leave this place.’ I was not expecting that. That was not even on my radar of why she might be upset. To see that she loved it here so much then made me cry. I realized after I dropped them off, that they had become a part of my family so fast, because they’re in this other country; they’re so vulnerable . . . those are now my babies, too. When I had to let them go, it was really emotional.

As a parting gift, the Wolds/Barrys gave each girl a photo album of their time together, with the last page of each book being a photo of the Wold/Barry family with their contact information and a message to please stay in touch. Mary’s mom has already established contact and has expressed interest in also making a visit.

The Ligons

The Ligon family hosted one girl, “Sunny,” age 9, whom they fell completely in love with, and the feeling was clearly mutual. They forged such a strong bond that, a month after the exchange students departed, the Ligons are still in communication with Sunny and her family. The Ligons have a daughter age 6 in the TNCS elementary program.

Why We Do It

Said Ms. Ligon of her experience, “This was a great, great way for my daughter to understand TNCS’s holistic approach in terms of not just language-learning, but also people and cultures. It was a way to bring that full circle.”

That “bringing the approach to life” is why the Ligons chose to be a host family. “We wanted to welcome Sunny into our home and learn from her. We also were very eager to share both American and African American culture with her.”

Sunny immediately became part of the family, playing a big sister role. She is aptly nicknamed, apparently, as the Ligons commented more than once about how much fun they all had together, thanks to Sunny’s sunny nature and lively personality. Sunny also had a wonderful experience playing with the Ligons’ new puppy. Household pets are not the norm among urban-dwelling families in China, due largely to practical reasons of limited space and long hours spent outside of the home. The Ligon’s puppy was a source of endless delight for Sunny.

One adjustment that Sunny and the Ligons had to make together was with food. Ms. Ligon said one night she cooked four different meals to give Sunny something she would eat. It didn’t take her long to discover Sunny’s predilection for sweet things. “Sunny has sweet teeth,” she said, and sent some American candy home with her as a delicious, but probably very fleeting, memento.

Extracurriculars

Like Ms. Wold, Ms. Ligon embarked on this experience with a good deal of positive energy. “I like to be prepared,” she said, and had lots of great ideas for fun ways to keep the new “sisters” engaged both in and out of the home. Jaunts around town in Sunny’s spare time included a good dose of American food culture, such as visits to a Red Robin restaurant and a Rita’s, both of which Sunny loved. They also saw Moana in the theatre, because no visit to the United States is complete without a taste of Disney (wink). They expressed their creative sides at Amazing Glaze by painting some pottery. The Ligons were constantly impressed by Sunny’s artistry and were thrilled that Sunny left them some artwork to remember her by.

School nights, though, were for participating in the Ligons’ family home life. “I believe girls should have more STEM,” said Ms. Ligon, and so she set up experiments for the girls to perform each evening, drawing ideas from Project Mc2—“Smart is the new cool.” She blinded them with science! (Fun Fact: Thomas Dolby, British creator of that iconic 1980s synthpop tune now teaches here in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University as Professor of the Arts.) Slime-making was perhaps the biggest hit.

Host Reflections

Finally, here are the takeaways each family shared. The Wolds/Barrys would advise families who are considering hosting to “know what you’re taking on. It’s a big commitment, but you’re getting a lot out of it, and the kids on both sides are getting a lot out of it. If you’re open to a little hard work, and you keep an open mind, you can have a very gratifying experience.”

Another piece of advice Ms. Wold offers is to host two students, when possible, to ward off the isolation one might feel in such an unaccustomed environment and simply to have someone to share the experience with who is coming at it from the same point of view. “They can then have each other to bond with and reflect on the day together, in their own language.” She is clear that, although the experience is not without its challenges, it’s so worth it on so many levels.

Ms. Ligon, on the other hand, found that having just one student worked out beautifully for her family. Both her daughter and Sunny are only children, so they struck a good balance together. She describes her daughter as being “over the moon the whole time. It was a great experience for her, and for all of us. We’re going to keep rolling with it.”

Ms. Ligon recommends that future exchange programs have an orientation to increase understanding going in of what families can expect. Having more information specifically about the student prior to his or her arrival, in particular, would be a big help. “Luckily, we had a great child who jumped right in, and we all enjoyed the ‘adventure’,” she said. An orientation would also provide a forum for first-time families to hear from veteran hosters and to ask questions.

Another suggestion that Ms. Ligon offers is making participation in one of the whole-group activities available to host families. The Ligons missed Sunny when she went with the group on the weekend trips such as to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration.

To prospective hosts, Ms. Ligon says, “If any parent has the opportunity to do this, it can be life-changing. It’s what you make it, of course, but at the very least you go on a wonderful cultural excursion without leaving your home.”

Interestingly, both families drew a much larger significance from the experience of hosting than even their own personally rich encounters. They seemed to see in this kind of program the key to a better global society and to being better human beings. Said Ms. Wold:

It’s a risk on both sides, but I love that we do this. They put themselves out there and we put ourselves out there, and we’re making these connections. This is how our society will move forward, is if we are open to uncomfortable situations and exposing ourselves to new cultures and different ways of thinking. If we’re not, and we want to stay in our close, comfortable little bubbles, then we’ll never move forward. Come on, let’s give it a try.

Meet the Teacher: Laura Noletto Joins TNCS’s Pre-Primary Division!

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Laura Noletto is seen here dressed for Love Day, during TNCS’s Spirit Week.

The New Century School welcomed Laura Noletto as Pre-Primary Spanish Lead Teacher about a month ago. Although “Señora Lala,” as she likes to be known by her students, has been at TNCS only a few weeks, she is already well-loved by her students and their families and an integral member of TNCS faculty.

 

Early Life

Born in Caracas, Venezuela to a Venezuelan mother and a Cuban father (she has dual citizenship), she visited the United States regularly growing up. “My family always vacationed in Maryland or nearby—D.C., Baltimore, Annapolis—(every summer and every Christmas), and I have very fond memories of these vacations. So, Maryland was, for me, a second home because my aunt lived in Bethesda for 50 years,” she explained. “My father and my aunt left Cuba in the 1960s. My father went to Georgetown University, and my aunt attended Maryland University and stayed here. During this time, my father met and fell in love with a Venezuelan, my mother, and returned to Latin America.”

She moved to Baltimore in 2016 from Eugene, Oregon, where she was a toddler therapeutic teacher for a foundation called Relief Nursery.

Professional Background

Sra. Lala originally studied law and was a practicing lawyer for 5 years before realizing that she needed something more creative. Her professional history, though amazingly varied, has always been in education or tangential to it in some form or another:

I was always teaching. Even in law school, I was assistant professor to a Roman law professor. So, I think my passion has always been education, even though I thought I wanted something more grandiose, and teaching might not seem so adventurous or glamorous (or so I thought when I was younger). As I get more and more mature, I see that it’s the most important profession that exists. I also did art research. I got Master’s degrees in curatorial art and Latin American studies.

But, I think that what lead me to early childhood was a seminar that I took on autobiographical books about childhood. We read writers who were exploring their first 5 years because that period contains the most profound memories that any human can have. The first 5 years of your life sets up the rest of your life—so, reading Wordsworth, Proust, Garcia-Marquez, they all tried to recover that first 5 years, those intense memories, such as the first time you try a different fruit, or you hear someone speaking another language, or someone teaches you a song. That seminar switched me to early childhood, although it took me a long time to realize it. I remember my first 5 years. I can remember being a 3-year-old living in the tropics, but coming to New York and opening my eyes to see snow. I wanted to eat it. These very simple memories are still there because of their impact. It tells me that we really do make a difference with these very young minds, these very young students.

She now knows that she prefers teaching this age group to teaching older kids. “I tried,” she says. “When I came to Baltimore, just to try it, I was teaching 4th- and 5th-grades and middle school at a public school. I was teaching about 75–100 kids a day 45 minutes of Spanish, again, just to try that age because each age is very different.” The workload was taking a toll on her, she reports, and she found herself exhausted at the end of each day. “After 2 months, I said, ‘I miss the little kiddoes.’ When I was in the Relief Nursery, I had already fallen in love with teaching the toddlers, but I thought it was related to being there, or something fleeting. I thought to myself, ‘Do you really want to change from college students to toddlers age 2 with nothing in between?’ So, I tried the in-between ages and realized, ‘Yes, I definitely love the extremes—either I teach college, or I go all the way down to toddlers.”

After some reflection, she realized how logical this seeming contradiction actually is:

In college, the students are there because they really want to learn. Students age 2 also really want to learn—how to put their jackets on, how to communicate with others, how to become a civilized human being, everything. So, it’s two passionate moments of human being. The other ages are in rebellion. They don’t want to learn in the same way. They either want to play, or they think they already know—they want independence from adults. At those ages, being a teacher is more about classroom management than about tapping into the fervor to learn.

She explains that when she saw the curriculum at TNCS, she felt an immediate kinship. Her sons (she has fraternal male twins, currently 19-years-old) not only grew up bilingual, but one of her sons even attended a Montessori school, which is not a common kind of school in Venezuela (there are only two or three in the entire capital of Caracas, despite its size):

My child blossomed in the Montessori environment. So, I already knew the program, and I thought it was fascinating how TNCS incorporates language learning within the Montessori curriculum. To allow language and culture to be a tool, a vehicle of learning. It’s not only that you’re speaking in Spanish, but the child is so eager to learn that he doesn’t care that he can’t understand the Spanish in the beginning, he’s open. He’s open to the culture, and sometimes language is not about only knowing language, it’s also about a different way of perceiving life because it’s cultural.

You know, the Chinese teachers, we Latin teachers, we have lots of similarities with Americans, but we also have our own approaches to early childhood education. You can see the differences with our approach to classroom management compared to that of the Chinese teachers. They are very different, but each very beautiful in their own ways, with very beautiful results, but it’s different. And the kids here in TNCS, they get to see both, and that’s preparing them for the 21st century and a global perspective. I think in the 21st century, all this culture will blend in—I hope so. It’s healthy to learn from each other.

Transitions

She moved to New Orleans from Venezuela in 2014, where she lived for 1 year, working as an educator in the Degas House museum. “At this point, I had already changed careers twice (lawyer to college professor to art researcher), and I could see a point where I switch from art researcher back to educator. The Degas house was my transition. I was researching Degas and also teaching kids 3 days a week. Then, in Oregon, I was immersed full-time in teaching toddlers.”

Her husband is a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is currently involved in the longest-running study on HIV, that began in the late 1980s. It was landing this position that brought them to Baltimore in 2016, although he formerly worked there for 5 years in another capacity.

On Teaching

Teaching takes a passion, and each teacher has an age-group that they love. I love the 2s and 3s. I was a college professor in Venezuela, which is big, big, big kids—almost grown-ups—teaching in a film academy, the School of Visual Thinking. Before that, I was in charge of developing art programs. So, I was in the education field, but I was always separated from little kids—I don’t know why. Then, when I came to the United States, maybe because my own kids are 19 years old now, I just fell in love with early childhood education. And there has been a lot of development in the area. So, 10 years ago, if you had a high school diploma and you loved kids age 2, you could be a toddler teacher. Now, you must study curriculum and learn about how they learn. I find it so fascinating. They learn so fast—like computers. They’re incredible; they’re sponges.

Being in Baltimore 

Sra. Lala says she adores Baltimore for its history (especially relating to Edgar Allen Poe, whose entire catalogue she has read) and culture, with New Orleans also a favorite for similar reasons. “Baltimore and New Orleans have the most haunted history and the most beautiful historical buildings. They also have this connection with the Caribbean, and I’m Caribbean. They are port cities, so they are very culturally rich cities. I am amazed at how vibrant the art community is here. I do hope that it gets better as a city but not so overpriced that it kills the great energy it still has,” she says.

One thing that people might not know about her is that she created a historical graphic novel, published in Venezuela, about a 14-year-old princess living in an ancient (pre-Columbian) city and gifted with super powers—the ability to control mosquitoes, which acted as barriers to visitors by carrying yellow fever and other often-fatal diseases. She also wrote several short stories that won national competitions. “I really want to try now to write kids’ books,” she says. “I want to contribute to literacy in Spanish. I am inclined to that path. I now see Dr. Seuss as a genius!” (Who knows, maybe one day Sra. Lala’s graphic novel or one of her as-yet-to-be-written children’s books will grace the shelves of TNCS’s library!)

“I have to keep re-inventing myself,” she says. She points to a plaque hanging on the multipurpose room wall that reads, “You have to bloom where you’re planted.” “So, I’m blooming in Baltimore now.”

And we are so glad you are here, Sra. Lala! Welcome to TNCS!

TNCS Hosts Winter Exchange Program for Visiting Chinese Students

For 10 days last month, The New Century School welcomed some very special visitors all the way from China—24 students ranging in age from 7 to 13 years old, and their 2 chaperones Bella (a teacher) and Mark (an education administrator). The group represents the first Winter Exchange Program TNCS has hosted (other similar programs have taken place during the summer).

The program was designed to immerse Chinese students in a Western experience, so they attended school at TNCS and were hosted by a Baltimore family, who opened their homes to the young visitors and made them feel truly welcome. Host families were given helpful tips for how to ease their guests into their new environment, such as:

  • Identify a safe place for students to store passport and cash sums of money
  • Have a quick conversation about safety in the city (e.g., do not leave the house without asking, no playing in the street)
  • Let them know how you will wake them up in the morning, and at what time
  • Keep in mind they will be jet-lagged and may have trouble sleeping the first few nights
  • They are not accustomed to drinking cold water; room temperature or warm is preferred
  • They will prefer hot meals; please limit sandwich type meals
  • Cut fruit is a great snack, but cut vegetables will likely be unappetizing
  • They do not eat extremely spicy food

(Ever wondered about hosting an exchange student? Read Why You (Yes You!) Should Consider Becoming a Host Family.)

Itinerary

Each of the 10 days was action packed to make sure that the students were getting the fullest possible experience. Bella kept her own blog, which you can view here in English or Chinese. Kerrigan Dougherty acted as TNCS Program Coordinator and escorted the group on their various excursions. She describes the program in her own words:

This exchange was an opportunity for some friends from China to come over and spend some time in an American school, both to see what classes are like, what meals are like, as well as to see landmarks and classic monuments, as we’ll be spending part of our 10 days in Baltimore and a couple of days in Washington, D.C. The kids came from a variety of schools in China, but all are affiliated with the Rise Centers [see post], which are after-school and weekend programs that provide additional schooling. Although the first 48 hours were tricky due to the physical adjustments the kids’ bodies need to make to be on our time, once they did so, everything has gone very nicely. And they are really enjoying the program! They have been pretty easy to manage overall—just like any kid, they need to eat and to be warm, and they don’t like sitting still for too long. They all have different likes and dislikes, so we make sure there are quite a variety of activities. Sometimes they are in class with their American buddies; sometimes they go out on independent trips, such as for hot chocolate or visiting local shops. There’s a lot of joy and fun, and the level of engagement definitely increased steadily as the days went on. I’m so grateful that they made the trip here.

On Monday 1/16 (MLK, Jr. Day), they had an orientation session at TNCS, received special backpacks, and then jumped right in. They enjoyed a cooking class and spent lots of time in the gymnasium playing with the Imagination Playground and climbing on the Gerstung equipment, as you can see above.

The next day was an actual school day, so the Chinese students attended classes alongside TNCS elementary and middle school students and then enjoyed some extracurricular activities like LEGO camp and FutureMakers. It was gratifying to see how quickly they adapted to their new surroundings, and they did not suffer from shyness!

Wednesday was drumming day. Program coordinators had the brilliant idea of forming a “Bucket Band,” and Chinese and TNCS students alike absolutely loved this experience. From here on out, this became a frequent pursuit, with “Mr. Yoshi” leading the band.

Likewise, on all school days, the students were given lots of opportunity to brush up on and review their English-language speaking skills.

On Thursday, after some classroom time, the students got out to explore Fell’s Point as well as Fort McHenry to do some historical sightseeing.

Then, on Friday, 1/20, the group traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the inauguration of the United States’ 45th president—what a treat! They got to see just about the most American thing possible!

The weekend that followed included trips to the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the Smithsonian Institute back in D.C.—oh, and lunch at the Hard Rock Café.

Once the school week started back up, the students hit some local spots like Pitango Bakery and Brick Oven Pizza (B.O.P.) where they even got to prepare food at both locations.

16179181_1774154272906283_2434889102240593646_o They closed out their last couple of days bonding with their new TNCS friends and playing games such as Ping Beep Beep, a math game.

On their penultimate day, they attended a graduation ceremony and after party at a neighbor’s house. TNCS bade them farewell on Wednesday, January 25th, and the parting was difficult, as it’s easy to imagine after such intense bonding had taken place.

TNCS’s graphic artist Yuyin created a slideshow to commemorate the occasion. View it here.

This 2017 Winter Exchange Program was a huge success. Bella and Mark attested that their students had the time of their lives and were very happy with the experience. Fortunately, this promises to be the first of many!

TNCS Celebrates the Year of the Rooster!

January 28th marked the 2017 Lunar New Year, also known in China as the Spring Festival (Chūn Jié; 春節), and rang in Year of the Rooster. The New Century School honored many Chinese New Year traditions schoolwide the day before on New Year’s Eve, which is considered Day 1 of the overall festivities.

Organized primarily by Wei Li (Li Laoshi) and Yu Lin (Lin Laoshi), there were dances mimicking the traditional Lion Dance in the pre-primary and primary classrooms; lower elementary students made beautiful spherical lanterns; and upper elementary and middle-school students passed hongbao (红包), red envelopes containing money or gifts to confer good luck (as well as money) to the recipients. Everyone got to eat delicious homemade vegetarian dumplings (with Kindergarten classes and up making their own), another good-luck custom in China on this special occasion.

In China, additional ongoing activities range from thorough housecleaning to shopping to setting off firecrackers. Li Laoshi, who was born in a Dog Year, explains what Chinese New Year means to her and why she was inspired to make TNCS’s celebrations so special:

I think Chinese New Year is the most important festival for Chinese, especially for people who are abroad. It always reminds us where our relatives’ hometown and roots are. It’s also like a connection to gather Chinese people who live here all together during this festival. Chinese New Year is way more than just eating dumplings and passing red envelopes but the existence of Chinese spirit. I feel so proud Chinese New Year is being accepted by increasing people and is playing a more influential role around the whole world.

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img_0596It just so happened that the elementary and middle-school students got another special treat when one of their schoolmates, a 2nd-grader, performed two Chinese opera songs in full costume. See her amazing performances here:

For yet one more reason, this Chinese New Year celebration was extra special. It was the last day that the group of visiting Chinese elementary and middle-school students would be spending in Baltimore with their newfound TNCS friends. (Details about their extraordinary visit will be the topic of next week’s Immersed.) This was truly an authentic celebration.

The fun didn’t end last Friday, though, as Chinese New Year is celebrated for 16 days (from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival, which takes place on February 15th). Today marks Day 8, a very auspicious day, according to Chinese tradition. Spend it eating food you love, with the people you love.

In closing, here are some predictions broken down by Chinese zodiac sign to give you (most of you, anyway) something to really crow about, as befits Year of the Fire Rooster!

  • Natives of the year of the rooster: You will easily resolve problems that cross your path, especially because you can count on support from powerful and influential people this year.
  • Natives of the year of the rat: Look forward to enjoying many happy events, including financial success.
  • Natives of the year of the ox: You will enjoy unexpected success and unforeseen events.
  • Natives of the year of the tiger: You will not lack anything, enjoying a special astral protection and devoted friends that will come to your aid, even in the last minute.
  • Natives of the year of the dragon: For you, 2017 will be full of positive events and very good news, career progress, and profitable businesses.
  • Natives of the year of the snake: Anticipate standing out professionally and being promoted.
  • Natives of the year of the horse: This could be a good year, with personal and financial achievements, but imbalance and career changes could prevail, making you irritable and mischievous.
  • Natives of the year of the goat: Your expenditures may outrun your income this year, potentially leading to problems with the family and loved ones, who may try to get you back on track.
  • Natives of the year of the monkey: For you, 2017 is going to be really good, especially from a romantic point of view.
  • Natives of the year of the rabbit: This year may bring you difficulty and tension regarding material aspects.
  • Natives of the year of the boar: For you, this may be a busy and stressful year due to potential financial or professional problems that will require patience and tenacity to be resolved.
  • Natives of the year of the dog: Some unexpected problems in health and romance might occur.

On the bright side, overall this year, people will be more polite and less stubborn (but they may have the tendency to complicate things); 2017 is oriented toward progress, honor, and maximum integrity, with people learning to moderate themselves.

Xīnnián kuàilè (新年快乐)!

Montessori Language Arts, Math, Science, and Global Studies at TNCS

On January 26th, The New Century School hosted a Primary Workshop to provide parents with a firsthand experience of the Montessori approach to pre-K education for students ages 3, 4, and 5 years. This information-filled evening was the second such Primary Workshop of the 2016–2017 school year and covered the second half of the Montessori curriculum—Language Arts, Math, Science, and Global Studies. The Practical Life and Sensorial aspects were covered in the fall workshop.

The workshop’s purpose is to show parents specifically what their children are learning and doing during their daily class time. For those parents who did not attend Montessori school as kids, the Primary Workshop is a marvel—both eye-opening and fun. For those who did grow up in a Montessori environment, the chance to reacquaint themselves with the materials must evoke the most delicious nostalgia. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori materials based on her extensive observation of children ages 2 1/2 through 6 years. Her goal was to put academic success within their reach by setting realizable achievement milestones, so, to do that, she tailored materials to be used the way she saw children interacting with their world. Primary students use these materials nearly exclusively, and seeing how the materials are actually used and learning what each does for the child’s development was the focus of the workshop.

Each primary lead teacher provided an overview of the discipline she was representing, but all four teachers cover all disciplines in their respective classrooms. They began by demonstrating how they present a “lesson” on a given material (a “work”): Movements are controlled and orderly; the pace is decidedly unhurried. Thus, the student is given ample time to absorb all aspects of what is happening. The overriding theme of the evening was that all lessons begin with the simplest concepts and move to increasingly complex ones. The student builds on and deepens understanding this way, rather than merely mimicking or memorizing.

Language Arts

Catherine Lawson presented the Language portion of the Workshop. The Montessori philosophy describes kids’ language acquisition as occurring over three major “explosions.” The first happens at age 12–18 months when babies start naming the elements of their surroundings. At around age 2 years, they begin to use sentences and describe how they feel. The final burst is at age 4–5 years when they begin to acquire reading and writing skills. Thus, they start with very concrete terms and make a series of abstractions to achieve literacy. How this translates to the Montessori classroom involves first making the student aware of the different sounds in a word, progressing to phonetics, and finally to spelling and beyond. (You may have even noticed that your primary-age student identifies the letter “a,” not by its name but by its sound. This is intentional, and Mrs. Lawson encouraged parents to do so as well. It’s less important for the child to know the name of the letter than to grasp its function.)

These “stepping stones into reading” demonstrate why this approach is so effective. Over the course of the 3-year primary cycle, a child starts with sandpaper letters—tracing a form and saying the sound with eyes first open, then closed. From there, the child learns to associate objects that start with a particular letter with the sound. The moveable alphabet, a later step, allows them to assemble letters to make words that correspond to certain objects laid next to the tray of letters.

Consonant sounds         Matching letters and objects       Moveable alphabet

Letter Mrs. Lawson says that language acquisition is perhaps the most important facet of child development, enhancing every other aspect. Communication also inherently conveys order—there’s a beginning, middle, and end, which underpins the Montessori approach as well.

She also recommended some handy tips for how to continue language development at home. The best we can do for our kids is to read and/or tell stories to them. (This advice is not exclusive to Montessori kids, of course, but it’s still nice to be reminded that our bedtime efforts are going to yield future dividends!) Another important at-home activity is to enrich kids’ vocabulary by identifying things that may be unfamiliar to them, such as kitchen tools. As you explain new words, adds Mrs. Lawson, make sure you emphasize the sounds within each words so the child learns correct articulation and enunciation.

Language and communication are integral to thought; giving the child the tools to express him or herself will build his or her confidence to communicate—and therefore to think—more effectively.

The primary classroom is also multilingual: Students benefit from having an assistant teacher who is a native speaker of either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, and these teachers rotate through the four primary classrooms so that all students are regularly exposed to both languages. For more on TNCS’s philosophy on multilingualism, please search the Immersed archives for many posts on the topic, such as TNCS’s Foreign Language Program Embraces the 5 Cs and Multilingual Media for Kids: Explore Beyond Dora; Bid Kai-Lan Farewell!. This article on multilingualism and enhanced learning is also informative.

Math

Number Rods

Students start to understand that numbers are symbolic of quantity with these number rods.

Bead units

They next begin to think in terms of units.

Montessori math is likewise a progression of lessons from concrete/discrete to abstract. Michelle Hackshaw presented the math materials and described teaching math as “starting with concrete knowledge of numbers and quantity and leading to ever more complex operations like multiplication and division.” She repeatedly emphasized the importance of understanding what the numeric symbols represent.

Thousand blocks

To count units, students start with successively larger quantities of beads. Once they have truly made the leap from concrete to abstract, they move to the 1,000 blocks and eventually the alluring “bead frame.”

Kids first learn to count from 1-10 and are taught the concept that those numbers represent a specific amount. They make this connection with the number rods and with numeral cards. They sequentially progress through counting with beads to learn units of 10, 100, and 1,000, which teaches them the decimal system in the bargain. By combining the physical materials with these higher-order abstractions, the child will learn addition, subtraction, and on up, yet will have truly absorbed the deeper sense of such operations rather than simply memorizing a set of, say, multiplication tables.

Science

reptilesamphibiansMaria Mosby handled the Science portion of the workshop. Just as with the other Montessori categories, the scientific disciplines are taught from simple to complex, but here the progression can be less linear, as students are strongly encouraged to discover the natural world, rather than simply be told about it, explained Ms. Mosby. Science tends toward botany and biology, with kids exploring, for example, life cycles and habitats or getting a tactile boost from perusing the sundry contents of the “nature basket.” Ms. Mosby says she uses every opportunity to get kids out of their “comfort zones” by asking questions like, “What is this made of?” to launch various lines of inquiry and expand student’s views of their worlds.

sink-and-floatProbably the favorite activity among the younger primary crowd is the Sink and Float work, in which kids get to pour water (what?) into a vessel and then systematically dunk items (what?) into the vessel to see which will float and which will sink. Montessori is nothing if not kid-friendly!

Global Studies

tncs-primary-workshopLisa Reynolds introduced the group to Global Studies. “These lessons, she says, “give students the opportunity to learn about other cultures.” Primary teachers also display objects from around the world in their classrooms to have a physical representation of a particular locale always on hand.

landwater-formsA typical activity here might be doing puzzle maps to promote visual recognition of the names and topography of the seven continents and their relationship to each other. Students also develop manual control with manipulation of the puzzle pieces. From here, kids advance to push-pinning the outlines of the various land masses and creating their own “maps.” Another popular Global Studies activity is learning about the relationships between various types of land masses and water.

The main reason to begin teaching these topics so young, according to Dr. Montessori, is to help kids develop spatial orientation including the vocabulary to express it (i.e., “up,” “over,” “through,” etc.) because they have such an overwhelming  need for order in their environment. Putting the need together with the tool to fulfill it empowers young kids and gives them the confidence to be students, learners.

Putting It All Together

One takeaway from the four-part workshop was how beautifully all of the materials work together to provide a very complete and absorbing experience. Each one, though developed for a particular discipline, nevertheless encourages the child to use skills and senses from other areas. For example, the water and land mass trays also hone practical life skills (pouring the water from big pitcher to small and to the tray itself) and tune the stereognostic sense (kids touch the land masses and trace the waterway, feeling each form and storing that information away) while teaching fundamental geography. In later school years, a Montessori-educated child confronting the word, “isthmus,” for example, calls forth an immediate and multilayered concept of what that word represents that includes the physical relationship of the land to the water rather than just a memorized definition.

landwatersinkfloat

Emerging research has demonstrated the numerous and far-reaching benefits of preschool Montessori education (see “Preschool Conundrum Solved: Research Demonstrates Benefits of Montessori Education”). Seeing the true genius of the Montessori materials so intimately, it’s really no surprise that children derive a very full, well-rounded education by using them. They are, after all, really made for kids.

For more on the Montessori Method in TNCS primary classrooms, view primary-workshop_january-26-2017.

Finally, Head of School Alicia Danyali, who also introduced and opened the workshop, closed by illuminating another unifying thread of the Montessori curriculum and, indeed, TNCS as a whole: tolerance, kindness, respect. These qualities inform what Mrs. Danyali calls TNCS’s “invisible curriculum,” which, despite the lack of rubrics to measure individual progress by, is felt in every part of TNCS operations. If it’s hard to visualize young children exemplifying these traits deliberately, come watch a TNCS primary classroom in real time, where you’ll see students seamlessly migrating from work station to work station, helping one another, and above all respecting the space they are in as well as the other members of their harmonious community.