Gratitude is woven into the fabric of The New Century School, a daily observance. On Thanksgiving Eve, Ann Marie Simonetti, TNCS’s Director of Admissions and Marketing and Montessori Programming Advisor, was inspired to share her deeper thoughts on gratitude and how it connects so beautifully with the Montessori ethos.
In addition to Admissions and Marketing, “Montessori Programming” has been added to my purview this year. This is a natural addition aligned with my Montessori teacher and administrator certifications.
As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, the Montessori lessons of Grace and Courtesy often come to my mind. One element that speaks to my heart is that of gratitude, and not just in the “thank you” we say throughout the day. We show gratitude when we give and receive a compliment and in the way we actively listen to one another. One benefit of the broad “Montessori-inspired” scope of curriculum here at TNCS is the way we draw awareness and foster appreciation for all that has come before us, and all that is to come. Revisiting these concepts as part of our spiral curriculum—revisiting topics/content previously experienced and building on prior knowledge to deepen/broaden understanding—helps children place themselves in context of time and cultivate a sense of belonging.
Part of awareness comes from mindfulness, which is holistically ingrained in our social emotional curriculum. There is an art to being present in the moment; and it is truly moments— not days or weeks—that make up our lives. In order for us to appreciate each moment, we must truly experience it. Being fully present is one of the unique qualities of children. They innately appreciate the joy of each moment and savor the most minute details.
If you’ve ever taken a walk with a young child, you know that a short distance can take a long time as they stop to notice every little thing along the path. Stopping every few steps to examine and exclaim their excitement over something you may not have even noticed. This savoring and sharing is intrinsically linked to the curious nature of children.
I’m reminded of a quote describing gratitude as bestowing reverence…
Allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life in the world.Sarah Ban Breathnach
This is just one of the countless examples of the knowledge children innately possess and opportunities to learn from them, if we are willing. Dr. Maria Montessori offered this advice: “In order to become great, the grownup must become humble and learn from the child.”
Seeing each experience as an opportunity fosters reflection in the same way gratitude does. Even when things don’t go the way we wanted, or the way we had planned:
During staff week, I talked about how giving ourselves grace during these times, and modeling it for children, demonstrates the value of failing forward. I shared one of my favorite anecdotes from my residential Montessori training, It is in this way that we model for children the full range of human imperfection and the assurance that they too will be greatly, if imperfectly, loved.
These types of authentic experiences not only serve as models for children, but also meet our needs, as adults, for love and acceptance. Much like the tiny leaf we walk right past, that enthralls the young child, these moments help us to slow down, be fully in the moment, and to acknowledge and appreciate. Ram Dass tells us that we are all just walking each other home. But when we are gifted the opportunity to walk hand-in-hand with a child, each step becomes more meaningful, purposeful, and joyful….and for that we must be grateful.
Dr. Montessori eloquently shared, “We shall walk together on this path called life. For all things are part of this universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”
Immersed and the TNCS Community are grateful to you, Ms. Simonetti, for sharing these truly beautiful thoughts at this very special time of year. Your inspiration is inspiring!
The New Century School welcomed Suzannah Hopkins to take over as Admissions Director for the 2019–2020 school year . . . and then the pandemic hit. Despite having only a few months under her belt as TNCS Admissions Director before schools were ordered to close down, Ms. Hopkins has managed to continue her work from her dining room table—including, believe it or not, introducing TNCS to new prospective families!
But it’s certainly not easy. “It has been a challenge to sell the school, especially since we are wearing even more hats. The common saying among Admissions Directors is,” said Ms. Hopkins, “if we can get them on campus, they’re sold. But I can’t do that! That’s the rub for independent schools right now.”
So how does one showcase a school that can’t operate as a brick-and-mortar enterprise? That’s where TNCS Virtual School comes in to help tell the story. “That’s how people see who we are and what we’re all about,” explained Ms. Hopkins. “I also think that pivoting in our social media is allowing me to direct prospective families to our Facebook page and Immersed to show them virtually since we can’t do it in person. I only have a small window to provide a sense of what the school culture is about, so the social media becomes even more important. I am grateful to our team including Karin Cintron, who did not miss a beat pivoting with me to change our social media focus and creating resource pages on our website such as the new Support for Prospective Parents page.” In addition, the entire brochure package is also now on the website as a pdf.
Other aspects of admissions also needed to be adjusted, such as with the process for prospective students themselves:
We can’t do a shadow visit, so with rising 2nd through 8th graders, I’ll do student and parent interviews, separately or together, but definitely making sure I get to talk to the student. For the younger ones, we’re doing parent interviews, but I’ve been encouraging parents to make sure I have a sighting of the child or even just hear him or her in the background to get a sense of the family dynamic. That part is tricky, though, because kids are so different at home than they are at school, so you’re sort of getting their most comfortable self, and sometimes that can be pretty funny.
Ms. Hopkins says she relies a lot on Zoom these days, as do many of us, and values the ability to be able to connect with people, even if it can’t be in person. “I get so excited to get on a Zoom call and see some new faces,” she said. “Families seem to be feeling the same in terms of enjoying talking to somebody new or outside their own households. I start every call with, ‘How are you doing? How’s it going over at your house?’ Everyone wants to know that someone is thinking about them and feeling a sense of connection. Periodically, I’ll see a child enter the scene, and it’s the same on my end. Anything goes, and it’s all good! The mantra for virtual admissions is flexibility, authenticity, and a whole lot of patience.”
Her efforts to make connections are paying off, and prospective families with students of all ages have been reaching out for information. “Amazingly enough, we’ve gotten signed contracts even though the families don’t get to walk through the halls and hear our students and teachers interacting,” she said. In some ways, this is perhaps not so surprising as parents come to terms with realizing that we have to be ready for whatever the fall is going to look like. Schools in Maryland will not reopen this school year, and options may not be as abundant as they once were.
TNCS on the other hand, moved quickly to get up and running virtually, and has now hit a rhythm with it that seems to work for everyone. I give our faculty and administration a lot of credit for that. With so much uncertainty regarding how schools will reopen, I’m so in awe that we are trying to think of every possible scenario. It’s a whole lot of work to do that and figure out these contingencies. How can we split up this room to maintain smaller groups, for example? Do we have preschool on campus and elementary and middle stay virtual for now? Do we implement A and B days? For now, we’re all in the dark and watching the news together.
Virtual Discover TNCS Events
In addition to operating classrooms virtually, TNCS is offering Virtual Admissions Events. The first took place in April, and a second will take place Wednesday, May 20th from 10:00 am–11:00 am.
“The fact that we’re doing virtual open houses is awesome,” said Ms. Hopkins. “We basically took the in-person event that I did in January and turned it into a Zoom event with updated slides and additions for virtual school. Josh Birenbaum gave the parent perspective, and we had nine prospective families in attendance.” One advantage to doing the event virtually is that people were able to ask questions via chat. One family is now enrolled, and a few others are “in the funnel,” as they say in admissions speak.
This month’s event will take a slightly different format: The first half will be admissions in general, and the second will be about summer camp.
Yes, TNCS Virtual Summer Camp will be a thing! TNCS Aftercare and Summer Camp Director Hannah Brown will handle that portion, with support from Paula Kupersanin and Adriana DuPrau, who are helping to create summer curricula. “It’s been a challenge running our aftercare program from home and preparing for summer camp, under uncertain circumstances,” said Ms. Brown. “But, it has been an opportunity for creative problem-solving, and I’m really proud of what the team has come up with so far.” They are currently working on virtual offerings for K through 8th-grade students. “I think that’s where the demand will be this summer. We’re looking at academic enrichment mornings in math and ELA, and then the afternoons will be geared toward social–emotional learning with specialty camps, like art and physical activity.”
The actual offerings and the final schedule will be available on the TNCS website soon, thanks to the invaluable work by Karin Cintron to get that and registration up and running. “I’m really excited to get the word out to parents,” said Ms. Brown. “We don’t yet have a sense of how many people will register,” she continued.
Right now it’s really a balancing act for families. We want our students to have a high level of readiness for the fall, but what’s especially important to me is for them to have a sense of connectedness this summer and get some social interaction, even if it is remotely. And we really want the experience to be fun, too, whether it’s an academic enrichment or a specialty camp. Every kid’s threshold for how much virtual interaction they can profit from is different. In that spirit, we’re parsing out the day so families can do as much or as little as they need.
What We’re Grateful For
“It’s such a scary time for admissions. The job of an admissions officer is to get students into a school so there are students to teach. Hearing about schools teetering or even having to close is so sad,” said Ms. Hopkins, but she’s not one to end on anything but a positive note. “I’m so grateful that Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner are doing everything they can to make sure we’re thriving. Admissions is challenging, but the fact that we’re still getting interest from families and getting them through the pipeline makes me really happy. People are talking about us, and our name is getting out there.”
Then there’s the fact that the fundamental part of her job is still intact—more or less. “My favorite part of my job is getting to meet families and students, and I don’t get to do that in the same way now. I like to be with people—I like to talk and connect. That’s why I like admissions so much.”
Finally, there’s you, TNCS community. “We have such loyal families who have been really supportive during this time; I think it makes all the difference,” said Ms. Hopkins. “I want to thank our current families, and I also want to thank new families for entrusting their children’s futures to us. I really am so grateful for that.”
Visit Virtual Discover TNCS to register and tell your friends!
On Saturday, November 2nd, The New Century School held its annual Open House, an event designed to introduce prospective families to TNCS academic programs and overall educational approach. This one was hosted by Admissions Director Suzannah Hopkins, who made the most of this opportunity to spotlight TNCS:
Open House signifies the kick-off, for many schools, to the admissions season. It is one of the many opportunities to see the school. In addition to private tours during the school day or the information night later this month, the Open House offers families a chance to visit the school on a Saturday and ask questions of our amazing lead teachers. The Open House allows us to showcase our faculty, students, and facilities.
Ms. Hopkins, a veteran Admissions Director, feels it’s important to establish a relationship with prospective families, so she started the event off with a bit of a mixer. Families mingled in the auditorium over fresh fruit and baked goods provided by Chef Danielle, while chatting and settling in. At 10:00 am, they were treated to a lineup of student performances that Ms. Hopkins felt would show the audience how both important music and language-learning are at TNCS, two of the many features that set the school apart.
Oral and instrumental performances by a willing group of TNCS students impressed even the babies in the audience! Note that the performances that follow were simply a few elementary and middle school students who volunteered their time to help out; they do not represent an official school performance. . . and yet, they certainly have wow power!
That last Spiderman bit was not only arranged by “Spidey” himself, but also closed with a backflip by way of exit—audible gasps from the audience indicated how successful the performances were in demonstrating the breadth of talent TNCS cultivates and celebrates. “The student performers and ambassadors were terrific. I wanted prospective families to feel welcome and to get a sense of our community,” said Ms. Hopkins.
This performance was followed by brief talks by Ms. Hopkins herself as well as TNCS Head of Lower School and Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali and finally a slide presentation about TNCS by Head of School Shara Khon Duncan.
After that, the student ambassadors Ms. Hopkins just mentioned took over, escorting families to classrooms, showing them around, and answering their questions. What better way to show families, yes, you want your children to attend TNCS and emulate these paragons of student excellence!
“The event went well,” reflected Ms. Hopkins. “We had nice attendance and, from what I could see, families seem happy to be in attendance. We even received two applications over the weekend!” After the event, she surveyed both attendees and faculty about their experience. “I am hoping to use the information I receive to build on the event for next year,” she said.
Open Houses are wonderful ways to start to get to know TNCS, so please, tell your friends and coworkers who might be looking for schools about these great events. As great as they are, though, they are but an “amuse bouche”—to get the full flavor of TNCS, contact firstname.lastname@example.org so Ms. Hopkins can arrange to give you a tour while school is in session.
By the way, you can see some of that magic happening this month at the TNCS Middle School Preview Wednesday, November 20th from 9:00 am–10:30 am, where you can observe classes in session. Also, the TNCS annual Elementary and Middle School Information Night is taking place on Thursday, November 21, 2019 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm. These are must-see events for parents of rising middle and elementary schoolers!
With the start of any new academic year comes changes. The New Century School is ever-evolving, striving to grow not just in size but also in substance. What is sometimes a difficult change to accept is the departure of friends—staff, students, teachers, and so on. Although saying goodbye can be hard, there’s always a bright side: new friends to be made. So, say hello to TNCS’s new Admissions Director Suzannah Hopkins!
Meet Suzannah Hopkins!
Suzannah Hopkins is a native Marylander, having grown up in Montgomery County. She graduated from Ithaca College in New York State with concentrations in English, Art History, and Italian and then spent some time in Florence and other parts of Italy. In Florence, she got a post-baccalaureate degree in Art History (and enjoyed trying to fool the locals into thinking she was from there with her language and dialect skills). Later, at Johns Hopkins University, she attained a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies.
On returning to the United States, she worked in Washington, D.C., where she met her husband, another native Marylander. They currently reside in Anne Arundel County with their two sons, one 24 years old and the other going on 16.
When she isn’t helping steward children along their ideal educational paths, Ms. Hopkins enjoys attending her younger son’s lacrosse games, spending time with her family, and cooking. Her favorite local museums are The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, where Mary Young Pickersgill sewed that flag in 1813; The Walters Museum of Art; and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Although Ms. Hopkins jokes that her education doesn’t seem to relate to what she does now, admissions has long been her career—for 14 years, in fact. Before joining TNCS, she was in admissions at St. Annes’ School of Annapolis and before that, at Sandy Spring Friends School in Olney and Indian Creek School in Crownsville. “I really like admissions,” she says, “I enjoy meeting families and learning about their children and finding the right fit for them.”
She also circled back to her arts background and how it actually does relate to her current role. “Museums and schools are both educational institutions,” she explained. “There’s a lot of crossover in how promotion and fundraising happens as well as in how core advancement and development take place. People are choosing to come to your institution to learn something. How do you welcome them? There’s a level of customer service. How can the family experience the place?”
She also explains that every school has its own culture and methods, but coming in at the start of the school year will allow her to shape her admissions procedures to what she knows works for her. “But, there are so many good things here,” she continued, “that I don’t think it will be hard to get in the groove. All of the schools I’ve worked in have been progressive, whole child–centric, and cross-disciplinary, and so my joining TNCS is in line with my background. Plus I love the language aspect! I’m hoping to learn a thing or two.”
Another advantage that Ms. Hopkins had on her side was the help of former TNCS Admissions Director Dominique Sanchies to show her the ropes specific to TNCS. (As an aside, Ms. Sanchies is still affiliated with TNCS in an administrative capacity while she em”barks” on a new adventure. More to come.) “She’s been terrific,” said Ms. Hopkins. “In fact, I have her on speed dial.” Finally, this time of year is not a crucial admissions window, so she has had the breadth and space to enjoy what’s happening with the first few weeks of school as well as to get her Blackbaud admissions pages put together in a way that works for her and for the school. She was already familiar with Blackbaud from the parent perspective, which is another bonus. “I’m also reading through school materials and learning routines, but so is everybody else, so we’re all in this together.”
So Far, So Good!
This should come as no surprise, but Ms. Hopkins reports that things have been going really well for her at TNCS so far. “Everybody on the faculty and staff is lovely. It’s been really nice to get to know everybody bit by bit. The students here are great. The littlest babies are just adorable, and the older students seem so kind to each other—it’s really nice to see.”
She is gaining ground quickly on putting names with faces, and morning drop-off has helped a lot there.
Drawing once more on her arts background, Ms. Hopkins commented on what a rich environment TNCS sits in, artistically and architecturally. “This community as a whole is so rich in history, and I think the school is very lucky to be located here. Look at the stained glass windows in building north! They are so gorgeous and can be studied and enjoyed right here in our space,” she remarked.
Goals for Admissions
“The first year is a learning curve with new systems and structures, getting to know families, and building relationships with faculty and staff. One way to do this is to jump right in and give tours.” Formerly, tours happened in groups (and still will in certain contexts, such as Admissions Fridays tours and Open Houses—the next one takes place November 2nd, at 10:00 am), but Ms. Hopkins is eager to give one-on-family tours and has already begun doing those. Her first tour happened on September 4th. “I really like giving tours,” she said. “I enjoy meeting the family and having the chance to talk to them individually and getting a moment to connect. You’ll see me frequently walking through the hallways with families. I’ll continue doing group tours as well to strike a nice balance of both and to make this as convenient as possible for families.”
She really means it when she talks about enjoying getting to know the community: “I’m pretty approachable,” she said. If there’s anything you need from me, come find me. That helps me to get to know you, too, so come say hello!”
With that, welcome to The New Century School community, Suzannah Hopkins!