Adriana DuPrau: TNCS’s Dean of Students on Service-Learning, Fundraising, Community-Building, and the All-New Advisory Board!

Adriana DuPrau has been an integral member of The New Century School since its inception. She was one of the original teachers, a role she held for several years, then became the Curriculum Director for a few years, and is now embracing her brand-new position as Dean of Students. When we say “embracing,” we really mean it. Mrs. DuPrau is shaking up the 2021–2022 school year in ways never before seen at TNCS!

In just the first couple of months of school, Mrs. DuPrau has initiated several service-learning, fundraising, and community-building projects, and she has also been an important member of the all-new Advisory Board (along with TNCS Head of School Tad Jacks, Student Counselor Daphnee Hope, and other faculty members). Here is an overview of what’s been happening!

Service-Learning Projects

Service-learning is annually a big deal at TNCS, but Mrs. DuPrau approached it a bit differently this time around. “I met with all the K–8 classes and found out what their interested in,” she explained. “Animals are definitely at the top of the list!

BARCS

I wanted to do something related to what their wishes are because I feel like when they get to make the choices, they are that much more involved.” They decided to go with BARCS (The Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter), who compiled a wishlist of items so that our TNCS community can help support these wonderful animals in need.

This service-learning initiative will continue for the entire month of November, and items can be dropped off directly at TNCS. “We thought abut donating through Amazon, but then I thought, there’s something really special about like holding on to the item that you’re going to donate and walking into the school and putting it in a bin versus just ordering something and never really getting the actual item,” said Mrs. DuPrau. Students can drop off their items in bins placed by the front desk. The TNCS Student Council will help handle all the items, which will be delivered to BARCS on Tuesday, November 30th. (Wait, what TNCS Student Council? Keep reading!)

Puerto Rico

Although details are still being hashed out, the annual middle school capstone service-learning trip will be to Puerto Rico this February. COVID-19 continues to complicate and sometimes thwart big plans, but TNCS family the Waylands were instrumental in making this happen. Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Hope will chaperone, and everyone is excited about undertaking a service project in a tropical locale where they can also practice their Spanish-speaking skills and foster independence!

Other Service-Learning Projects

Smaller but no less important initiatives are happening all over TNCS. The Kindergarteners and 1st-graders are writing letters to veterans and walking them to the post office to mail them, which includes all kinds of incidental opportunities for learning, and Mrs. DuPrau also hopes to find a way to have TNCS students donate leftover Halloween candy to send to troops overseas. This aligns well with TNCS’s sugar-free mandate, and parents will appreciate the chance to get rid of some of it!

The TNCS Parent Council is also in the planning stages of some initiatives like the annual Adopt-A-Family for the holidays, the Coat and Warm Clothing Drive for Wolfe St. Academy that has taken place over the last few years, and hygiene boxes around MLK Day. We’ll dig deeper into all things Parent Council–related in a separate post.

Fundraising Initiatives

Related to at least one service-learning project—Puerto Rico—the TNCS student body needs to raise some funds!

TNCS School Store!

For the first time ever, TNCS students opened a pop-up school store happening on Fridays (weather permitting). See our Facebook event for more!

The grand opening last month was a huge success,
and you’ve got plenty more chances to shop ’til you drop on successive Fridays throughout the fall and winter.

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Breakfast with Blacksauce Kitchen!

TNCS dad and restauranteur Damian Mosely once again donated his valuable time and his delicious homemade Blacksauce Kitchen biscuits to help raise funds for the big trip. Mrs. DuPrau says this will really help bring down the cost of flying to Puerto Rico, and she also locked in a great group rate. So thank you, Blacksauce, and thank you Southwest!

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Community-Building Initiatives

The internal community building Mrs. DuPrau has engendered so far this year is off the charts.

Student Council

in yet another first at TNCS, this year saw the creation of an official Student Council. Students voted today for President and Vice President, after candidates built their campaigns throughout the month of October, culminating with presenting their speeches on Monday, November 1st and debating their opponents on Wednesday the 3rd. We are pleased to salute Indigo Mosely as President and Schonbeck Glazer as her trusty VP.

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Spirit Days

Mrs. DuPrau has held several Spirit Days this year, with good reason. She has sensed some lingering social and emotional issues from the recent pandemic and felt that injecting some extra fun into the school day would lift everyone’s “spirits”! “After our COVID year last year of hybrid learning, it seems like some students are still struggling with their social connections.” she said

Good Neighbor Day was the first Spirit Day of the school year. “It was so much fun to see everybody in their TNCS shirts outside smiling and laughing and taking pictures together,” said Mrs. DuPrau. The race was on to see who demonstrated the most school spirit both on campus and as a good neighbor!

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“I worked with all the homeroom teachers to get kids out of the classroom and off of campus with mini field trips, such as to go get a pretzel and lemonade for Kindergarten teacher Mrs. Longchamps birthday or buying plants at Fell’s Point Cultivated Creations for lessons in genetics for science class. I want students to get time together outside of the class so they can work on their relationships by doing fun things,” she said.

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TNCS students are also going to ethnic restaurants and ordering food in the language spoken there. They went to an El Salvadoran restaurant during Hispanic Heritage Month, and on Thursday, November 4th, TNCS middle school students went to a Chinese restaurant and ordered their lunch in Chinese. “The Chinese owner of the restaurant was so impressed by our students’ good manners and amazing Chinese,” said Li Laoshi. “Also, our students really enjoyed their yummy Chinese lunch and learned a lot from this field trip. You should feel so proud of your child!”

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Anti-Bullying Campaign

Hand in hand with building community, Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Hope held a Blue Out day to address bullying. Everyone, and we mean everyone, wore blue to school that day in solidarity. “I got a chance to kind of get into each class and do a fun restorative circle as well as a follow-up activity. Each student created a puzzle piece, which were then hung up in their classrooms to show that they are all part of the puzzle. We all fit,” explained Mrs. DuPrau.

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The class with the most blue—Ms. Weiskopf’s 2nd- and 3rd-graders—won bragging rights!

American Education Week

Finally, American Education Week happens the week of November 15th through 18th, and Mrs. DuPrau is working hard to get everyone excited about that. “We’re going to hold an assembly that gets us all together. I want the assembly to be super fun, and I want to jump into our core values, but I mainly want us to also work on building our school spirit—singing songs and fun things like that,” she said.

Creating a TNCS cookbook is planned for this week also. The cookbook will be full of international recipes to celebrate all of our diverse cultures and backgrounds and available for purchase online.

Let’s make school fun. We want to make school a place that children want to come to, that makes them feel special. Of course academics are important, but it’s also important that we feel like we’re a family, that we feel comfortable and not overly stressed, and we can let our hair down a little bit. So I’m hoping that spirit days and assemblies and off-campus field trips are helping build that community feel.

Advisory Program

And, finally, the new Advisory Program has been doing wonders for TNCS students. Mr. Jacks and Mrs. Hope work mostly with the 8th-graders, Lori Gorbey works with mostly 7th-graders, Ms. Sussman works with a group of 6th- and 7th-graders, Mrs. DuPrau works with a group of 5th- and 6th-grades, and Mrs. Sharma and Mr. Brosius work grades 4 and 5.

In an email, Mrs. Hope described what this program is all about. Advisory is a program in which students meet regularly with a caring faculty member during a scheduled period in the school day. The underlying goal of advisory programs is to provide each student with consistent support and guidance from a member of the school staff. This adult, called the advisor, advocates for their group of students and runs the day-to-day activities of the advisory program. These activities range from the implementation of a curriculum to facilitation of a discussion to the distribution of important school information.

Perhaps the most talked-about benefits of an advisory program are the positive relationships that are created. Advisories help to build a sense of community in schools, which is important for preventing alienation. Furthermore, studies have shown that students’ educational success is based on academic as well as social support.

“We all do different things with our groups since our groups are all so different,” explained Mrs. DuPrau. Mrs. Sharma’s advisory meeting, for example, focuses on wellness and social relationships through dialogue and game-playing.

Mr. Brosius’s meeting encourages role-playing to think more critically about character traits. They built an imaginary village where each student adopted a different role. They discuss why they chose the roles while trying to relate this to goals in their own lives. When things get a little too rambunctious, he leads the group in light yoga to re-center them.

Mrs. DuPrau has an all-female advisory group. She introduced journaling as a way for her students to understand their emotions and how to gain control of them.  They do restorative circles to get to know each another on a deeper level. They also decorated their lockers with inspirational pictures and quotes. They also spend time in the all-new Harmony Room in Building North to relieve stress.

Ms. Sussman’s group is building trust through conversation and art. They use a deck of affirmation cards throughout the week to share their more reflective sides. They will also work on creative activities that will allow them to better appreciate each other’s uniqueness.

Ms. Gorbey’s group spent the first couple of weeks of school participating in open-ended circle time and playing games like Uno or Get-To-Know-You Bingo. During “Mindful Mondays,” students discuss their goals for the week. On “Words of Affirmation Wednesday,” students learn to confront their weaknesses and share how they can turn them into strengths.

Mr. Jacks and Mrs. Hope guide the 8th-graders through their final year at TNCS and get them ready for the transition to high school. These students have attended school with each other for several years and, as a result, have created warm and trusting relationships. As teenagers, they often want to talk about their feelings regarding ongoing issues in the world.

Stay tuned for further updates on this truly wonderful and important program.


After an undeniably tumultuous period for the world, Mrs. DuPrau and everyone at TNCS are making sure TNCS students continue to thrive in all ways, including academically, socially, and emotionally. The TNCS community is beyond grateful for this very special care.

Your Parent Guide to i-Ready, TNCS’s Math and Reading Platform!

At The New Century School, Curriculum Specialist Adriana DuPrau is always looking for ways to effectively engage students in their learning. One long-standing method is the i-Ready platform, which TNCS adopted several years back to help teachers assess the math and reading areas their students might need additional support in, personalize their learning, and monitor their progress throughout the school year. TNCS teachers immediately appreciate the targeted, individualized instruction i-Ready allows.

The early implementation of i-Ready turned out to be rather prescient, when TNCS students found themselves distance learning nearly a year ago now—fortunately, i-Ready was at the ready, and students were able to continue making their math and reading gains without a hitch! For some families, one thing did change, however, and that is the presence of parents working at home alongside their students. Parents, having seen your children working with i-Ready first hand, many of you have questions about the platform, and that’s what this edition of Immersed hopes to address!

Mrs. DuPrau finds that a commonly expressed concern is that, “Parents feel [i-Ready] isn’t placing their child at the correct level and also find it repetitive. We are hoping to help families feel better or to help educate them on the program.”

Here are three important links where you can find a treasure trove of super helpful information:

But we’ll also walk through some of the key points so you have everything in one place.

Perhaps most importantly, you should know that your participation in this process is not only welcome by TNCS teachers and staff, it is also beneficial for your student. According to i-Ready’s website, “Helping families understand i-Ready and encouraging them to talk with their child about strengths or areas for growth support a growth mindset and student success.”

i-Ready Resources

The first item you’ll want to keep handy is the Family Guide. This is available in English and Spanish as well as other languages. Your students already know much of this information, but you never know when you might need to revisit the basics.

You can also view these helpful videos, available in English and Spanish.

View Resource

View Resource

Next, download these “Fridge Tips” to make sure you are supporting your student in ways that will serve them best in their distance learning endeavors and ensure their digital readiness.

Finally, a host of technical support as well as resources for how you can track your child’s progress at home and how your child’s placement is determined are available at these links:


See? With just a few clicks, you are ready for i-Ready!

Check-In with TNCS Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau: The 2020 Edition!

Through all of the pandemic-associated upheaval we’ve seen in 2020, The New Century School has stayed true to its mission to challenge students to realize their richest individual potential through progressive, multilingual education and meaningful participation in the world community.

That has been no small feat. TNCS administration, staff, and faculty rallied together and found innovative ways to keep TNCS open and its students flourishing. Many of those ways happen behind the scenes but are no less vital to TNCS’s success. One of these behind-the-scenes heroes is TNCS Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau, who has held this position since 2017. Although a lot has changed since then and also since we last checked in with her in early 2019, Mrs. DuPrau still describes her primary role as two-fold: teacher-facing and student-facing. However, this year she has also taken on a bit more of a parent-facing role as well.

Curriculum Coordinating: Teacher-Facing

Mrs. DuPrau acts as a communication liaison between TNCS teachers and Head of School Señora Duncan, filtering teacher requests and untangles snags they might be experiencing to allow them to focus on their day-to-day teaching. “The majority of my time is still working one-on-one with teachers, either coaching them, or figuring how to make their schedules work, or setting up virtual classrooms,” she explained. Speaking of the virtual classrooms, that’s obviously one of the biggest changes this year. “Teachers are working both virtually and in person, which is stressful for them. I can provide an outlet for them to talk it out.” She validates their feelings but also keeps the conversations constructive by steering them toward finding solutions.

She spent the beginning of the year making sure teachers had the curriculum that they need. She researches all of the offerings out there and tries them out to see if a certain program is a good fit. One example is Word Voyage Vocabulary Builder that is designed to help students in Grades 4 and up build and strengthen their vocabulary. Another is Discovery Education, that enhances global studies and science lessons. In past years, watching the webinars and speaking to the company representatives was something of a shared task between Mrs. DuPrau and the teachers, whereas this year, she took on the responsibility of onboarding these new programs to save teachers’ some time. For their part, they were happy to let Mrs. DuPrau make those decisions this year, even though normally their input is such an important part of the process.

Even with all of the advance vetting she does, adopting something new can still be difficult for teachers. “I’m learning that teachers are already so stretched this year that tacking on new information almost seems like dumping. I’m finding that it’s just a different year in general.”

Another new aspect of the curriculum this year is the social justice component, which everyone is excited about. “I’m finding resources to use and organizing them. I’m taking a really fun course to keep my teaching certification up-to-date, where I’m actually able to learn about these new tools and figure out ways to help the teachers without overwhelming them,” said Mrs. DuPrau.

“I also still try to be in the classrooms,” she said. “Not as frequently as I have in the past because I’m trying not to mix in too much with the cohorts, but I’ll jump in on a zoom meeting or be there in the classroom. We have some new teachers, and I want to be present to see in person what’s happening. In this new learning environment, if I want to be able to make suggestions and advocate for teachers, I actually need to see the difficulties, not just hear about them.”

Curriculum Coordinating: Student-Facing

TNCS students, too, are feeling the stress inherent in pandemic-influenced academic life. By and large, though, those resilient youngsters have adapted remarkably well to all of the changes thrown at them. After some initial student hiccups at the beginning of the year, such as with technology, Mrs. DuPrau has lately been able to concentrate on her real passion–working with students who need extra support. “Whether it be giving them more work or figuring out how to help them keep up, I try to help with all dimensions of student life. How can we work with these kids to make sure they are getting what they need?”

One way she has always helped outgoing 8th-graders is by researching schools—going to information nights or signing up for admissions tests—and ensuring that students make all of the associated deadlines. She also spearheaded creating a virtual hangout for them to share their experiences of applying to high school.

As part of what she calls “student life,” the school store is also up and running, and Mrs. DuPrau says she felt that getting more Spirit Days on the calendar would be a boost for students. (TNCS has t-shirts and accessories on sale for our students, teachers, and families at this link!) Such community events are wonderful ways to maintain student engagement, as are the invitations for safe, on-campus activities for virtual learners to optionally participate in and spend some time in person with their cohort.

Another brand-new initiative Mrs. DuPrau just launched is the K–8 Community Classroom, where all sorts of fun things will take place (via the Google Classroom platform), including a Thanksgiving recipe exchange. The recipes shared here may even be compiled in a TNCS cookbook—stay tuned for more updates on that.

The recipe exchange is intended to bring some holiday fun for students to share with their families, but the forum will offer ongoing community-building activities designed to engage all students.

Curriculum Coordinating: Parent-Facing

As mentioned, somewhat of a new role Mrs. DuPrau has adopted this year is acting as a messenger between parents and teachers, sitting in on meetings, for example, and again always trying to be solution based.

“Parents are also feeling stressed and that stress comes in to play in the way they are feeling about how everything’s going,” said Mrs. DuPrau. Normally trivial problems like a technical glitch can bother us to a different degree. “So, in general, I try to keep everybody positive and looking for the good and making sure everyone’s flexible.”

Bringing It Home

With all of the work Mrs. DuPrau does to support TNCS teachers, students, and families, it’s easy to forget that she, too, has a life! This school year has presented challenges for her also. “I think the biggest challenge for me honestly has just been trying to keep everybody’s morale up,” she said. She finds little ways to provide “pick-me-ups” like passing out Halloween candy to teachers (shhhh . . . our little secret) or offering to cover classes. Having been a teacher for many years, she can certainly sympathize with the difficulties they face during this year of hybrid teaching, but she strongly believes that a solution-based attitude is necessary. Again, though, that’s in itself pressure. “My biggest challenge this year has been trying to keep everybody’s spirits up.” Mrs. DuPrau says her husband and dark chocolate provide the pick-me-ups she needs. A “good morning” would also do wonders to start her day off on the right foot!

Mrs. DuPrau sees the education-during-a-pandemic situation from multiple perspectives. She is sympathetic to teachers (some of whom are understandably concerned about returning to school after the Thanksgiving holiday, when students may have traveled or been exposed to more people than usual), as mentioned, but she also thinks TNCS is overall very lucky to be open. Her husband, who is a teacher, would love to be seeing his students in person, but is instead teaching from home and has a 3rd-grader simultaneously learning form home. Here again, she is also extremely sympathetic to overworked parents in similar situations.

“We’re all on the same team,” said Mrs. DuPrau. “We continue to find new ways to celebrate the TNCS community as we look to the future.”

TNCS Admissions 2020: The Name of the Game is Flexibility, Authenticity, and Patience!

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!

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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.”

Making Connections

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.

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“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.

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.”

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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!

TNCS 7th- and 8th-Grade Capstone Trip: Costa Rica!

For the first time in several weeks, Immersed is pleased to bring you a post about something that starts with C-O that is not COVID-19! This week, we return to the halcyon pre-pandemic days when things we used to take for granted, like travel, happened all the time. For 7th- and 8th-grade students at The New Century School, this meant their capstone middle school trip to Costa Rica.

In the nick of time, TNCS students accompanied by homeroom teacher Daphnée Hope and Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau (who chaperoned the first such trip in 2019), departed Baltimore on March 3rd, destination, San José. The trip was a success from the moment it started—even the flight over was fun! “For example, the flight attendants asked one of the students to come up and share what our school name is and what we were doing,” said Mrs. DuPrau. They returned home on March 8th.

Getting Acclimated

On arrival in San José, they met their wonderful driver, Ronald (whom the students affectionately renamed “Ronnie” and then “Uncle Ronnie”). Uncle Ronnie drove them to their first house just outside of San José in the mountainous Cloud Forest region. “We went in first to see how we wanted to set up the kids—two to a room in bunks, boys with boys and girls with girls,” explained Mrs. DuPrau. “Our first house was really nice,” said Mrs. Hope. “It had a big, beautiful yard and dogs, so the kids loved playing outside. They would play tag, play with the dogs, go on a little hike. There wasn’t a TV in the first house, which meant that we were really together. We also took away their phones; they were only allowed to have them to call their parents. This was so the kids actually hung out with each other without that technology barrier. [Mrs. DuPrau] had learned that from prior experience,” she continued.

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“Our landlord was so helpful and really wanted to find ways to make it a learning experience for the students, even arranging for us to have a Costa Rican cooking lesson!” said Mrs. DuPrau. “Cooking is one of our funniest memories, and the students still talk about it,” added Mrs Hope.

Legend of the Psycho Sauce

—As recounted by Mrs. Hope with asides from Mrs. DuPrau.

The experience of our first grocery store was pretty awful. I’m a really good cook when I have the right ingredients, but our driver misunderstood when we said we needed groceries but didn’t want to spend a lot of money and took us to a budget store that didn’t have what we expected. We had been traveling since 2:00 a.m., the kids were hungry, and it’s already evening. So, we decide we’ll just make something simple—how about pasta? Well, they didn’t have normal pasta sauce—just little tiny packets of tomato sauce and salsa. Everything’s in Spanish, we were confused, we couldn’t find fresh produce, we’ve never fed 13 people before . . . (that was the hardest part). I find a carrot and what I think is spinach (it wasn’t—I still don’t know what it was) to throw in the sauce because I’m thinking the kids probably need some vegetables. Then, we realized at home we don’t have enough tomato sauce. So, we add in some salsa. It was just disgusting and way too spicy. The kids thought it was so funny—they call it the ‘psycho sauce’.

After tasting it, some students decided they weren’t actually hungry. Others got really silly and blamed it on the psycho sauce. We were all deliriously laughing.

One night we did make really good tacos. We explained to Uncle Ronnie that we needed a different store.

Saint Gregory School Visit

88129714_10157336338973983_479570348849758208_nOnce they were all settled in to their new digs and (somewhat?) well fed, the group trundled off to their first big adventure—a visit to Saint Gregory, former TNCS teacher Raquel Álvarez’s current school. Sra. Álvarez and her husband Robert are well known to the TNCS community, and Sra. Álvarez and Mrs. DuPrau taught together in the very beginning of TNCS, Sra. Álvarez teaching a preprimary Spanish immersion homeroom as well as Spanish to the kindergarteners, and Mrs. DuPrau teaching kindergarten homeroom. As a side note, some of the graduating middle schoolers on this trip were taught by those two as little ‘uns, so, it was really like one big happy family reunion! The Álvarezes also helped plan the trip and activities, being locals! They also know Uncle Ronnie very well—he is a cousin of Sr. Álvarez!

Via Facebook chat, Sra. Álvarez described the experience from her perspective:

When I returned home after leaving TNCS, I always had the dream of having students from Baltimore come to visit my country. In March, my 3rd-grade class was extremely excited to welcome Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Hope and their students to our school. Some of the students were even mine, when I taught at TNCS. It was a wonderful experience for our students from different grades to interact socially with TNCS students and playing soccer and basketball together. However, for me, the best part was watching the kids carry out conversations. We highly enjoyed having a piece of TNCS here in Costa Rica, and we look forward to having more opportunities like that in the future. Pura Vida!

The group’s visit to Saint Gregory’s was designed as both a service-learning activity and to get an idea of what education in Costa Rica is like. The school itself is a private English immersion school with a student body starting with preschool and going all the way through high school. “They were really thankful for us to be there and to speak English with them,” explained Mrs. DuPrau. “We separated the TNCS kids into groups of three or four, and some sat in with elementary classes and some in upper elementary. We also worked on organizing the library, which the principal was so excited about as well as about our visit in general.” Mrs. Hope agreed: “They loved it—the kids there loved it, and our kids loved it. They got to just sit and chat together.” They also had lunch altogether and played sports games at recess. “Our 8th-graders were completely schooled by their 4th-grade boys in soccer,” laughed Mrs. DuPrau.

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“Now that they know us, they want us to come back. Next time we could help more with their library, for example, by everybody bring two favorite books to add to it,” said Mrs. DuPrau. “We came in with good intentions,” agreed Mrs. Hope, “but next time we’d like to do more.”

Nature, Here We Come!

After the school visit, Uncle Ronnie drove to them to their second house by Esterillos beach. “This was a really big house with a beautiful backyard and a pool,” said Mrs. Hope. “The kids swam every morning and every night. Being so near the beach was really fun, and the kids especially loved the pool,” she said. Mrs. DuPrau agreed:

We let them swim each morning because they would always be ready to go when we asked, no matter how early. They were very cooperative and had very good attitudes. We set some rules in the beginning, for instance, they had to stay in their rooms until at least 6:30 am (a few of our friends had shared that they are early risers). When they did come out, they were so respectful and quiet. Mrs. Hope and I would wake up and find a few of them just hanging out. We also asked the kids to clean up after themselves as well as help clean the kitchen in small group rotations.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The next day they visited La Paz Waterfall Gardens, where they were inches away from some adorable sloths. “We got to see all of the beautiful plants and the flowers—Costa Rica is so lush and green. We also saw lots of other animals, like jaguars,” said Mrs. DuPrau.

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The next day was their “day off.” “We went tourist shopping, had a typical Costa Rican lunch (rice, beans, meat, plantains), and then headed to the beach for about an hour, but the kids wanted to get back to the pool,” explained Mrs. Hope.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Next up: an amazing tour of Manuel Antonio National Park. “The beach was absolutely incredible. It was like kind of like an inlet, so there were no big waves or undercurrent, and the water was so warm and clear. We spent our whole last day just relaxing there,” said Mrs. Hope.

Reflections on the Trip

With this trip becoming an annual event for TNCS middle schoolers, Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Hope are finding ways to refine it and make it better each time.

Mrs. DuPrau’s Takeaways

Something I’ve learned is that I tend to overbook. I did this with Puerto Rico and maybe here again in Costa Rica. Middle schoolers do need time to chill, as they kept telling me. We did a lot with nature, which the kids would maybe prefer less of because they really just wanted to hang out at the pool! They did use their Spanish a lot, which is important. I really want to go back to Costa Rica on future capstone trips.

Our saving grace for the trip was having our own personal chauffeur. He took us to great restaurants we never would have been able to find on our own. He always connected me to wi-fi in his car, so that anytime parents sent me a message or a question, I was always able to respond quickly.

Both of our houses ended up working really well space-wise. And the kids could not have been better behaved. Mrs. Hope and I still talk about that. Nobody got in trouble; we never had to call parents. It was really nice. We really get to know a lot of the kids in a different way.

I wanted them to have a new experience—to enjoy being teenagers away from their parents and showing that they could be independent and responsible. I wanted them to get to be happy for a week straight and hang out with their friends. They have such a small cohort, and I just loved seeing them love each other so much and getting to have so much fun.

IMG_7503-M.jpgMrs. Hope’s Takeaways

In the second house, our bedroom was on the first floor, and so was the boys’ bedroom—they were all in one big room. We couldn’t believe how quiet they were being, even all together like that. Then, on the last day, we realized it was because our bedroom door was soundproof. We happened to open it at one point and discovered how loud it actually was out there!

Maybe we should rebrand this capstone trip as less of a service trip, because nobody wants middle schoolers as volunteers, just high school age and up. We’ve learned what works, what doesn’t. We’ll do some service, but I also want to make it fun.

This cohort was like one big family the whole time. Everybody got along from the moment we met at the school at 2:00 in the morning to getting dropped off to their parents at 2:00 in the morning a week later. Everybody was a big fan. They were so supportive of each other, especially with the zip lining. They were each other’s biggest cheerleaders. They all got along really, really well. I feel like this trip really unified them afterward; they have been even more vulnerable and open and honest with each other since then. It’s really neat to see that.

I feel like the best activity we had was the zip line because it got everybody out of their comfort zone. But for me what was most important was the kids just having fun, getting to experience a new culture, and introducing them to the idea that it’s a big world. It was really neat to watch them open their eyes to it.

“My favorite activity was zip lining on the Superman course!”

Student Takeaways

The students’ reflections are quite touching and will also help inform the planning of future trips. Note that many of their quotes have also been interspersed with photos as captions throughout this post.

The pool was where we got to hang out as as real, real good friends and not just as classmates.

What stuck with me was how similar Costa Rica’s landscape and architecture is to Indonesia, my mother’s birth country. There was a volcano near us.

I got a lot closer to the class. That was definitely one of the biggest things.

I wasn’t that close with everyone in my class, and I bonded more with them during the trip. It was nice. I want to stay in touch with them after we go to our separate high schools.

It was good practice speaking Spanish. We have been learning it for so long—it was fun to use it.

I enjoyed getting to see another country and especially being able to do it with my classmates.

I left feeling like a different person and realizing that I can just be myself. I grew a lot by being around so many other people who were kind and wanted to be good friends.

I’m a big beachgoer so I really liked Manuel Antonio beach, with the clear water and being able to see the rocks and coral underneath. I’ve been to a lot of beaches, but this one was pretty special. It was also memorable because one of the other guys was pretending there was a poisonous vulture in the water. It was rather amusing. Squawk!

I would say that I grew some because I got somewhat more confident, like from the zip lining and being 130 feet in the air. My friendships were also strengthened.

It was my first time going out of the states, so I was pretty jittery, but Costa Rica was nice because it was a new feel of things and a new place to see and explore. The climate was so different. In Baltimore, the weather is just all-around crazy. But, in Costa Rica, it’s always sunny and hot—it’s a good climate to hang out in. I also liked learning about a new currency, the colón (plural, colones).

I grew a lot socially, because I didn’t really use to like talking to people. I realized that once you get to know them, they’re usually pretty cool. I also liked practicing Spanish with Uncle Ronnie.


This post would not be complete without a huuuuuge thank-you to TNCS parent Damian Mosely, who so generously hosted two Blacksauce Kitchen (his restaurant) breakfast biscuit sales at TNCS and donated all of the proceeds to the middle schoolers. Their trip would not have happened without his incredible support.