Valentine’s Day at TNCS is about Spreading Love to the Community!

For Valentine’s Day 2020, students at The New Century School made a “wholehearted” push to spread some love. Compassion and service are two core values at TNCS and, along with respect and courage, are part of the day-to-day “invisible” curriculum. Nevertheless, this winter, students in all divisions have come together to put those values in practice in meaningful ways. From service-learning initiatives led by Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali, to student-led charitable collections, to extracurricular activities focusing on kindness, these kids are showing our community within and beyond the campus walls what’s in their hearts.

Before we jump in to all of the great acts of loving kindness TNCS students engaged in, let’s look at why this kind of engagement is so beneficial to their social, academic, and emotional development. According to research by Edutopia, “A schoolwide focus on cultivating traits like self-discipline, courage, and perseverance helps students meet high expectations.” This focus also stretches beyond the classroom, preparing students to contribute to the world as adults.

So many great things were happening all over the school, so the following account progresses in sort of let-the-love-flow-from-the-ground-up order!

Preprimary Service Initiatives

The preprimary division of 2- and 3-year-olds has been doing their part for the NexTrex challenge and have already filled a box—which is pretty impressive for this age group. Ms. Danyali is careful to restrict their service initiatives to what will be meaningful to them. So, they practice kindness in the classroom among one another and participate in those schoolwide initiatives like NexTrex that they can understand.

Primary and Lower Elementary Service Initiatives

The primary through 4th-grade classrooms (primary, K/1, 2/3, and 3/4) have collaborated on comfort kits for Baltimore’s homeless population. They realized that after the end-of-year holidays pass and the new year has begun, charitable donations taper off, which sadly coincides with the time of year those in need most require support and warmth. “We felt really strongly that we want to keep the giving going,” said Ms. Danyali. So, she reached out to Baltimore Rescue Mission and Karis Home (exclusively for women), who will take and disperse the kits TNCS students lovingly assembled. “We have an overflowing box of hygiene items, which is so great. It started kind of slowly and then really caught on. I’m amazed by the abundance our community has donated” said Ms. Danyali. The hygiene kits will be distributed at the organizations’ mobile shower unit.

Although the collection was originally supposed to end on Valentine’s Day, the  TNCS community has expressed interest in extending it, and Ms. Danyali is receptive to that idea.

In the coming weeks, K/1 will visit the Ronald McDonald House to prepare lunches for the residents/families getting treatment in March/April. Immersed will follow up on this important initiative!

Lower and Upper Elementary Service Initiatives

BluWater Baltimore is another partner organization with an upcoming service project. TNCS 2nd- through 4th-graders will stencil storm drains around the Fell’s Point neighborhood to remind passersby that what goes into those drains has a direct conduit to out precious local waterways. TNCS students have done this in the past as part of a science unit, but this time, their stencils will be in both English and Spanish! “We want to remind people in a pleasant way to not throw trash down the storm drains,” said Ms. Danyali, “because the repercussions are huge long term.” Visit Blue Water’s Storm Drain Art page to learn more.

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Another possible project with Blue Water Baltimore is to design and paint two rain barrels, one to keep and one to raffle off. Again, this is something TNCS has done in the past, but it was such a huge hit among the community that revisiting it a few years on with a different group of students seems like a no-brainer. (Visit Blue Water’s Harvest Rainwater page to learn more.) “It will be a nice feature to have at school with spring coming and the greenhouse reopening,” said Ms. Danyali. Raffle tickets will be on sale at TNCS Parent Council’s annual upcoming Earth Day celebration, and a portion of proceeds will fund additional student enrichment initiatives, while some funds will go back to support Blue Water Baltimore.

In the 5th- /6th-grade classroom, students have become more and more aware of homelessness in Baltimore. Ms. Danyali partnered with Live with Purpose to have students assemble Kindness Kits, which are similar to the Comfort Kits made by the younger students, except that these are intended to be distributed by students and families. The kits include basic essential items and toiletries that participants are encouraged to give out as they drive or walk around and encounter someone experiencing homelessness. This resonated so deeply with students that many asked if they could enhance the kits by adding special items not already included in what Live with Purpose provided. “That’s really where I wanted them to go with this,” said Ms. Danyali. “We also talked about homeless statistics—there are more than 3,500 people living on the streets in Baltimore on any given night, totaling more than 30,000 per year, and an even larger number seeking a return to a home—but we did not go into the roots of these problems. That’s overwhelming. But we talked about the potential impact of  everyone doing this little bit, given the degree of need. It created a really great discussion.” Discussion questions included:

  • What are some thoughts you have when you encounter someone who is asking for help on the street?
  • If you were no longer able to live in your current home, where would you go?
  • What are some injustices that you see in the world?
  • How can you commit to intervening to address these injustices this year?

(Note the socks, which are one of the most needed and least frequently donated items for individuals experiencing homelessness.)

New for Q3 2020 at TNCS, is the ECA Project Kindness for 3rd- through 8th-graders, led by Upper Elementary and Middle School ELA and Global Studies instructor, Daphnée Hope. On Thursday, February 13th, the “PKers” took it upon themselves to scour the multipurpose room and then decorate it with positive messages.

Middle School Service Initiatives

In the 7th- and 8th-grade classroom, Ms. Hope has incorporated mediation and yoga as stress relievers. “I’m very excited about this,” said Ms. Danyali, “because they are developing tools for better listening to each other without judgment, feedback, or anything else—just listening. That cohort already has a nice community feel, but they got a lot of out of this and showed even more kindness toward each other as a result.” That  will certainly translate into day-to-day social intelligence.

They’ll also soon be going back to the William S. Baer School for their Baer-a-Thon, and Immersed will keep you posted on that.


February is a big month for showing that you care. On the heels of Valentine’s Day comes Random Acts of Kindness Day on Monday, February 17th. Show your love!

Head of TNCS Lower School Alicia Danyali Attends Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education Presentation!

The New Century School cares about nothing so much as quality education, so when the “Kirwan Commission” was established in 2016, TNCS took note. In fact, just last week, Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali, who is involved in advocacy for this initiative, attended a presentation and was motivated to share her thoughts about what she witnessed.

“Dr. Kirwan worked with the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). to identify building blocks of high performing schools around the world for 1 year,” said Ms. Danyali. “During his year with NCEE, he researched gaps in Maryland, which led to the Kirwan recommendations.”

What’s the Kirwan Commission? 

Kirwan 2The Maryland Legislature established the Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education in 2016 to improve Maryland’s school system to world-class status. This commission has become known as the “Kirwan Commission” after its Chairman, Dr. William E. “Brit” Kirwan, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Maryland and nationally recognized authority on problems in education. With a long and illustrious career in education, starting in the classroom and working his way up to multiple university presidencies and chancellorships, Dr. Kirwan nevertheless calls this Commission, “the most difficult and important work of [his] life.”

Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) puts it like this: “The Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education is a multi-year initiative to research and develop major funding and policy reforms to improve the quality of Maryland’s public education system to benefit all of the more than 790,000 students, which will in turn benefit the State’s economy and quality of life for all Marylanders.”

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Key Policy Areas

The Kirwan Commission has a two-pronged goal: 1) Make policy recommendations that will improve Maryland schools performance overall, and 2) propose changes to current funding formulas for schools.

KirwanThe Commission has targeted five key policy areas to achieve their goal: Early Childhood Education, High-Quality and Diverse Teachers and Leaders, College and Career Readiness Pathways, More Resources to Ensure Success of All Students, and Governance and Accountability.

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Interim Report

Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 10.53.36 AMAlthough the Commission was supposed to submit its final report to the legislature by December 2018, it ultimately took another year to work out how to achieve the necessary funding (known as the “Thornton formulas”)—a whopping $4 billion (a small fraction of which will come from casino revenues). The Commission issued a comprehensive Interim Report in January 2019.

Benefits for All Marylanders

That price tag—sounds like a lot to ask? Not when you consider the potential return on investment (ROI) study done by Strong Schools Maryland and the Sage Policy Group. along with David Hornbeck, another Marylander with a stellar career in education. “Mr. Hornbeck is gathering facts and statistics to support getting this bill passed,” said Ms. Danyali. For example, 12% more moms would return to the workforce if preK were more widely available. With a well-educated population, prison expenses as well as Medicaid expenses drop, because individuals are employed. The bottom line is, by 2046 the ROI is projected to be $6.3 billion—that’s a lot more than the initial outlay.

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Educating youth, starting at very young ages, and valuing educators has multiple advantages: individual empowerment; healthy, more sustainable communities; and a robust statewide economy. (Read the full Executive Summary.)

Kirwan’s Presentation

IMG_0949Said Ms. Danyali: “Through his social justice advocacy group, Dr. Kirwan is committed to high-quality schools and especially early childhood education (ECE), with mandatory pre-K4 statewide and expanded offerings for ages 0–3, which is why I got involved. He spoke a lot about Judith P. Hoyer Center Early Learning Hubs, also known as “Judy Centers,” that provide resources and support for ECE in every county in Maryland.”

Some of Dr. Kirwan’s speech really resonated with Ms. Danyali:

This is the right vision and focus to match needs and prepare students for the current work world and for the future. We have to be as good as the best. There are many good schools and superb teachers, but not enough—47% of MD teachers leave the profession after 2 years due to lack of compensation and support. Students need to perform at a grade 10 ELA and have completed algebra 1 to graduate, but only 40% of MD students meet this criteria. We can’t allow this to stand. It’s unacceptable. We need to make education a high-status profession. If we do not shift this point, there is no point.

Want to Take Action?

The 2020 legislative began Wednesday, January 8th, and there will be multiple opportunities to make your voice heard. Here are a few:

Join StrongSchoolsMaryland in Annapolis: http://bit.ly/AnnapolisSignUp
Join the StrongSchoolsMaryland email list: http://bit.ly/ssmsignup
Get your voice counted for fixing the funding gap: https://www.strongschoolsmaryland.org/email-your-leaders

The legislation goes to vote on April 6th, and this is it. Another such commission will not be possible within this decade and maybe even the next. The time is now to stand for great education for all Marylanders. “It doesn’t matter if you’re public or private,” said Ms. Danyali. “This is going to affect every school in some way.”

‘Tis the Season for Service at TNCS!

Untitled-2Service is a Core Value at The New Century School, and Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali always has multiple initiatives going including by class/division, schoolwide, and community targeted. (To read more about TNCS Core Values, click here.) What better time of year to take a look back at how TNCS students have given back in the first half of the 2019–2020 school year?

It has been a busy semester with lots going on, so, in no particular order, let’s just jump right in!

Flashcards for Hope

Live with a Purpose reached out to Ms. Danyali in October because the Esperanza Center expressed a need for English/Spanish flashcards for their afterschool program for children new to the United States who are learning English. So, students in Ms. Lee‘s classroom made 60 packs of flashcards to assist them in learning some of the basics, like numbers and colors.

“Creating these materials also reinforced for TNCS 2nd- through 4th-graders the importance and the benefits of helping others, especially immigrants that need support when they move to a new country,” said Ms. Danyali. “The fact that our students could be supporting other kids who are learning other languages was very important to me. If the shoe fits, we’re going to wear it.”

Bake Sale for Shelter Animals

“For the older students, I prefer that their service initiatives be student led,” explained Ms. Danyali. So, the 7th- and 8th-graders held a bake sale alongside their October 23rd coffee and lemonade morning. They broke up into four groups, each researching a different organization (three were for animals and one was for support for the homeless). As part of their assignment, they were required to submit a needs assessment and what the organization does. After narrowing the organizations down to two, they then had to make a presentation about their preferred organization to be chosen, ultimately deciding to donate their proceeds to the Baltimore Humane Society. They baked their sale items with Ms. Danyali. Altogether, they made $40, which isn’t bad when you consider that their baked goods were priced at only $1 each. Based on wha the photo below shows, that’s a steal!

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Reading Buddies

The always-popular Reading Buddies program provides mutual benefits to younger TNCS students paired up with older TNCS students and vice versa. Ms. Klusewitz’s and Sra. Salas’s classes comprise one pair, and Ms. Sandkuhler and Ms. Hope’s classes another (among others). “They’ve really been sticking to it,” said Ms. Danyali. “It’s so great to see.”

Biscuits (and More) for BARCS 

Ms. Klusewitz’s and Sra. Salas‘s classes also partnered on an initiative for BARCS (Baltimore Rescue and Care Center). Ms. Klusewitz’s class baked homemade dog treats with Ms. Danyali, and Sra. Salas’s class decorated holiday gift bags. The two classes came together to stuff the bags with biscuits during a recent reading buddy morning.

Although it turned out that BARCS cannot accept comestibles that are not factory sealed (for the safety of their animal charges), the exercise in partnering up with older/younger friends to do some good in the world was not for nought. A 4th-grader and her family who regularly support the organization volunteered to “be ambassadors on behalf of TNCS to deliver the holiday cards and cheer to BARCS,” as Ms. Danyali put it.

Said Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Rojas: “The cards were a hit and they definitely felt the love from the students! All the students should be proud—they were extremely generous in picking this organization, that helps so many animals each year!”

Ronald McDonald House

IMG_3394 copyBack to the Core Values for a moment, Ms. Danyali has been focusing on those with with lower elementary students and asked teachers to create an area in their classrooms where the Core Values can be prominent and interactive. Students might attach a slip of paper to the wall, for example, that starts with “I show courage by . . . ” to both remind and encourage them to exemplify TNCS’s Core Values.

Compassion goes hand in hand with Service, and Ms. Danyali wrapped up a unit focusing on those two words together in Ms. Sandkuler‘s and Ge Laoshi‘s kindergarten and 1st-grade homerooms. “We have started a service project to partner with the Ronald McDonald House to do an on-site visit and activity to help the families they serve after the winter break,” said Ms. Danyali. “To make this meaningful for that age group, we are making cards with compassionate messages. The messages were very mature, and they really internalized what compassion is.”

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Not surprisingly, a “kindness wall” has evolved over the last few months in Ms. Sandkuhler’s classroom.

Giving Tree

The class partnerships are fluid and often mix ages. For example, Ge Laoshi and Ms. Lee’s homerooms spearheaded a “Giving Tree” drive to collect scarves, mittens, and hats for fellow Baltimore students at a nearby school. Other collections were also ongoing.

Adopt-a-Baer-Student

Ms. Hope‘s 7th- and 8th-grade homeroom adopted a student for the holidays from the William S. Baer School in Baltimore City that serves severely physically or developmentally challenged students from ages 3 to 21. TNCS middle schoolers brought holiday gifts for their “adopted” student, Rachel, then went with Ms. Danyali on a field trip to tour the school and understand how students are supported there. They also got to meet many of the staff members and students.

IMG_1798“Our students were deeply moved by the experience and would like to return to the school in the spring when they host the school Baer-athlon,” said Ms. Danyali. (More on that in 2020!)

Looking Ahead

Additional service learning initiatives are planned for quarter 3 in early 2020. Ms. Klusewitz’s students, for example have broken out into groups to research an organization of interest and present their ideas to Ms. Danyali.

Linus Blankets will be ongoing as well—in fact, you can register your child for the upcoming quarter 3 ECA! The postcard below is a thank-you for blankets TNCS made this fall.

“As long as it’s meaningful and helpful, and it supports our local community, then I’m board for it,” said Ms. Danyali.


Did you know? The amazing TNCS Parent Council has a Service Committee that you can join to partake in some service of your own! Sign up here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/30e0b4faea823a0fd0-parent

Or, you can get involved with planning a Community Event or a Fundraiser to enhance the TNCS community experience. Either way, we appreciate you!

TNCS Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali Joins Multilanguage-Learning Professional Development Cohort!

Integral to the curriculum as well as the identity of The New Century School is language learning. We are by now well aware of the many kinds of social and cognitive benefit that multilingualism confers (but check out our Resources page if you’d like a refresher!). However, as Head of TNCS Lower School Alicia Danyali understands, staying abreast of the best practices in teaching language is critical.

tncs-head-of-lower-school-alicia-danyaliThat’s why she attended a cumulative 5-day training called “The Can Do Philosophy and the Guiding Principles of Language Development” that took place at the Johns Hopkins School of Education in Columbia, MD from November 4th–6th and December 4th and 5th in order to learn more about how practitioners observe, document, and analyze observations to promote dual (or, in the case of TNCS, triple) language development. The training was provided by WIDA, whose mission is, “Helping multilingual learners—and their educators—reach their potential.” The WIDA acronym stands for World-class Instructional Design and Assessment, but everyone knows this group as “WIDA.” They are headquartered at the University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research in Madison, but they have satellites all over the United States. tncs-wida

Ms. Danyali says she found out about the opportunity from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) weekly newsletter. “I’m so nerdy that I actually read it,” she joked. It’s a good thing she did. The WIDA Consortium is a member-based organization “dedicated to the research, design and implementation of a high-quality, standards-based system for K–12 language learners”—and they offer tons of amazing resources for educators. Says Ms. Danyali, “I noticed that this organization is very interested in dual language learning in the early childhood environment. I thought, ‘I have to look into more about that!’ They’re partnering with MSDE on how to better support family–school partnerships with dual language environments.”

She explains that, even though she isn’t coming from the public school sector, she nevertheless wanted to know what supports are out there and what new advancements in language education have been made. They were separated into three groups to role-play as a Parent, Educator, or Administrator. “This is the first time—and it is exciting to me—that it has been looked at at the early childhood level, which has always been something I feel very strongly about, capturing that age of language acquisition. So, I applied to be part of a cohort and submitted a blurb about TNCS and how we start at age 2 with a full immersion setting,” she explained.

“A big portion of the conversations with the cohort I was in—and it was people from all walks of education, from professors to para-professionals, was about receptive and expressive language. That’s really what we do here at TNCS—develop the ability to understand words and speech, which is the receptive part.” For example, Song Laoshi will say, “Line up” in Mandarin a thousand times to her 2-year-olds the first 2 weeks of school and she’ll model that instruction. One student will figure out what she’s doing and what she wants the class to do, and then slowly everyone else starts to get it. It’s the most beautiful thing.” But how are the teachers able to measure how well that’s happening in the preschool environment? Participants were given worksheets to guide them on how to effectively gather that feedback.

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In expressive language, the student communicates their wants and needs, speaking, not just gathering from their environment. So, back to the example of Song Laoshi’s 2-year-olds, eventually, they will start to talk about what is happening, building on  receiving instruction and being able to act on them.

“Another thing we discussed in our cohort,” says Ms. Danyali, was how to “appeal to young students’ learning styles, which is a lot more difficult in a prescriptive public environment, and how to go off the cuff and meet the students’ needs.” In Maryland, Spanish is the fastest growing language in Maryland and Urdu is the second, which is almost as prevalent. “So we’re not looking necessarily at how we can support Spanish speakers in an ESL environment, which has always been the standard, but more of just how do we support language development?”

What Does This Look Like at TNCS?

Even though the WIDA consortium is primarily about how to support students who speak English as a second language, flipping that the other way around and applying their evidence-based practices to any multilanguage-learning environment makes perfect sense. Accordingly, Ms. Danyali has implemented a program in the primary classes for assistant teachers to provide monthly status reports on each student’s progress with language:

It has been quite a game-changer and very helpful, but I also understand as a former educator that introducing new things sometimes feels like having more added to an already-full workplate. But this is actually so supportive and in line with how we think about how our students obtain language. I tell them, too, ‘I want you to grow in your career. This is the one thing that threads our whole school together. We have language from age 2 through grade 8. The common message that sets us apart is our language program, and you’re driving that, so I want your feedback.’

Another important aspect of language at TNCS is the concept of proficiency versus fluency. At the younger ages, it’s really very important that students are hearing language being spoken, no matter what the language. Definitive milestones are not important here. This process is more organic.

Fifty years ago, when immigrants came to the United States, they were instructed not to speak in their native languages so as (as the thinking went) to assimilate into U.S. culture more quickly. “This created major deficits in their lives,” explains Ms. Danyali. “The mindset is now changing, fortunately, and we want our teachers and assistants to speak their native languages.” The WIDA Consortium wants to move away from “English” and talk more about language development to be more inclusive. In fact, the state of Maryland supports over 100 languages in terms of having translators available for free to translate documents, meetings, conversations, etc.

In the near future, Ms. Danyali will incorporate the Can Do Descriptors and Promising Practices she was trained on into the TNCS curriculum. To be proficient in a language, a speaker must be able to Express Self, Recount, and Inquire.tncs-wida

“The preschool component is really our heart and soul for engaging in language for the long-term student. We attract families who know that language is important. So, all of this will factor in to how I roll out what I’ve learned at TNCS,” said Ms. Danyali.

I walked away feeling very fortunate for the environment we’re in. We don’t have stand-alone teachers in a class of 37 kids who need a lot of support. But I found a lot of compassion among the cohort. Some families do not reach out to avail themselves of services because of the current political climate, but the MSDE was there to confirm that they do not turn over that information to anyone. Everyone was on the same page in this cohort to find ways to help and that education can bridge perception gaps.


Here are some WIDA publications you might find interesting:

TNCS Fall 2019 Open House: Your First Taste of TNCS!

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 admissions@thenewcenturyschool.com 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!

Service Learning Gets Souped Up at TNCS!

Service is a core value at The New Century School, along with Respect, Compassion, and Courage. Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali makes sure that TNCS students have regular projects to engage in that benefit the community and environment, from the Fell’s Point neighborhood, to Baltimore City, to national and international initiatives. Past projects include—but certainly are not limited to—Kindness Rocks, tree restoration in Puerto Rico, blanket-making for sick children, and raising storm water run-off awareness.

Soup’s On!

On Friday, September 27th, Ms. Danyali introduced her vision for Q1’s service learning project for TNCS 5th- through 8th-graders: making soup kits for food insecure citizens of Baltimore. She found this opportunity through an organization called Live with Purpose, whose mission is to [engage] volunteers to meet vital community needs and live with purpose through meaningful service.” The soup kits will be distributed to Living Classrooms and other local organizations like Paul’s Place who will distribute them to identified families in need to provide them “a hot and hearty meal.”

Before the kit assembly began, though, Ms. Danyali provided some context:

I know you’ve been partnering with other classrooms on some school-related service initiatives, but, today, you get to do a service activity with a focus on human dignity. No matter what anybody’s background, everybody deserves to be respected. We have to have meaning in our lives, which means that we have to take care of ourselves but also other people here in our school community and even beyond. I think it’s a really important value to serve. So, today we’re going to work on soup kits for people in Baltimore who are facing food insecurity. Food insecurity means that a person may not have the means to get enough food. When I reached out to Live with Purpose, they said they needed help making soup kits, and I said, ‘I have the perfect helpers!’

She next shared some sobering facts:

  • The USDA defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.”
  • A quarter of Baltimore residents live in a food desert (an area where fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods are difficult to find due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers).
  • Nearly half of Maryland’s hungry are working—people who don’t make enough to provide both healthy food and a safe home for their families.
  • 1 in 4 children in Baltimore City’s schools are hungry when arriving to school, having not eaten a full meal since they left school the day before.

These are terrible truths that are difficult to fathom—25% of school-aged children go to school hungry? And 25% of all Baltimoreans don’t have access to healthy food?

These soup kits could make a real difference in our neighbors’ lives. So, during Teacher’s Choice time, first middle schoolers then elementary students spent 30 minutes putting together bean and barley soup kits to serve 4 to 6 people each. Stations were set up for pairs of students, and they got right to it!

“I think this is a great way to give back to the community,” said one TNCS 6th-grader. “This is fun, and it makes me feel good because I know I’m helping,” echoed a 7th-grader. They worked very carefully and neatly to produce attractive, quality kits.

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Thanks to TNCS students and TNCS Dean of Service Learning Alicia Danyali, some Baltimore residents might feel a little less insecure this fall. “I’m confident that knowing you’re helping other people, you’ll be very happy,” said Ms. Danyali.

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TNCS Dean of Students/Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali Presents at the Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Conference!

Alicia Danyali, The New Century School‘s Dean of Students and Head of Lower School, makes it a point to stay abreast of trends in education, and, more broadly, how educators and parents influence the lives of the children in their care. On March 22nd, she had the extreme honor of presenting some of her ideas at the Community College of Baltimore County‘s fifth annual Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Conference. (See the mission of the CRT-L by downloading this pdf, read about the keynote speakers here, and see a line-up of presentation blurbs here.)

Mrs. Danyali was kind enough to share the highlights of her presentation, “Understanding iGen and How to Forge Acceptance, Accountability, and Agents of Change,” in a sit-down with Immersed as well as her experience attending a presentation at a different but related conference.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Z Generation

“I submitted a proposal last January based on my fascination over the last 5 years with understanding acceptance and accountability, and how we become agents of change. Particularly, I wanted to focus on iGen.” explained Mrs. Danyali. (Henceforth we’ll use the term “Gen Z” instead of “iGen” to describe the demographic born between 1996 and 2009, because, according to some Gen Z-ers themselves, they don’t want their identity tied to the invention of the iPhone, and they also didn’t influence its creation. Also of note, others define the generation as having been born in 2000 and up.)

“Kids these days do not experience a lot of failure,” said Mrs. Danyali. “And, they have internalized this message that, if you do fail, don’t worry, you’ll get bailed out. I wanted to highlight, ‘How can we not get to that point?’ and instead to where we’re cultivating partnerships and trust in the schoolhouse, and we’re providing resources to create a different path,” she said.

Much of her talk was inspired by the work of University of San Diego professor of psychology Jean Twenge as well as by The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, a book by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. (As an aside, the word “failure” is typically used in this post as a positive—in the context of, “let them fail as children so they know how to be successful as adults.” As paradoxical as that sounds, it should be our mantra as parents, according to many.)

Said Mrs. Danyali:

Dr. Twenge is considered the expert in the area of generations and how generations vary. She has been conducting studies for more than two decades of what defines a generation and what trends have been changing. She looks at a generation as a 20-year period, and I used her definition in my presentation. She acknowledges that someone born in the first year of a so-called generation will have a very different experience than someone born in the last year of that generation. For example, if you’re a baby boomer, what’s your first memory of NASA (or another life-changing event)? That moment identifies you at a point in time. Whereas, for Gen Z, the defining event is 9/11, which defined the timeframe in pervasive ways, from socioeconomically to socially, as well as in how it affected the parents.

Dr. Twenge also hosts a podcast, “Speaking of Psychology,” and was featured on a recent episode of “Adam Ruins Everything.”

Conscious Uncoddling

The Coddling of the American Mind was really a game-changer for Mrs. Danyali, and she says that book is how the accountability piece of her thoughts came to be. “What does it look like in the real world to have Gen X’ers being parents and propagating the mentality of ‘everybody gets a trophy’?,” she asked. “How have we adjusted for this new generation? Well, we have the new “safe space,” with videos of puppies playing and bubbles blowing where students retreat to when they feel anxiety.” We have “safetyism,” she continued—the idea that children should be protected from, rather than exposed, to challenges—and the “call-out culture”—the practice of denouncing people on social media who may not even be personally known to the denouncer. “I want to explore how this all came to be and what we can do at the preschool, elementary, high school, and college levels to forge ways to not enable students and create more independence,” she said. Instead of creating a school culture of enabling, create a culture of student empowerment.

Some of this also comes down to my observations, and I want to be clear that I’m not judging or criticizing, but we need to be able to admit, as parents, that sometimes our children are acting out in class, even if they are not necessarily doing so at home, or need extra support with a development milestone. So how can school and family partner to ensure that we’re making the child successful? First admitting, not enabling, then accepting. Instead of passing the buck, let’s just rule it out—it’s so much easier to put interventions in place at the preschool level than it would be at the high school level.

We’re not singling anyone out; we’re not judging. We’re trying to establish a partnership for the best possible outcome. There’s a lot of danger in self versus social rules and perception versus fact. What are the social norms, and why should there be exceptions for one or two individuals? That’s the resistance to partnership.

Referring to the recent college admissions scandal, “that’s enabling at the highest degree,” she said.

Mrs. Danyali’s Recommendations

“My goal with the presentation was to bring some valid recommendations to other educators,” she said. “I gave some anecdotal examples of what might be considered enabling and then suggested alternative methods to handle the situation.” You may see some familiar themes!

Guidelines and Strategies to Ensure Relevance, Practicality, and Accountability

1. Assume kids are more capable. Form boundaries of trust—have an internet use agreement at home and school. Create boundaries, not frustrations, and be the first person your child or student can come to with any topic.
2. Avoid enabling at any age. Provide opportunities to take risks, fail, and problem solve. Building confidence and resilience is not always about being “right.”
3. Encourage productive disagreement, and, most importantly, model listening behaviors.
4. Teach mindfulness. Done consistently and with intent, this will lead to being in the present moment and ultimately to less judgment. This can lead to compassion (for self, too), perspective taking, and strengthening emotion regulation.
5. Give people the benefit of doubt. Listen, question, and cultivate intellectual humility.
6. Look into how schools are handling identity politics. Is the curriculum lumping kids into stereotypes of “good” and ”bad,” as opposed to providing them individual experiences that are authentic in nature?
7. Reject the notion that experiencing anxiety is an excuse for poor behavior. No more crutches.
8. Encourage your district school to assign less homework for younger grades, to provide more recess with less supervision, to protect middle school recess (if it happens), and discourage the word “safe” for anything other than physical safety.
9. Believe in a world that is personal device–free in the schoolhouse; place clear boundaries on device time at home; and, most of all, have oversight on and conversations about habits with technology.
10. Lastly, protect your child’s sleep!

Alphabet Soup

All of the ideas and threads Mrs. Danyali had been exploring really came home to roost when she serendipitously attended a presentation (not part of the CRT-L conference) by 17-year-old Josh Miller on defining Gen Z and XYZ University, which is the brainchild of CEO Sarah Sladek. Mr. Miller, the Director of Studies at XYZU, gives talks across the country about how he and his generational cohort should be educated based on their unique Gen Z-ness. Every day, he claims, students should be given time to work on a passion project because the current education model of learning facts has proven inadequate. That claim in and of itself is nothing new (TNCS itself in part grew out of opposition to the idea that learning should be rote; rather it should be inquiry driven and organic), but it is somewhat different to hear it from the perspective of the learner.

Mrs. Danyali shared an interesting irony that another audience member had pointed out, however. That kind of education would not be possible were it not for the support of the adults in the child’s life. It sounds kind of like needing to be coddled in order to reject the coddled life. (This is an oversimplification, of course, but it underscores just how the zeitgeist of one generation can become the catalyst for change in the next, which, meta-ironically, was one of Miller’s points.)

“This was so telling,” said Mrs. Danyali. “It brought all of my presentation together.”

I’m focusing on how much has shifted, but this shift has grown out of the ‘everyone-gets-a-trophy-culture’.” If everyone gets a trophy whether for winning or not, how will anyone learn how to cope with actual failure? Let’s start very early to put tools in place to be able to cope with failure—not for children to compare themselves with others as better or worse—but to cultivate independence so they can take care of themselves rather than having their Gen X parents intervene and fix everything. It’s okay to have negative emotions. And, our self-worth should not be based on the amount of likes we have.

“Mr. Miller was very well-spoken and gave many valid points about how Gen Z is perceived versus the reality,” said Mrs. Danyali. She is going to be reaching out to him to tie in another initiative she may be getting involved with, which is the Elijah Cummings Youth Program (ECYP), a 2-year leadership fellowship in Israel for Baltimore high school students. ECYP’s stated mission is: “Our Fellows lead their generation by gaining first-hand cross-cultural knowledge and skill. Our efforts are infused with the desire to further historic African-American and Jewish bonds.” Mr. Miller would also make a great presenter for next year’s CRT-L, said Mrs. Danyali.

Read the CEO of XYZU’s thesis here.

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