Devin Martin: Giving TNCS the Whole Picture!

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


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

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

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

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

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

Art Meets Montessori

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

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

Here at TNCS

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

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

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

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

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

As for art . . .

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

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

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

Strengthening Friendships, Creating Art: TNCS Welcomes Back Baltimore Love Project

Welcome BLP!

Over two art lessons, BLP helped TNCS elementary students understand what public art is and how it can help communities.

In “Baltimore Love Project” last fall, we profiled artist Michael Owen’s and executive director Scott Burkholder’s joint mission to connect people through public art. With the goal of painting 20 LOVE murals across Baltimore city, they have made significant progress in that lofty aim; as of this writing they have completed 16. They returned to The New Century School in March to update TNCS on their progress and their future plans as well as to teach the elementary students about public art.

Mr. Burkholder was first to visit the elementary kids’ art class, and Mr. Owen stopped by 2 days later. Presenting to schoolchildren is something Baltimore Love Project (BLP) does frequently because kids are so receptive to their message, but TNCS elementary students were their youngest group so far. Mr. Burkholder began by asking the group, “What is art?” to which he received some pretty insightful answers, such as “art is a mixture of colors . . . imagination” and “art is making up your own theme.” He next showed the group several slides and asked whether what was depicted there qualified as art. When a Mark Rothko abstract painting flashed up on the projector screen, one boy said, “I see a portal leading to an imaginary scene . . .” (yes—he really said “portal!”) and another said, “it makes me feel really weird” and turned away. Needless to say, there were a lot of laughs that day!

BLP executive director Scott Burkholder

BLP executive director Scott Burkholder visited TNCS elementary art class March 19th.

Once the merriment died down, the group talked about different kinds of art—sculpture, music, performance art, collage, television shows, even cooking. “Humans use art,” said Mr. Burkholder, to “tell how we feel, to express an idea.” And with that, he threw out the “biggie.”

Why Does Art Matter?

The elementary students initially had mostly practical answers to this question, such as, “without art, we couldn’t make buildings,” but Mr. Burkholder pushed them to examine a deeper meaning. With Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother up on the screen, he explained that art should evoke strong feelings and encourage discussion. “Art gives us the opportunity to engage with it and with what the artist may have been feeling. It helps us think about what we are feeling, too,” he said. Art also helps us understand what our world is really like or puts a face to a story that might have otherwise been overlooked, such as the Lange photography does. Or, art might express something you wish were true. “It’s powerful to be able to share your ideas about the world with other people,” said Mr. Burkholder, “If you have the opportunity to change the way people think, then you can change how they act.” With art, he says, you can change the world.

TNCS elementary art class

The elementary students wax poetic on their feelings about art with Baltimore Love Project’s Scott Burkholder.

As the visit drew to a close, the kids turned the tables on Mr. Burkholder, putting him on the spot. One girl asked him what he hopes to accomplish in his lifetime. It was a surprisingly mature question and revealed that she had really taken in his message. Mr. Burkholder did not miss a beat, however, and said simply, “I would like to help people value art.”

Q&A with Michael Owen

BLP artist Michael Owen demonstrated how collaborating on art can change environments and cultures in meaningful ways.

DIY Muraling

Mr. Owen’s visit took a slightly different tack, as you may have guessed it would. “I came here to show you some secrets about mural painting,” announced Baltimore’s reigning mural king. He showed the kids a time-lapse video of himself painting a LOVE mural (see it here) and then gave them the four-step list of instructions he uses for the BLP:

  1. Project a picture on a large vertical surface (i.e., a wall).
  2. Trace the picture with sidewalk chalk or pencil.
  3. Paint it in with primer.
  4. One day later, cover over with black paint.

Voilà! Mr. Owen then asked the kids what a LOVE mural makes them think of, feel, or do. Their responses ranged from profound to poignant. “It stops people from fighting,” said one; “I imagine what a lovely place Baltimore is,” said another. “It makes me think of the loved ones I’ve lost,” said one girl, tearing up. Mr. Owen must be accustomed to having such an effect on people. After all, he creates those murals, he says, “to inspire people to show how they love each other.” What really must have blown him away, though, was the response he got when he asked why the hands spelling out L-O-V-E on each mural are in black. “They can be anybody’s hands,” he began. “But there are four of them,” interrupted one child, “so it takes two people. That’s how the love starts to spread.”


TNCS elementary students sketch out their ideas for the mural.

By now the kids were literally itching to make some art. Inspired? Definitely. Having allowed all of their feelings and ideas to surface, they were now ready to turn them into something beautiful. “Have fun drawing,” said Mr. Owen, and rushed off to go inspire more people.

TNCS Kids Paint a . . .

Mural! Surprise! Art teacher Jenny Raccuglia said having BLP present was “really a very special treat.” Her idea all along was to have this lesson on public art culminate with her class creating their own mural. Like BLP, the students also wanted their mural concept to center on an inspirational word. There are currently more than 10 elementary students, so they needed a nice, big word to give each kid equal canvas space. See for yourselves what word these clever kids brought to colorful, glorious life in their collaborative work.

Friendship mural

The finished product shows friendship as conceptualized by the TNCS elementary students but also represents friendship in another way: the students joined together—engaged in this project together—in an act of joyful creation. It was made by friends to spread friendship. Way to go, kids!

“This engagement,” said Scott Burkholder, “is what it’s all about. . . In our society, we tend to appreciate art because of craft and aesthetic, but we miss important aspects like the idea, the concept.” Getting people engaged, talking, thinking—that’s the true value of art.