Meet the Teacher: Taryn Biancaniello Gets in Key with TNCS 2nd- and 3rd-Graders!

For the 2018–2019 academic year, The New Century School has two classrooms of 2nd- and 3rd-graders, one of which is now taught by Taryn Biancaniello.

Meet Taryn Biancaniello

tncs-elementary-teacher-taryn-biancanielloMs. Biancaniello comes to TNCS by a rather circuitous route. Her extended family is originally from Reading, Pennsylvania, but her immediate family never stayed put for long owing to her father’s job in the government. “I grew up moving around,” she explains. “I was born in Germany and lived there until I was 5 years old. Then we moved to Glen Rock, PA and next to Glen Burnie, MD, where we lived until I was 10 years old.” From there, she lived in Australia until the age of 16, then returned to Pennsylvania for a couple of years. She also experienced several different kinds of schooling, from being home-schooled to attending a Waldorf School and a parochial school. Her family eventually wound up in Hawaii, where she attended the University of Hawaii. for about 5 years. “My dad would tell us what government positions were coming up and apply for them in places that seemed cool, so we kind of had a say as a family,” she said. In what might be a lifetime record stay, she has now been in Baltimore for almost 7 years now!

In college, Ms. Biancaniello studied music, so, again, her line to the classroom zigzagged a bit.

I’ve always loved music and performing. I went to school for piano performance but realized that I did not want to be a concert pianist. Instead, I discovered that I really enjoy teaching while I was still in school, so I started teaching piano. I still teach a couple days a week outside of school. So, I had been teaching piano for years and doing a little bit with voice, when, a few years ago, I decided that I wanted to take the next step—I want to do this full time. I began substitute teaching at Friends School and at Calvert School. After a few years, I felt ready to look for a full-time position, and that is how I arrived at TNCS.

In the Classroom

tncs-elementary-teacher-taryn-biancanielloMs. Biancaniello shares the 2nd- and 3rd-grade cohort with Barbara Sanchez, each having 13 homeroom students. Ms. Biancaniello teaches English Language Arts (ELA), Science, and Global Studies. Sra. Sanchez also teaches Global Studies, but in Spanish, as well as Math and Spanish Language Arts. Li Laoshi handles Mandarin Chinese in daily lessons lasting 45 minutes each.

Ms. Biancaniello feels very much at home at TNCS, even as a first-year teacher. Working with multilevel age groups and acclimating to the differentiated learning classroom can be challenging, but she has found this challenge to be, above all, fun. “I really love teaching, and I feel this is a job that you have to be passionate about. It takes time to adjust to the learning curve, and I find myself getting caught up in planning and losing track of time that way, too. Yet, the more I do, the more I know this is the job for me. It doesn’t seem like work.”

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She also dearly loves working with her students and appreciates TNCS’s approach to education. She attributes this good-fit feeling partly to her varied background: “It’s just so much fun, and, especially coming from a background where I really enjoy being creative, I think this is an awesome school, and I love the inquisitive learning.”

The inquisitive learning she alludes to is exemplified in science class, where students work with STEMscopes, a science curriculum. “It introduces an idea and gets the students thinking about that idea and drawing from information they know,” explained Ms. Biancaniello. “Then they do related exercises and experiments, as I give them more information to draw from.” From this hands-on experience and testing, they learn more deeply and certainly retain more than they would in a lecture format. On this basis, this year’s third quarter Science Fair should be better than ever!

In ELA, her main curricular foci are reading, writing, and spelling. “Because everyone is at different levels, we do the Daily 4 or 5 rotations,” she said. “We’re doing novel studies, leveled reading, different spelling and vocabulary work, and working in Successmaker.” At this level, when students are able to articulate ever more complex ideas, writing becomes particularly important. Thus, they are also working on cursive skills, journaling, and creative writing as well as participating in a whole-group writing workshop.

In Perfect Harmony

Reflecting on her experience at TNCS so far, Ms. Biancaniello credits much of her success to her fellow faculty.

For first-time teachers, it can be a bit overwhelming at times, but they say the successful ones have support. That has been such a huge thing for me because I feel like I’ve had such a good team of people, and I do feel very supported. Sra. Sanchez has been a blessing—she has been with me every step of the way—and Adriana DuPrau has been a fantastic mentor. I feel getting to know this group of people has been really amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better staff to jump in with.

Circling back to an earlier theme, she reiterates the importance of being passionate about work.

I have had so much fun doing this and really do love so much what I’m doing. That’s really important because that’s what makes it fun for the students. The teachers who were most influential to me and had a big impact were the ones who really seemed to care about what they were doing. Those were the classes I was invested in. I particularly love working with these kids, and I hope that’s coming across so that the kids are feeling excited and being inspired to learn. Because, if the drive isn’t there, it doesn’t matter what subject you’re learning. I feel very strongly about bringing the challenge but keeping it really fun, too.

Well said, Ms. Biancaniello! Welcome to TNCS, and keep hitting those high notes!

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TNCS Lower Elementary Students Make Sense of Mindfulness!

On Thursday, April 19th, a very special—and very familiar—visitor came to The New Century School to see TNCS 1st- and 2nd-graders. Johns Hopkins child psychologist Carisa Perry-Parrish joined Mrs. Krysta Jenks’ and Sra. Barbara Sanchez’s homerooms to talk about mindfulness.

Dr. Perry-Parrish has formerly given presentations to TNCS families, to TNCS faculty, and to Chinese teachers visiting TNCS, and she has even contributed as a guest blogger to Immersed, but workshopping with students was a first.

Lower Elementary Mindfulness Workshops

Mrs. Jenks explains that she invited Dr. Perry-Parrish in to talk in order “to begin integrating mindfulness practices in the school day. There is a growing body of research on the benefits of practicing mindfulness. It helps students regulate emotions, develop coping skills, and increases curiosity,” said Mrs. Jenks.

For this age group. Dr. Perry-Parrish needed a point of entry that would grab and hold their attention. That way in was through their senses—touch, smell, taste, seeing, and hearing: “I came today to do some activities about how we can notice different things around us and in ourselves,” she explained. Next, she introduced terms and asked the group to define them, beginning with “psychologist.” “Brain doctor” was the agreed-on definition. Next was “meditation”:

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Has anybody heard of meditation before? What is it?
Students: It’s something that you do in yoga. It’s a way to calm your mind.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Why would we need to calm our mind?
Students: Stress, angry, crazy. Sometimes stupid.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does anybody get angry?  We have all different kinds of feelings and maybe we want like [a student] said to calm our minds down.

After setting the scene in this way, Dr. Perry-Parrish let students vote on in what order they would perform three activities: A tasting thing, a feeling thing with the hands, and a listening thing.

Not surprisingly, given that these activities were happening pre-lunch, both groups opted for the “tasting thing” first.

The Tasting Thing

After first verifying that no one had a dairy allergy, Dr. Perry-Parrish asked students to form a circle on the classroom rug and sit criss-cross with one hand open on one knee with eyes closed. While placing a single yogurt raisin in each child’s open palm, she explained what she was doing:

I want you to keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them. I’m going to give you one little thing that we’re going to taste, but, before we do that, we’re going to use another sense, our hand sense. I don’t want you to use your eyes because I want you to be curious like a scientist. We’re going to practice using different parts of our senses and we’re going to start by just holding this thing. As I put it in your hand, I want you to start feeling it, and I want you thinking about what it feels like.

She then proceeded through a series of questions with various answers, a sampling of which are given here:

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does this thing feel light or heavy?
Students: Light.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it have a smell?
Students: Yes
Dr. Perry-Parrish: What does it smell like?
Students: A jelly bean..
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it feel smooth or rough?
Students: Rough.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it feel like it fell off a tree or came from a store?
Students: A store.

“Now I want you to put this thing in your mouth and just hold it there for a couple of seconds—no biting,” she instructed.

Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does it taste sour or sweet?
Students: Sugary.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Take one bite and tell me what it tastes like.
Students: A yogurt raisin.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Who knew as soon as I put it in your hand?
Students: Me.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: How?
Students: I felt it before.

Finally, she brought home the mindfulness message in a way that they could really grasp: “Before you put it in your mouth were you feeling super excited to eat it right away? Do you ever have that feeling of I want to do something really fast but I have to slow down? It can be super hard to wait sometimes.”

The Feeling Thing with the Hands

The second activity involved placing an ice cube in each student’s hand and making all kinds of observations about it. Several children commented that they didn’t like it when the ice made their hand cold, and one had a very strong urge to eat it. This led to a very rich discussion about “sticking it out” (the hand eventually became numb, so the “pain” was no longer felt) as well as about self-restraint. “Does that happen sometimes when you have an uncomfortable feeling, and then we wait a little while until we get used to it?” asked Dr. Perry-Parrish.

In closing, she asked what surprised them about the ice experiment to get them to see that being mindful shows you things you might otherwise miss. They found that the ice melted at all different rates (why?). “Did you have any different emotions that you weren’t expecting?” “Hungry!”

The Listening Thing

The final activity involved the Fiona Apple song, Extraordinary Machine. “Everybody sit down and put on your listening ears. You guys do music class right? I bet you know all kinds of different instruments. So this is what I want you to do. Every time you hear a different instrument I want you to put a finger up. I want to see how many we count.”

At the end, the number of instruments discerned varied widely. Dr. Parry-Parrish explained: “I think we all heard different kinds of things. Were we all listening to the same song? Did we all hear different kinds of things? Why do you think we counted different kinds of things? People have different ear drums so they might hear different things.”

Dr. Perry-Parrish: What if I stopped listening for a minute and started thinking about how hungry for lunch I am? Do you think I could have missed some? Does that ever happen when we’re talking to people?
Students: Yeah.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: Does that ever happen to you guys when you’re listening to a lesson from your teacher?
Students: Yeah, a lot, like when my mom asks me to do something.
Dr. Perry-Parrish: What can we do when that happens so we’re paying attention? Sometimes it’s just noticing when we’re listening and when we are not.

She then played Extraordinary Machine again while students made their counts a second time, and they compared results. The number of instruments discerned rose dramatically. “Was there something different about how we were listening the first time compared to the second time?” she asked.

Paying Attention to What’s Happening Right Now

After the three activities with each class, Dr. Perry-Parrish brought it all home:

The thing that we did today has a special funny word called mindfulness. Have you ever heard of that word before? All it means is that we’re paying attention to what’s happening right now. Another mindful thing to do with your body is just notice what parts of your body move when you’re walking compared to when you’re going down the stairs. It’s a little bit different. Maybe the muscles feel a little different. Maybe you’re looking at things a little different. So, anytime you’re noticing something that’s happening right now, that’s a way to do mindfulness.

The underlying message is that children can use mindfulness to help cope with negative feelings. “Remember how we talked about all those different feelings that we have like happy, hungry, nervous?” she asked. “Something that can help us with those feelings is by asking ourselves what’s happening right now. There’s all kinds of things that we can notice, and that can help us feel less sad or not too excited.”

“The kids were really into using their senses to observe their experiences,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish of her visit to TNCS. “It was really fun helping them learn that they could have different observations during the same experience. Hopefully, teaching kids mindfulness gives them another tool to learn from their experiences,” she said.

Mrs. Jenks agreed. “We were fortunate to have Dr. Perry-Parrish lend her skill set in leading students through mindful awareness practices. I am hoping we can continue to use mindfulness at TNCS to help foster emotional growth in students.”

The other side of that coin is that mindfulness can also promote happiness. Developing self-regulation, awareness, and patience skills opens children up to the world around them—a feast for the senses, and the mind.

Want to try some mindfulness activities at home? Check out Mindfulness Activities for Children And Teens: 25 Fun Exercises For Kids from Positive Psychology.

Meet the Teacher: Barbara Sanchez Joins TNCS!

tncs-spanish-teacher-barbara-sanchezThe New Century School welcomed elementary teacher Barbara Sanchez for the 2017–2018 school year to lead a 1st- through 3rd-grade homeroom. She came to Baltimore in 2007 from Coamo, Puerto Rico when her husband accepted a position as a police officer here. She was at first sad to leave her beautiful home town and also because she thought she might have to give up teaching, but then other opportunities beckoned her. She embraced the idea of learning another language (English) as well as the benefits that the United States could offer her son with autism. She reports that he has grown a lot since being here.

In Puerto Rico, Sra. Sanchez earned dual bachelor degrees in special education and elementary education. She worked for 3 years there as a special education teacher in a group and also individually. When she arrived here, she began working in a school cafeteria, but being among students stoked her desire to teach once more. She decided to try getting a Spanish language teaching position in a city school and met TNCS’s own Professor Manuel during this time. After getting state certified to teach in Maryland in 2010, she started teaching at the Baltimore International Academy (BIA), where she was thrilled to be in the classroom again and taught there for several years. At Professor’s Manuel’s suggestion and with her husband’s support, she applied to TNCS.

IMG_2454Although she enjoyed BIA and still misses her former students and their parents, she says, “once I started here, I thought, ‘this is my place.’ I feel like this school is a part of me.” She feels she was destined to be a TNCS teacher and is constantly inserting Spanish instruction into daily school life, even on the playground. Her subjects, however, are Math and Global Studies. “I don’t teach Spanish class, but I use the Spanish to talk with the students,” she explained. “These kids are amazing. The kids here want to learn, they respect me, and they respect each other. This school is amazing and is perfect for me. I’m happy,” she said.

What she really wants parents to know is this: “Every child learns differently, but these children really want to learn, which is unlike what I experienced in a public school. If they students are learning, I’m happy,” she said most sincerely. “And that is our promise to this class, to every kid that we have in this class.”

Sra. Sanchez, TNCS is very glad to have you here!

Spanish Heritage Night 2017 at TNCS!

On Wednesday, October 18th, for the second year in a row, The New Century School hosted a rousing celebration of hispanic culture. The culmination of Hispanic Heritage month, which runs roughly from September 15th through October 15th, this vibrant event featured choral and dance performances from TNCS students in kindergarten through 7th grade, a special guest performance by Mexican folk dancers Bailes de Mi Tierra, and a smorgasbord of traditional hispanic food provided by TNCS families.

IMG_2457As with last year’s Spanish Heritage Night, TNCS’s Spanish department (with help from the TNCS community) developed a truly spectacular show. Sra. Barbara Sanchez, Sra. Fabiola Sanzana, and Professor Manuel Caceres put their hearts into making the evening something special. In a gesture of support, they dedicated the evening to the people of Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Professor Manuel, a natural at em-ceeing, as it turns out, started by thanking everyone for coming, acknowledging the level of commitment that TNCS families, staff, and administrators bring to the school:

Muchas gracias, bienvenidos—thank you for coming, good evening, parents! It’s a pleasure for the Spanish department of TNCS and an honor for us to greet you here today. Enjoy this presentation by your beautiful children that they rehearsed and perfected in just 5 weeks for Hispanic Heritage month. Thanks to the administrators and teachers that we have here, we were able to prepare this celebration.

He also thanked TNCS mom Eileen Wold for the beautiful paintings she made and contributed. They will be making an annual appearance along with all of the colorful decorations created by TNCS students.

Finally, he spoke about what the chance to celebrate Hispanic Heritage means to him: “This month is an opportunity to show our solidarity, respect, cooperation, and engagement. No matter what part of the world we are from, we are human beings that deserve love, respect, and education.” And the kids took it from there!

Get a sampling of the evening with this wonderful highlight reel made by TNCS mom Sharon Marsh. (Just below it, you can view each presentation individually, if desired.)

The student performances were followed by two dances by Bailes de Mi Tierra, a Baltimore area dance troupe established in 2008 that boasts Professor Manuel among its members. On this occasion, Director Jose Reyes and dance partner Amanda Pattison kicked up their heels to “the second national anthem of Mexico” as well as danced and taught the “Mexican Hat Dance.”

Although no one wanted this fun night to end, it was a school night, so everyone wished each other a buenas noches and departed smiling. And humming. And stomping. And reciting, “café con pan.”

Hasta el año que viene! Until next year!