Time for a Check-In with TNCS Dean of School/Head of Lower School!

The New Century School expanded its administrative structure this year, allowing each team member to fully engage in their respective roles. As Shara Khon Duncan become year-round Head of School, Alicia Danyali became Head of the Lower School as well as schoolwide Dean of StudentsImmersed will do an annual check-in with each Head, and this post represents the first such piece.

Being Dean

IMG_0109As Dean of School, Ms. Danyali’s responsibilities range widely. She circulates through classrooms, teaching and mediating with students as well as advising teachers, all with the goal of maintaining, or, when necessary, restoring, the community. (This is in addition to day-to-day duties like drop off and dismissal and such administrative ins and outs, of course.)

In her 6 years’ tenure at TNCS, Ms. Danyali has always been interested in what she calls an “invisible curriculum,” which is her way of referring to the soft skills (norms, values, and beliefs) that children need to develop to grow as human beings. Nevertheless, as Head of the entire school before the reorganization, she did not have the breadth to undertake as many initiatives as she might have liked. She feels confident, though, that she began “planting the seeds” among the student body, and expectations were established. The TNCS student models the school’s four Core Values, Courage Compassion, Service, and Respect.

With her now more specialized role and inspired by an education conference hosted by the National Network of Schools, she hit the ground running when the school year began, immediately putting some programs in place. “I’m starting some partnerships with and among teachers. For example, I am doing yoga with the K/1st cohort, which is designed to help them understand feelings. We started with the feeling anger, just tensing our muscles and going through some six or seven poses and then talking about how breathing affects how we react to things. That is a really big concept for them and an adjustment, to just sit and breathe.”

Class Partnerships

In preschool, which is also her Head of School focus, she did not launch any big initiatives to allow them the first quarter to settle in and acclimate to their new environment. “We have some plans later in the year when the primary students are a little bit more mature and they can partner with organizations and understand the meaning a little bit more,” said Ms. Danyali. As for preprimary, they will partner up with the primary classes. “They’re not going to do service learning, per se, but they will learn how to socialize in a group—to feel comfortable around other people and pick up on social cues as well as learn how to be a little independent,” she said. Thus, Sra. Lala’s class teams up with Mrs. Bowling’s class, Sra. Salas with Ms. Mosby, and Song Laoshi with Mrs. Reynolds. One example is making hummus as a group (Sra. Salas’s and Ms. Mosby’s classes), mixing all the ingredients and smelling, touching, and tasting.

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“Song Laoshi and Mrs. Reynolds have partnered on a lot of creative initiatives, explained Ms. Danyali. “They’re both extremely creative people and share lots of ideas for making art and decorations, like for the recent Fall Festival. All of the preschool classes came together, and parent volunteers set up different stations, like bowling and face painting and different fun things. It was really nice how the kids have started to notice and recognize each other. The 5-year-olds are really feeling like they are mentoring the 2-year-olds, which is exactly what we want to see.”

The class pairs also had their Thanksgiving feasts together for another opportunity for those partnerships to solidify as well as to bring the parent communities together. “The primary mentors love to be good role models for the younger students. They make decorations together, they set the table together . . . all of those things that are a big part of the Montessori philosophy of practical life—of taking care of self, of taking care of our community,” she said.

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Of course, the mentor–mentee relationship reaches the other way as well. Thus, the primary classes get their own chance to be taken under the wing of older students. The non-nappers in Ms. Mosby’s class, for example, will join Ge Laoshi’s K/1st students to be video pen pals with a class of Chinese Montessori students, who are taught by former TNCS teacher Yang Yang, who is now back in China. They communicate in Mandarin and English.

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They also get a chance to have stories read to them by their older reading buddies.

Here again, the partnerships will work both ways, with Ge Laoshi’s students also partnering with Ms. Sharma’s 4th- and 5th-graders on a weekly basis, to help take care of the school grounds as well as taking out the trash and the recycling from classrooms. The older students showed the younger ones the ropes and also made sure they stayed safe as they progressed about the campus. They will help make sure the TNCS environment looks its best! Meanwhile, Ms. Shaffer’s K/1st class will work with Ms. Madrazo’s 6th- through 8th-graders in reading groups—in students’ choice of language.

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Another ongoing initiative is having the middle schoolers act as “Car Line Safeties”—they volunteer for service on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to escort younger students safely into the school. “The little ones are always very receptive,” said Ms. Danyali. “They look at a 6th-grader as really important!”

Ms. Danyali is working hard to instill the deep sense of community that is essential to any successful organization. “We’ll be mixing up the opportunities, so when a student sees someone not in the same division on the playground or around school, he or she has that friendship in place, and the community supports each other as we grow academically and socially.”

Back to that conference mentioned earlier, one thing that Ms. Danyali really appreciated about it was that it included early childhood education. “It’s important that we understand how vital a part of education that is. We’re planting the seeds of who they will become—developing self confidence, taking risks. I’ve sought it out for years, so it was encouraging to see such a big focus on preschool.” The conference also covered how to find what resources are available and how to collaborate with other schools. Ms. Danyali is now networking with other early childhood classrooms that are also language immersed to build some external relationships. “I want to take all of the preschool teachers on a field trip to visit another school to see how other people do it, maybe in the spring. What are best practices at other places and how can we get involved?”

Social and Emotional Learning

As part of the invisible curriculum, Ms. Danyali has been doing workshops on social and emotional learning using nonverbal cues. Pairs of students decide on a sound and a movement they will make together, then they find another pair and combine the two sounds and movements into one. This keeps growing until everyone has been gathered together making one big sound and movement. “It shows how much there is to be said for nonverbal communication and what that means in our place in the world. How we can go anywhere and understand each other if we have a common sound and movement—nonverbal cues,” said Ms Danyali.

“I focus a lot on navigating emotions and feelings and identifying what they are. In the 2nd- and 3rd-grade classes, in particular, the social dynamic has been really interesting. It seems like this is when social cliques start, and exclusion can happen. So, we will really be working on inclusion with them before we set them out into the world,” she said.

Service Learning

In elementary and middle school, service learning really ramps up. In weekly meetings with the older students (Grades 4 through 8), Ms. Danyali discusses possibilities for class partnership activities and wider school initiatives as well as planning for future endeavors. Based on a recent presentation from a student from McDonogh School on her experience with grant-writing for charities (blog post on that to come!), the older group is going to take on their own grant-writing initiative, for example.

Ms. Danyali is not new to service learning, having been the Service Coordinator at other schools, and service itself is an intrinsic value for her. “Service has always a big part of my life personally, and it helps put things in perspective about what’s really important,” she said.

It comes from my parents, my grandparents—that feeling like it’s part of your makeup, that’s just what you do. Of course, it has served me well because I feel like it’s a huge benefit to me to appreciate what I have. I find it really fulfilling when I know it’s made a difference. But I also have a hard time saying no sometimes, so it’s important also to keep a balance.

Two service projects were recently completed: the annual non-perishable food drive for United Way of Central Maryland/Beans & Bread and a collection of men’s socks and underwear for Baltimore Rescue Mission. “The older grades will be helping to organize the items collected, and I asked for a cohort of student volunteers to deliver them. They need to make that connection—this is where it’s going and this is who it’s serving. I want to have those conversations,” said Ms. Danyali. “It just has to be a big part of your life that you’re not just thinking about yourself all the time. And kindness too.”

The 2nd- and 3rd-grade classes did the annual Linus blanket initiative. “That is such an amazing project.”

Being Head of Lower School

“I feel like we’re really off to a great start this year,” said Ms. Danyali. “We’ve had some great workshops and a lot of parent partnership in the preschool. Classes are running like well-oiled machines. The preprimary classes can take a little bit longer, but they are now on a schedule and regimen.”

Another aspect of her position is working with the preschool teachers. “They are so dedicated, loyal, and loving. They really understand the psyche of that age, and I enjoy working with them, planning with them, and supporting what they think is best for their students,” she said. The cohort can be so different from year to year, she explained, keeping the teachers in their toes. “For example, one of the preschool classes has 14 boys, and one of the classes only has 4 students who are verbal, so there’s a lot of navigation, adjusting, and adapting.”

She is pleased that her new role affords her more time with her colleagues, including the assistant teachers. “They are a big part of the equation and our philosophy here because of the language they bring, and I’ve had the opportunity to get to know them better. I have aspirations for them to grow professionally here, and I have been able to give them bigger responsibilities and more structure. They now report to me weekly on how the students are progressing in the language.”

What’s in the Offing

Elementary and middle school students will have quarterly field trips that are service or community oriented in one way or another. The 8th-grade students will embark on the first-ever TNCS international trip, which is still being planned. Book fairs will take place, as usual, including an online Mandarin book fair. These and other school fundraisers will make use of parent and student volunteers, as appropriate. Ms. Danyali also works closely with the TNCS Parent Council who host their own set of initiatives to raise money for the school. Even initiatives with a clear fundraising bent help contribute to the TNCS thriving sense of community.

“I feel really proud that we’re not even halfway through the school year, and we have already done so much as a school community,” she concluded.

TNCS Continues Annual Service to the Community with Project Linus

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Please drop off new or gently used coat donations to TNCS by December 12, 2016 in TNCS’s reception area.

The run up to the holiday season is always a special time at The New Century School because it’s an opportunity to show our support to our local community and beyond. In the month of November, TNCS has undertaken two outreach initiatives to benefit our neighbors in need, first with the 6th annual healthy food drive for Beans & Bread (through St. Vincent de Paul) in conjunction with United Way of Central Maryland, and second with the coat drive for CASA de Maryland, a nonprofit that works with low-income Latino immigrant families. Please note that this latter initiative is ongoing through December 12, 2016, and a donation box is located in TNCS’s reception area.

img_0089This year, though, is special for a new effort. On November 18th, as part of their Service learning, TNCS upper elementary and middle school students teamed up with Project Linus, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide homemade blankets to sick and hospitalized children in need—to “provide security through blankets” and “spread blanket hugs nationwide.” Head of School Alicia Danyali and Parent Council Head Sakina Ligon both have experience with Project Linus and felt it was a great fit for TNCS.

Ms. Ligon explained in an email to parents that “volunteerism teaches basic character foundations to children, and having them help other children teaches them that people in need are really just like them. Studies have shown that serving as volunteers promotes healthy lifestyle and choices, enhances development, teaches life skills, promotes citizenship, improves the community, and encourages a lifelong service ethic in children ages 5 to 14 years. The value of volunteering teaches your children the importance of donating their time, a core value at TNCS.”

img_0084On the day TNCS students became “blanketeers,” a school tour group happened to be coming through and were duly impressed by the service-learning-in-action they witnessed. Baltimore City/Baltimore County Chapter Coordinator Fay Husted instructed the 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-graders on how to produce the blankets. Mrs. Hutchens was a teacher and principal in Baltimore City schools for 37 years and now devotes her time to Project Linus.

Said Mrs. Husted:

Project Linus us a national organization with chapters all over the country. Being a chapter coordinator means being very organized because hundreds of people make blankets for me—individuals as well as school, church, and senior groups. We accept quilts and fleece, knitted, and crocheted blankets. When we get the blankets to our storage facility, a group of about 10 ladies help me sew in handmade Project Linus labels. Once we get the labels in the blankets, I bag them, and my husband and I deliver them all over Baltimore City—mostly to hospitals, but also to Ronald McDonald House, Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House at Johns Hopkins, House of Ruth, shelters, and some camps. We deliver between 200 and 250 blankets a month.

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Fay Husted

Project Linus was established in Parker, Colorado on December 24, 1995 and has delivered more than 6 million blankets nationwide to grateful kids in the going-on 21 years since. “Project Linus is a wonderful organization. A non-profit is considered good if 13% or less of their donations are used for administrative purposes. Less than 7% of ours are,” explained Mrs. Husted, “because everybody is a volunteer.” Other than some monthly and annual maintenance fees, such as for the right to use Charles Schultz’s thumb-sucking, blanket-carrying, sage-beyond-his-years character as their mascot, they operate with very little overhead.

From dozens of available patterns, Mrs. Husted chose Fringed Fleece Blanket that can be made very quickly for TNCS students. Here’s how they did it!

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img_0106Said Mrs. Danyali, “the students are going to write notes of encouragement to go along with the blankets they make.” One fifth grader commented that she was very glad to participate in a project that would help kids in need. Another, with obvious sincerity, said he wanted to make his blanket as good as he possibly could.

With leftover material, students can make additional items like headbands during Teacher’s Choice time.

For past years’ initiatives, such as primary classrooms collecting dimes to purchase and donate livestock through Heifer International, see Lessons in Gratitude at TNCS, Lessons in Thanksgiving at TNCS, and TNCS Holiday Outreach Programs.

Lessons in Gratitude at TNCS

Gratitude, according to psychologists, is the healthiest of all human emotions—good for both giver and receiver alike. Gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (the brain’s stress regulation center) and the ventral tegmental area, which is a key part of our “reward circuitry” that produces the sensation of pleasure. Hans Selye, a renowned scientist who “discovered” stress, believes that gratitude produces more positive emotional energy than does any other temperament.

We don’t need science to tell us that focusing on life’s positive aspects makes us happier than does dwelling on the negatives—that’s pure common sense, or so says ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus: “He is a man of sense who does not grieve for what he has not, but rejoices in what he has,” as quoted in a recent NY Times article on the subject.

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A Thanksgiving Feast to remember, put together by our wonderful TNCS teachers and our faithful TNCS parent volunteers.

This month, students at The New Century School have been demonstrating gratitude in all kinds of ways, from giving back to the local community to collaborating on a special feast (and, true to the TNCS spirit, in multiple languages!).

After donating a good-sized food collection to community outreach center Beans & Bread during American Education Week—and thank you to the Burton family for delivering the TNCS collection—TNCS students used the following week to show their thanks a little closer to home. First, Head of School Alicia Danyali interviewed the Upper Elementary students for their thoughts on what they are grateful for. Here are some highlights:

  • “I am thankful for my health.”
  • “I am thankful for my family and the opportunities they have given me.”
  • “I am thankful for my family, food, and really everything.”

Professor Manuel’s K/1st students made cornucopias holding pictures of family members—and worked in plenty of relevant Spanish vocabulary!

Finally, Li Laoshi and Yangyang Laoshi filmed Lower Elementary students expressing their gratitude for their family members in Mandarin.

It all culminated with the annual Thanksgiving Feast, which K/1st teacher Teresa Jacoby started off with a moving thank-you to the students, fellow teachers, and the TNCS families who together make up our magnificent community.

This time of year brings out the best in us, but we can do ourselves a lot of good by making gratitude a routine all year long. That’s what TNCS students seem to be telling us anyway.

And so thank you, as always, for reading!

Lessons in Thanksgiving at TNCS

This beautiful cornucopia spilled over with all the kids' favorite healthy snacks!

This beautiful cornucopia spilled over with all the kids’ favorite healthy snacks!

Holidays at The New Century School are special not just because of the unique, meaningful ways TNCS celebrates, but also because the school seizes the chance to give back to the surrounding community and beyond. After a Fall semester full of fundraising initiatives and community outreach, TNCS spent the last school-day in November by sharing a Thanksgiving/Cultural Feast to share our collective gratitude as well as taste delicious dishes from around the world. The Feast was the perfect culmination of the first two Units of Inquiry for the 2014–2015 school year: Community Building and People/Families Around the World.

Parents were asked to contribute a dish representing their culture to their child’s class feast. As has become the norm, TNCS parents really brought it. The following slideshow represents just a “taste” of the schoolwide event, but is more than enough to make your mouths water, viewers!

 

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What hard work was the antecedent to this lovely reward? Lots and lots of it.

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Neighbors and families came out in force—there wasn’t a crumb remaining after the 30-minute sale!

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Mrs. DuPrau and her proud 1st- and 2nd-graders.

TNCS elementary kids held the school’s first-ever bake sale and donated their proceeds to help raise funds for Habitat for Humanity. The bake sale was an astronomical success due to both the tempting goodies up for sale and to the savvy promotional campaign that preceded the event (students designed their own posters and signage). Mrs. DuPrau’s homeroom class was proud to contribute more than $300 to Habitat.

Another local beneficiary was the Help Rebuild Thames Street Park Playground initiative right here in Fell’s Point. TNCS students use this playground regularly, so Head of School Alicia Danyali ran a school-wide fundraiser through Mixed Bag Designs and gave all of the proceeds—more than $1,700—to the playground renovations! Well done, TNCS community!

As for the past 2 years, TNCS once again hosted a very successful food drive for to St. Vincent de Paul’s Beans & Bread program, “a comprehensive day resource program that offers a complete range of supportive services designed to help [Baltimore] individuals attain stabilization and self-sufficiency.”

True to form, the TNCS community is finding other ways to demonstrate their inherent altruism. Such creative and inspiring acts include enrolling in the sustainable energy program provided by Viridian, which helps the planet and earns fund for TNCS. Haven’t enrolled yet? Read more: TNCS Uses Viridian’s Power with Purpose!

And, elementary students are once more partnering with Councilman Jim Kraft’s office to do some good around Southeast Baltimore. See what they are jointly cooking up: TNCS and Councilman Kraft: Outreach for Our Shared Community.

TNCS provides students with regular opportunities to share their resources and goodwill, and our little humanitarians will learn very important life lessons as a result of this important practice in gratitude. So thank you, TNCS!

TNCS Gives Thanks by Giving Back

Beans & Bread---it's not only the nutritionally perfect combination of protein and carbohydrate, but it suggests new possibilities, just as Jack's magic beans opened up a new world via his giant beanstalk.

Beans & Bread—it’s not only the nutritionally perfect combination of protein and carbohydrate, but it suggests new possibilities, just as Jack’s magic beans opened up a new world via his giant beanstalk.

With the autumn holiday season gearing up, The New Century School is counting blessings, taking stock of its manifold accomplishments, and looking for ways to share its good fortune with the surrounding community. So, just as TNCS did last year, we are once again hosting a food drive from 11/13 through 11/22 to donate to St. Vincent de Paul’s Beans & Bread program. Head of School Alicia Danyali says, “We chose Beans & Bread because they are close to the school, and we feel strongly that giving back should be kept in the neighborhood or in close proximity to what would make a difference locally.” TNCS is participating in a measurable way in keeping Fell’s Point viable and sustaining.

“Beans & Bread is a comprehensive day resource program that offers a complete range of supportive services designed to help individuals attain stabilization and self-sufficiency. Services are client-centered and focused in four core areas:  housing, employment, health, and recovery,” according to their website. TNCS is making it extremely convenient for us to assist with these very worthy pursuits. Simply bring your donatable food items to drop off in boxes placed outside the school office when you come for your parent–teacher conferences in the coming 2 weeks. “I cannot remember how much we collected last year,” says Ms. Danyali, “but I know we filled an SUV to the brim when delivering the goods! This year, I hope every family at TNCS can participate and donate a minimum two items from the needs list, if possible.”

Emphasize low-fat, low-sugar, whole-grain foods that you would serve your own family! A copy of this list was sent home in your child's school bag.

Emphasize low-fat, low-sugar, whole-grain foods that you would serve your own family! A copy of this list was sent home in your child’s school bag.

Sounds eminently doable! Partnering with United Way of Central Maryland’s Healthy Food Initiative, Beans & Bread asks for food items to be those that you would serve to your own family. Also, choose whole-grain and low-fat options when possible, avoiding sugar-added and sweetened food and drinks.

True to form, the TNCS community is finding other ways to demonstrate their inherent altruism. Such creative and inspiring acts include donating surplus Halloween candy to deployed armed forces, for example. Another idea that caught on like wildfire among TNCS families was asking for charitable donations in lieu of birthday gifts at kids’ parties. Local hunger charities (such as Beans & Bread and Our Daily Bread) welcome canned goods collected at these parties, or cast your net more broadly and request small monetary donations to buy livestock through Heifer International, as one family did. Not only do the beneficiaries of these donations see immediate life improvement and empowerment, but your kids get the lifelong reward of learning to share and give. It’s wonderful to see how they so naturally welcome the idea, even when it means giving up birthday presents!

Howsoever you decide to share your wealth, remember that you will actually derive personal benefit from your selflessness—a beautiful paradox! Being altruistic is a  recognized happiness inducer!

Proceeds from our 5th birthday party went to Our Daily Bread! We were so happy that our friends helped us feed our Baltimore neighbors, and we enjoyed meeting the volunteers at ODB and seeing their huge kitchen :)!

Proceeds from our 5th birthday party went to Our Daily Bread! We were so happy that our friends helped us feed our Baltimore neighbors, and we enjoyed meeting the volunteers at ODB and seeing their huge kitchen :)!