Hosts with the Most, Part 2: Interns!

As promised, this week Immersed brings you what the hosting experience is like from a slightly different host family experience: hosting The New Century School interns!

Meet the Interns

First up, let’s meet the interns! “Rocky” and “Carlson” (nicknames) are both from Beijing, China and attend (Rocky) or attended (Carson) Beijing Normal University, although they did not know each other back home. They served as TNCS in-class assistants from January 17th through February 15th. Both had wonderful experiences and were thrilled to have been at TNCS. They loved every minute of it! As you will very quickly see, TNCS was incredibly fortunate to have welcomed them. They are two very special people and were universally loved by staff and students alike during their stay.

img_0710Rocky, age 23, was in Kiley Stasch’s kindergarten and 1st-grade classroom and also helped Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”). A graduate law student in his first semester, he naturally organizes his thoughts and draws logical connections. Thus, he describes the three aspects of his visit to the United States that made it so meaningful to him:

The first is travel. I used my free time to visit places around the United States, like New York City, Philadelphia, and New Haven to visit Yale University law school. I also went to a lot of museums. The second is the time I spent with my host family. They are so nice and so good. They provided a lot of resources for us and a lot of help. [Ed. note: Awwwwwwwww!] The third part is the volunteer experience. I’m enjoying this time with the children very much. It’s hard to express how much knowledge I learned from this experience, but I can say that it was a very valuable time for me and for my life. I will never forget it. It’s going to be a very beautiful memory.

You might be wondering how and why a future criminal lawyer ended up volunteering in childhood education. Rocky explains, “The answer is very easy. As an undergraduate, I majored in physical education.” Not surprisingly, then, one of his favorite teaching moments at TNCS was when he got to teach t’ai chi to the elementary and middle school students. “I’m so happy they liked it!” he said. As it turns out, Rocky is a national champion (and now the origin of his nickname starts to become clear) of t’ai chi in China.

Regarding the students, he found them “open” and “full of energy,” qualities that he found both endearing as well as helpful. Communicating and interacting with them was very easy, he says, whereas Chinese kids of the same age are generally pretty shy. “They don’t want to talk. They’ll just work by themselves. I was glad to find that Ms. Stasch’s students had no trouble asking for my help or to play games.”

After departing Baltimore, the two interns were headed to Chicago. From there, Carlson headed home and Rocky made one final trip to Los Angeles to visit some Chinese friends studying at UCLA before returning to China by February 25th to resume graduate school studies.

img_0714Carson, age 25 and a postgraduate in child development psychology, interned in Mr. McGonigal’s 2nd- and 3rd-grade homeroom. Although not his first time to North America (he was once an exchange student in Canada), this was his first visit to the United States. He describes his experience this way:

During this month, the experience has been very special and a chance to compare the characteristics of Chinese and American educational systems. I think they are very different. American students are very active, especially in the class. In the classroom I volunteered in, the students are so open. The answers they gave to questions from the teacher impressed me. They are very clever and very cute.

Carson found that the lack of reserve he saw in TNCS students led them to make intellectual discoveries and be receptive and curious. This was a very positive aspect of American education in his estimation. On why he wanted this volunteer experience, he says, “I wanted to learn more about the characteristics of children and the differences in the psychology between American and Chinese students. It’s interesting and useful research for me in my future career.”

He also enjoyed traveling to various cities around the country, with the museums in Washington, D.C. being a highlight for him. “It was amazing for me to learn more about American culture,” he said.

Carson says he will miss a lot about his experience once he has returned home, but one thing he will remember fondly was celebrating Chinese New Year abroad for the first time. “It was a very special experience for me,” he smiled. Top of the list, though, is his host family [Ed note: Awwwwwww!].

Meet the Host Family

As described, a huge part of the richness of both interns’ exchange experience was their host family, the Browning/Desais. After reading TNCS Admissions Director Dominique Sanchies’ email describing the need for wintertime host families, they thought hosting would be a lot of fun for their three children. “The process through the agency was very easy,” said Ms. Browning, “we just filled out a 1-page form and were sent a 25-page handbook. The agency checked in with us after the first day and went over everyone’s roles and responsibilities.”

We wanted two interns,” she explained, “and that worked out really well. They did their homework [assigned by their agency and related to their volunteer program] together, hung around together, compared notes, etc.”

Fun for the children happened in spades, but Ms. Browning was pleasantly surprised by how much she and her husband also enjoyed hanging out with Rocky and Carson after the kids went to bed. “They were super interesting to talk to,” she said, “and we all had a lot of fun together.”

It was clear to the Browning/Desais that the interns were reaping a lot from their exchange experience. “They were so nice and so grateful to be here. Everything was an honor for them, they said—even washing the dishes, which we did not expect them to do! That was an added perk!” she laughed. They lent their helping hands frequently—and, with two students to get to TNCS plus a baby (and a cello), Ms. Browning was appreciative of their innate desire to be of service in small ways such as holding doors open for her.

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Besides the fun it promised, the Browning/Desais had another impetus for becoming a host family. The saw it as a way to make a statement about welcoming people from other countries: “We want to show our kids who we are and what this kind of ‘mini-activism’ can do” she explained. Hosting also ties into TNCS’s ethos, and the Browning/Desais have been part of the TNCS community for years.

“We got to experience Chinese New Year (Rocky is a rooster in the Chinese zodiac and Carson a goat, by the way) with them, and that was great. We went to D.C. to see the celebration at the Sackler and Ripley Center at the Smithsonian, which was spectacular. Rocky and Carson then took the “wheel” and escorted them to Chinatown for a hotpot meal, a new experience for the Browning/Desais and featuring such exotic ingredients as cowtail.

As other host families have similarly described, time together was precious, and there never seems to be enough of it. “They traveled around some,” said Ms. Browning,” “but when they were in Baltimore, they were with us 100%.” Other outings they enjoyed together included TNCS’s night with the Baltimore Blast. Rocky and Carson had never seen a soccer match, let alone a live one, and they were amazed. They also got to watch their first Super Bowl, but Ms. Browning reports that despite the excitement of that game, they were much more impressed by Lady Gaga’s halftime show. (Of course, things would have been different had the Ravens been playing.)

“Other than that, we spent a lot of time just hanging out,” said Ms. Browning. Both interns liked to work out, and Rocky gave some more personalized t’ai chi lessons to the Desai children, which the kids not only loved but was also a great way for them to expend energy before bedtime!

The difference in personality between the two interns also played well with the Desai children. “Rocky was the energetic, playful one, and Carson was the love-bug,” said Ms. Browning. The two complemented each other perfectly, she said. Another unexpected benefit was hearing about their kids’ academic performance, especially regarding their Chinese language ability, from the interns’ unique vantage point as classroom volunteers and native Chinese speakers.

Once again, feeding their interns proved to be one of the biggest surprises the Browning/Desais met with, but not in the same way that some of TNCS’s other host families have described (see Hosts with the Most, Part 1). They happily ate whatever was served to them (spaghetti was not a breakfast requirement!), but, given his energy expenditure and to maintain his muscle volume, Rocky has to eat four times the amount of protein an average adult male consumes. Ms. Browning quickly adjusted and quadrupled every recipe she cooked, and she made sure she prepared a wide variety of foods so they could try lots of new things, such as tacos and lasagne. “It was a real ego-booster—they even took pictures of the meals.” Fortunately, the Browning/Desais got stipends for hosting each intern that covered the cost of room and board. Also, whereas the younger exchange students were not accustomed to eating cold meals, Rocky and Carson fell immediately in love with sandwiches. Chili was Rocky’s favorite, though, which they ate for the first time while watching the “Big Game,” and sweets also were a big deal, because at home he’s always training and has to avoid sugar altogether. They also enjoyed a visit to MOM’s organic market and were amazed by some of the unfamiliar vegetables, let alone the section of sustainable proteins (colloquially known as the “bar of dead bugs”).

The Browning/Desais also hosted a student age 7 during the Winter Exchange Program and so have a dual perspective on hosting. The student’s stay overlapped with Rocky’s and Carson’s, but she was shy and did not interact much with the interns. The Browning/Desais are emphatic that they would host again but feel that having interns rather than students was a better fit for their household, at least for the time being.

Carson sums up the experience he and Rocky shared with the Browning/Desais with these heartwarming words:

In my homestay, something very good happened. They are very nice and made me feel at home. I have many words to express, but it’s very difficult. In one word, I would say, “unforgettable.” If I have any opportunity to come again, I definitely want to. It was very special.

Two TNCS Elementary Teachers Lead Education Conference in China!

At the end of October, The New Century School elementary teachers Kiley Stasch and Dan McGonigal traveled to Beijing, China to present at the International Cooperation Project for RiSE Teachers. The actual conference was held in a town that was a 2-hour drive outside of the city.

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Our fearless conference leaders!

Mr. McGonigal explained that TNCS Co-Founders approached him and Ms. Stasch with the idea to lead a 3-day conference in China involving extensive educational professional development at the “RiSE Center,” which is an afterschool and weekend educational program. “In China, afterschool and weekend programs does not have the same meaning. There, such programs mean extensive education, so RiSE takes advantage of that time and immerses students in the English language by teaching all of their subjects in English. Very much like what we are doing at TNCS—teaching core content in another language. So they want to Americanize their approach to get students more engaged, incorporating more hands-on activities. They wanted to see how we handle classroom structure and appealing to different learners,” he said.

For some background, in China, younger students have about 6 hours additional learning each week; older students have about 8. This is on top of an already 10-hour school day, so on the 2 days a week the students attend the RiSE Centers, their school day stretches to 12 hours. They will also spend 4 to 6 hours there in weekends.

Many of the approximately 100 conference attendees were teaching at the pre-Kindergarten level and looking for tools for English language learning. “So, we had to adapt some of the materials we had prepared in advance to better target their needs,” said Ms. Stasch. “Yes, they were especially excited about the Language Arts aspects,” agreed Mr. McGonigal.

Ms Stasch provided this overview:

With one exception, the RiSE teachers were native Chinese but had all taught English abroad and spoke English very well—no translators were needed. They were all so excited and really enjoyed the opportunity we were bringing to them. Some of the STEM-teaching concepts were different for them and a little harder to grasp, but they were  eager to implement a lot of our teaching recommendations in their classrooms. Their curriculum is already designed, and they do not have a lot of say in that matter, but some of the founders and top members of the program were participating and were listening very carefully to our presentations. They seemed amenable to restructuring some of the curriculum to incorporate more STEM and maybe the Daily 5, for example.

The teachers were trying to convey two primary concepts: the value of independent learning and how to better manage the classroom. Their presentations are available for download at the end of this post.

Said Mr. McGonigal:

What they kept coming back to in their questions was how to get and keep students engaged. As part of their culture, Chinese students are naturally reserved and maybe a little shy, so getting them to actively participate can be a bit of a struggle. Instructors also wanted suggestions on how to help their students understand that answers are not always black and white and that they do not always have to be ‘right,’ or perfect per se. But they are scared that if they share something in class that they will be wrong and will be shunned for it.

“Yes,” agreed Ms. Stasch, “they seem to have a very matter-of-fact way of thinking. Rather than explore ideas, they want to know what is the correct answer because they know they will later be tested on it. Even the RiSE teachers had some trouble understanding how to teach using questions and open-ended lines of inquiry. They were bewildered that we were giving them questions instead of answers!”

“But we helped them see that if students ask their own questions, they are in charge of their own learning and will get them thinking on their own,” said Mr. McGonigal. He continued:

Another recurring topic was behavior management. We tried to instill in them the idea that these are practices that help manage behavior, too, because if you get students asking questions they are more focused and there are naturally fewer behavior problems as a result. In everything we did, we tried to incorporate why independent learning is so valuable. Using a stations approach instead of whole class is also helpful because you’re more able to meet students at their particular levels and help them individually, which also helps reduce behavior problems.

Believe it or not, even given the respect for teachers and for the classroom ingrained in students since before kindergarten, they do “act up” from time to time. Ms Stasch explained that, “this might be because the RiSE teachers tend to be newer teachers with less experience and therefore less-developed classroom management skills.” Another factor is that because this is an afterschool and weekend program, the kids probably feel more relaxed than they would in regular day school, where the environment is more rigid (see TNCS Visits Schools in China!)

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RiSE students

“We saw this when we did our demo lessons,” said Mr. McGonigal. “The kids were very loose and relaxed with their teachers. It was similar to an America classroom. But the minute we started teaching , they became very attentive, very minds on. Part of this might be because we were speaking in English so they had to pay close attention in order to understand what we were saying. Some other reasons could be that we were new faces to them and also that there were cameras in the room. But I think behavior is always relative. What is considered a behavior problem there might not be here.”

When asked about their overall impressions of the trip, Mr. McGonigal replied, “One of the things that really hit home with me is that the teachers there are amazingly dedicated. We were doing this professional development with them until 5:30 pm, and then they were also given homework to complete before the next day’s session. They would often be up until midnight working with their teammates.”

Ms. Stasch agreed: “And they ask lots and lots of questions. They really needed to know that they were headed in the right direction and are eager to please. They expected assessments the next morning and were very excited about those. They charted the assessments and then had a cumulative assessment at the end. We really adjusted our process to add these assessments and to allow more time for questions.”

Mr. McGonigal explained the rationale for the cumulative assessment: “They did this to determine who was the valedictorian. They also wanted a points system for in-class work. Everybody earned their certificates at the end!”

Although with 3 days for their conference, 1 day for teacher interviews, and 1 day for the demo lesson, it sounds like an all-work, no-play trip, they actually also had 2 1/2 days for sightseeing and visited the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and the Forbidden City. They loved the food and tried lots of unfamiliar dishes. (However, eating fine-boned fish with  chopsticks proved a challenge.) “It was a really great experience,” said Kiley. “For both of us it was the first time to take on a leadership role in professional development, and we both learned a lot,” said Dan.

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For their presentations, please download the following powerpoints: