TNCS Elementary Takes Earth Day by Storm!

Recently, The New Century School elementary students participated in their annual STEM Fair, and each division (K/1st and upper and lower elementary) tackled a problem related to water. The upper elementary students, in particular, focused on the Chesapeake Bay and what steps can be taken to reduce pollution in the bay and protect its natural flora and fauna (read TNCS STEM Fair 2015 Makes a Huge Splash! for more).

Last week was Climate Education Week, with Earth Day being the week’s main attraction. Earth Day 2015 was the 35th annual and a very big deal, globally . . . and locally! To reinforce the concepts his students had begun exploring during STEM Fair preparations, TNCS’s STEM teacher Dan McDonigal revisited the problem of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay for a clever and very rewarding Earth Day project: Operation Storm Drain Beautification!

blue-water-baltimore

Blue Water Baltimore offers community-led solutions to clean up Baltimore’s waters.

The idea for the project came to him from Blue Water Baltimore, an advocacy group dedicated to using community-based restoration to achieve clean water in Baltimore watersheds. One way is by stenciling storm drains to educate the community and raise awareness about the improper disposal of household garbage, overflowing street corner trash cans, and litter on sidewalks and in gutters and storm drains. Because storm drains are entryways to our bodies of water, including the Chesapeake Bay, when it rains, trash and pollutants in the streets are carried into the storm drains and directly to our waters.

So, Mr. McDonigal attended one of Blue Water Baltimore’s stenciling workshops, applied for and obtained the necessary materials to paint two nearby storm drains, and celebrated Earth Day 2015 by making a difference in our wonderful Fell’s Point community! His students were thoroughly engaged in this project, which demonstrates its inherent worthiness. Really, what’s not to love about an activity that applies scientific concepts studied thus far, helps the environment, teaches responsible community involvement, integrates art, and gets the kids outside?

However, TNCS students were not the only group to appreciate this endeavor—Ann St. residents stopped by periodically to see what was happening and were thrilled to receive this community gift. Well done, indeed, TNCS upper elementary! And a huge thanks to Mr. McDonigal for this initiative!

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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 :)!

Elementary Program Merges Montessori and Progressive Education at The New Century School

Since its inception in 2007 (back then known as Patterson Park Montessori) as a preschool for kids ages 2–5 years, The New Century School has “grown up” right along with its student body. Adding a grade level each year to accommodate the earliest students and expand its scholastic reach, TNCS currently offers classes through 3rd grade. The 2013–2014 year will add 4th grade, and so on annually through grade 8. Watching this growth unfolding and the school really come into its own has been an exciting process for staff, students, and parents.

But what is elementary in a Montessori setting? Many find those concepts incompatible. In elementary school, after all, students are expected to achieve standardized goals, which, at its worst, can result in lecture after boring lecture masquerading as education. In the Montessori model, however, the classroom has much more relaxed parameters that allow room for voluntary exploration at an individual pace but that some say might not always be quite so academically rigorous. Let’s take a closer look at how TNCS has harmoniously merged these seemingly antithetical approaches to create an environment where real learning happens . . . and where kids want to be. They have choice, variety, and a say in their own education. Most importantly, they learn how to think.

First, it’s important to point out that for primary through elementary age groups, TNCS isn’t classically Montessori. Rather, they take the best of Montessori, such as fostering self-discipline and encouraging intellectual curiosity, and couple it with a profoundly progressive approach to education that includes a focus on foreign language acquisition, to forge something completely new. This unique blend grew out of a desire to provide the optimal learning environment. Alicia Cooper-Danyali, Head of School, says, “Our Lower Elementary program (grades 1–3)  focuses on the strength of meeting individual needs of mixed-age abilities, development of both Spanish and Mandarin, and true community building.”

Above all, learning should be an active process in which students are engaging with intriguing material, not a passive one in which they absorb factoids. TNCS is not education by osmosis; it’s a fruitful collaboration between student and teacher and among students themselves.

Here are some ways TNCS seeks to achieve this goal:

  • Small class size: The benefits to kids of individualized, differentiated instruction are innumerable. Kids are as different from one another as snowflakes, and their methods of learning are just as varied. Small class sizes allow teachers to customize each child’s education for the best, most effective fit.

    kids are hard at work together and independently, fully engaged in their reading, writing, and core math and science skills

    The smoothly functioning TNCS elementary classroom is a marvel of productive learning.

  • Enhanced learning via technology: Students in Lower Elementary use SuccessMaker and other state-of-the-art educational software daily to hone math and reading skills. They not only love this work, but the software programs are carefully aligned with national education standards, so the students are getting the foundational knowledge that secondary schools will require. Upper Elementary students will additionally learn basic computer programming.

    strengthening his core on a balance ball while honing his core curriculum skills

    Strengthening his core curriculum skills on the computer while strengthening his core on a balance ball!

  • Inquiry- and skill-based curriculum: A solid foundation in the core subjects allows teachers to develop science and global studies lessons based on student questions and interests. Being interested from the outset ensures students’ close attention and deepens their learning.
  • Mixed-age classrooms: Grouping students of various ages allows children to work at their skill level, not just their grade level. If they need more time with a particular concept, they get it. Likewise, when something clicks right away, they don’t need to wait for the rest of the class to catch up to them before moving ahead to the next wondrous topic of exploration. Mixing ages also continues the Montessori tradition of mentor–mentee relationships, which are mutually beneficial for social, intellectual, and emotional development.
  • Spanish and Mandarin classes: Where else are students given daily lessons in both of these languages critical to global citizenship? They learn conversation, reading, and writing at a time when their brains are elastic enough to achieve real fluency with relative ease.

    TNCS elementary student's Chinese workbook shows great progress

    Chinese characters practice–Hello Kitty and friends signal a job well done!

  • Music, art, and physical education classes: On staggered days, students get weekly or twice weekly instruction in these areas so important for encouraging creativity, self-expression, and overall physical and mental health. In an atmosphere of looming federal budget cuts—some of which will surely impact education—U.S. public schools may find that they lack the funds to keep the humanities in their curricula, sadly.
  • Field trips: The on-site greenhouse established by Master Gardener Emma Novashinksi affords plenty of opportunity for scientific investigation of all stripes. Lower Fell’s Point, TNCS’s “extended campus” additionally provides community involvement opportunities to broaden students’ social and environmental awareness.

    greenhouse visit is a chance to get hands dirty and explore caterpillar life

    In hot pursuit of a particularly interesting caterpillar!

  • Emphasis on values: Students at TNCS learn to treat themselves and others with respect. By the time they have reached the elementary level, this really shows. Peace, compassion, and kindness pervade the smoothly functioning elementary classroom.

Still have questions? Comments? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section—we value your participation in this discourse! By the way, are any of your TNCS elementary kids among the original students from 2007? Let us know!

Also, did you know? TNCS is hosting an Elementary Information Night on Thursday, January 17, 2013 from 6:00–7:30 p.m. for current and prospective families. This will be the ideal opportunity to familiarize yourself with TNCS’s elementary programs, to ask questions, and to hear other families’ experiences.

TNCS cofounder Roberta Faux will offer a brief keynote talk, and free childcare is available. Click the above link to find out more and to RSVP. You don’t want to miss it!

Baltimore Love Project

The New Century School thinks Michael Owen and Scott Burkholder are what you might call “lovely” people. Together, these two are spreading (literally!) a message of community and social involvement across Baltimore City called the Baltimore Love Project. You may have received the memo without even realizing it. It comes in the form of a mural-sized silhouette of four disembodied hands spelling out L-O-V-E on the exterior walls of various city buildings. By the end of 2012, Baltimore neighborhoods will be graced with 20 such murals, ranging in size but all depicting the same striking image.

this large mural fronts a building on Broadway Ave.

Broadway Ave. mural in Baltimore

It makes you stop and think, this image. And that’s the whole point, according to Owen, the artist and project creator, and Burkholder, the Executive Director. “BLP is about helping people understand that public art matters and providing access to it. It’s a powerful platform for social change,” says Burkholder. To BLP, every street corner, city wall, and alleyway is a potential canvas, a canvas that should engage the community.

LOVE sticker spruces up a fire hydrant in Patterson Park

LOVE is everywhere!

“What might change,” asks Owen, if a powerful positive message was very publicly displayed for a city-wide audience? “What would people start to do differently?” What BPL wants is to instigate, to stir up some discussion. The art is, indeed, stirring, but it’s a very gentle confrontation. It’s certainly hard to be unaffected on some level by such a large, physical piece. It’s a challenge at its most basic level. “LOVE,” it simultaneously shouts and whispers–is it a command, or is it a request? Is it a dance? The work is deliberately minimal, says Owen. It’s a distillation–no details–so it speaks to all people, not any one particular group, yet it affects everyone a little differently. It’s a true democratizer.

TNCS, in sharing very similar values of community and democracy, has formed what promises to become a very fruitful partnership with BLP. “Schools have become a big part of the project,” says Owen. “It’s a natural fit.” Schools provide the ideal point of engagement with the larger community. Moreover, school-age kids fairly bubble over with what he calls “unreserved excitement” to talk and respond with “raw thoughts about elemental things.” Like love, for example.
Says Alicia Danyali, Head of TNCS , “The benefits of this partnership will not only allow the school to support community art projects, but will in turn enable us to develop educational opportunities for the entire TNCS community.”  In exchange for TNCS selling BLP merchandise (available for purchase at TNCS’s online store) for fundraising, BLP will create one of their murals in the school’s name as well as provide some on-site education and maybe even some inspiration. Students will attend an assembly on public art and how the theme of love is represented, the primary and elementary classes will work together to create a school mural, and there may be a visit to Owen’s studio in the works to get a first-hand look at the process.
TNCS and BLP are collaborating to make art and the social and cultural revolution it can inspire accessible to all. What’s not to love?

students pressed and painted hands for these stepping stones for TNCS front garden

TNCS students make hand art, too!