Adriana Duprau Becomes Curriculum Coordinator at TNCS!

With the commencement of the 2017–2018 academic school year, The New Century School scaled some exciting new heights. To name just two, the inaugural 7th-grade class made its debut, and the student body en masse has grown to more than 200 children. These milestones are impressive, certainly, but are also not without accompanying challenges. How does one small school accommodate an age range from 2 to 12 years? How do teachers keep all students engaged in mixed-age classrooms? With such a well-rounded curriculum, how is continuity of instructional approach maintained across so many diverse subject areas?

Enter Adriana Duprau, TNCS’s new Curriculum Coordinator (also known as Curriculum Specialist). Mrs. Duprau is already known to many among the TNCS community—in fact, there’s a very strong chance that she has taught your child in her classroom at some point, considering that she has been at TNCS since it first opened back in 2010. Being so familiar with TNCS operations, she was the natural choice to take on this new role, which, in brief, entails supporting teachers and giving them constructive feedback on how they are implementing the curriculum. Interestingly, however, she came into the role less because someone was actively being sought and more so because she was already the go-to when an instructor needed strategies for example, for differentiating lessons. In Mrs. Duprau’s case, as you’ll see, this support extends to students as well.

Job Description

She spends about 80% of her time in the classroom so she can see firsthand what teachers are doing. She makes sure, for example, that lessons are being appropriately differentiated to accommodate the varying skill student levels in each classroom. At the same time, she wants to see that students are being challenged. On a macro level, another thing she looks for is that students are transitioning smoothly among divisions (e.g., pre-primary to primary, primary to kindergarten, elementary to middle school).

These are tasks that Head of School Alicia Danyali has handled in the past, but as the school grows, it became clear that a dedicated role was needed so that Mrs. Danyali can devote her time to running the school.

Sometimes school teachers can feel overwhelmed. Mrs. Duprau is there to “close the loop,” as she puts it. “What are their challenges; what are things that I can help with?” she asks herself, to provide an extra resource to the teachers. In some ways, it’s also a means of quality assurance. “If teachers are having a hard time, how can I offer support? Or, they may be having a hard time with a particular student—what can we do to come up with solutions?” she explains. “Having an objective observer who can stand back and take notes can be very revealing in these situations,” she continued, “and together we can problem solve and brainstorm the best approaches to addressing the challenges.”

Mrs. Duprau also plays a big part in helping Mrs. Danyali with professional development outside of the classroom, such as by demonstrating lessons during PD days and doing trainings.

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Curriculum Coordinator Adriana Duprau

Although she has embraced this support role, taking on a new position also can come with challenges. For Mrs. Duprau, the one thing she most worried about was not having her own classroom. “But, as it turns out, I spend most of my time in classrooms, so I’m really excited that I still get to have that time with students and with other teachers,” she said. And, although she has found herself so far spending most of her time in elementary and middle school classrooms, she nevertheless has had to get to know all 200+ students on a first-name basis . . . now that’s a challenge!

However, the biggest challenge she has found so far is having her suggestions go unheeded, whether inadvertently or from an unwillingness to take feedback, although Mrs. Duprau anticipates that this will probably dissipate as teachers acclimate to the idea of having a curriculum specialist and get used to accepting support.

Job Goals

She says her main goals, at least initially, are to make sure that teachers feel supported and know what should be taking place inside their classrooms. For example, programs like Reading A–Z might be new to a instructor, so Mrs. Duprau guides him or her through implementation. Again, her experience—not to mention her particular area of expertise—come in very handy here. She also sets up technology in classrooms so that appropriate ages all have access to SuccessMaker, a stalwart in the TNCS math program. All this, says Mrs. Duprau, because “we want to make sure we see growth in the students. This will give us a ‘closer look’ at the kids.”

She then uses the data she gathers to close any would-be gaps, such as finding ways to help former Montessori students matriculate into the non–classic Montessori Kindergarten classroom, or, conversely, introducing students who did not come up through the TNCS primary ranks to the “Montessori feel” of the K classroom. The Kindergarten group, by the way, is the largest it has ever been, so this is an area of keen interest. Moreover, Kindergarten can comprise a wide variety of skill levels, from students who are not yet reading and writing to students already completely comfortable with chapter books. Helping teachers set up their Daily 5 stations, for example, can go a long way to successful classroom management in this heterogenous setting. This has given her ideas for how to manage next year’s K transition: “A goal for us is to figure out what objectives the primary kids should end this school year before ‘going up’ so that they are prepared and can thrive in the more structured environment,” she explained.

Incidentally, in her tenure at TNCS, Mrs. Duprau has always had children of this age in her classroom, but now she says, “having my own kindergartener at home and seeing where he is developmentally has taught me even more about this age than having been a kindergarten teacher for so long.” So now, she can bring a dual perspective to the support she offers current TNCS K teachers—that of the seasoned teacher as well as the parent.

“I also get to spend a lot of time in other subject areas,” she explains. Chinese, music, and art, for example, are not classes she would have been a part of as a teacher. Now she observes how those are going to make sure all aspects of the curriculum hang together in a cohesive way and that instructors are meshing well. “One thing I saw was that having all of one division participating in a specials class together made the class too big. Being able to be there and see what’s unfolding and offer potential solutions has been very useful. We are now splitting the groups and adapting schedules to make sure that students and instructors are getting what they need.”

Another goal is to firmly establish units of study (e.g., in Global Studies and Science) that rotate on a 3-year basis so that students are all getting the full breadth of each discipline. The information is taught at differentiated levels, and she envisions gathering all of these lessons together in a master curriculum.

Reflections

“Although I really miss having my own classroom,” says Mrs. Duprau, I am really enjoying this new position, and I think it’s very beneficial to the school. “There are aspects of the role that I am continuing to grow in, because I have never held a job quite like this one before—I now work as much with adults as I do with kids!” She finds the position perfect for her current situation, with two young children at home to care for, and she is also learning a tremendous amount about teaching from this new vantage point.

“My primary objective is to be helpful and to facilitate smooth operations,” she said. “My interest was sparked when I would help other teachers who were unfamiliar with the mixed-age and mixed-language approach, and I found that I loved that interaction. I broached the idea of having a curriculum specialist in some capacity at TNCS, and the administration agreed immediately.” She learned her superb classroom management skills both as a Baltimore City public school teacher and by her first mixed-age experience at TNCS.

If she ever does return to the classroom, she says she is considering trying an older cohort to see what that would be like. In the meantime, Curriculum Coordinator suits her just fine!

 

 

 

 

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:

Open House at TNCS

Our very own Robin Munro, TNCS Admissions Director

Our very own Robin Munro, TNCS Admissions Director

The first Open House of The New Century School‘s 2013–2014 school year got a magnificent turnout of both prospective and current families. Why attend a TNCS Open House? Admissions Director Robin Munro says:

“The easiest way for parents wanting to learn more about the Elementary, Primary, and Pre-primary programs is to attend a weekday Open House. The Head of School, Ms. Danyali, offers a presentation that provides parents a thorough overview of the school. There will also be parents of current students on hand to answer questions and ample opportunity to observe students in their classrooms. If parents like the school, I suggest that they return for a small group tour where they can bring their children for a classroom visit. We also offer a Saturday Open House, which is a perfect event for the entire family. All of our lead teachers invite children into their classrooms to explore and ask questions. Current TNCS parents should also attend to observe their own child in the classroom and to learn about the other programs. As a delicious bonus, all Open House events are catered by our very own Chef Emma and her Kitchen Garden Tuck Shop!”

Main Presentation

Today’s Open House began with a short introduction by Ms. Munro after which Ms. Danyali gave her three-part presentation. Attendees were given take-home information packets as well. Highlights of Ms. Danyali’s talk are broken down into synopses of each program:

Pre-primary: For children ages 2–3 years, the pre-primary classroom offers full immersion in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. The children are instructed only in the theme language. This phase of education at TNCS focuses on the children’s social and emotional development. “We want them to begin learning and demonstrating some independence while being able to interact well with others, too,” said Ms. Danyali.

Primary: For children ages 3–5 years, the mixed-age primary classroom offers a more traditional Montessori approach. The lead teacher is trained in Montessori instruction and guides students in correct use of Montessori materials. Language is still a fundamental part of each day, however. Assistants in the primary classrooms are native speakers of either Spanish or Mandarin and come from a variety of countries and cultures. At TNCS, the assistants give specific lessons (e.g., Practical Life and Cultural Studies) in their native language. In other words, students learn a Practical Life skill while simultaneously developing their foreign language skills. The benefits of mixed ages are numerous and include instilling pride and confidence in the older children who serve as leaders for their younger counterparts, developing socially by being able to cooperate with peers as well as children older and younger, and enjoying a sense of nurturing or being nurtured. Kindergarten is included in the primary program; Ks from each primary classroom join together in the afternoons (while the younger children are napping) for some more advanced work.

Daily 5: Read to Self, Work on Writing, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work

Daily 5: Read to Self, Work on Writing, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work

Elementary: For children in grades “pre-first” through fifth (and adding a grade each year), the elementary classroom emphasizes critical thinking and unit-based discovery. They incorporate the Daily 5, a literacy curriculum that helps students develop the daily habits of reading, writing, and working independently. They read Junior Great Books to encourage critical thinking and deeper understanding. Singapore Math workbooks and SuccessMaker computer software round out the STEM subjects.

Ms. Danyali next spoke passionately about what sets TNCS apart from other private schools. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but here are some perennial favorites.

Head of School, Ms. Danyali gave an overview of TNCS programs for today's Open House.

Head of School, Ms. Danyali gave an overview of TNCS programs for today’s Open House.

What Really Sets TNCS Apart

  • Sustainability: TNCS has initiated Recycling Teams; uses green, non-toxic 7th Generation cleaning and paper products exclusively; and is 100% wind powered by Clean Currents!
  • Kitchen Garden Tuck Shop Program: Run by Executive Chef/Master Gardener Emma Novashinski, this program provides an organic, locally sourced, homemade lunch to participants as part of TNCS’s emphasis on healthful foods for kids. For all TNCS students, the on-premise greenhouse offers chances to explore plant growth from the seed up. Students plant, tend, and harvest produce as well as cook and eat it.
  • The Lingo Leap: The gymnasium/auditorium houses Gerstung equipment and the Imagination playground as well as a stage for our two school-wide annual performances. TLL is also available to host really great kids’ birthday parties!
  • Volunteering: Each TNCS family contributes a minimum of 8 volunteer hours to the school per year. TNCS believes that parents can be better involved in their children’s lives at school this way as well as meet other TNCS families. The volunteer coordinator makes it easy to match your particular skill set to specific volunteer tasks.
  • Lecture Series: New this year, TNCS will be inaugurating this initiative with Dr. Bonnie Zucker on November 13th, 9 am–10 am. Come hear Dr. Zucker’s presentation on how to raise Anxiety-Free Kids.
  • Extended Campus: Because TNCS believes strongly in community, we want students to become very familiar with the school’s environs. They take walks to nearby parks, the post office, or to special Fell’s Point happenings. In learning about their broader community, they will better participate in and contribute to it.
  • Multilingualism: Learning foreign languages increases brain elasticity, executive function, and critical-thinking capacity. How you learn a language is key. Research shows time and again that rote learning is far less effective than immersion. Throughout each phase of TNCS education, full or partial immersion is implemented.
  • Differentiation: Each child is an individual, with strengths, preferences, and traits particular to him or her. TNCS is unique in being able to individualize instruction to each child. “We can accommodate whatever level your children need in terms of education. We will meet them were they are,” says Ms. Danyali. This is possible both because of mixed-age classes and small class sizes.
  • Immersed: TNCS publishes this blog weekly to keep you informed about school events, initiatives, and relevant topics. we invite your participation and feedback!
  • Specials: TNCS emphasizes The Arts. Our art, music, and movement classes are truly special and cultivate your child’s creativity and humanity.
  • Staff: TNCS staff are truly dedicated, loving people. Our children are nurtured—cherished, even—as they are guided through their school day, learning, absorbing, and discovering the while.

Again, the list goes on and on . . . TNCS is a very special place.

Q&A and Classroom Observation

The Open House presentation ended with a Q&A series during which parents asked a lot of great questions about school particulars. A particularly incisive one asked of the currently enrolled families was, “What’s it like to have bilingual kids if you don’t speak the language?” Answers ranged from getting additional support from apps to learn with the child to the child intuitively understanding the correct context for speaking in Spanish or Chinese (i.e., to another speaker of that language). TNCS is also making more opportunities available to parents to learn these languages. The Word of the Week appears on TNCS’s home page, and an upcoming blog post will offer tips for practice at home from our two resident language curriculum experts Senora Capriles and Xie Laoshi.

Finally, parents were free to roam about the school and observe students in classrooms in real time, which is where TNCS really shines.

If you missed this first Open House, not to worry! Two more are offered in November and a third in January. Visit the website to register, because, as Ms. Munro says, Open Houses are the best way to learn more about TNCS’s programs—first hand!