TNCS 7th- and 8th-Grade Capstone Trip: Costa Rica!

For the first time in several weeks, Immersed is pleased to bring you a post about something that starts with C-O that is not COVID-19! This week, we return to the halcyon pre-pandemic days when things we used to take for granted, like travel, happened all the time. For 7th- and 8th-grade students at The New Century School, this meant their capstone middle school trip to Costa Rica.

In the nick of time, TNCS students accompanied by homeroom teacher Daphnée Hope and Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau (who chaperoned the first such trip in 2019), departed Baltimore on March 3rd, destination, San José. The trip was a success from the moment it started—even the flight over was fun! “For example, the flight attendants asked one of the students to come up and share what our school name is and what we were doing,” said Mrs. DuPrau. They returned home on March 8th.

Getting Acclimated

On arrival in San José, they met their wonderful driver, Ronald (whom the students affectionately renamed “Ronnie” and then “Uncle Ronnie”). Uncle Ronnie drove them to their first house just outside of San José in the mountainous Cloud Forest region. “We went in first to see how we wanted to set up the kids—two to a room in bunks, boys with boys and girls with girls,” explained Mrs. DuPrau. “Our first house was really nice,” said Mrs. Hope. “It had a big, beautiful yard and dogs, so the kids loved playing outside. They would play tag, play with the dogs, go on a little hike. There wasn’t a TV in the first house, which meant that we were really together. We also took away their phones; they were only allowed to have them to call their parents. This was so the kids actually hung out with each other without that technology barrier. [Mrs. DuPrau] had learned that from prior experience,” she continued.

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“Our landlord was so helpful and really wanted to find ways to make it a learning experience for the students, even arranging for us to have a Costa Rican cooking lesson!” said Mrs. DuPrau. “Cooking is one of our funniest memories, and the students still talk about it,” added Mrs Hope.

Legend of the Psycho Sauce

—As recounted by Mrs. Hope with asides from Mrs. DuPrau.

The experience of our first grocery store was pretty awful. I’m a really good cook when I have the right ingredients, but our driver misunderstood when we said we needed groceries but didn’t want to spend a lot of money and took us to a budget store that didn’t have what we expected. We had been traveling since 2:00 a.m., the kids were hungry, and it’s already evening. So, we decide we’ll just make something simple—how about pasta? Well, they didn’t have normal pasta sauce—just little tiny packets of tomato sauce and salsa. Everything’s in Spanish, we were confused, we couldn’t find fresh produce, we’ve never fed 13 people before . . . (that was the hardest part). I find a carrot and what I think is spinach (it wasn’t—I still don’t know what it was) to throw in the sauce because I’m thinking the kids probably need some vegetables. Then, we realized at home we don’t have enough tomato sauce. So, we add in some salsa. It was just disgusting and way too spicy. The kids thought it was so funny—they call it the ‘psycho sauce’.

After tasting it, some students decided they weren’t actually hungry. Others got really silly and blamed it on the psycho sauce. We were all deliriously laughing.

One night we did make really good tacos. We explained to Uncle Ronnie that we needed a different store.

Saint Gregory School Visit

88129714_10157336338973983_479570348849758208_nOnce they were all settled in to their new digs and (somewhat?) well fed, the group trundled off to their first big adventure—a visit to Saint Gregory, former TNCS teacher Raquel Álvarez’s current school. Sra. Álvarez and her husband Robert are well known to the TNCS community, and Sra. Álvarez and Mrs. DuPrau taught together in the very beginning of TNCS, Sra. Álvarez teaching a preprimary Spanish immersion homeroom as well as Spanish to the kindergarteners, and Mrs. DuPrau teaching kindergarten homeroom. As a side note, some of the graduating middle schoolers on this trip were taught by those two as little ‘uns, so, it was really like one big happy family reunion! The Álvarezes also helped plan the trip and activities, being locals! They also know Uncle Ronnie very well—he is a cousin of Sr. Álvarez!

Via Facebook chat, Sra. Álvarez described the experience from her perspective:

When I returned home after leaving TNCS, I always had the dream of having students from Baltimore come to visit my country. In March, my 3rd-grade class was extremely excited to welcome Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Hope and their students to our school. Some of the students were even mine, when I taught at TNCS. It was a wonderful experience for our students from different grades to interact socially with TNCS students and playing soccer and basketball together. However, for me, the best part was watching the kids carry out conversations. We highly enjoyed having a piece of TNCS here in Costa Rica, and we look forward to having more opportunities like that in the future. Pura Vida!

The group’s visit to Saint Gregory’s was designed as both a service-learning activity and to get an idea of what education in Costa Rica is like. The school itself is a private English immersion school with a student body starting with preschool and going all the way through high school. “They were really thankful for us to be there and to speak English with them,” explained Mrs. DuPrau. “We separated the TNCS kids into groups of three or four, and some sat in with elementary classes and some in upper elementary. We also worked on organizing the library, which the principal was so excited about as well as about our visit in general.” Mrs. Hope agreed: “They loved it—the kids there loved it, and our kids loved it. They got to just sit and chat together.” They also had lunch altogether and played sports games at recess. “Our 8th-graders were completely schooled by their 4th-grade boys in soccer,” laughed Mrs. DuPrau.

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“Now that they know us, they want us to come back. Next time we could help more with their library, for example, by everybody bring two favorite books to add to it,” said Mrs. DuPrau. “We came in with good intentions,” agreed Mrs. Hope, “but next time we’d like to do more.”

Nature, Here We Come!

After the school visit, Uncle Ronnie drove to them to their second house by Esterillos beach. “This was a really big house with a beautiful backyard and a pool,” said Mrs. Hope. “The kids swam every morning and every night. Being so near the beach was really fun, and the kids especially loved the pool,” she said. Mrs. DuPrau agreed:

We let them swim each morning because they would always be ready to go when we asked, no matter how early. They were very cooperative and had very good attitudes. We set some rules in the beginning, for instance, they had to stay in their rooms until at least 6:30 am (a few of our friends had shared that they are early risers). When they did come out, they were so respectful and quiet. Mrs. Hope and I would wake up and find a few of them just hanging out. We also asked the kids to clean up after themselves as well as help clean the kitchen in small group rotations.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The next day they visited La Paz Waterfall Gardens, where they were inches away from some adorable sloths. “We got to see all of the beautiful plants and the flowers—Costa Rica is so lush and green. We also saw lots of other animals, like jaguars,” said Mrs. DuPrau.

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The next day was their “day off.” “We went tourist shopping, had a typical Costa Rican lunch (rice, beans, meat, plantains), and then headed to the beach for about an hour, but the kids wanted to get back to the pool,” explained Mrs. Hope.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Next up: an amazing tour of Manuel Antonio National Park. “The beach was absolutely incredible. It was like kind of like an inlet, so there were no big waves or undercurrent, and the water was so warm and clear. We spent our whole last day just relaxing there,” said Mrs. Hope.

Reflections on the Trip

With this trip becoming an annual event for TNCS middle schoolers, Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Hope are finding ways to refine it and make it better each time.

Mrs. DuPrau’s Takeaways

Something I’ve learned is that I tend to overbook. I did this with Puerto Rico and maybe here again in Costa Rica. Middle schoolers do need time to chill, as they kept telling me. We did a lot with nature, which the kids would maybe prefer less of because they really just wanted to hang out at the pool! They did use their Spanish a lot, which is important. I really want to go back to Costa Rica on future capstone trips.

Our saving grace for the trip was having our own personal chauffeur. He took us to great restaurants we never would have been able to find on our own. He always connected me to wi-fi in his car, so that anytime parents sent me a message or a question, I was always able to respond quickly.

Both of our houses ended up working really well space-wise. And the kids could not have been better behaved. Mrs. Hope and I still talk about that. Nobody got in trouble; we never had to call parents. It was really nice. We really get to know a lot of the kids in a different way.

I wanted them to have a new experience—to enjoy being teenagers away from their parents and showing that they could be independent and responsible. I wanted them to get to be happy for a week straight and hang out with their friends. They have such a small cohort, and I just loved seeing them love each other so much and getting to have so much fun.

IMG_7503-M.jpgMrs. Hope’s Takeaways

In the second house, our bedroom was on the first floor, and so was the boys’ bedroom—they were all in one big room. We couldn’t believe how quiet they were being, even all together like that. Then, on the last day, we realized it was because our bedroom door was soundproof. We happened to open it at one point and discovered how loud it actually was out there!

Maybe we should rebrand this capstone trip as less of a service trip, because nobody wants middle schoolers as volunteers, just high school age and up. We’ve learned what works, what doesn’t. We’ll do some service, but I also want to make it fun.

This cohort was like one big family the whole time. Everybody got along from the moment we met at the school at 2:00 in the morning to getting dropped off to their parents at 2:00 in the morning a week later. Everybody was a big fan. They were so supportive of each other, especially with the zip lining. They were each other’s biggest cheerleaders. They all got along really, really well. I feel like this trip really unified them afterward; they have been even more vulnerable and open and honest with each other since then. It’s really neat to see that.

I feel like the best activity we had was the zip line because it got everybody out of their comfort zone. But for me what was most important was the kids just having fun, getting to experience a new culture, and introducing them to the idea that it’s a big world. It was really neat to watch them open their eyes to it.

“My favorite activity was zip lining on the Superman course!”

Student Takeaways

The students’ reflections are quite touching and will also help inform the planning of future trips. Note that many of their quotes have also been interspersed with photos as captions throughout this post.

The pool was where we got to hang out as as real, real good friends and not just as classmates.

What stuck with me was how similar Costa Rica’s landscape and architecture is to Indonesia, my mother’s birth country. There was a volcano near us.

I got a lot closer to the class. That was definitely one of the biggest things.

I wasn’t that close with everyone in my class, and I bonded more with them during the trip. It was nice. I want to stay in touch with them after we go to our separate high schools.

It was good practice speaking Spanish. We have been learning it for so long—it was fun to use it.

I enjoyed getting to see another country and especially being able to do it with my classmates.

I left feeling like a different person and realizing that I can just be myself. I grew a lot by being around so many other people who were kind and wanted to be good friends.

I’m a big beachgoer so I really liked Manuel Antonio beach, with the clear water and being able to see the rocks and coral underneath. I’ve been to a lot of beaches, but this one was pretty special. It was also memorable because one of the other guys was pretending there was a poisonous vulture in the water. It was rather amusing. Squawk!

I would say that I grew some because I got somewhat more confident, like from the zip lining and being 130 feet in the air. My friendships were also strengthened.

It was my first time going out of the states, so I was pretty jittery, but Costa Rica was nice because it was a new feel of things and a new place to see and explore. The climate was so different. In Baltimore, the weather is just all-around crazy. But, in Costa Rica, it’s always sunny and hot—it’s a good climate to hang out in. I also liked learning about a new currency, the colón (plural, colones).

I grew a lot socially, because I didn’t really use to like talking to people. I realized that once you get to know them, they’re usually pretty cool. I also liked practicing Spanish with Uncle Ronnie.


This post would not be complete without a huuuuuge thank-you to TNCS parent Damian Mosely, who so generously hosted two Blacksauce Kitchen (his restaurant) breakfast biscuit sales at TNCS and donated all of the proceeds to the middle schoolers. Their trip would not have happened without his incredible support.

Meet the Coach: Jake Hayden Helps Make February Heart Month at TNCS!

At The New Century School, students show heart every day by being kind to one another and the greater community and showing respect. February is a chance to emphasize kindness and compassion with Valentine’s Day looming, and, across the school, initiatives are coalescing into a big service push (more on that next week). But February is “❤️” month in another sense of the word as well in that it presents an opportunity to focus on heart health, the cardiovascular kind.

Meet Coach Jake!

Jake Hayden’s main gig is with Coppermine Fieldhouse, with whom TNCS has had a long and fruitful partnership. For Coppermine Fieldhouse, in addition to teaching physical education (PE) at TNCS, he has run recess at area schools like Hampstead Hill Academy and Ohr Chadash and taught “Lil’ Kickers” soccer classes on Saturdays. He is currently coaching more lacrosse classes, including player development classes for club lacrosse and “laxaroo” classes at Coppermine, which is lacrosse for 4- and 5-year-olds. “I just love those,” he says. “At that age, they are just learning how to pick up a stick. I love teaching kids the basics because I get to see if they really like it or not.” He also runs lacrosse scrimmage at Coppermine as well as refereeing flag football on Saturdays.

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Sounds like a lot of sports! He comes by his athleticism honestly. Originally from Calvert County, he grew up with with three older brothers and an older sister, and family life, he says, revolved around sports and athletics. In high school and on, his sports foci were lacrosse, soccer, and basketball. After high school, he attended division III Ferrum College for lacrosse (go Panthers!), then transferred to Salisbury University for mathematics. So, it all adds up, right?

Coach Jake at TNCS

Back to what Coach Jake does at TNCS, he teaches four PE classes each Friday on campus: 5th- /6th-graders, 7th- /8th-graders, K/1st, and 2nd- through 4th-graders in that order. Clearly differentiation is necessary, but the overall theme is developing age-appropriate gross physical skills. “For the older classes,” explains Coach Jake:

I like to focus more on the individual skills involved in playing whatever game or sport we are playing that particular day. For the little ones, I usually have them focus on basic hand-eye coordination and balance while running. Most of their games (tag, relay race games, and obstacle courses) involve mostly running. Of course, my main emphasis for all classes is that we play the games the right way, the safe way, and have fun in the process.

Coach Jake also has to be ready to adapt each class, depending on what’s going on at school. “With specific units/sports in mind I encounter every class with the same diagnosis. How many kids are in the class that day, are we inside or outside, questions like that. From there I decide if my original game plan will work or if I have to switch it up and wing it.”

During the past wet Friday, for example, PE class had to be held indoors, but half of the gym was occupied by the Scholastic Book Fair. Thinking on his feet, Coach Jake salvaged the day, and students played games (with cleverly built in skills cultivation) in the back half of the gym. They were moving almost nonstop, getting that cardio workout in, but they were so into the game that they probably never noticed their increased heart rate!

One popular indoor game they play is “Body Guard Dodgeball,” in which ball throwers attempt to (gently—and no aiming for faces) hit a “celebrity” who is being blocked by a body guard (who ends up taking most of the hits). Everyone got a turn, and the action intensified as the rounds progressed.

Next up was a spin on relay races in which the object was to create the highest non-toppling stack of Imagination Playground foam pieces. It quickly became clear that the 5th- and 6th-graders had aged out (or up, as the case may be) of this one!

In Obstacle Course Tag (a game without an official name because TNCS students made it up), obstacles (again made of Imagination Playground foam) are stacked around the gym, and players have to avoid both being tagged by who’s “it” as well as avoid knocking over any obstacles. Either infraction gets you out!

“I particularly love teaching at TNCS,” said Coach Jake, “because I enjoy each and every student from all classes. The kids respond to instruction and are also fun kids to be around. Sometimes it does not feel like work. Compared to past job settings, TNCS is an all around pleasure to work at.”

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What’s Coach Jake’s Game Plan?

For the future, Coach Jake says, “I plan on coaching for as long as I can, whether it grows to be my career or slowly becomes a hobby. My big dream is to become a college lacrosse coach, although it is a rather difficult job to get.”

Although he is not currently on a sports team, he would like to join a men’s lacrosse league. “In the hotbed area of Baltimore,” he says, “the passion for lacrosse is abundant.” Lax to the max, Coach Jake!

Team TNCS: The Race Is On!

While we are still on the subject of cardiovascular health, let’s look at some other ways TNCS is embracing heart month. TNCS students get PE twice weekly, and only one of those classes is led by Coach Jake. The other PE class is teacher led, and Upper Elementary and Middle School ELA and Global Studies teacher Daphnée Hope has taken this opportunity and run with it! You may have heard that since the fall, Ms. Hope has been getting the older students out on weekly jogs—and they love it! “I was so excited to introduce running into our PE curriculum because I believe that it provides multiple benefits to both our students and staff,” she explained. “Running instills discipline, creates endorphins, and builds camaraderie between students and their teachers.”

I also believe in the power of leading by example for my students—when I am running right alongside them and pushing myself mentally and physically as well, I think they are more likely to buy into the conversations that we have about positive physical, mental, and social-emotional health.

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Well said. And off they go for a mile or so run around the Fell’s Point neighborhood. They are building up stamina to eventually run the Sole of the City 10K this April (participation is optional).

The bottom line is, during the month of February, TNCS students are showing their hearts some love.

#HealthyHearts

Global Studies at TNCS Gets to the Heart of Ancient Civilizations!

For post #333, it’s high time to cover Global Studies in The New Century School elementary and middle school programs. (Immersed has looked at GS in the Montessori classrooms, and, to be sure, those early lessons in this essential discipline pave the way for future analytical thinking about GS topics.) So, buckle up—we’re boarding a time machine back to 2000 BC and forward to visit the three most advanced American civilizations prior to the arrival of the Europeans: the Aztecs, the Maya, and the Inca.

But first, why are Global Studies so important? They are foundational to cultivating global citizens, a tenet of TNCS’s educational approach. According to the National Council for the Social Studies, by studying other cultures, students:

  • [gain] knowledge of world cultures and
  • [understand] the historical, geographic, economic, political, cultural, and environment relationships among world regions and peoples.

As their critical skills develop, older students are asked to:

  • [examine] the nature of cultural differences and national or regional conflicts and problems and
  • [act] to influence public policy and private behavior on behalf of international understanding, tolerance, and empathy.

So, pretty important. Accordingly, in Quarter 1, TNCS 5th- through 8th-graders dug deep into their unit on Ancient World Cultures. Global Studies at TNCS is not studying historical facts and committing them to memory. To ensure that material is truly learned, GS is integrative, incorporating art, writing, and even performance. GS teacher Daphnée Hope explained that, for each of the three civilizations, students created an art project that celebrated one aspect of the given culture. They could build a 3D model of a village, draw maps of the various regions like the Yucatán peninsula where many Mayan structures remain today, or even build pyramids or citadels such as reproductions of Machu Picchu, for example.

The unit culminated with a large project intended to demonstrate that students have absorbed the material and could reproduce it in their own (very) unique way. They were graded in two-part fashion: In one prong, they were assessed on how they presented, in terms of engaging the audience, and, in the other prong, they were assessed on being a good audience and being respectful, attentive, and polite. As you’ll see from their presentations, one theme captivated them all. (If you guessed human sacrifice, you’d be correct!)

 . . . Nothing could beat the way the Aztecs performed their sacrifices. The Aztecs had a very unique way of performing their sacrifices: They would lay people down, stab them with an obsidian blade, and pull out their hearts. Most people would think it is gruesome, but it is a way of signaling their opponents defeat . . .

One thing is for sure—the ancient civilizations unit will really stick with these students! Other interesting tidbits that captured their attention were the Mayan belief that humans were created from maize, that the Mayans understood the concept of zero, and that the Mayan calendar is never wrong . . . except in predicting that the world was to have ended on December 21, 2012. Minor detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q2 will explore World Cultures and Geography, followed by Civics in America in Q3 and American History in Q4. Although these units involve no bloody religious rituals, there will be plenty to keep TNCS students engaged and their perspectives broadened!


“Machu Picchu is still here,
Machu Picchu is still there!
Standin’ up!”

Get a Glimmer of TNCS Middle School: Meet Daphnée Hope!

The Middle School program at The New Century School got a whole new look for the 2019–2020 school year. Daphnée Hope not only took over as the 7th- and 8th-grade homeroom teacher, but she also transformed the classroom into a place of beauty, inspiration, and motivation. You can’t walk into her class without feeling uplifted! Even her name sparks positivity!

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With Hope for the Future . . .

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Home from first deployment!

Ms. Hope came to TNCS from San Antonio, Texas, and she and her husband moved to Baltimore almost 2 years ago for his work as a fighter pilot with the U.S. military. They now live in the Hampden neighborhood. She taught for a year and a half at other schools in the city before joining TNCS and is in her fifth year of teaching overall. We’ll delve into how her first year at TNCS is going, but first let’s backtrack to how she found teaching—or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it found her!

Ms. Hope earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Texas A&M University. Her teaching degree came later and not in a completely conventional manner. Having so many creative writing credits meant that she could take additional related classes and then be “adopted” by a school that would mentor her as a teacher. “During my first year of teaching I wasn’t technically a teacher,” she explained. “I walked in on the first day of school and thought, ‘the students and I are going to learn together!’ It was really scary but it was the most rewarding growing experience.”

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Hiking in Sedona, AZ

This last insight came from a bit of reflection—she wasn’t immediately aware that deciding to teach was the right thing to have done: “I didn’t actually set out to be a teacher. I became a teacher. I’ve always loved kids, but I had never thought about teaching.” She recalls her father telling her and her sister that they could choose whatever degree they wanted to pursue, so long as they could find employment in their chosen fields. Ms. Hope had a job set up in France after college, but, much to her dismay, that fell through.

So, upon graduating, she started sending out résumés, thinking that she would teach for a year while figuring out what career she really wanted. She went for an interview for a teaching position in west Texas that somehow did not feel right to her. On the drive home, she confided her feelings to her mother who had accompanied her. “I really don’t want to teach there,” she told her mother, who responded that it was sort of the only available option. Then, in a stroke of maternal genius, she suggested stopping in a cute little town for lunch to cheer her daughter up. What happened next can only be described as “destined.”

We stopped in, and this feeling came over both of us. My mom said, ‘You can work here for a year.’ So, we go to the middle school, and I basically knock on the door and introduce myself to the principal. I said something like, ‘I know this might seem random, but I was wondering if you had any English positions open.’ She actually replied, ‘We have been praying for a teacher to walk through our doors for almost 4 years now!’ They hadn’t had a teacher, and there I was, just like they had wished for. Also, like me, she was a graduate of Texas A&M and an English major. Just like that, they hired me! I couldn’t believe it—it was so unexpected, but it was the best 2 years of teaching I had ever had. It was a godsend. The only reason I left is that my husband and I got engaged and had to move.

IMG_1399That was Ozona Middle School, and Ms. Hope clearly benefited from that near-miraculous experience. Her career path was set—she was a teacher through and through, after all!

. . . And Hope for the Present!

Mere weeks into her first year at TNCS, Ms. Hope seems to embrace everything about the school, and her positivity is infectious. Upper elementary and middle school students are working hard in her ELA and Global Studies classes and loving every minute of it.

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She came to TNCS because she was actively seeking an independent school, her experiences in city public schools having been somewhat discouraging. When she met with Head of School Señora Duncan, she felt excited about the school and the prospect of teaching here. “I could see myself fitting in well here. I remember going home and telling my husband that the kids are just so happy, and they want to learn.”

Ms. Hope’s ELA class initially comprised a Daily 4 Rotation of independent reading with daily reading log, mini writing lesson with her, word work station (5th grade) or ISEE test prep (6th through 8th grades), and iReady (see TNCS BTS Night for more information). However, as time has gone on, she has adapted the Daily 4 to better fit the needs of her students and to incorporate real-world learning. Depending on the day of the week, the Daily 4+ might consist of novel study through a literature circle station, a TED talk station, iReady reading comprehension lessons, a vocabulary/word work station, a social-emotional journaling station, and a news article analysis and conversation station.

Teaching writing is one of her passions, and she especially loves teaching writing to middle schoolers. Their first writing assignment for the year was a personal narrative, and quarter 2 started off with creative writing—a Halloween-inspired short story. “I really enjoy building relationships through writing. I use writing and journaling to help my students make sense of their feelings and have an outlet—a creative space to call their own,” she said. Middle schoolers, after all, are going through profound physical and emotional changes, so having tools like creative expression to forge them into something manageable is highly important for this age group. Her classroom is a space where they can be themselves, maybe even their best selves.

“My favorite thing about working here is that the kids are so happy to learn. You just don’t find that everywhere,” said Ms. Hope. It’s also true that not every school is fortunate enough to have such enthusiastic educators. Ms. Hope infuses her classes with rigor and fun. Her standards are high, and TNCS students are thoroughly enjoying rising to the challenge! Welcome to TNCS, Ms. Hope, and here’s hoping the rest of your school year gets even better!

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