‘Tis the Season for Cuddles & Crafts!

On Monday, December 20th, K–8 students at The New Century School had some very special visitors: Pets on Wheels.

TNCS School Counselor Daphnee Hope felt that TNCS students needed to end the year on a very positive note so she found the nonprofit group who brings therapy dogs to people in need of a cuddle. For her Cuddles and Crafts event, students engaged in a mindfulness craft for 45 minutes and then got to pet and hug the dogs.

“Cuddles & Crafts was a huge hit this morning! We had 3 beautiful therapy dogs visit our K-8 classrooms while students completed mindfulness crafts that included coloring mandalas, creating coffee filter butterflies, and designing a chain of calm. Students were so excited to see these furry friends and give them hugs,” said Mrs. Hope.

And that’s really all that needs to be said: in this post, the photos tell the story (you can even see the smiles behind the masks!). Fur real.

Happy Holidays, TNCS Community!

Daphnee Hope: TNCS’s School Counselor Shares Her Philosophy of Positivity!

At The New Century School, the whole child is important, and this is not just lip service. Not just students’ academic selves, but their psychological, social, emotional, and artistic sides are cared for and cultivated. So, although the 2021–2021 school year has been particularly challenging for students who are still coping with the fallout from the pandemic, TNCS students are fortunate to have a very important addition to faculty this year to help: Daphnee Hope, TNCS School Counselor. Mrs. Hope began counseling during the last school year in a limited capacity but has now made it official, and TNCS students are flourishing under her guidance. Together, her and TNCS Dean of Students Adriana DuPrau have joined forces to ensure their health and happiness.

Counseling

Mrs. Hope has been meeting with TNCS students through whole group lessons, targeted small groups, and one-on-one counseling. Counseling has been really fun this year,” said Mrs. Hope. She feels she can really blossom in this role, and with no existing curriculum to draw on, she has been developing her own. This has given her the freedom to move in the directions she feels most necessary and that will yield the most fruit. At the same time, she says, “there’s a big learning curve, and I am still finding my voice as a counselor. There’s a lot of wonderful things, but it’s also challenging, so I’ve been making connections with other school counselors in the area and asking questions about general policy and what resources they use.”

She is on campus Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays and sees each classroom (elementary and up) twice a month. Character-building lessons differ and are based on developmental age.

Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade

For this age group, Mrs. Hope does a 45-minute character-building lesson based on the Positive Action curriculum, whose premise is that positive actions make us feel better about ourselves and brighten our lives, which leads to making more positive choices. “It’s all about how positive actions make you feel better as a person. When you feel better, you radiate goodness, and then you’re making other things better—a ripple effect,” she said. She uses puppet animals with the kindergarten students, and a system of adding the names of students spotted making positive actions on a special elephant hanging on the wall for all to see for the second- and third-grade students. She says this is helping all students notice more and more good things happening around them.

“For K through 3, the whole month of November was about communication,” she explained. “We started with nonverbal communication and body language. We practiced how it’s important to look in the eyes of the person you’re talking to, and we also talked about active listening versus passive listening. When somebody asks you something, you don’t immediately change the subject to talk about yourself; you listen and then you make a follow-up comment.”

4th Through 6th Grades

Although Mrs. Hope started this group out with Positive Actions, she found the need to adapt and adjust for this spectrum of ages. So she polled them on what kinds of things they might enjoy exploring. Relationships and other social aspects are historically challenging areas for this age group, so Mrs. Hope has been talking with them about peer influences and otherwise tailoring her monthly themes to what their needs are.

“They need a lot of support with self-control, so I’m trying to work in partnership with the teachers to make plans for individual students,” she said.

7th and 8th Grades

For middle schoolers, Mrs. Hope is using the Habitudes® curriculum that the counselor at Friends School recommended. “It involves lessons centered around the core values of self-discipline, motivation, and responsibility,” she explained, to cultivate leaders and “[equip] them to navigate through life’s challenges and opportunities”. Mrs. Hope says TNCS 7th- and 8th-graders are loving it!

“Habitudes has challenged our middle schoolers to slow down and think about the qualities that make great leaders. Last month we focused on perspective taking,” she said. This month, we are jumping into responding with empathy, both with ourselves and others.”

Advisory has a place here, too.

Small-Group Sessions

In between classroom-session weeks during the first two school quarters, Mrs. Hope also holds small-group sessions during lunch for 4th- through 8th-graders. Students join these groups based on their individual needs, such as managing anxiety, building self-esteem, or managing grief and loss.

Every other week we do a ‘lunch bunch’ depending on their needs, so I surveyed students about what areas they feel they need support in and how they rank their mental health. That’s a big focus right now, just giving them the space to work on their mental health because I think a lot of them are struggling with it. So, for example, in the managing anxiety group, we talk about irrational thoughts and how they snowball. We think our thoughts are reality, but I’m trying to work with them on just because you think something, doesn’t mean that’s what is true.

In quarters three and four, she’ll hold small-group sessions for the younger TNCS students in building north. Their needs are much different, given their developmental stage.

One-on-One Counseling

As her time spent with students is fairly intensive, Mrs. Hope has picked up on some issues. “I have become aware that many of our middle schoolers are struggling with their mental health,” she said. Mental health issues are all-too common in this age group, but the last 2 years have only increased the incidence:

Poor mental health impacts all areas of a child’s life, ranging from academic success to feelings of self-worth to healthy peer interactions. The last two years have been particularly hard on our children as they journey through adolescence. Scary statistics show that between February and March 2021 alone, the number of emergency room visits increased by 50.6% for presumed suicide attempts among youth in comparison to 2019. At the moment, I am working on improving the mental health of our students.

In addition to having one-on-one conversations with students, Mrs. Hope might also make health referrals to outside therapists for those who could benefit.

Social and Emotional Learning

The structure Mrs. Hope has created for reaching all TNCS students in various ways is very well thought out and executed, but how is she putting all of this into practice?

Suffice to say, she has been busy. She created a social-emotional learning (SEL) calendar for every grade level with monthly themed topics, for example. This month, because it’s a short one, we are doing gratitude across the board,” she explained. “It’s going to look different in each classroom. For 7th and 8th grade, it’s looking at the physical, mental, social, and spiritual effects of gratitude on the body (see the slide show they’ve been studying from here). With younger kids, it’s exploring the power of saying, ‘thank you’. Teachers are implementing these conversations in their morning circle time, core classes, hallway transitions, lunch, and so on, all across the board.” Mrs. Hope is trying to make it easy for teachers to implement and reinforce these mini-lessons anywhere. “The message that I’m conveying twice a month has to be reiterated by teachers, who are with their students 85% of the time, or else it’s not going to stick.” Younger students work on things like respecting physical space.

Social Media

In the 7th- and 8th-grade classroom, discussions about social media have been foremost. “As you may know,” wrote Mrs. Hope in an email to parents, “there is a worrying correlation between screen time and depressive symptoms, particularly amongst teens. Ms. Sussman and I are spending the month of November discussing all things social media with your children—the pros, the cons, and the in betweens. We would love your partnership in this conversation and in your attention to your child’s weekly screen time.”

After watching a TEDx talk by a social media expert, Bailey Parnell, students shared that they appreciated how honest and realistic she was, particularly about how important social media is many peoples’ lives and how it all comes down to how it’s used. “Learning about and talking about these topics allows us to make informed and intentional decisions. Parnell called this, ‘practicing safe social,’ which, yes, a few students chuckled at,” said Mrs. Hope.

After they took the ISEE exam in mid November, middle schoolers watched The Social Dilemma, a “documentary that explores the relationship between technology and human behavior and will prompt more discussion and reflection about student usage,” said Mrs. Hope. (You can read more here about the film.)

So, they have been talking about the effects of addictive behaviors and how unplugging from time to time is so important. Homeroom teacher Gab Sussman has been all for it, saying, “Mrs. Hope has assigned our class to learn more about and discuss the roles of social media in our lives. This week, we watched some videos that touched upon a few important topics, such as how social media affects our friendships, both positively and negatively, and how social media can portray and influence falsehoods about our lives. I appreciate the opportunity to be having these important conversations within our Homeroom!”

To demonstrate the rewards of de-screening, Mrs. Hope came up with the idea of monthly nature days; read about the very first below.

Gender Inclusivity

As TNCS has aged up and developed a true middle school, the needs of these older students have also grown. Even so, TNCS has always fostered an environment of inclusivity. “TNCS students embrace this inclusivity, especially around the evolving topic of gender identity,” said Head of School Tad Jacks in a letter* to parents.

In a separate email to parents, Mrs. Hope wrote:

In my role as the school counselor, I will be delivering developmentally appropriate health lessons that are inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Research notes that there is a direct correlation between a student’s sense of belonging and their academic achievement. In fact, ‘many students may be more likely to prosper academically in settings with more collaborative modes of learning that acknowledge students’ personal experiences’ (Kaplan and Miller 2007). As a result, it is vital for educators to carve out spaces where students feel seen and supported as their most authentic selves.

So, when she’s not with students, she has been working on writing TNCS’s gender-inclusive policies for the last 3 months. “We’ve been talking to other schools and looking at research and trying to develop policies that are very supportive of all of our students and also respecting their privacy. The 7th and 8th grade are definitely keeping me on my toes!”

The first gender-identity lesson for middle schoolers took place in November. “We explored how gender exists on a spectrum, clarified terms such as ‘gender expression’ and ‘gender identity’ and unpacked how to support each other by using correct pronouns. Many students were already educated and comfortable with this topic,” she said. Students were very engaged, respectful and asked supportive questions. I am very proud of the dialogue that emerged from this discussion.”

At the end of the lesson, they could complete a form for their teachers that shared more about their gender identity and pronouns if they chose.

The resources they used to launch their gender identity and gender inclusive discussions were amaze.org, GLSEN, and the Genderbread Person v4.0, “a teaching tool for breaking the big concept of gender down into bite-sized, digestible pieces.”

*Read Mr. Jack’s full letter here.

Pen Pals

The 3rd- through 5th-grade groups are partnering with the United states Postal Service to do a pen pal project. “They place you with classrooms in different regions of America, and you get a pen pal for the rest of the year. Then they actually coordinate a zoom visit with the homeroom classes so everyone can see what their pen pals look like,” said Mrs. Hope.

Students will write four total letters beginning in January. The idea is to learn about a child who has grown up in a different area of the country and build rapport, which is why it falls under SEL, but this neat project also weaves in academics by honing letter-writing skills and how to have a conversation and ask interesting questions.

Schoolwide SEL Initiatives

As mentioned in the introduction, Mrs. Hope and Mrs. DuPrau have partnered on several initiatives to increase students’ day-to-day happiness. They held the Blue Out anti-bullying awareness day, for example, for which the entire school dressed head to toe in blue. A spirit award was handed out to the “bluest” class, which was Ms. Weiskopf’s 2nd- and 3rd-graders, and they were treated to ice cream. A subsequent spirit week took place during American Education Week during which classes again competed for who could show the most school spirit.

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The dynamic duo will also be working with the TNCS Parent Council on recognizing our teachers and all-around making it fun to be at school.

Cuddles and Crafts

And now, you get a sneak peek into an upcoming SEL initiative that TNCS students will be absolutely bananas over. Mrs. Hope found Pets on Wheels, a nonprofit that brings therapy dogs to folks in need of a little cuddle, and came up with the idea of Cuddles and Crafts for TNCS students. “We’ll do a mindfulness craft for 45 minutes or so and then we’ll have the dogs come through the classrooms for a little bit of self-care, mental health positivity . . . just taking a breather and having some fun,” she said.

TNCS students always beg for projects that involve animals, so this should be quite the hit. Pictures to come!

Unplugging and Getting Out and About

You might be noticing the emphasis on fun, and there’s good reason for that. As Mrs. Hope puts it, “This is our first smooth full year back, and I’m seeing a lot of SEL issues popping up like at recess—simple communication and relationship issues. So to wind out quarter 2, she is developing ways “to focus on reconnecting with ourselves.” This means getting off campus and getting off screens!

Reflection Day

As a way of reconnecting with themselves and improving their mental health, middle schoolers participated in the first-ever Reflection Day as a homeroom. This involved spending the day on a local hiking trail, relaxing in nature, and carving out time for self care.

Mrs. Hope had been talking to students about putting phones away and the healing power of nature—how good it is for our bodies and our minds. She hopes for this to be a quarterly event, and the first one was a huge hit. Students throughly enjoyed their hike to Annapolis Rock. “It was a bit chilly,” said Mrs. Hope, “but students said multiple times how nice it was to unplug and talk to each other. They appreciated having the face masks off, too. It’s so nice to see someone’s whole face and expression.”

They hiked 5.87 miles, and students were utterly in awe of the views. “We got to make some wonderful memories together as a class,” said Mrs. Hope. “They are already keeping me on my toes and asking what hike we are doing next!”

What was Ms. Sussman’s take? “Our unplugged hike along the Appalachian Trail on Monday was absolutely amazing! A major shoutout to Mrs. Hope for dreaming up and organizing this trip for us. It felt so special to be out in nature for the day together as a homeroom. We certainly missed the students who couldn’t make it, and look forward to future opportunities to spend quality time outside of the classroom with each other.”

She plans a smaller hike in Patapsco State Park with the 4th- through 6th-graders and is hoping to partner with Living Classrooms to implement an off-campus day for the K through 3rd-graders.

Mini Trips off Campus

To keep spirits up, Mrs. Hope and TNCS teachers are finding all kinds of ways to insert rewarding mini excursions throughout the school day. As a reward for taking the grueling ISEE exam, for example, middle schoolers walked to BOP Pizza for a class field trip and some lunch. Mrs, Hope said they displayed hard work and determination throughout this tough test.

Mrs. Hope’s advisory group asked about grabbing a bagel and cup of cocoa for breakfast. They decided to make it a regular thing and will visit a neighboring shop like Pitango or the Daily Grind each first Thursday of the month.

The K through 3rd group will take a walking trip to Kilwins for a treat next week. “We’re working really closely to create opportunities for the kids to just get out of classroom and build community,” said Mrs. Hope.

Edit 12/7/21: Photos from the Kilwins trip!

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And the older kids!

 

Girls on the Run

From the beginning of the school year, female TNCS students had the option of participating in Girls on the Run (3rd through 5th grades) or Hearts and Soles (6th through 8th grades), a twice weekly running program that culminated on Sunday, December 5th with a 5K race. According to their website, GOTR’s mission is “to inspire all girls to build confidence and make intentional decisions, while fostering care and compassion for self and others. Trained coaches use physical activity and dynamic discussions to build social, emotional and physical skills in every girl while encouraging healthy habits for life.”

TNCS students fell in love with the program, which Mrs. Hope credits their amazing coaches for—huge thanks to TNCS mom Debbie Casanova for coaching the younger girls and Gab Sussman and Nameeta Sharma for coaching the older ones! Although it’s sad to see the end of this truly inspirational program, you can bet it’ll be back next year!

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It’s clear that Mrs. Hope is energized and committed to optimizing the mental health of TNCS students. “My philosophy with our counseling program is to focus on the mental health of our children and to put a big emphasis on positivity and gratitude and things that lift them up, because there’s so much that’s happening right now in the world,” she said.

Lessons from the Sandlot: TNCS Middle Schoolers Unplug and Connect!

The month of March is often the busiest at The New Century School—absolutely tons happens. We’re happy to report that this year, despite circumstances, was no different!

A large part of the excitement was the return of Daphnée Hope after maternity leave that began late last fall. Ms. Hope had been the 5th- through 8th-grade English Language Arts and Global Studies teacher, and her students initially had bit of a hard time grasping that she was returning in a whole new role.

TNCS’s First School Counselor

That new role is TNCS School Counselor. While finishing up her graduate degree (with a new baby, no less), she is doing her mandatory internship at TNCS. From now until the end of the school year, she’ll be on campus twice weekly to counsel students, create character-building lessons, and connecting students with resources.

Why counseling? “Since my very first year of teaching, I knew right away that I wanted to be a school counselor because my favorite part of teaching is not actually curriculum—it’s building relationships with students,” she explains.

Being able to help them work through any problems that they’re having having, to think deeper and connect with their feelings, is so important. Especially in middle school, they need to understand how to identify their emotions and connect with them. I was talking to a student yesterday who has been really struggling, and just being able to say, ‘you’re a teenager; everything you’re feeling is very normal,’ and seeing the relief on their face that there’s not something wrong and it’s okay to have strong feelings, was great. I especially love middle school because at that age, everything they feel is felt so deeply, and counselors and teachers have a big hand in shaping how they get through.

Ms. Hope says that she put off her dream for a while to get a few more years of teaching experience under her belt and then realized last year that it was time to go for that degree.

“I’ll be meeting with each level monthly and do a series of counseling lessons dependent on the needs of each group,” said Ms. Hope. “For example, today is 1st-grade’s first lesson, and the teacher shared that they’ve been having some issues with bullying. It’s part of a school counselor’s job to create responsive services, and so I’m going to create lessons for them about bullying—what it looks like at this age. It can be as simple as excluding someone from playground games over and over. So, with that age group, I’m going to be using picture books and drawings to make it clear and age appropriate for them.” She explains that kids often don’t realize that their behaviors rise to the level of bullying and sometimes just need to understand that those behaviors are hurting another in some way. We humans don’t come by our social skills naturally; we have to be taught. Although parents certainly provide a lot of this kind of teaching, school is were students spend most of their time and is also where they most need to apply these skills. “It’s equally our to educate them on how to communicate with each other, such as looking into each other’s eyes when they’re talking, and, if someone is talking to you, turn your body toward them to convey better positive body language,” said Ms. Hope.

For many of the older students, teachers have reported common themes, like needing social and emotional connection. “Some of our students are withdrawing and showing signs of depression,” she said. This is not surprising given that they crave connection and have been largely denied it for the past year. Also, especially in middle school, students’ emotional lives expand, and they have questions and may struggle to deal with all the new “feels,” as Ms. Hope described Fortunately, TNCS now has a dedicated staff member to address some of these normal but important challenges. “My goal for the older students is to give them opportunities to see each other, to get them playing with each other and having fun games and competitions. Finding ways to allow them to connect with each other outside of the classroom is so important.”

And on that note, to The Sandlot we go!

Heads Out of, Feet in the Sand

The Sandlot, also known as “Baltimore’s Beach,” is a 10-minute walk from TNCS and empty this time of year. Earlier this month, on a beautiful sunny day, TNCS middle schoolers headed over with Ms. Hope for some of that social interaction she describes as so important. Even some students who still attend school virtually were able to join, and Ms. Hope was pleased with the turnout. “The goal of the event was to interact in a positive way before we even talked about feelings or anything. Also, I wanted to start off with something fun and lighthearted to get them used to seeing me in my new role.”

She divided them into partners based on people they wouldn’t naturally gravitate to, to build camaraderie. They did an egg race over an obstacle course with one partner carrying an egg on a spoon blindfolded, and the other calling out directions. They had to trust each other as well as communicate effectively to make it through the obstacle course. They also played handball with girls against boys, and the girls were pleased to learn that they could hold their own.

“We concluded with a lesson about relationships and how it’s different now after a year of everything being closed. How have our relationships with friends changed? Some of the kids said that their relationships actually improved and got stronger, and then a lot of them said they really struggle with their friendships. I asked them to think about how they can continue to build trust. The whole theme of it was trust and communication—ways you can lose trust with your friends and then also ways that you can continue building it.” She pointed out the irony of being “connected” yet so alienated. “It’s just so strange—they’re connected to each other in a way they probably never were before virtually, but at the same time it’s the loneliest time ever, which is why I want to get them in person and seeing each other and putting away the technology,” she said.

Ms. Hope thoroughly enjoyed the day, as did students, who begged to know when they’d be able to do it again. She says she will definitely continue planning such activities, even though this one was not without it’s challenges. “They hated my music choices,” she laughed. “They’re pretty hard to impress.” Then, too, it’s hard to find relationship-building exercises that allow for social distancing. In years past, TNCS students took various trips that were designed to develop their relationships with each other. There was Echo Hill Outdoor School starting in 5th grade and the capstone international service-learning trips for outgoing graduates. Ms. Hope chaperoned one of those trips and saw for herself how deep of an impact they had on students’ lives. She will continue to search for meaningful ways to engage and connect them.

“Let’s have fun and do things that make you laugh, because when you laugh, your stress level goes down, and your neurons are firing. Then you’re having positive experiences with other people. That’s my goal with them.”

Hope springs eternal, thank goodness.

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