TNCS’s Annual Elementary and Middle School Back-to-School Night!

back-to-school-night-2017Now that summer has officially ended, and school is back in full swing, The New Century School kicked off the 2017–2018 school year with its annual Back-to-School Night. The focus of the evening was to meet your student’s teachers and to present the student’s daily schedule, a curriculum overview, and school policies.

Welcome!

The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Alicia Danyali warmly welcoming parents, new and old, and introducing TNCS’s teaching staff. “They make the school an amazing experience for the students everyday, with their nurturing and professional expertise that enables a professional learning community,” said Mrs. Danyali. She also reminded the packed audience about the school’s Core Values. As the school’s foundation, these values of compassion, courage, respect, and service are displayed throughout the school and emphasized daily by all at TNCS, as well as during classroom lessons, assemblies, and restorative circles.

As TNCS enters its 11th year, it’s worth noting how the school and its programs have expanded and grown to what they are today. Changes each year are inevitable, but TNCS has stayed true to its identity and has successfully weathered those changes, transforming would-be obstacles into opportunities and growing the student body to more than 200 children. (To get a look at past year’s back-to-school nights or just to reminisce about the school’s early days, read TNCS-Back-to-School Night, 2013Back-to-School Night, 2014Back-to-School Night, 2015, and Back-to-School Night, 2016.)

Elementary/Middle School Break-Outs

Once the initial introductions and welcome message concluded, parents moved on to spend time with their child’s teachers. This was the opportunity to learn about what the school day looks like, what the educational goals are for the year, and what the expectations are of both parent and child. Upper Elementary and Middle School was jointly hosted by veteran Math and Global Studies teacher Beatriz Cabrera and new English language arts and Science teacher Jon Wallace. Mr. Wallace introduced himself, saying:

This is my 15th year teaching, 13 in private, and 2 in public recently. I’m very happy to be here with this amazing bunch of students who are all so diverse, and it’s wonderful working with the parents. I became a teacher because I really enjoy seeing the students learn. It’s a great thing when you see the light bulb go on. When I child first realizes a concept or becomes good at doing something, learning skills, to see that happen is just amazing. I come from a family of teachers and I’m working hard to give the students the best education I could possibly give. I’ll be here early, and I’ll be here late to try and give the best to your children.

Sra. Cabrera handled many of the practical details, reminding families of the importance of being on time. Class begins promptly at 8:25 am with key information and planner assignments, all things you don’t want your child to miss. “Check the planners and make sure to sign them. You will receive four quarterly report cards, we and will have two parent/teacher conferences, one in November and one in February. We are always available to meet with you and discuss anything you want,” she said.

A deeper dive into each subject’s curriculum followed.

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Specials

New art teacher Eunhee Choi made a cameo appearance (she had several classrooms to visit) and told the group, “I was born and raised in Korea—South Korea,” she clarified, to audience laughter. “I’ve been teaching 17 years. I’m very happy to teach here, I feel very comfortable in this school,” she finished. Students have music, physical education, and art twice a week.

English Language Arts

ELA uses the Daily 5, which consists of: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, and Word Work. Reading themes will include realistic fiction, fantasy, biographies, mystery, immigration/migration, historical fiction, and folktales. Writing will focus on a variety of skills including narrative, informational, persuasive/opinion, and poetry. We will continue using Lucy Calkins in the classroom throughout the year as well. (See State-of-the-Science Elementary Writing at TNCS for more on her acclaimed approach.)

In spelling, Wordly Wise 3000 and Spelling Workout will be incorporated. Wordly Wise 3000, focuses on improving students’ vocabulary by furthering their understanding of new words and concepts. Spelling Workout is a more traditional spelling program to help improve on identifying spelling patterns. “Our goal is to focus on vocabulary development, which will enable students to read increasingly challenging texts with fluency and improve their chances for success in school and beyond. Spelling will be focused on helping improve student writing,” explained Mr. Wallace.

Science

The major science themes throughout the year that will guide learning and understanding will include electricity and magnetism, chemistry, the Scientific Method (Science Fair), and oceanography.

Math

In math, students will work in small groups and independently everyday as well as do Khan Academy—the Daily 3. “They will do different math games and once again participate in Math Kangaroo, said Sra. Cabrera. “We will practice these problems in class and continue to use Singapore math. I will work with them in small groups mostly. I think it’s better to help them gain confidence.” Middle school students will be introduced to the Go Math curriculum.

Global Studies

Global studies will comprise both United States history and World history. The Elementary and Middle School programs will focus on the same unit of study but we be differentiated based on grade level:

  • Quarter One, Ancient World Cultures
  • Quarter Two, World Cultures and Geography
  • Quarter Three, Civics
  • Quarter Four, American History

Mandarin

As for language immersion, we are fortunate to have two wonderful, enthusiastic teachers in Wei Li, Mandarin, and Fabiola Sanzana, Spanish. Chinese will be learned through various activities and projects with assessments being mainly performance based. “Better Chinese will continue as our backbone curriculum as well as our Daily Four,” said Li Laoshi. In Daily Four, students are divided into small groups and use different levels of books according to their language proficiency. The students rotate among the four centers, which are meet with teacher, computer, reading, and games. “Friday will be the weekly Activity Day featuring various activities that integrate Chinese culture, such as calligraphy, Tai chi, Kung Fu, Chinese games, and cooking Chinese food,” she continued.

Students will be assessed the traditional way (pencil and paper); however, the main approach of assessment will be performance-based. For every new unit, formative assessment will be used daily and summative assessment will be used at the end of each unit.

Spanish

Spanish learning will be taught through the use of different games, dances, and songs. I was born in Chile, and this is my second year as lead Spanish teacher,” said Sra. Sanzana. “Spanish class is a little bit of everything—grammar, vocabulary, talking, reading, and listening,” she said. As in other subjects, teaching is differentiated. “I divided students into groups based on levels,” she explained. “Don’t be afraid of whatever comes; I will be here helping them.”

Homework

The question on BTS attendees minds’ was, “what’s up with homework?” Here is the breakdown:

  • Chinese: Grades 3–7 will work on a small packet the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month.
  • Spanish: Grades 3 and 4 will work on a small packet the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month; 5th- 6th, and 7th-graders will have homework weekly.
  • Math: Homework will consist of 15 minutes of problem solving or Workbook completion.
  • Language Arts: Each week, there will be one lesson in Wordly Wise, a list of vocabulary words to know, and various assignments to complete.

Forging Ahead!

Although BTS night is over, know that “teachers and administration are always available to answer any questions regarding your student’s development as we partner throughout the school year,” as Mrs. Danyali put it. Also know that you’ll be meeting teachers new to TNCS in Immersed profiles throughout the coming year as well as hear more from staff who are adopting new roles and taking the school in new directions! Stay tuned!

TNCS Hosts a Special 10th-Anniversary Back-to-School Night!

This special Immersed blog post was written by first-time Guest Blogger as well as first-time Class Parent Michael “Mike” Horvath. Mr. Horvath explains Back-to-School Night from the perspective of a TNCS elementary parent.

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Welcome Back to School!

It’s that time of year when the summer ends and new seasons begin. At The New Century School, the 2016–2017 school year kicked off with its annual Back to School Night. The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Alicia Danyali welcoming parents, new and old, introducing TNCS teaching staff, and recognizing Executive Directors and Co-Founders Jennifer Lawner and Roberta Faux.

It’s worth noting that this is the 10th anniversary of TNCS! What an amazing job they have done to expand the school and its programs to where it is today. Roberta Faux then addressed the parents, sharing some of the positive changes that have happened since the end of the spring semester. One such change was turning the previous school office, located inside the main doors of building south, into an additional classroom. The school office is now located on the second floor of building north, where soon there also will be a snack bar…more news on that to come. Also new to TNCS this year is the introduction of the school’s Core Values. As the school’s foundation, these values of compassion, courage, respect, and service will be displayed throughout the school and will be emphasized daily by all at TNCS, as well as during classroom lessons, assemblies, and restorative circles. You can find more information about these pillars of TNCS in the Family Handbook and in last week’s blog.

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Second- through sixth-grade STEM instructor Dan McGonigal welcomes parents and gives them a snapshot of what they can expect from the 2016–2017 school year in his classroom.

Once the initial introductions and welcome message concluded, parents moved on to spend time with their child’s teachers. This was the opportunity to learn about what the school day looks like, what the educational goals are for the year, and what the expectations are of both parent and child. One of these break-out groups was helmed by Mr. Dan McGonigal and Sra. Beatriz Cabrera for grades 2–6. With about 15 parents attending, it was a cozy, informal gathering with returning parents reconnecting with one another and meeting new ones, too.

One very important takeaway message from the evening was to be on time. The class begins with key information and planner assignments, all things you don’t want your child to miss. As for the planners themselves, well, there was overwhelming parental excitement when Mr. McGonigal brought up the topic. Remember to initial them each night and remove any papers from the take-home pocket.

All homework is individualized, with Spanish and Mandarin alternating every other week, reading 20 minutes each night, and Math will consist of problem-solving or Workbook completion. At the end of each quarter, students will receive a report card, and parent/teacher conferences will take place twice during the year. Mr. McGonigal made it a point to mention that he and Sra. Cabrera are always available via email if you have any questions or concerns, and they will be prompt to reply. Throughout the year in Global Studies, students will be learning about Ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman Expansion, European and Asian Progress, as well as The New World and the Industrial Revolution.

The major Science themes throughout the year will include Microbiology, Energy Concepts, Geology and Changes to The Earth’s Surface, and Simple Machines and Programming Innovations. Students will also begin to learn how to use microscopes. These microscopes were provided to TNCS thanks to its partnership with Towson University. As for language immersion, we are fortunate to have two wonderful, enthusiastic teachers in Wei Li, Mandarin, and Fabiola Sanzana, Spanish. Chinese will be learned through various activities and projects with assessments being mainly performance based. Spanish learning will be taught through the use of different games, dances, and songs. On top of all of this daily learning there will be a number of field trips throughout the year, with the first one being a return to the popular Milburn Orchards, also visited last year. There will also be planned trips to the Baltimore City Library each month.

So hold on to your hats, the 2016–2017 TNCS school year is shaping up to be one exciting, action-packed year of learning!

TNCS Elementary Gets Positively Presidential!

It’s February, during an election year, and the nation is completely caught up with who will become our next Chief Executive and Commander in Chief. While debates among presidential candidates rage, the run-up to and the outcome of state primaries and caucuses dominate the media, and the citizenry takes stock of each candidate’s political platform, elementary students at The New Century School have been involved in some pretty presidential activities of their own.

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Schoolhouse Rock, anyone? “I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill. And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill. Well, it’s a long, long journey To the capital city. It’s a long, long wait While I’m sitting in committee, But I know I’ll be a law someday At least I hope and pray that I will, But today I am still just a bill.”

Their school year began, in fact, with learning all about the U.S. political process, including replicating that process to campaign for Class President, a TNCS first! They have also studied how bills become laws, taken a trip to the White House, and researched and profiled a U.S. president of their choice. With Presidents’ Day just behind us, it’s an opportune time to take a closer look at what they’ve been doing.

In both elementary divisions (2nd/3rd and 4th/5th), each student presented a campaign speech, which were narrowed down to what the class voted on as the top five. To do so, explains Language Arts/Global Studies teacher Kiley Stasch, each student asked each campaigner five “quality questions,” to rate the potential candidate’s platform (a process they would repeat later in the year when Baltimore City mayoral candidate Elizabeth Embry came to TNCS to talk about campaigning for political office. TNCS students asked some very hard-hitting questions, being political experts themselves by that point.) From there, the final two—president and vice-president— were elected into office after presenting longer, more in-depth speeches and another round of voting. “What can you ask of candidates to determine whether you have shared opinions and values,” Ms. Stasch asked the class. “Don’t just vote for your friends; vote for someone who will bring good to your class—who really listens to you and helps address your needs.” In the 2nd-/3rd-grade group, President J.B. and Vice-President P.H. made the cut; in the 4th-/5th-grade group, G.C. became President with C.G. and E.B. tying for Vice-President.

The Class President exercise will be a year-long endeavor. The individual platform tenets that each candidate brought into office have become actual initiatives that the class, with Ms. Stasch’s help, has enacted. These include everything from stocking the class shelves with certain hand-picked titles to community outreach in the form of an upcoming bake sale. “Each [campaign platform] was completely self-led,” said Ms. Stasch, ” and I’m going to do my best to help make them happen. The students have taken this very seriously, and some great things are coming out of it.”

The trip to the White House was the highlight of the fall. “They were all really hoping to visit the Oval Office and see President Obama, but that didn’t happen,” said Ms. Stasch. Nevertheless, TNCS elementary students enjoyed this very special field trip immensely. At that time, she explained, the students were actively conducting researching for their presidential profiles, so they were excited to see the official portrait of their particular president. They had also been studying various White House “nooks and crannies” in class and had a ball applying their knowledge to the real thing. “I was glad to see them having so much fun as they made those connections,” said Ms. Stasch.

For actual Presidents’ Day, they recapped what they learned during their unit on presidents. They did some reflective writing in the president they had profiled earlier in the year. Their presidential subjects included the historical heavy weights—George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson—to those who have held office in their (or, more likely, their parents’ or grandparents’ lifetimes)—Jimmy Carter,  Barack Obama, both George Bushes, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, and Dwight D. Eisenhower—to even some of the more obscure names among the pantheon of 43 (note that although we have had 44 presidencies, Glover Cleveland held two nonconsecutive seats)—such as  Benjamin Harrison, Chester Arthur, and William Howard Taft. Students chose their own subjects, based on no set criteria, except that duplicating subjects was vetoed.

Ms. Stasch’s multi-semester unit merged historical and present-day politics, in a particularly relevant year, and even provided multiple opportunities for the students to actively apply their knowledge to activities happening both within and outside the classroom—and the great timing was no accident. “I wanted the students to gain insight into what their parents would be experiencing this year, to see and participate in the voting process, and to understand the role of the president including helping communities,” she said. She’ll no doubt be elected to a second term for the 2016–2017 school year by a landslide!

Meet the Teacher: Manuel Caceres

By now, we are well into the 2015–2016 school year at The New Century School, a period that has been brimming with exciting education-related events so far and has kept the TNCS community very busy, to say the least. But let’s take a moment to catch up with a new-for-this-year educator, who, it’s fair to say, has reinvigorated TNCS’s Spanish-language program and achieved new levels of student engagement. Meet K/1st teacher Manuel E. Caceres—or, as the kids know him, Profesor Manuel.

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K/1st teacher Profesor Manuel in his classroom.

A native of El Salvador, Central America, Profesor Manuel moved to the United States in March 2004. With a degree in education at the primary and secondary levels, he went on to study education and theology at Pan-American University. He is married with three children, an 8-year-old daughter and boy/girl twins born in spring 2015.

Education is vitally important to him; he believes that “we can accomplish much in this world through educating children as global citizens; citizens who are humane, caring, thinking, and effective.” He strongly believes in “you can do if you really want to.”

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Profesor Manuel donned a Dia de los Muertos costume for Book Character Dress-Up Day on October 31st to go with the K/1st viewing of “The Book of Life” in Spanish.

Up to now he had worked in public schools, including most recently at Baltimore International Academy, an immersion-style International Baccalaureate school, where he taught a variety of subjects. At TNCS, he teaches global studies in the target language of Spanish and is committed to his career in education, to his students, their parents, and TNCS. “I’m very glad to be at this school,” he said, “because private school is very different from what I’m used to. I will use this first year to learn—learn from other teachers, from parents, and from the children.” He values the degree if parent involvement here, especially. Some of his past students have not had the benefit of continual parental interaction, likely due to their life circumstances. In such cases, says Profesor Manuel, the teacher has to become part-time parent, psychologist, etc., leaving insufficient time to teach. “[At TNCS], I can see that children get a lot of support, and it makes an important difference.”

If you are wondering why suddenly your children are speaking more Spanish than ever before, look no further. Although Profesor Manuel might consider himself to be in an adjustment phase, his students would never know it, given the measurable strides they have made already this year in Spanish from his teaching. His deep engagement with his students is at the root. He asks them to set and be ever mindful of their personal goals. He demands—and receives—respect in and for the classroom. Once these important messages have been understood, it’s time to have a little fun while learning.

He also has an innate gift for tapping into kids’ natural proclivities. They like to move around. A lot. So, on field trips, he has been known to take turns sitting with each and every child on the bus and playing piedrapapelo tijera, which you probably know as the game “rock, paper, scissors.” Not only did keeping them occupied this way reduce the fever-pitch levels of noise and intensity on the bus (by a hair, anyway—any reader who has served as chaperone can relate 😉 ), but it’s also a brilliant method for enhancing language-learning. The actions reinforce the meaning of the Spanish words, and the rhythm aids pronunciation. (By the way, this is the basis of Total Physical Response, a core TNCS teaching approach that “uses physical movement to react to verbal input in order to reduce student inhibitions and lower their affective filter. It allows students to react to language without thinking too much, facilitates long-term retention, and reduces student anxiety and stress.” We’ll explore this fascinating concept further in a future post!)

“I integrate all sorts of things when I teach, like singing, playing, smiling . . . I always try to make connections,” he said. He also makes sure that every child knows that he or she is the “favorite”—in other words, there are no favorites. Each child is special in Profesor Manuel’s class and knows it. They feel secure, and when kids are confident, they are primed for learning.

Watch this video to see him keep a normally pretty rowdy crowd of K/1st students in check as they wait to begin work on a division-wide art project. Some minor delays in getting art materials ready would have otherwise severely taxed the kids’ reserves of patience, but Profesor Manuel and his skeletal assistant came to the rescue, with “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in Spanish!

“Let them be,” he said, “teach them the rules, but then let them play.” This approach is clearly working and fits in beautifully at TNCS. We’re glad to have you on board, Profesor! Bienvenida!

TNCS’s Second Annual Town Hall

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TNCS will host a Town Hall annually to provide a forum for communication of ideas and news to the TNCS community.

On Tuesday, March 10th, The New Century School held its 2015 Town Hall meeting for an auditorium full of eager participants. Admissions Director and Town Hall Moderator Robin Munro said, “We are a young and very ambitious school, so yearly meetings like this are critical. We will provide an annual state of the school update, specifically the K–8th program, and a forum for families to ask questions.” Childcare with dinner and wine and hors’ d’oeuvres were offered, and questions were solicited ahead of time to allow the event speakers to shape the discussion accordingly.

There was an evident unifying thread to this event: collaboration. Mrs. Munro remarked by way of introduction that “the map hasn’t been written to exactly where the school’s destination is and what the steps are along the way.” The implication is clearly that TNCS community input is not only valued and taken seriously but is also helping navigate to the destination. We are writing this map together.

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TNCS parents chat amongst themselves while having a little nosh prior to the start of the event.

Some notable differences from last year’s Town Hall bear pointing out. The biggest is the growth and maturation that the past year has afforded TNCS. Now in its 5th year, TNCS has emerged from the growing-pains phase faced by any new school as a secure, comfortable-in-its-own skin swan. It is owning its unique identity, and that feels good. Another key difference was in the nature of the interaction between the audience of parents and the event speakers (school administrators and executive directors). Parents were encouraged to share any concerns, but criticism was given in an overwhelmingly constructive way. Parents explained their problems but helpfully offered potential solutions to these problems in the same breath. The result was a very positive and productive evening. It felt like we were all in this together, collaborating to help keep the school flourishing and moving forward. Oh, right—that is the essence of the TNCS community!

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Hors d’oeuvres gave attendees time to arrive at a leisurely pace, mingle, and recharge before getting down to business.

Speaker Presentations

In Public Health, the concept of “patient activation” measures an individual’s capacity to manage his or her own health and health care. Does she eat right and get plenty of sleep to maintain health? If he falls ill, does he have the skills to communicate effectively with a physician and to follow doctor’s orders? A correlation can be drawn in the education domain: “parent activation.” The Town Hall audience of parents was highly activated. They participate competently in the education their children are receiving at TNCS, they are knowledgeable about every aspect of their child’s school day, they purposefully sought out the school that best aligned with their own values. Their kids are so much the better off for it. This is not a way to say that TNCS students are simply academically superior. Although that is often the case, academic performance is not the key measure of “success” at TNCS; it’s so much more.

Co-Founder and Executive Director Roberta Faux calls the TNCS community “like-minded,” and she expressed our shared vision beautifully in a couple of personal vignettes. She retold the story of the school’s origins (much of the audience had not heard it last year) and how quickly the 1-room Patterson Park Montessori grew into TNCS today. Then she described a lovely interaction she recently had with one of her daughters, in which her daughter asked her what gifts would she (mom) prefer had been bestowed on her daughter as a baby by a fairy godmother, a là Princess Aurora in the story of Sleeping Beauty. First of all, what an insightful and touching question from such a young child. Both this question and the answer Mrs. Faux ultimately gave exemplify what TNCS is, how it works, and why it is such a phenomenal school. “I took a step back,” she said, “and I asked myself, “as parents and educators, what do we want for our kids?” In the meantime, of course, she had answered her daughter by telling her that she likes the gifts that her daughter already exhibits, such as her kind spirit and enumerating her many other attributes.

“It’s not just about achievement,” she continued. “It’s about being able to find our own happiness, overcome stress, engage in healthy give-and-take human relationships. These are the real-life training skills that we hope our children grow up learning and take with them.” She explained that in the United States, “giftedness” and high IQ are perhaps overvalued. “All children are capable of great things,” she said. But what’s wrong with working hard to achieve goals rather than being able to effortlessly master something? “Grit” is what will allow a person to attain mastery of something otherwise outside of his or her given wheelhouse. At TNCS, students are encouraged to try new things, to explore and to inquire their way into making self-guided discoveries. This takes perseverance, and this stick-to-itiveness will be a resource they can draw on in any circumstance for life. (Please see below for links to the TED talk she mentioned as well as Immersed‘s own handling of this topic.) “Education should not be just about achievement,” concluded Mrs. Faux. “It’s about cultivating the strength to work hard enough to find what you love. For my kids and for the kids here, if they can find that, then we’ve given them so much.”

Co-Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Lawner spoke next to express appreciation of and gratitude for TNCS staff and families, second the ideas expressed by Mrs. Faux, and to share a charming anecdote of her own: “Thinking back to 2007, I remembered how Roberta and I would sit on the sofa in her sunroom and discuss the crazy idea of opening a preschool. Finally, I knew I had to make a decision, so I said, ‘I’ll only do it if we can do language immersion,” and without any hesitation whatsoever she said, ‘well, okay’.”

Based on the topics submitted by attendees, Ms. Munro organized the overall discussion into nine umbrella categories: Space, Curriculum, Staffing, Standardized Testing, Accreditations, Parent–Administration Organization, Scholarship Fund, Short-Term and Long-Term Plans, and Open Q&A. Although not every topic got exhaustive coverage and not necessarily in this order, the following synopsis provides a comprehensive overview of the school and its future direction.

Space: Indoor and Outdoor

The Middle School opens in fall of 2016 and will most likely be housed in the existing Union Box space of Building North. The Co-Founders are in talks with architects and engineers to develop it as a multi-classroom space, which, if all goes planned, will be secured by August. Fall 2015 will see a mixed-age grade 4/5 classroom, mixed-age grade 2/3 classroom, and either two mixed-age K/1st classrooms or a straight K class plus one mixed-age K/1st class.

Last year’s playground redesign experienced some environmental setbacks but is still going to happen in order to create a space that can work for preschool, elementary, and future middle school students. A new geo dome will be erected, and the greenhouse will be moved. Other aspects are less certain, but ideas for improvement flew about the room. Also, Head of School Alicia Danyali just announced that Friday that TNCS mom Tracey Browning has organized another High Five fundraiser at Camden Yards. Funds will go to the playground overhaul.

Staffing and Curriculum

Mrs. Danyali fielded these topics and was visibly thrilled to announce that she will be joined by an Assistant Head of School in August. This will free up much of her time to focus on exploring new approaches to inspire kids to learn and be excited about that learning. The International Baccalaureate is one such program on the horizon. “The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect,” through challenging and rigorous education programs.

Regarding the curriculum, questions here were very specific. Being fans already of the school day scholastic content, parents wanted to know if there will be additional after-school enrichment, sports, and musical instrument instruction. The administration heard them loud and clear—this was perhaps the primary issue of the evening. Proposed solutions will probably involve community partnerships, and this is a good thing on many levels. TNCS is committed to being a responsible and active member of the external community; partaking of community offerings is one way to honor this commitment. Discussions were already underway to expand the relationship with Coppermine Fieldhouse at DuBurns Arena, so giving more opportunities for team sports instruction and participation is a likely outgrowth. The Patterson Park pool could be used for swimming lessons, and the ice skating rink could also be used in an athletic program. Musical instrument instruction will have to be given some more thought, but some creative workarounds thrown out included inquiring about the services of Laura Norris, Director of the Baltimore Chapter of Mando for Kids, a free program that teaches Baltimore City kids ages 6 and up to play the mandolin. Mrs. Norris just happens to live down the block from TNCS and is a frequent guest performer. This video clip features all age groups she currently teaches. Developing a special offshoot for TNCS students is a distinct possibility.

Standardized Testing

“Will TNCS be implementing standardized testing?” was another popular question. “To be in line with the other private schools, it makes sense,” said Ms. Danyali. “We are leaning toward the ERB, but it’s not set in stone yet. We want something that would match this independent, dual-language learning environment.” According to the ERB–Lighting the Pathways to Learning website (ERB stands for Education Resources Bureau), “ERB is the only not-for-profit member educational services organization offering assessments for both admission and achievement for independent and public schools PreK–grade 12. . . With the diverse needs and requirements in today’s academic landscape, ERB takes a customized approach to our services.” Ms. Danyali says she is grateful that TNCS isn’t forced to implement standardized testing, “but students also need to know how to take a test—it’s important to have that exposure.”

Such testing, albeit less pressurized than it would be in a public school setting, will also prepare students for matriculation into secondary school and beyond. Regardless, teachers are never asked to simply “teach to the test.” They have freedom to accomplish their goals how they deem suitable, based on and tailored specifically to the individuals they teach.

Parent–Administration Organization 

Parents were very vocal about their willingness to help tackle existing obstacles to progress. A  suggestion was made was to formalize a PTA-esque parent committee, and another to create an oversight committee to help tie individual committee threads together to more effectively communicate school changes and news. “We are open,” said Mrs. Munro. “If what you want is a formal quarterly meeting, we’ll make that happen.” Thus, again the collaborative nature of this group was felt.

Short- and Long-Term Plans and Q&A

Though we didn’t get the chance to address this one head on, a theme throughout the discussion emerged that could serve to answer questions about how well students will be prepared for the next steps (whatever those might be) in their academic careers and lives. With the attention to whole-child development, the carefully differentiated instruction, the administration policies that ensure that TNCS doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is part of the city and state educational corps, etc. all combine to guarantee not just preparedness but that the TNCS-educated student will thrive in his or her future environs.

The Q&A gave TNCS administrators a clear idea of what parents feel could be done better. These issues were addressed with seriousness and respect and are of immense value to the moving the school forward. Many parents took this opportunity to praise the school and administrators for the zillion things they get right on a daily basis.

Finally . . .

For more information on Professor Angela Duckworth and grit, please visit the following links:

See you next year, TNCS community! In the meantime, keep that valuable and much-appreciated feedback coming!

TNCS Elementary Students To Enter BGE Video Contest!

Wires Down Video Challenge

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Mr. McGonigal’s 3rd- and 4th-graders welcome BGE to their class.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) is running its third annual “Wires Down Video Challenge” among elementary schools in their service area to raise kids’ awareness about the importance of electrical safety, and guess who is participating this year? The New Century School‘s 3rd- and 4th-graders, that’s who!

The contest hearkens back to a widely broadcast BGE commercial from 2000 in which a very catchy, “do not, do not, do not touch” jingle got the message out to thousands of kids about what not to do if they encounter a downed electrical wire. The current video challenge encourages elementary students to create their own 30- to 45-second version of this kid-friendly public service announcement.

This contest is no small potatoes, either—the first-place prize is $10,000! To win, Mr. McGonigal’s STEM class will need to harness all their creative and technical skills as well as demonstrate impeccable teamwork and school spirit. To get the ball rolling, a team of three BGE employees visited TNCS on October 15th to give a presentation on downed wires. After educating the class, Mr. Dave Himlin, Mr. Simon Benjamin, and Miss Faviola Donato-Galindo then quizzed them on electrical power. Correct answers earned the proud students their very own BGE hardhats. Not surprisingly, each of Mr. McGonigal’s science-savvy students was crowned. “Doing these school visits is a lot of fun,” said Mr. Dave. “We all enjoy the kids’ enthusiasm.”

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Video brainstorming

“You could win a lot of money for your school,” said Miss Faviola after the presentation. “After the submission period ends, ask your friends and family members to go online and vote for your video.” (We’ll be sure to keep you updated about that process, readers!) “We’ll announce the winners in January,” she said.

With their creative energy sparked, the lucky kids then got to help carry the specialized BGE equipment back out to the work truck and got a chance to sit in the driver’s seat. This truck is called a “boom lift” and is outfitted with a cherry picker on the back to lift engineers as high as 6o feet up to the height of power lines.

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They have until November 14th to get their video submission in, so send them all your positive “energy”! Shooting begins this week!

Quick Facts:  

• At least one winning school will be chosen from each participating county.

• Since the contest’s inception, BGE has awarded $50,000 to fund school enrichment programs.

• Possible awards include:

  • BGE Star Power Award – $10,000
  • BGE Spotlight Award – $5,000
  • BGE Cast and Crew Award (awarded for most student effort) – $3,000
  • BGE Director’s Cut Award (awarded to the most creative entry) – $3000
  • BGE Golden Pipes Award – (awarded to best musical performance) – $3,000
  • BGE Screen Gem Award (awarded to best entry in each county) – $1,000
  • Rock The Vote! Award (awarded to the entry with the most votes) – Backpacks and safety gear

• Visit BGE’s Electrical Safety page for more information on how to stay safe near energy equipment.

• Report downed power lines to BGE immediately by calling 1.800.685.0123.

• BGE turns 200 years old June 17, 2016 and is both the oldest gas utility in the country and one of Maryland’s longest-running businesses.

TNCS’s Inaugural Town Hall

On Thursday, January 9th, The New Century School held its first-ever Town Hall meeting for an auditorium full of eager participants. The Town Hall was conceived, says Admissions Director and Town Hall Moderator Robin Munro, because “We are a new school, so meetings like this are critical. We will have a meeting like this once a year for families to get a state of the school update and have a forum to ask questions.” The meeting followed directly on the heels of an Elementary Information Night, and the two presentations together made for an informative and synergistic event. What made it especially effective is the obvious level of planning and organization that went into it as well as the efforts made to accommodate families to quite an extensive degree. Free childcare with dinner, free parking, and wine and hors’ d’oeuvres were some of the inducements to attend, but the real attraction was in being able to submit questions well ahead of time to allow the event speakers to shape the discussion accordingly. This evening was clearly for us.

Thus, as Ms. Munro said, TNCS’s status as a new school means that it is still maturing, becoming itself. To alleviate the uncertainty inherent in that development process, the Town Hall gave the audience some transparency into the inner workings of our beloved school. Based on the topics submitted by attendees, Ms. Munro organized the overall discussion into seven umbrella categories: Growth, TNCS Leadership, Tuition and Fundraising, Standardized Testing, TNCS Community: Internal and External, Life after TNCS, and TNCS Policies. These topics combine to provide a comprehensive overview of the school and its future direction. Following is a synopsis.

Growth

The growth category was subdivided into Projections, Instruction Space, and Curriculum. Projections: What are the school’s growth plans for the future? Individual questions under this topic centered on whether expansion into a Middle School is likely and were mostly submitted by parents whose children are currently in the elementary program (or are about to be) and hoping to stay awhile! One family is even considering moving to within walking distance of the school. Are enrollment numbers supporting this plan? A resounding yes! is the unequivocal answer. For enrollment, near-future projections are 150–200 students school wide (i.e., including preschool, elementary, and middle school). The plan is to stay bottom heavy—keep the preschool large because it feeds the upper levels but there is a natural attrition rate as families move or change schools as their particular situations warrant. Here is the breakdown:

  • Pre-primary (~24 students): Maintain Spanish and Mandarin Chinese immersion.
  • Primary, including K (70–90 students): Maintain Montessori model with mixed-age, small class sizes in a 3-year cycle.
  • Elementary + Middle School (60~80 students): Expand to four or five mixed-age/mixed-grade classes, including 1st and 2nd (and “pre-1st” as needed), 3rd and 4th, 5th and 6th, and 7th and 8th.

Regarding elementary, the target size is no more than 16 students per class to allow for TNCS’s signature individualized, differentiated instruction. TNCS is currently approved to teach through Grade 5 and will continue annually adding a grade through Grade 8. TNCS “officially” follows basic Maryland age guidelines in grade assignments (i.e., must be age 5 by September 1st to enter Kindergarten and so forth), but internally, students are treated as individuals, not as a level. Some fun elementary facts include:

  • In 5 years, TNCS will graduate its first 8th-grade student
  • The TNCS Middle School will “open” Fall 2016
  • TNCS’s first 8th-grade class will graduate Spring 2019 (whoa!)

Sound like a too-lofty goal? Not when you consider that, so far, TNCS has hit every major planned milestone, including opening an Elementary in Fall 2010, launching a Greenhouse in Spring 2011, implementing a School Lunch Program in Fall 2011, establishing a Gymnasium and Performance Space in Fall 2012, and bringing in Gerstung gym equipment and the Imagination Playground in Spring 2013. With this kind of momentum, not only is a Middle School a certainty, but a playground redesign for a Fall 2014 launch is also well within reach (see below)! Finally, while all of this goes on around us, internally, the administration will be renewing their  focus on school infrastructure, such as curricula, materials, teacher and student retention, etc.

Instruction Space: How will the school accommodate future classes? This question is immediately relevant. With a Kindergarten class about to join the ranks of elementary in a few months, another classroom as well as another teacher are on the horizon. Said Ms. Munro, “We have the physical space to grow. Next semester we are moving the library to shelves lining the halls, and the art room to the existing library to open up a third classroom.” Thus, all three elementary classrooms will be on the third floor. The library occupying the hall spaces is sheer genius—the constant exposure to books will likely trigger increased interest in reading them! Even bigger news is that TNCS now owns the 710 building as well as the 724 S. Ann St. location, providing an additional 1,500 square feet of space on two levels. Already home to The Lingo Leap and to the pre-primary classrooms, making use of other parts of this building is a logical next step. A Middle School Science Lab will eventually occupy part of this space.

Finally, to round out TNCS’s cozy but expanding campus, big plans are afoot for a playground redesign. “This is the year to plan and make changes to create a space that can work for our preschool, our elementary students, and our future middle school students,” said Ms. Munro and asked for parent volunteers to get creative and make some suggestions. Other sources TNCS will tap for design inspiration are MICA students, who might get class credits or other incentives for their assistance. We don’t want “big plastic structures,” said Ms. Munro, “and you’ll be relieved to hear that we want to get rid of the rocks!” (This last is a nod to the parents of some of the younger students whose pockets are always full of washing machine–destroying pebbles.)

Curriculum: What is the curriculum for Upper Elementary and Middle School? Questions here were very specific. Parents want to know what the curriculum will “look like” as the students mature away from the lower Montessori levels. Will there be a Chinese and Spanish language program,  additional after-school enrichment, physical fitness testing, musical instrument instruction? How will TNCS deal with Common Core standards, if at all? How does TNCS compare with local public and private schools in terms of academic achievement?

Being independent and committed to small-classroom size, TNCS can and will “do it all.” Art, music, foreign languages, and physical education will continue to be spotlighted—yet not at the expense of rigorous instruction in science, math, and language arts (reading, writing spelling, etc.). Head of School Alicia Danyali addressed these curriculum questions; please read TNCS Elementary Information Night: A School Grows and Flourishes for details. Regarding Common Core, which is often vilified in the media, TNCS is fortunate to be able to cherry-pick the best of that approach and implement selectively. It’s not all bad, she says, and “[We] use it when it speaks to what’s going on in the classroom.” The guiding principle of Common Core is to promote independent learning, problem-solving ability, and critical thinking, all ideals very much in line with TNCS’s philosophy. It’s important to note that rather than dictating the sequence of the day, Common Core at TNCS supplements what’s already happening.

True to TNCS form, however, simply continuing is categorically insufficient as a future plan. TNCS was built on innovation in education, and the Co-Executive Directors Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner continuously explore new approaches to inspire kids to learn and be excited about that learning. The International Baccalaureate is one such program on the horizon. “The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect,” through challenging and rigorous education programs. Elementary teachers Ms. DuPrau and Ms. Roberts also chimed in to assure parents that they “don’t just show up and teach whatever they feel like that particular day.” Expectations are high, yet teachers are never asked to simply “teach to the test.” They have freedom to accomplish their goals how they deem suitable, based on and tailored specifically to the individuals they teach.

TNCS Leadership

This topic was evidently on the minds of many TNCS families and seemed to center on whether a Board of Directors exists or will be appointed. Said Moderator Ms. Munro, “The simple answer to this questions is ‘No,’ and the deeper answer really starts to address how the school was founded, the state of the school today, and where the school is headed in the future. I think [the Co-Founders/Co-Executive Directors] can speak a bit more to how the school was founded and to some of the advantages of staying small and not having a Board of Directors at this stage of development.”

Excuse the oversimplification, but, basically, the school is still coming into its own and needs some room to establish firm footing before transforming into something else entirely. Let’s face it, we like the school, and “our kids have benefited tremendously from what [the Co-Founders] have built,” as one dad in the audience eloquently put it. From what we’ve seen so far, we can trust that it’s headed in the right direction.

Said Ms. Lawner, “Staying small allows us to really use peoples’ talents, to cultivate those talents the same way we cultivate your children’s talents and skills.” She elaborated on the school’s beginnings and how she and Ms. Faux investigated setting up as a non-profit or funding the school through grants but quickly found that grant money tends to go to charter schools, which are bound by restrictions that TNCS simply can’t support. “We were able to self-fund and grow this, and it’s working very well” she said. “In this stage of our development, we feel that staying small allows us to make the kind of bold decisions we feel we need to make.” She used Mandarin instruction as an example of something that likely would not get approval via a grant route.

A parental advisory board (a 501c, for example) is something very different from getting and even acting on parent feedback—which is welcome and encouraged, added Ms. Faux. “We are doing something different and not running everything through a committee—the way every other school has been run,” she said. She left the possibility open of becoming a 501c school in future, so long as that aligns with the school’s values at that time. Also, changing to non-profit status is not easily achieved. The Co-Founders roles, moreover, would be unclear. If someone is ready to endow the school, say in 20 years, then that might be the time to become a proper non-profit. In the present, however, as one parent put it, the advantages conferred by for-profit status far outweigh those of non-profit status.

Ms. Munro stepped up once more to review some of the ways that parents can make their voices heard in school-related issues. Again, feedback is always welcome and encouraged, and meetings such as the now-annual Town Hall, Open Houses, and Information Nights are ideal forums for asking questions and weighing in. Another  suggestion she made was to formalize a PTA-esque parent committee through the Parent Liaison. “We are open,” she said. “If what you want is a formal quarterly meeting, we’ll make that happen.” The message is clear: Structurally, things need to stay as they are for the near future, but within that framework, there’s plenty of maneuverability to accommodate families’ reasonable desires.

Tuition and Fundraising

This question came up from parents wanting to know how to help raise money for the school (thanks parents!). Here again, grants probably are not within TNCS’s reach. For now, the small annual tuition increase every year and the expanding student body may suffice.

Within the for-profit structure, a separate 501c will exist soon to fund scholarships and thus make TNCS accessible to a wider student pool.

Standardized Testing

“Will TNCS be implementing standardized testing?” was another popular question. “To be in line with the other private schools, it makes sense,” said Ms. Danyali. “We are leaning toward the ERB, but it’s not set in stone yet. We want something that would match this independent, dual-language learning environment.” According to the ERB–Lighting the Pathways to Learning website (ERB stands for Education Resources Bureau), “ERB is the only not-for-profit member educational services organization offering assessments for both admission and achievement for independent and public schools PreK–grade 12. . . With the diverse needs and requirements in today’s academic landscape, ERB takes a customized approach to our services.” Ms. Danyali says she is grateful that TNCS isn’t forced to implement standardized testing, “but students also need to know how to take a test—it’s important to have that exposure.”

Such testing, albeit less pressurized than it would be in a public school setting, will also prepare students for matriculation into secondary school and beyond.

TNCS Community: Internal and External

With the internal community covered in multiple ways throughout the discussion, Moderator Ms. Munro directed this portion to the broader community, focusing on partnerships with the city, community service, and even potential environmental hazards. In the latter category, chromium exposure from the piercing of the capped old Allied Chemical facility at Harbor Point during construction of the new Exelon building was specifically mentioned, and TNCS administration has been assured that Baltimore City has taken the appropriate steps to ensure the population’s safety. This is in contrast to how that situation was formerly managed, evidently. Councilman Jim Kraft has been with TNCS “every step of the way” to help, said Ms. Lawner.

As for community service, there’s usually something going on to help our city at TNCS. Please read TNCS Gives Thanks By Giving Back, Heifer International,  and TNCS Holiday Outreach Programs for details.

Life after TNCS

Though we didn’t get the chance to address this one head on, a theme throughout the discussion emerged that could serve to answer questions about how well students will be prepared for the next steps (whatever those might be) in their academic careers and lives. With the attention to whole-child development, the carefully differentiated instruction, the administration policies that ensure that TNCS doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is part of the city and state educational corps, etc. all combine to guarantee not just preparedness but that the TNCS-educated student will thrive in his or her future environs.

TNCS Policies

Having run out of time, the Town Hall had to end before all questions were addressed. Important issues such as how and when to introduce sex education will have to wait until the next opportunity. In the meantime, keep these topical questions coming, parents!