TNCS’s Annual Elementary & Middle School Information Nights: An Overview

On the first two Thursdays of December, The New Century School hosted Information Nights about TNCS elementary and middle school programs, the first for current elementary/middle school families, the second for prospective families including those currently enrolled in TNCS’s preschool program.

The event is the best opportunity to get an in-depth look at the various curricula. After an introduction by TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali, each teacher described his or her classroom approach and particular subject area. Following these teacher presentations, audience members asked specific questions of the presenters. They also had the chance to flip through relevant curriculum materials.

The TNCS Difference

Mrs. Danyali first explained that one big change from the primary program is that, beginning in elementary, students have a homeroom teacher but then cycle through other classrooms throughout the school day, receiving instruction from a “team” of teachers, who each teach by subject area, rather than remaining with primarily one teacher as in preschool. Another key difference is that fewer Montessori elements are incorporated in the curriculum, although certainly the spirit and even some of the math materials are retained, depending on grade level.

Aspects that do continue from the preschool program include combining age groups within individual classrooms. “Staying true to our philosophy that students learn best in a mixed-age environment, we do combine ages in our elementary and middle school programs,” Mrs. Danyali explained. Thus, there are currently two K–1st-grade homerooms, one K–2nd-grade homeroom, a 2nd–3rd-grade homeroom, and a 4th–6th-grade homeroom.

Another continuous feature is individualized instruction—meeting the child at his or her academic and social level.

Her discourse then turned to what sets the TNCS elementary and middles school programs apart from those of other schools: “One thing we really believe in is learning languages,” she continued. “Every single day, your child will have individual time with their language educator, so they get a 45- to 90-minute block of Spanish and another with Mandarin Chinese. As their skills develop, they do more focused reading and writing, math, and culture in those two languages.”

Another difference she mentioned is the degree of depth in Science and Global Studies. “These disciplines are theme based as well as cross curricular,” she explained, “resulting in deeper exploration of the topics. For example, in Quarter 1 of the 2016–2017 school year,  students studied Egypt, with projects differentiated by grade level. The topic of Egypt carried over into English Language Arts as well as art class. We ensure that they get the full experience across the curriculum.”

Finally, so-called “specials” classes—that is, art, music, physical education—each take place twice weekly, which subjects get squeezed out of many public and charter school curricula to make room for disciplines more geared toward “what’s on The Test.”

Mrs. Danyali also has implemented twice monthly assemblies that explore aspects of character development, each assembly devoted to a particular theme. So far this year, elementary and middle school students have been taking a deep dive into the four Core Values and have enacted skits, made drawings, and told storied to illustrate what these concepts mean to them. Service learning, in particular, has been a key focus in the elementary and middle school program, and students have regularly participated in initiatives both in and around school as well as for the surrounding communities such as by serving as “safeties” who escort younger students from the car line into the school building a few mornings per week, cleaning up Gunpowder Falls State Park, and serving as “blanketeers” through Project Linus.

Science & Math, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade

fullsizerenderKiley Stasch is in her second year at TNCS. As Science and Math instructor for K–2nd grade, she explained that in Kindergarten, the Montessori approach to math is used, which relies on manipulatives to demonstrate increasingly abstract concepts. The “Daily 5” (or some permutation thereof) is also used for classroom management as well as to provide very individualized instruction.  Divided into small groups, students rotate with their group through a series of five stations: computer technology time (ABC Mouse, SuccessMaker, Khan Academy, depending on age and skill level), hands-on math games with partners or individually, meet the teacher, read to self (math- and science-related topics), and a science center.

“Although all levels are doing an energy unit, currently, what I’m doing with my Kindergarteners will be different from what I’m doing with my 2nd-graders and different from what Mr. McGonigal is doing with his 6th-graders,” she explained. “We try to build our instruction on whatever the students need, what they are capable of, and guide them as far as they can go.”

English Language Arts, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade

tncs-elementary-and-middle-school-programs-information-nightAdriana Duprau has been with TNCS for 7 years and is the lead for English Language Arts and Global Studies for K–2nd grade. “We have 45 students in our cohort [about 12 but no more than 16 per class], which includes many different personalities and abilities. Our goal is to make sure they get the personalized instruction they need. They also stay motivated to progress by their peers who might be working on something they aspire to.” This class also uses the Daily 5 approach. Here it is read to self, read to someone, word work, listen to reading (on the computer), and writing work. “Even my youngest 5-year-olds can quietly and independently rotate among these stations. It works very smoothly and allows me to work with at least four groups a day, meaning that students get one-on-one teacher time virtually every day.”

She incorporates Junior Great Books, which is a monthly whole-class exercise that encourages sharing new ideas and rich conversation; Lucy Calkins and Just Write for writing instruction; Fundations, for beginning readers/spellers; and Wordly Wise 3000.

“It’s nice to see my students working at their own level, not necessarily their assigned grade. Because I have mixed ages and therefore multiple curriculum materials, I can provide higher level materials for the student who is rapidly advancing,” she said.

Spanish Language Arts, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade

fullsizerender-02Profesor Manuel Caceres is in his second year of teaching at TNCS and teaches Spanish speaking, reading, writing, and grammar to the K–2nd cohort. “I know you hear about me a lot,” he joked. “Each teacher has his or her own recipe to provide each student with the best academic experience.” He uses the Santillana platform for helping students develop skills and achieve fluency but was quick to remind us that there’s no magic bullet for learning another language.

He uses Daily 3—writing, reading, and speaking—in the classroom. He approaches the curriculum by school quarter, starting with the basics of vocabulary and handwriting and building on reading comprehension and, for example, verb conjugation, as the year progresses. He also incorporates games, singing, and media to keep them moving and engaged. “Academically, they will be at a very high level in terms of Spanish proficiency when they eventually transition to high school,” he said. “It’s a really amazing opportunity that the school provides.”

He explained that he also tailors his lessons to connect with the areas of exploration happening in other disciplines, such as the unit on Egypt (Egipto) already mentioned. As with other teachers, he also makes sure that instruction is individualized and sees a wide range of abilities and skill level among the cohort.

Mandarin Chinese, Kindergarten through 6th Grade

fullsizerender-03Another teacher in Year 2 at TNCS, Wei Li, or “Li Laoshi,” teaches Mandarin Chinese to all elementary and middle school students. “We use the same methods here as were used in preschool to teach Mandarin,” she explained. This method centers on Total Physical Response (TPR), a proven strategy that incorporates movement to deepen comprehension. “So, we sing, we dance, and we play games in Chinese class. But, we focus more on Chinese characters and reading skills in elementary and middle school, so they can read books independently,” she explained.

“Another way we incorporate TPR is with acting out stories each Friday,” she went on. They write these stories and act them out on stage. “Books are the backbone of the curriculum,” she said, “and students can progress at their own pace through them.” Here again, due to the mixed ages and as well as the varying degrees of skills among them, individualized instruction is paramount. To achieve this, Li Laoshi uses the Daily 5—meet with teacher, write sentences using Chinese characters, read books, play games, and use the computer.

jianzi-1Cultural elements are also emphasized, so they do a lot of cooking and eating Chinese food as well as playing traditional Chinese playground games, such as jianzi, a feathered shuttlecock (see photo) played similar to hackey sack, and Chinese squash. Calligraphy and painting is also taught to further promote the students’ interest in learning Chinese.

Art, Kindergarten through 6th-Grade (So Far)

fullsizerender-07Elisabeth Willis has been at TNCS for years and in different capacities. She now, in fact, teaches art to all TNCS students, including pre-primary and primary students. By Kindergarten, her students have attained functional skills and can apply them ever more masterfully. She also incorporates Art History at this point, which is her specialty. Her students can now recognize artwork by artist.

Mrs. Willis encourages her students to bring their ideas for projects to her, and, as such, did some bookmaking with them earlier this year. She also encourages them to embrace their own styles and adapts assignments as necessary to accommodate, for example, a student’s inclusion of more detail than was called for. Instead of using oil pastels to add color to such a piece, she allows that student to use a different medium.

Importantly, she links art class with other content areas, to deepen and enrich the student’s experience. When they were studying Ancient Egypt, for example, she introduced them to hieroglyphics, and some students even began sending notes to each other written in this representational alphabet. The older students even designed cartouches to feature their hieroglyphic messages.

“Art is a more meditative place in the school,” she said. “The students relax, do some introspection, and really put the work out there. I’m very proud of them,” she said. “All of my students are doing art past what they would be learning in their assigned grade. Kids are more than able to make really good art, despite what a curriculum made by adults says.”

English Language Arts & Science, 2nd Grade through 6th Grade (So Far)

fullsizerender-04Dan McGonigal is in his third year at TNCS, having worked in different capacities in the elementary program and teaching English Language Arts and Science for the 2016–2017 school year. Mr. McGonigal also taught for 8 years in the public school setting. With his dual perspective, he says, he clearly sees the advantages that TNCS students have in this program. “As several teachers have mentioned,” he explained, “we are highly individualized with students’ education, and this is certainly also true for 2nd- through 6th-graders. We try to meet students at their ability level rather than their assigned grade level, whether it’s a 6th-grade student reading at a 4th-grade level, or a 4th-grade student reading at a 6th-grade level.”

The focus of his reading class is to get students thinking more deeply about the content, to pick up context clues and infer the author’s meaning. “We also do a lot of discussion-based learning when it comes to language arts acquisition,” he said. “Building on the skills that students have learned earlier and applying them to higher-level texts, we are developing a love of learning in students.”

Regarding writing, he says he tries to find opportune moments to ask for a piece of writing to make it “real.” “Instead of doing writing in isolation,” he explained, “we apply it to a real-world situation. We integrate writing not only with what we are reading but also with science topics and any other content areas.” Chapter books, teacher-led discussions, and student-led discussions comprise a big part of class time, and he also incorporates spelling and vocabulary acquisition with Wordly Wise, which puts challenging vocabulary in context and gives words multiple meanings. In spelling, he emphasizes patterns rather than rote memorization in order to build up skills.

Moving on to science, he describes himself as a “passionate science educator.” “I recently got certified as a STEM Education Leader, among the first cohort of only eight teachers to receive this certification from Towson University.” He says he integrates engineering everywhere he can, always applying it to solving real-world challenges and problems. “For example, he explains, “we have just started our energy unit, and after we have learned all about energy and how it works, what it is, and its different types, we will then put that knowledge to use in an engineering challenge. It’s a way to really bring that instruction alive, and it’s also a great way to assess students insofar as their designs and creations reveal the thinking and understanding that went into them. We are developing 21st-century skills and instilling the kinds of habits that The New Century School embodies.”

Curriculum materials include Engineering is Elementary, Fox Education Systems, and a lot of teacher-created items designed with individual students in mind. “In 2nd through 6th grade, we are getting more serious in terms of holding students accountable for their learning. We start to see quizzes and tests, for example, all to make sure each student is getting what he or she needs,” he concluded.

Math & Global Studies, 2nd Grade through 6th Grade (So Far)

fullsizerender-05Beatriz Cabrera is new to TNCS for the 2016–2017 school year (look for a Meet-the-Teacher post on her in the coming weeks) and teaches Mathematics and Global Studies to 2nd- through 6th-graders. But that’s not all—Sra. Cabrera teaches her subject areas in Spanish, thus providing an authentic immersion experience. Thus, students enhance their Spanish language acquisition and also learn core content in that language.

“I came from Spain 2 years ago,” she said, “and I am really happy to join The New Century School. My students are learning Spanish very quickly.” She describes the process by which she pulls of the amazing feat of teaching Math and Global Studies in Spanish to mostly nonnative speakers as one of accrual. Initially, she repeated everything she spoke in Spanish, in English, so she could be sure they understood their instructions for a given lesson, until she observed that her students were comfortable enough to go full Spanish. “They are very bright,” she said. Her materials are also in English, so those she translates herself into Spanish.

Sra. Cabrera also implements the Daily 5 rotation approach to class time and dedicates more time on Fridays to playing games. “By the last day of the week, they are tired, so I try to make it fun. They love it,” she said. In fact, this game-playing is strategic in another way by preparing her students to participate in Math Kangaroo, an international competition that U.S. students will join on March 16, 2017.

In keeping with the theme of individualized instruction, she says she also allows students to work where they are. “Students can have the perception that math is hard or that they cannot do math, so I try to make them feel comfortable. ‘You are here to learn,’ I tell them, ‘and the most important thing is to try. You do not need to be afraid if you don’t know how to do something. That’s what you are here to do—to learn how,'” she explained.

Currently, in Global Studies, they are studying the Ancient Roman and Greek Empires, having completed their “Egipto” unit in the first quarter. Here again, she translates her class materials into Spanish and encourages students to also speak and write in the language, often offering extra credit if they do so. In this class, the focus is not so much on proper usage as on just usage. Grading on grammar and the like is reserved for another class.

Spanish, 2nd through 6th Grade

fullsizerender-06Fabiola Sanzana is another TNCS veteran, having been with the school for many years. She teaches Spanish to the 2nd- through 6th-graders. “I am from Chile,” she began, “and in my culture, the Spanish language is very, very important, especially in terms of writing.” All of her materials are Latin American based that she obtains from her teacher networks.

Sra. Sanzana is currently teaching her students how to interpret instructions. Nothing is in English, and she expects them to figure out and understand their instructions in Spanish, which they manage very well. “I give them the tools,” she says, “such as how to use online Spanish dictionaries and to choose the most accurate translation, so they can proceed with a given activity.” She describes how, at the beginning of the school year, students relied heavily on the dictionaries (parents may recall this during homework time), but now they have progressed beyond the need for such help and can read and interpret the instructions independently. “They have assimilated an enormous amount of vocabulary,” she said.

They are also learning syllables, nouns, big numbers, and more. “They are not little kids anymore. They are ready and able. Also, if they have been with Profesor Manuel, they come to me with very advanced vocabulary,” she said. “Here they are facing more difficult lessons and advanced Spanish.” She emphasizes correct pronunciation in speech and correct orthography, including accent marks, in writing.

She implements a Daily 3 rotation in the classroom: one-on-one instruction, in which they address specific concerns about assignments or cover new material if appropriate; read to self or others, in which they have begun reading short novels and answering related questions to test comprehension (which Sra. Sanzana deems “amazing”); and group work that might include dictation, role-playing, games, or songs. Her students always want more, she says, which is a very good sign indeed!

Regarding instructional differentiation, her class is composed of a spectrum of levels from native Spanish speakers to novice speakers who just joined TNCS this year. “I prepare materials for each student,” she says. “I meet with all of them to determine where they are and teach accordingly.”

All Wrapped-Up

After the teachers each spoke, Mrs. Danyali explained some administrative points that are always frequently asked about, such as that TNCS sends out report cards four times a year, with a specialized reporting system that accommodates a multilingual school. TNCS is also MSDE (MD State Department of Education) certified. Parent–teacher conferences are held twice yearly, and teachers may be contacted separately at any time to address specific concerns or just to check in and keep the lines of communication open. Homework begins in Grade 2 and is given on Mondays, with the remainder of the week to complete it. Prior to Grade 2, nightly reading is encouraged.

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The evening ended with Q&A between staff and audience on specific points, and curriculum materials were made available for parent perusal. Current families appreciated the in-depth look at the elementary and middle school programs and the amount of preparation that went into each teacher presentation. Prospective families were surely impressed by the robustness of education at TNCS. From the academic rigor infused into core subjects, to the multilingualism, to the emphasis on The Arts, coupled with the customized instruction each child receives, these elementary and middle school programs are truly unique in Baltimore.

 

Kids Brush up on Creativity at TNCS Summer Camp with the Painting Workshop!

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Elisabeth Willis, Painting Workshop and TNCS Art Instructor

Summer sessions at The New Century School continue with an exciting block of camps hosted by The Painting Workshop. Led by TNCS art teacher Elisabeth Willis, art camp gives kids the chance to learn new techniques and try out new media while tapping into and expressing their creativity. Each day, they work on one painting/project as well as get lots of free-drawing time and afternoon crafts. Their sole job is to make art, and they really give themselves over to the process.

As the artist-campers experiment with colors, patterns, and brush maneuvers to their hearts’ content, Ms. Willis moves through the classroom, responding to questions and comments. “What do yellow and orange make? What about blue and pink and white?” they might ask. “Why don’t you try it out?” is the unfailingly encouraging response. This camp emphasizes exploration and the freedom to self-express and get creative . . . and even a little messy sometimes!

tncs-painting-workshop-summer-camp

Crafting!

Despite all the “self-expression,” going on, the atmosphere is calm and productive. Spills and accidents are handled without fuss, and the kids are gently reminded to keep working until they finish. Ms. Willis is no stranger to the art classroom and brings an impressive amount of experience to her role. She has both a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Art History and a Masters in Art and Teaching from Maryland Institute College of Arts (MICA). She freelanced after graduating in 2011 to spend time on her art, has spent several years with The Painting Workshop, and took over as TNCS art teacher this year.

Typical Day

tncs-painting-workshop-summer-camp

Sample creature and habitat

The day starts out with free draw (and each child gets a folder to collect their drawings to bring home at week’s end). About midmorning when everyone has gotten the wiggles (and the squiggles) out, they move on to the main project of the day. Ms. Willis gives step-by-step instructions and demonstrations, and campers get to it. One day recently, for example, Ms. Willis was exploring habitats in three dimensions. she sketched out a model on the whiteboard and then demonstrated how to model a figure (e.g., animal, alien, made-up creature, person) in clay (neon hued, naturally. The next task was to build a habitat for the figure out of paper, felt, pipe cleaners, beads, etc.; their challenge was to give the structure height. Each camper met the challenge but their habitats share almost nothing else in common!

 

Hard at work, painting away

Hard at work, painting away.

Schedule

Each week features a different theme to spark kids’ imaginations and get the creative juices flowing.

Week 1 (June 20–24): Art and Nature The outside world comes alive in this camp where we are inspired by nature. From leaf rubbings and clay pressings, to plein-air painting, and sponge paintings of trees, we celebrate nature through our art!

Week 2 (June 27–July 1): Art and Science Environmental science, chemistry, geology and geography can all be accessed through art. Whether we are making casts of dinosaur bones, or combining various ingredients to make lava for a volcano or to create the best goo, the most pliable clay, or a resistant glue, science is present, and art is the result. We’ll have lots of fun projects, experiments, and fun in this week of camp!

Week 3 (July 5–July 8): Modern Art and You Join us as we explore the world of modern art. From Andy Warhol’s soup cans to Robert Rauschenberg’s constructions, Jackson Pollack’s drip paintings to Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture, we will take a look at their techniques and ideas to inspire our own. Abstract art, conceptual art, collage, sculpture, multi-media, drawing, and painting are all covered in this fun and inspiring class.

Week 4 (July 11–15): Art Around the World Let’s take a trip around the world, exploring art as we go. Stop in Australia and discover aboriginal art. Create your own ancient Greek vase. Explore the calligraphy and printmaking of Japan, the Batik textiles of Indonesia, the landscapes of France and Italy. Art and culture—around the world!

tncs-painting-workshop-summer-campWeek 5 (July 18–22): Under the Sea Water covers more than two thirds of our planet. Within it, we find amphibious life of all description and fauna and flora that exist only in the mysterious world of the sea. This camp celebrates the waters of planet Earth through painting, drawings, sculpture, and—of course—the use of water in art projects! The geology of the ocean, the uses of the ocean, the wonder of the sea—it’s a watery week of imaginative fun!

Week 6 (July 25–29): Creatures Great and Small The world of animals, insects, and birds is magical and inspiring. Join us as we use art to both represent and interpret the animal world. From basic paintings of dogs and cats, to sock monkey puppets, to animal habitats (think jungles and the sea!), we will explore the lively and mysterious world of the creatures that share our planet. Camp may include a visit from a friendly canine, or a lesson from Brittany Roger of The Drawing Zoo, who brings reptiles to drawing classes! Join us for this lively and entertaining week!

Week 7 (August 1–5): Let’s Build! Sculpture Camp This sculpture class incorporates not just clay, but also wood, paper, plaster, and more. Students learn how to build armatures, so that their creations are strong and sturdy, and how to add the finishing touches with paint. We might build something realistic—a rocket ship, a house, an animal—or it could be something abstract such as a beautiful assemblage of colors and shapes. Stretch your imagination and your skills in this fun class!

Week 8 (August 8–12): Art and Stories What are the stories we tell about our paintings? What are the paintings we create from stories? Older campers will write their own stories and poems, while younger ones can create a backdrop to stories told to them, read to them, or created out of their imagination. We will explore graphic design, illustration, painting, drawing, printmaking, and collage. There will even be a visit from a professional storyteller! Join us for a fun and creative week of words, stories, tall tales, and art!

Week 9 (August 15–19): Space Camp What do we see when we look into outer space? Stars, comets, planets, and aliens! Beautiful constellations, fascinating planet mobiles, our own spaceships—anything is possible in this fun week of space exploration!

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Cotton swab loom!

Would you like to register your child(ren) in this engaging and creative camp? Please go here.

TNCS Teachers and Admin Share School Memories, Part 2

As mentioned in TNCS Teachers and Admin Share School Memories a couple of weeks ago, with the 2015–2016 school year almost over, it’s a great time to reflect on all that The New Century School does for its students as well as all that education has given us. Prompted by TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali’s questions, “What is your fondest memory of school? and What teacher/school event influenced you the most in your educational experience?” here is another round of teacher and staff responses that provide a window into who they are as people, as educators, and as friends.

Emma Novashinski, Executive Chef & Master Gardener

Chef Emma draws on her love of growing things and the importance—and rewards—of practicing environmental sustainability.

My fondest memory at the school was actually this year’s Earth day. I have always wanted to watch a weeping willow tree grow, and I bought one to donate to the school as they are too large for a conventional garden. It was a little bittersweet.
I heard they were going to plant it on Earth day and got a call during lunch to join them. When I got out there the whole school was there! They all clapped and thanked me for the tree! To put roots into the Earth on Earth day was so fulfilling. My heart burst with love for everyone at the school. So thoughtful and meaningful and kind!!

Dan McGonigal, Elementary STEM Teacher

Mr. McGonigal shows us where his drive for protecting the environment began to develop and also that sometimes you just can’t take yourself too seriously.

My most influential teacher was one of my high school teachers, Mr. Shearer. He taught Environmental Issues. I remember him because he was so passionate about what he did, and it really hit home with me. I always had an appreciation for the outdoors, but he made me look at our environment in a different way. He discussed things in his class that came true later in my life, such as climate change, population problems, and even the flooding of New Orleans. It was a very memorable class for me and has impacted my own teaching.
My most memorable school moment was also my most embarrassing. I was called to the foul line during our assembly in the gym to show how I used routine to help me shoot a foul shot for our basketball team. I started my routine and heard some people laughing, and I continued and made the shot. I was asked to do it again, and more people laughed, but I made the shot again. The third time everyone was laughing and I didn’t realize why. But as it turned out part of my routine was sticking my tongue out! It was something that still makes me smile when I think about it.

Johanna Ramos, Pre-Primary Lead Spanish Immersion Teacher

Sra. Ramos gives some well-deserved props to a colleague and probably speaks for many in so doing.

I could say that the teacher that influenced me the most in my educational experience is Mr. Warren because of his hard work and dedication toward the school and the students.

Kiley Stasch, Elementary Language Arts & Global Studies Teacher

In her recollection, Ms. Stasch demonstrates the undeniable value of service learning and of mixed-age activities—two core TNCS elementary values!

One of my fondest memories of school was when my school had what they called “Stewardship Day.” On this day, we were split up into groups from K–12th grade and assigned different tasks to help improve our community. Not only was this a fun time to have the chance to climb on top of school buses to wash them, go on long hikes to pick up trash, and clean up community gardens, but it was also one of the few times
out of the year that we were able to interact with students of all ages that attended our school!

Elizabeth Salas-Viaux, Pre-Primary Lead Spanish Immersion Teacher

Sra. Salas’s takes a different approach and gives a shout out to the awe-inspiringly involved families of the TNCS community.

One of the things that have inspired me as a teacher is to see how families and communities work along with teachers in order to provide the best positive learning experience for our students.

It’s true that the educational environment works best when all stakeholders are invested both internally and externally. The TNCS community is a beautiful synergy in the truest sense of that word, as the students who go on to enter the world as kind, compassionate, caretakers of it will reveal.

TNCS Teachers and Admin Share School Memories

It’s just plain hard to believe that the 2015–2016 school year is almost over, but with only a handful of weeks remaining, this is a great opportunity to reflect on all that The New Century School does for its students as well as all that education has given us. In perhaps a similarly nostalgic frame of mind, TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali posed the following questions to her staff recently: “What is your fondest memory of school? What teacher/school event influenced you the most in your educational experience?”

It’s interesting to note the various ways the questions were interpreted—some answering from their past school experiences as young students, and others bringing their more recent TNCS experiences to bear. Regardless, Dear Readers, what follows are their heartwarming, often funny, and always insightful responses. You will get to know these wonderful educators in a new way, seeing what particular experiences and moments shaped them into who they have become as well as whence the unique gifts each brings to the art of educating your children.

Tissues handy? Okay, in no particular order, here we go!

Teresa Jacoby, K/1st Math & Science Teacher

Mrs. Jacoby, fittingly, reveals being awed by the power of science.

I think my fondest memory is winning first place in my 8th-grade Science Fair. My father who was a plumber helped me build a water cycle table. My water cycle table actually rained and had thunder and lightning. It showed the path that water follows from the mountains to the ocean. My father being my first and best teacher taught me to weld pipes and install a small water pump, which pumped the water to a showerhead hidden in the clouds. The water then followed a small river from the top of the mountain to the seashore draining into a bucket where the pump pumped it back to the showerhead.

Catherine Lawson, Lead Primary Montessori Teacher

Mrs. Lawson shows us where her compassion for students and her fun-loving side may have begun to develop in earnest.

I have two vivid memories from attending Fernwood Elementary School in Bethesda, Maryland. The first was in the 3rd grade, when my class did a play called “February On Trial,” which was about February not having enough days to be counted as a month.  All of the holidays in February were represented by a character who were called on to defend why February was important to have. I was the bailiff and got to walk the defenses (characters) across the stage and have them say that they would tell the truth and nothing but the truth. These included The Groundhog, Cupid, George Washington, and February 29. I was very proud of my part. As I think back now as an adult, I realize that my teacher, Mrs. Reader, made up this part just for me because I wanted to be in the play so badly. I could not remember lines, so she simply had me have to say the same line over and over: “Do you promise to tell the truth and nothing but the truth?” I love Mrs. Reader for that.

The second activity was 6th grade Outdoor Camp, lasting 3 days and 2 nights. We had to hike to the camp, which was probably only a short hike, but I remember it feeling like miles. Once there, we got to dissect an owl pellet. It was so exciting to open up the pellet and finding the bones of a mouse—even a mouse skull. We slept on bunk beds in sleeping bags. It was very exciting. We had a dance one of the nights and all the boys were expected to ask all the girls to dance. The boy (Ralph Miller) who I liked from afar asked me to dance, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I thought nothing could be better than dancing with him. It is so interesting how your prospective changes as you grow up and mature. I know that we must have done more activities on that trip; however, these are the things that I can remember all these years later.

I hope as a teacher that I can make memories that children will remember all their lives. I am thankful for all the teachers that shaped my life and made me who I am today.

Dominique Sanchies, Admissions Director and Assistant Head of School

Mrs. Sanchies proves that teachers truly make a difference in their students lives.

I’ve had three life-changing teachers:

  1. Mr. Carlo Tucci, my childhood guitar teacher who made me sing during each lesson. This taught me that I had a voice.

  2. Mrs. Patricia Brawn my high school French teacher (4 years), who taught me that my voice (point of view and expression) was beautiful.

  3. My college Avant Garde Film instructor Ms. Kathryn Lasky, who taught me how to organize my voice to best be heard and to think outside the proverbial box.

Elisabeth Willis, Elementary Art Teacher

Ms. Willis demonstrates the undeniable value of differentiation in a child’s education and what it can do for self-esteem when teachers give the learner ways to use their strengths to grow!

It’s very hard to pick just one. Growing up, I had art teachers who recognized my abilities at a young age and always encouraged me to do more. Each art teacher, from 1st grade through high school, all played a major roll in how I learned and what I strived to become.  In elementary school, my teacher created an AP art class based on me and a few other students in my class needing more than just one art class a week. It also meant skipping gym for a day, which, for a clumsy kid, was amazing.

In high school, my teachers all encouraged me to take classes outside of just what the school had to offer. I ended up taking classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and doing precollege at both Parsons and MICA. Without the teachers I had throughout my life, I’m not sure I would have become who I am now or have experienced all I have been able to experience.

Lisa Reynolds, Lead Primary Montessori Teacher

Mrs. Reynolds’ sense of humor shines through in these funny memories from her tenure at TNCS.

A student and teacher go into the greenhouse to pick grapes. The student walks in first with teacher behind him. They startle two doves sitting in the grapevines, and the only way out is the door that the teacher and student are standing in. The birds swoop toward them, as they both duck so not to get struck by the anxious birds. The student looks up with a serious grin and says, “[Teacher], you have bird___ on your forehead!” The teacher says, “Thank you . . . would you please hand me a leaf?” This always makes me laugh when I think back on it!

Another time, I asked a student if her unique name had a special meaning. She thought for a moment and replied, “I just might be related to poison ivy and [my parents] wanted to mix it up a bit.” LOL!

Yu Lin, Pre-Primary Lead Mandarin Immersion Teacher

Lin Laoshi’s fondest memory of her time at TNCS happened when she saw her hard work paying off in a surprising way and in a brand-new context.

We took a field trip to the Baltimore Zoo last year. I was so surprised that many of our children were able to name the animals using Chinese, and they sang Chinese songs about the animals that they had learned in class. I was so proud of them.

Wei Li, Elementary Mandarin Teacher

Li Laoshi used this opportunity to reflect on the new experience of teaching Mandarin as a second language in this country and how she will use it to inform ongoing improvements—a lifelong learner!

This is my first year at TNCS, and it is also my first job in the U.S. I am so excited to be a member of this big and warm family, and I really enjoyed my job in the past year. I gained tons of practical experience in teaching a second language (Chinese), and I am becoming better in communicating with students who are in various ages and learning styles. I believe with the support from all my friendly colleagues, I will run the Chinese program better and better in the following years.

Maria Mosby, Lead Primary Montessori Teacher

Ms. Mosby shares recollections that show her both coming to terms with the need to persist in the face of possible failure as well as her overcoming obstacles with her newfound resolve.

One memory of mine that had a big impact on me was a poetry reading I was supposed to participate in in high school. Only a few students were selected to read their poetry, and I had worked on it for weeks. At the assembly, my teacher could tell that I was very nervous. She asked me if I would rather opt out, and, without thinking, I said “yes.” Everyone else read their poetry, and I stayed in the audience, wincing. I was angry at myself for not having the courage to go up there. I have always regretted that moment and promised myself that I wouldn’t let fear get in the way of another opportunity.

One of my fondest memories would have to be an accomplishment from middle school French class. I created a model of The Louvre while dealing with pneumonia. Several students suggested that I give up and that I would fail, but I pushed through and did it. I was very proud of that model, and kept it for several years.

Martellies Warren, Lead Primary Montessori Teacher and Elementary Music Teacher

Mr. Warren not only gives us another fascinating peek inside his illustrious career, but he also demonstrates that sometimes “the show must go on” even in the face of unimaginable tragedy to lift spirits and spread some love.

In 2001, Wynton Learson Marsalis “trumpeter, composer, teacher, music educator” asked the Morgan State University choir to record his work “All Rise” and perform it at the Famous Hollywood Bowl. We were scheduled to fly from the Dulles international airport headed to Hollywood California on none other than September 11, 2001. This was a huge deal for all of us, and we quickly told everyone we knew. Three weeks before we were scheduled to leave, Wynton called the late and former head of the Morgan State University music department Dr. Nathan Carter to ask if it would be a problem to move our departure date up to September 9th. Dr. Carter agreed, and this decision probably saved all of our lives.

On September 11, 2001, I awaken in Hollywood, California to several choir friends crying and frantically trying to call loved ones. I looked at the news and saw the first airplane fly into the World Trade Center. It was like something out of a horror movie, except it was really happening. Shortly after, the second airplane flew into the other tower, and we watched in horror as both buildings came crashing down. I had been trying to call my parents to let them know we were safe and that we had already flown out prior to the 11th but could not get through. My family and friends thought I was on the flight that left Dulles and had been calling my parents all day with their condolences.

Shortly after the 11th, Wynton and the producers felt that we should still do the show at the Hollywood bowl. We opened the show with an arrangement of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and sang to a packed stadium of patriotic concertgoers. A day later, we were cleared to fly back across the country to Dulles airport, where we learned we were the first flight allowed back into Washington, D.C. airspace! I’ll never forget being escorted into D.C. by fighter jets that surrounded our aircraft (yikes!). We landed safely and taxied to our gate on a runway lined with pilots waving American flags and cheering.

This experience shaped me as an educator. My life was spared for a reason. I have purpose and a duty to educated and provide the highest quality of education I can provide. It was that experience that helped shape me into the passionate educator and musician I am today!

Alicia Danyali, Head of School

And here’s what it all comes down to. Mrs. Danyali reveals both how important it is to be nurtured as a learner, in this case as a young teacher, as well as how essential to provide a nurturing space for the teachers now in her care as Head of School.

The teacher–mentor dynamic can be life-changing in every profession, especially in education. My most significant mentor, whom I find myself quoting throughout my career, is a 3rd-grade teacher, Mrs. Sharon Bleumendaal. Mrs. Bleumendaal was my first mentor and colleague in my first position after graduating from Florida International University with a BS in Elementary Education. I was given the opportunity to work overseas as a Grade 3 teacher, and my path into the international educational community allowed me to grow as a professional in ways I never expected.

Mrs. Bleumendaal was a veteran teacher who had many degrees. Of all these, the Montessori Philosophy was closest to her heart, even though the school where we taught was not Montessori. She opened my eyes to a community of learners who, under her guidance, were compassionate, intrinsically motivated, and excited about being in her classroom. This was the environment I aspired to create as an educator new to the profession. The key to her student success was her ability to differentiate instruction, meet the students right where they were academically, and challenge those students to tap into their full potential.

I was the luckiest new teacher in the world! I could throw out the traditional views and assessments through standardizing tests in the public domain, a bureaucracy that instilled fear into the generation of teachers from the early 90s and beyond, teachers who were, and are, desperately trying to make a difference, even with many odds against them.

At a recent staff development day in my current role, as Head of School, I quoted Sharon Bleumendaal while discussing the application of differentiating techniques to student needs, and not conforming students by honoring their learning style. Mrs. Bleumendaal was nurturing but held her students accountable. The classroom shined with high self-esteem and teamwork, years before these “buzzwords” were a concern for stakeholders worldwide.

Mrs. Bleumendaal was tapped into her students, and offered her full attention and dedication to them daily. She also trusted her students, which goes a long way in making choices that can guide decisions all the way through adulthood. It would be a big claim to state that if I never had Sharon Bleumendaal to mentor me right out of university, I can’t say if I would have stayed in education. My experiences and opportunities since those early days have undoubtedly shaped my career path and my own intrinsic motivation to stay in the field.

Want more? Never fear, Part 2 of this lovely exercise (thanks Mrs. Danyali!) will be published in future, as more responses come in from those who have not yet had a chance to share. The prospect might just make closing out another great year at TNCS bearable!

Meet the Art Teacher: A Portrait of Elisabeth Willis

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TNCS art teacher Elisabeth Willis.

Recently, The New Century School welcomed a familiar face to the permanent teaching staff. Elisabeth Willis has served as summer art instructor at TNCS (with The Painting Workshop) and also in various other instructor roles around campus since 2014. As TNCS bade farewell (for now) this past January to long-time art teacher Jenny Miller-DeFusco, who is pursuing a graduate degree, Ms. Willis has taken over the helm.

Already immensely popular among the students, she brings an impressive amount of experience to her new role, with both a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Art History and a “MAT”—a Masters in Art and Teaching from the Maryland Institute College of Arts (MICA). Although she anticipated entering the classroom full time one day, she freelanced after graduating in 2011 to spend time on her art. She is a painter, typically using oil or water colors. “I want to keep a balance between teaching and doing my own art. They each inform the other,” she said.

One unique aspect of her art is the scale. “I work very small,” she explained. “Working small” began during a 2008 semester in Italy, where she fell in love with doing landscapes in miniature. In contrast to the vastness of what her fellow students were doing at MICA, such as murals, she found “band-aid size” (approximately 1″ × 3″) and other handheld variations to be just the right fit.

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“Smalltimore”

Not all of her work is tiny, however. She also paints water-color illustrations for children’s books, which she came to as a teenager through her step-mother, who ran the children’s section of a library. Despite that field being notoriously difficult to get a foothold in, she taught herself to paint with water colors, and her initiative has clearly paid off.

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One of Elisabeth Willis’s hauntingly lovely illustrative water colors.

“I really gravitate to water colors,” said Ms. Willis. She has taught adult classes in water color technique through The Painting Workshop, something she may resume in the summer during the academic hiatus.

Regarding her teaching approach at TNCS, she is feeling her way carefully while she determines what students have already been exposed to and what she can introduce anew. “I think kids are a lot better at art than people might give them credit for, so I like doing blind contour drawing, drawing with the non-dominant hand, and especially portraits as early as kindergarten. We go step by step with where the eyes go and so on, and they totally get it.” In fact, at the time of this interview, she was doing “snow self-portraits” with her students, which are not traditional portraiture, but are intended to give a “taste of winter” . . . and sure are joyfully cute!

As surprising as it may sound, given the ease with which she has acclimated to her position, elementary was not her original choice of age grouping to teach. In fact, her plan had always been to become a high school art teacher doing portfolio development or work in the education department of a museum. Almost from the moment she encountered the younger kids at The Painting Workshop, however, she realized how fun it was to teach and work with them. She now feels perfectly at home in this division, and she is a born teacher. “When I was a senior during my art history study, I worked as a teaching assistant, and I loved it. Even though I was extremely shy and quiet, I had no problem in the classroom. I love teaching, and it has helped me, too,” she said.

Upcoming art-related events to look out for include the stage sets Ms. Willis will design and create for the 2016 TNCS Spring Concert as well as the first-ever TNCS Art Show to be held sometime in April that she will (democratically) curate from her students’ work. “The kids are super pumped about it!” she said, winningly betraying her own enthusiasm for this very exciting endeavor.

Other than observing a few classroom rules, her students have no other cares but to have fun and make art. “I don’t care if they can’t draw a nose,” she explained. “But I look for three things from them: craftsmanship, following directions, and participation.” This adds up to respect—respect for the pursuit, the materials, and the classroom. Nevertheless, she also believes that, in some ways, art gives kids a break, a chance to switch off certain parts of their brains and tap into others.

“Art shows us where we all came from, and where we are heading,” she finished. With this  profound insight, she seems to say that art is just about everything where humanity is concerned.