Great Things Are Hatching at TNCS!

Literally. Hatching. As in CHICKENS! The long-awaited feathered foursome have arrived at The New Century School!

This initiative has been in the works for most of the 2016–2017 school year. Executive Chef and Master Gardener Emma Novashinski thought having a TNCS school yard roost would be a great way to give students something to responsibly tend as well as provide delicious fresh eggs.

Habitat Construction

Infrastructure had to be in place first, and so elementary STEM teacher Dan McGonigal rounded up a team of students to design and build a chicken run last fall as an after-school project. This habitat will be maintained by the oldest TNCS students, also known as “The Chicken Monitors,” so dubbed by Chef Emma.

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Next, a pre-primary parent volunteer dad put together the beautiful hand-crafted chicken coop earlier this spring, which will soon be inhabited by its future residents. Two other parent volunteer dads helped finish up the enclosure and other preparations.

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Baby Chicks!

But speaking of future residents, that was the third step in this enterprise—incubating and hatching the chicks, for whom we have primary teacher (and veteran bird whisperer) Maria Mosby to thank (see her previous success story here)! TNCS can accommodate up to four very comfortably but started off with the two shown below, hatched just after spring break.

61BjTSW6iqL._SX382_BO1,204,203,200_Many of you may be aware that Chef Emma holds weekly cooking and gardening classes for TNCS students from pre-primary through middle school. Pre-primary children get 20 minutes of each, while older children get 45 of each. As part of this initiative and with help from books like the one pictured at left, Chef Emma provided an introduction to chicken husbandry from the life cycle of chickens; to their daily needs, to a tour of the new run and coop to decide how best to equip them for habitation and make sure they will feel at home. They need bedding, for example, as well as shade, decoration (believe it or not), ventilation, protection (one student suggested getting guard dogs—vetoed), insulation, and waterproofing—and TNCS students need egg access!

(Activities depended on age and division, of course.) But did you know, for example, that most eggs that hatch are males? TNCS students do. They also know, however, that TNCS’s resident birds will all be hens (#noroostersallowed).

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Full Circle

One of the most important messages that comes out of this initiative that has the entire school abuzz is that TNCS is doing it in a beautifully sustainable, full-circle way. “We’ll be feeding the chickens scraps from the kitchen,” explained Chef Emma, “but because we’ll have more scraps than we probably need, we’re going to start composting as well. The compost will break down and turn into fertilizer, which we’ll then spread through the greenhouse to nourish our growing plants. Once the plants are mature, we’ll eat them!” Chicken feeding, composting, and gardening will largely be done by TNCS students. “That’s another kind of life cycle of your role in the school, now that we have chickens,” Chef Emma told them.

A discussion of what is appropriate to use as scraps followed. Pizza, for example, is a no-no because it has flour and dairy. Although these elements would be fine in a non-urban composting situation, their decay and molding in an urban setting would attract decidedly unwelcome guests. Fruits and vegetables will decompose without a similar downside. Another thing to avoid adding is weeds, which would obviously proliferate when spread among the greenhouse plants.

The chickens will also be fed with grains such as lentils, quinoa, and cous cous.

Chef Emma next explained that most hens tend to lay an egg almost daily, for a yearly take of about 345. “Multiply that by 4, and we’ll have plenty of eggs to go around, and we’ll do all sorts of things with them,” she said. Eggshells, fortunately, are a welcome addition to a compost bin because of the valuable minerals they contain. Eggs, being neither dairy nor meat, are also fine to add.

Newest Members of the TNCS Community

“A whole school vote is in the works to decide on the names of our newest community members,” promised Head of School Alicia Danyali. To whet your whistle for this egg-citing development, here are some of the contenders:

  • Skylar
  • Cluckington
  • Chikaleta
  • Chikaemma

Skylar? Anyway, watch for the winner to be announced via TNCS’s Facebook page in the near future! (The chickens will also have last names. Think: There are four chickens . . . what else does TNCS have four of? Post your guesses in comments either on this blog or on FB. Correct answers will earn you clucking rights.)

Hungry Harvest Comes to TNCS!

Last month, The New Century School joined the Hungry Harvest family, a move that aligns with two very important TNCS values. The first is offering students clean, healthy food for lunch, the second, serving our larger community.

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In case you haven’t heard, Hungry Harvest is the phenomenal local company whose tagline, “Produce with a Purpose,” provides just an inkling of all that this force of social and environmental good really does. Not only do they obtain surplus produce and/or “recover” produce deemed not aesthetically pleasing enough to be sold in stores, which cuts down on food waste considerably, but they also donate 2 pounds of produce to help feed someone in need for every delivery they make. Moreover, they partner with local farms to obtain the “harvests” in another important synergy: The farms’ sustainable practices protect the environment, while being able to sell all of their viable produce (not just the visually perfect stuff) allows the farms to stay in business—and in an environmentally and socially conscious way.

Some Sad Facts

To put this in perspective, in many areas in the United States, but certainly here in Baltimore, which has the astronomic “food insecurity” rate of 23% of the population, we are faced with the tragic irony of wasting literally tons of food each year while people who could have eaten that food instead go hungry. Brace yourself. In July 2016, The Atlantic journalist Adam Chandler wrote:

Americans waste an unfathomable amount of food. In fact . . . roughly 50 percent of all produce in the United States is thrown away—some 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually, an amount constituting ‘one third of all foodstuffs.’ Wasted food is also the single biggest occupant in American landfills, the Environmental Protection Agency has found. . . the great American squandering of produce appears to be a cultural dynamic as well, enabled in large part by a national obsession with the aesthetic quality of food. Fruits and vegetables, in addition to generally being healthful, have a tendency to bruise, brown, wilt, oxidize, ding, or discolor and that is apparently something American shoppers will not abide. ‘Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock, or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards.’

(See more heartbreakingly unfortunate statistics on food waste here: https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm.)

unspecified-1TNCS Goes Hungry! (Harvesting, That Is.)

Fortunately, a very smart person recognized that these two problems could quite neatly solve each other. Quoting from the Hungry Harvest website, “Evan Lutz founded Hungry Harvest in the basement of his University of Maryland dorm room in 2014. He began by packing bags of produce himself and delivering to 30 customers. A few months later, Evan’s idea was validated on [the television show] ‘Shark Tank’ when he struck a deal with Robert Herjavec. Now the Hungry Harvest team is up to 11 and delivering across Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.”

Thanks to Head of School Alicia Danyali and Executive Chef Emma Novashinski, TNCS is now part of that delivery route. Said Chef Emma: “Hungry Harvest reclaims food rejected during quality assurance, sells it to subscribers, and uses some of the profit to feed other hungry families. We wanted to be part of this wonderful initiative that uses one problem to solve another.”

Although combination boxes of fruits and veggies are available, TNCS sticks with just fruit through Hungry Harvest. As Chef Emma explained it, seasonal fruit is harder to obtain throughout the year from local suppliers, whereas, in this climate, vegetables of some variety are always growing. So, even if local fruit isn’t always available, such as during winter months, TNCS can get it from Hungry Harvest. And, by ordering only organic through Hungry Harvest, there’s still a nod to sustainable practices. This also allows TNCS to avoid resorting to so-called “conventional fruit,” meaning fruit that might be shipped from a remote region or grown in heavily chemical environments.

“Every Monday, we get four boxes of fruit variety delivered to us, which has allowed us to start serving fruit salads, which the kids are not only really enjoying, but they are also tasting fruits they might have been unfamiliar with, such as pomegranates or persimmons. And, if there’s a fruit in the salad they don’t care for, they can eat the other fruits around it and still get the vitamins and nutrients. Today we had mango, strawberry, and melon, for example.” Last year, Chef Emma more or less had to rotate apples and oranges through the winter months. This year, “we get a crossfade. They get to experience some new things—satsumas, mandarins, pineapples—and they get some old favorites like clementines,” she said. “They are getting more fruit this way, too, which can’t be bad. There’s no peel or pith—it’s already in bite-sized pieces for them.” (By the way, the persimmons were sweetened and cooked down then mixed with Greek yogurt in case you were wondering how on earth Chef Emma got the kids to eat them! Which they did!)

Choose-your-own-adventure options are available, but TNCS lets Hungry Harvest select what fruit will be delivered and provides guidelines for what works, such as no highly perishable items, so single items, etc.

Surely the question on everybody’s minds by now is, “So what about the quality?” In Chef Emma’s experience so far, the produce has been completely edible and delicious, rejected only for visual imperfections such as shape or markings. It’s not soft or mushy, as might be the misconception.

But wait—there are even more great benefits deriving from this partnership! In an online chat, Hungry Harvest Customer Experience Hero & Academic Coordinator Katie Landry explained:

Our school pickup sites operate a really unique program called Produce in a SNAP that allows families in need to use their SNAP/EBT (Food Stamps). We currently partner with Baltimore City Public and Charter schools to subsidize our produce and they can use SNAP/EBT at these sites! Learn more about these sites by following the link below.

Hungry for More?

If you are interested in signing up for a harvest for your family, visit https://shop.hungryharvest.net/summary.php?go=products to see the goods. It couldn’t be easier to do, and you’ll not only be making a social impact and contributing to environmental sustainability, you’ll also have your family’s fruits and veggies conveniently delivered to your door! The online signup experience is a breeze, and super-friendly company representatives like Katie are available to answer any questions in an instant. (And they address you as a hero, so that’s added fun :).)

Pro Tip: Typing “Emma Novashinski” in the referral box earns you a discount as well as one for TNCS! Go reap your harvest!

TNCS Elementary Information Night Rounds Out a Great 2014!

Refreshments were thoughtfully provided by Chef Emma Novashinski.

Refreshments were thoughtfully provided by Chef Emma Novashinski.

The New Century School‘s fifth year has been undeniably amazing. Rounding out 2014 with yet another breakthrough, Admissions Director Robin Munro announced Thursday that TNCS received a record number of K–5th applications by the 12/17/14 due date. That TNCS’s elementary program has earned its bragging rights—and is attracting hordes of new enrollees—was made clear at the Kindergarten/Elementary Information Night held 12/11/14.

The event was well organized, informative, and fun. Yummy refreshments were provided by Chef Emma Novashinski (who also gave away lovely little jars of homemade pickles), and free childcare including dinner was also offered. Recognizing that parent involvement is vital to student success, TNCS makes it so easy—no, appealing—to participate in school functions.

Elementary Program Overview

Mrs. Munro sent out an agenda before the event to help parents make the most of their time there. The schedule started with her Welcome speech, followed by a program overview by Head of School Alicia Danyali and a brief question-and-answer session. The elementary program—“where traditional and progressive education meet”—provides a solid foundation in the liberal arts by incorporating the following elements:
  • Small class size: Keeping classes to no more than 16 students allows for individualized, differentiated instruction. 
  • Daily language classes in both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish: Younger students begin with conversation and vocabulary building. As their written English language skills progress, they begin to work on reading and writing in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Introductory character work in Chinese begins immediately. 
  • Specialty classes: Students have music, art, and physical education classes twice every week. Creativity is encouraged through music and art, while body awareness and health is taught in phys ed class. 
  • Inquiry- and skill-based curricula: We provide a solid foundation in the core subjects of language arts and mathematics, and our teachers develop auxiliary science and global studies lessons based upon student questions and interest. This approach encourages critical thinking and allows children to work to their fullest potential. 
  • Field trips: Teachers take students on weekly trips to our on-site greenhouse and into the school’s extended classroom, lower Fell’s Point. Students take a full-day trip at least once each quarter. Past field trips have included the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the Confucius Institute at University of Maryland College Park, the National Aquarium, and more. 
  • Emphasis on values: Students learn to treat others and themselves with respect. 
  • Mixed-age classrooms: Students to work to their skill level, not just their grade level and benefit both from mentoring and being mentored. 
  • Enhanced learning via technology: Students use children use multiple apps and programs, learn proper keyboarding skills, and begin to learn basic programming.

After the initial gathering, parents were asked to “self-sort” (love that new term coinage!) into three groups and rotate among the three elementary classrooms. In his classroom, Dan McGonigal, the upper elementary mathematics and science teacher, demonstrated a unit on bridge construction in the science curriculum, Engineering is Elementary (scroll below for photos of the students executing this project). Adriana DuPrau, the upper elementary English language arts and social students teacher showcased the English, Chinese, and Spanish curricula. Teresa Jacoby, the K/1st generalist teacher discussed integrating traditional Montessori materials with more progressive curricula and how she differentiates to the various levels in her class. Mrs. Danyali and Mrs. Munro circulated throughout to answer questions.

Elementary Program Philosophy and Approach

As an independent private school, TNCS does not follow the Common Core standards. Individual grade standards set forth by the Maryland State Department of Education are met—and in most cases surpassed—through the use of carefully selected curricula which best supports our mission to challenge students to realize their richest individual potential through progressive, multilingual education and meaningful participation in the world community.
Students are placed according to their birthday into one of three mixed-age classes: K/1st, 2nd/3rd, and 4th/5th. As the student body matures, upper grades will be added (through 8th) each year, accordingly. Mixing ages is part of the school’s Montessori-inspired vision. Research continues to prove what Maria Montessori observed over 100 years ago, which is that children learn best from their peers. By mixing ages, students can work to their own skill level and not be boxed in by grade-level expectations. TNCS students learn to be friends with everyone and to solve social problems without aggression.
A day in the life of a TNCS elementary student. Looks pretty engaging!

A day in the life of a TNCS elementary student. Looks pretty engaging!

The TNCS format of mixed-age, skill-based classrooms allows our teachers to truly teach and inspire students to reach, or more typically exceed, grade expectations. Through inquiry-based lessons, TNCS teachers can educate the whole child and are not limited by the constraints of a standardized test.

Tools they use to help accomplish these goals include the following.
In Language Arts:
  • The Daily 5 consists of reading to self, reading to someone else, listening to reading, writing, and doing word work.
  • Junior Great Books brings high quality literature and student-centered discussions to the classroom.
  • Wordly Wise 3000 improves student vocabulary.

In Mathematics:

  • Singapore Math is the backbone of the mathematics program.
  • Montessori math materials are used in the K/1st classroom to provide a solid foundation for the transition into Singapore Math in upper elementary.
  • The Daily 3 consists of doing math individually, math writing, and doing math with someone else.

In Science and Technology:

  • Engineering is Elementary allows for learning scientific principles through hands on experiments. The photos below show an example of one project in the bridge design unit.
  • SuccessMaker software is aligned with national grade standards and

Now that’s something to brag about, kids! And keep up the great work, TNCS!