TNCS Elementary Talks Some Serious Trash!

. . . Litter-ally. Last month, Baltimore artist and activist Bridget Parlato, a.k.a., “the RecyQueen,” paid a visit to The New Century School at the invitation of TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali. Ms. Parlato gave a salient and illuminating two-pronged presentation on what trash does to Baltimore neighborhoods and waterways as well as how plastics harm the health of our global environment and the health of Earth’s inhabitants—including us.

Conservation Conversations

Ms. Parlato graciously shared select slides from her presentation to give Immersed readers an idea of what she teaches students. (Click the pause button on each slide to allow yourself time to read all of the alarming but critical facts.)

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Of the event, Ms. Danyali said, “The presentation was wonderful—eye-opening to the realities we face and inspirational.” A few days after the RecyQueen’s presentation, Ms. Danyali visited elementary classrooms to gauge their impressions of the “Trash Talk.”

The “circling” technique she uses in the videos below was detailed in TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices, and you can see it being used here in a novel way, that is, to give students the opportunity to share something they found surprising about the presentation and/or something they found to be inspirational.

It’s abundantly clear that Ms. Parlato’s presentation struck home with them, from the scary new oceanic feature called “gyres” (swirling vortexes of microplastics such as what is found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) to the physical harm and disfigurement done to aquatic animals who encounter plastic trash. The studnets began to grasp how vast the plastic problem is in terms of scale and of impact. The fact that plastic never breaks down but simply gets smaller and disperses more widely (and consequently does greater harm) was something that got them thinking about how to dispose less and re-use more. They learned about the dreaded bisphenol A (BPA) contained in plastics that disrupts the human endocrine system with downstream impairments in neurological, cardiovascular, reproductive, and metabolic systems. (By the way, the recent “BPA-free” label sported by many plastic products these days probably means very little—manufacturers have likely just substituted bisphenol S [BPS], the effects of which are as yet unknown.) These problems do not have quick fixes, which makes the RecyQueen’s crusade to educate children so important. It will take a concerted global effort to prevent further harm.

They learned some good news, too, in that a brilliant young inventor named Boyan Slat has engineered a machine to help rid the oceans of trash through his organization The Ocean Cleanup. And shout-outs were, of course, given to Baltimore’s own water-cleaning wonders Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel.

About the RecyQueen

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Merging her two vocations, Ms. Parlato uses art to convey her important messages about trash and sometimes even uses trash to make art. (And then there’s the royal recycled regalia she designed entirely out of would-be trash—bags and boxes held together by tape, paperclips, and string—that is not only thought-provoking but exquisitely beautiful as well.) She explained that RecyQueen and her community organization Baltimore Trash Talk (BTT) are “offshoots” of her career as a graphic designer/artist at her studio Full Circuit Studio. She also happens to really love nature, so finding ways to protect and preserve it come, well, naturally, to her. She describes how she brings all of these threads together, starting with discovering her inner artist:

Most of my family is creatively gifted in some way. My mother went to art school. My father was a woodshop teacher. However, it was a teacher I had both in grade school and high school that helped direct my life. She even scheduled my interview and loaded me into the car and took me to Alfred University where I got the last spot in my class. I have a BFA and an MFA in fine arts concentrating in graphic design and sculpture (ceramics) as well as minors in writing and literature.

The tools, programs and social media I use as a freelance designer are heavily used for Baltimore Trash Talk. I love the idea and concept end. My past experience in writing is utilized all the time—coming up with campaign themes and writing my own copy for posters and print materials. My MFA in sculpture (as well as past job experience in events) has helped when thinking through installations.

I am also a person who feels like we should always be growing and learning, so as often as time permits, I try new stuff.  I just won a small scholarship and a month of studio time at Baltimore Jewelry Center. It is pretty exciting to think of how I can apply what I am learning about metals to my previous training in sculpture.

One such installation, well known to many in Baltimore was the River of Recycling, which grew out of her keen belief that we should be throwing away less stuff, such as by encouraging “bottle bill legislation.”

I planned and executed two grant-funded bottle deposit events. All the items were assembled into a River of Recycling in Patterson Park and then taken to the recycling facility. The data from my events was used to support a bill that was being considered at the time. Sadly, it died.

But, the River of Recyclables went on to happen at JHU, Artscape, and Loyola University. The JHU River was a partnership with MICA grad Chris Beer for his curatorial thesis. His event was on a work day so drive-up item return was going to be low. We utilized can/bottle drives at area schools for our recyclables. In return, schools got a small stipend and a presentation. Waterfront Partnership/Leanna Wetmore provided the stipends, and I presented at the schools.

Pickups of trash are great but never ending. Hitting trash from top down (legislation) or bottom up (education) is going to have bigger impact. I have had my hands and head in the policy end and continue to do so. In fact, it is through support of bottle bill legislation that the RecyQueen program started. Bottle deposits exist in 10 states—a 5–10-cent deposit is paid on a can or bottle and received back when the bottle is returned.

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“Hey, Let’s Teach More Kids!”: Further Outreach

Ms. Parlato’s cause has so far been funded entirely by BGE, but she has to find more grant money to keep going and must reapply regularly (“keep your fingers crossed!” she urges). In the meantime, though, she is eager to get the word out in as many ways as possible to as many students as possible. “Learning about sustainable practices and how to battle litter and how to keep our water clean can happen in so many ways. Let’s partner,” she says. (Click Baltimore Trash Talk schools to learn what is covered during a BTT school presentation.)

She also is willing to meet students off campus for special tours, projects, trips, etc. She has “canoed and scooped” with students from Bard Early College, taken a trip to Annapolis to support policy with Western High School students, and acted as teacher/student guide to American Visionary Art Museum for a Loyola University STEAM project.

She is actively looking for schools, organizations, or clubs to present to throughout the summer and into the fall. Contact Ms. Parlato if you want a presentation!

She also attends festivals where she educates about litter or makes art out of litter—or both. Got a festival coming? Contact her!

“As a result of Baltimore Trash Talk,” she says, “my freelance work has really become far more cause-related. Purpose is good—not always lucrative, but rewarding in other ways. One particular project that would be really really useful to any of the readers is the Baltimore Clean City Guide. Please check it out—there are all sorts of good pointers in there, from reporting 311 issues to bulk trash to recycling and rat abatement quick guides.”

New Century School (2)In keeping with TNCS’s commitment to community and environmentally related service, Ms. Danyali hopes to welcome Ms. Parlato back soon to work with students: “I thank [the RecyQueen] for sharing her important vision and mission and hope to continue the conversation for possible initiatives with TNCS students before the school year ends,” she said. For her part, the RecyQueen also wants to stay connected with TNCS, saying “Presenting at TNCS was such a lovely experience. What a great school. It really was a great morning and I left feeling really happy. I would love to do something else with the school—let’s think about other projects!”

Don’t forget to like Baltimore Trash Talk on Facebook to see how Ms. Parlato tackles trash problems through political, artistic, and social engagement.

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.)

ColorCycling Comes to TNCS!

Does having to throw away something plastic but perhaps unrecyclable make you uneasy, especially single- or short-term-use items? Plastic drinking straws, for example, were once thought to be wonderful innovations because of their apparent cost-effectiveness and ease of manufacture. But when you consider that, globally, about 300 million tons of plastic are produced, half of which is for such disposable items, blithely discarding that straw starts to loom a little larger in significance (and, ultimately, cost). The plastic problem makes many among The New Century School community uncomfortable, too, so TNCS is doing something about it!

Bold Strokes

Head of School Alicia Danyali has enrolled TNCS as a participant in Crayola’s ColorCycling Program, which allows K–12 students to collect and repurpose used markers of any brand. This program also offers classroom opportunities for emphasizing each individual’s capacity for protecting the Earth. In fact, says TNCS Art Teacher Jenny Miller, “I steer away from markers or any other individually plastic encased art product for the very reason of unnecessary waste. I will investigate any other ways that we can practice sustainability in art class.”

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Don’t throw away used markers—colorcycle them!

It’s good to note, though, that the Crayola company is implementing ColorCycling and other green initiatives, such as “using 100% reforested wood for colored pencils  . . . and recycling ground water through [their] crayon cooling process.” How are the colorcycled markers repurposed? Into fuel!

Crayola conducted extensive research into various new and emerging technologies that would allow the company to repurpose its markers and found the most efficient and beneficial solution at this time is the plastic to energy process, which allows the company to repurpose the entire marker. If a classroom recycles 193 markers, that is enough to move a city bus for 3 miles.

For the marker program, all we have to do, TNCS community, is bring our “dead soldiers”—again, any brand—to TNCS, where they will be collected in a specially designated box and kept in the art room. TNCS students will count them and pack them up for shipping—and Crayola even pays the shipping costs!

And voilà—TNCS is an “eco-cool school”!

Fine Print

Most of us are well aware that plastic waste is a huge environmental concern and a growing problem for future generations, but it never hurts to read the plain, if pretty horrifying, facts.

• Plastics impair human health. Plastics contain a variety of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that have been demonstrated to interfere with human endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, and neurodevelopment systems. The long-term effects of these EDCs are still being investigated, and researchers are uncovering other insidious effects all the while.

• Plastics damage the environment. All the plastic so far produced is still with us in some form because it takes 500 years for plastic to decompose. Recycling plastic is not always easy or possible to do, and what doesn’t get recycled winds up in landfills, a clearly unsustainable practice at close to 30 million tons per year (just in the United States!). However, incinerating plastic is an even worse proposition, as burning plastic causes it to release EDCs and other toxins into the air, polluting it and adding to the human bioaccumulated burden. It also gives off CO2, contributing to global warming. And then there’s plastic litter that ultimately finds its way into waterways, polluting the ocean and inducing a cascade of effects on the environment and on wildlife.

Plastics have infiltrated almost every aspect of life because of their sheer convenience, but we are now reckoning the hidden costs. Programs like ColorCycling not only help start to address the problem, but also increase awareness that there is a problem—a marker is such a seemingly innocent thing, after all . . . until the magic wears off.

TNCS Uses Viridian’s Power with Purpose!

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Power with Purpose!

The New Century School has always prioritized environmental sustainability through recycling, community responsibility, and supporting local agriculture to name just a few ways. TNCS has also always strived to use and to support green energy. Remember our Green Neighborhood Energy Challenge? Although Clean Currents was shuttered due to circumstances beyond their control, TNCS has now partnered with Viridian, a larger socially and environmentally responsible energy company. Says Head of School Alicia Danyali, “Leaving a smaller carbon footprint can make a big long-term difference for our environment. The more invested, the bigger impact on conservation.” TNCS has once more gone green!

Raise Money for TNCS while Lowering Your Carbon Footprint!

Even better, Viridian is sponsoring a TNCS fundraising initiative. By enrolling in Viridian’s affordable green energy service, you can monetarily support TNCS. That’s right—every time you pay your utility bill, TNCS receives income! More importantly, you can make a significant and measurable impact on the environment. Says Viridian’s Eric Forseter, “We help TNCS raise money and simultaneously help green the Earth. Instead of paying a sales person a commission, for every electric meter that signs up under TNCS, Viridian donates a minimum of $24 a year to the school. If 20 families sign up, that’s nearly $500 in annual donations.” Not bad! Key here is that this is an ongoing donation. Unlike Clean Currents that made a 1-time contribution to TNCS per enrolled family, Viridian pays out every time you pay your utility bill. “This goes on forever!” said Mr. Forseter.

And it’s so easy! Instructions for enrolling are given below, and you continue to get the same delivery, service, and billing from your current utility (BGE for most of us). Enrollment in either of two electric options (50% green or 100% green) takes less than 5 minutes. Mr. Forseter explains that the 50% option costs less and is therefore what many people opt for (saving the earth while saving money). Even going 50% green for 1 month is the equivalent of recycling for 1 year, so just imagine what going 100% green would do for the environment! Enrollment in a green gas option is also available.

Seeing Green

Check out these truly wonderful benefits—benefits to our shared environment, to our beloved school, and to your individual pocket.

  • Viridian donates a minimum of $24 annually for every customer TNCS enrolls.
  • Choosing Viridian will result in an average offset of 11,000 pounds of carbon annually, the equivalent of planting 134 trees.
  • Your rates will remain competitive with your utility, and your billing service will never change (you are only choosing the supplier of your energy, not your utility, which distributes the energy).

Note that Viridian is guaranteeing a better rate than the utility can provide on the 50% green option. The average household can expect to save $5 to $50 per month. “A great deal is that the company will refund you 110% if their rate exceeds the utility’s,” says Mr. Forseter.

How To Enroll with Viridian

To sign up, you will need your electric account number; BGE customers will need your Electric Choice ID on your bill:

  1. Go to viridian.com/newcenturyschool. (Make sure you have your energy account number.)
  2. Click the “Become a customer” link at the top of the page.
  3. Enter your zip code and electric utility, then select Electric. Select Gas if you want a carbon offset for Gas supply.
  4. Follow the steps to enroll in the 50% fixed-rate plan 3DOM for electric and 25% carbon offset for gas (if you choose 100%, your environmental contribution will be higher but your bills will increase).
  5. If you are interested in going solar, check the box to receive a free consultation with SolarCity, the solar partner for the program. Solar customers result in a donation of $100 to TNCS and ongoing annual payments.
  6. Questions? Contact Eric Forseter (eforseter@hotmail.com) or call Viridian Customer Care at (866) 663-2508 for more information.

Please spread the word—Viridian is not just local to Maryland, but is also licensed in Washington, D.C. on up through Massachusetts. As long as your friends and families sign up for responsible energy under the special TNCS-specific Viridian URL given above, TNCS will reap the fund-raising benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Please click FAQs for answers to many of your questions. Then join us and the more than 3,800 other non-profit organizations in “greening the energy grid!”

TNCS elementary parent volunteer LaShon Johnson (lashon.johnson85@gmail.com) will be coordinating this fundraising event. Ms. Johnson will be contacting the TNCS community with additional information as this fundraising initiative gets going!

Elementary Program Merges Montessori and Progressive Education at The New Century School

Since its inception in 2007 (back then known as Patterson Park Montessori) as a preschool for kids ages 2–5 years, The New Century School has “grown up” right along with its student body. Adding a grade level each year to accommodate the earliest students and expand its scholastic reach, TNCS currently offers classes through 3rd grade. The 2013–2014 year will add 4th grade, and so on annually through grade 8. Watching this growth unfolding and the school really come into its own has been an exciting process for staff, students, and parents.

But what is elementary in a Montessori setting? Many find those concepts incompatible. In elementary school, after all, students are expected to achieve standardized goals, which, at its worst, can result in lecture after boring lecture masquerading as education. In the Montessori model, however, the classroom has much more relaxed parameters that allow room for voluntary exploration at an individual pace but that some say might not always be quite so academically rigorous. Let’s take a closer look at how TNCS has harmoniously merged these seemingly antithetical approaches to create an environment where real learning happens . . . and where kids want to be. They have choice, variety, and a say in their own education. Most importantly, they learn how to think.

First, it’s important to point out that for primary through elementary age groups, TNCS isn’t classically Montessori. Rather, they take the best of Montessori, such as fostering self-discipline and encouraging intellectual curiosity, and couple it with a profoundly progressive approach to education that includes a focus on foreign language acquisition, to forge something completely new. This unique blend grew out of a desire to provide the optimal learning environment. Alicia Cooper-Danyali, Head of School, says, “Our Lower Elementary program (grades 1–3)  focuses on the strength of meeting individual needs of mixed-age abilities, development of both Spanish and Mandarin, and true community building.”

Above all, learning should be an active process in which students are engaging with intriguing material, not a passive one in which they absorb factoids. TNCS is not education by osmosis; it’s a fruitful collaboration between student and teacher and among students themselves.

Here are some ways TNCS seeks to achieve this goal:

  • Small class size: The benefits to kids of individualized, differentiated instruction are innumerable. Kids are as different from one another as snowflakes, and their methods of learning are just as varied. Small class sizes allow teachers to customize each child’s education for the best, most effective fit.

    kids are hard at work together and independently, fully engaged in their reading, writing, and core math and science skills

    The smoothly functioning TNCS elementary classroom is a marvel of productive learning.

  • Enhanced learning via technology: Students in Lower Elementary use SuccessMaker and other state-of-the-art educational software daily to hone math and reading skills. They not only love this work, but the software programs are carefully aligned with national education standards, so the students are getting the foundational knowledge that secondary schools will require. Upper Elementary students will additionally learn basic computer programming.

    strengthening his core on a balance ball while honing his core curriculum skills

    Strengthening his core curriculum skills on the computer while strengthening his core on a balance ball!

  • Inquiry- and skill-based curriculum: A solid foundation in the core subjects allows teachers to develop science and global studies lessons based on student questions and interests. Being interested from the outset ensures students’ close attention and deepens their learning.
  • Mixed-age classrooms: Grouping students of various ages allows children to work at their skill level, not just their grade level. If they need more time with a particular concept, they get it. Likewise, when something clicks right away, they don’t need to wait for the rest of the class to catch up to them before moving ahead to the next wondrous topic of exploration. Mixing ages also continues the Montessori tradition of mentor–mentee relationships, which are mutually beneficial for social, intellectual, and emotional development.
  • Spanish and Mandarin classes: Where else are students given daily lessons in both of these languages critical to global citizenship? They learn conversation, reading, and writing at a time when their brains are elastic enough to achieve real fluency with relative ease.

    TNCS elementary student's Chinese workbook shows great progress

    Chinese characters practice–Hello Kitty and friends signal a job well done!

  • Music, art, and physical education classes: On staggered days, students get weekly or twice weekly instruction in these areas so important for encouraging creativity, self-expression, and overall physical and mental health. In an atmosphere of looming federal budget cuts—some of which will surely impact education—U.S. public schools may find that they lack the funds to keep the humanities in their curricula, sadly.
  • Field trips: The on-site greenhouse established by Master Gardener Emma Novashinksi affords plenty of opportunity for scientific investigation of all stripes. Lower Fell’s Point, TNCS’s “extended campus” additionally provides community involvement opportunities to broaden students’ social and environmental awareness.

    greenhouse visit is a chance to get hands dirty and explore caterpillar life

    In hot pursuit of a particularly interesting caterpillar!

  • Emphasis on values: Students at TNCS learn to treat themselves and others with respect. By the time they have reached the elementary level, this really shows. Peace, compassion, and kindness pervade the smoothly functioning elementary classroom.

Still have questions? Comments? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section—we value your participation in this discourse! By the way, are any of your TNCS elementary kids among the original students from 2007? Let us know!

Also, did you know? TNCS is hosting an Elementary Information Night on Thursday, January 17, 2013 from 6:00–7:30 p.m. for current and prospective families. This will be the ideal opportunity to familiarize yourself with TNCS’s elementary programs, to ask questions, and to hear other families’ experiences.

TNCS cofounder Roberta Faux will offer a brief keynote talk, and free childcare is available. Click the above link to find out more and to RSVP. You don’t want to miss it!