Phys Ed Is Going Strong at TNCS!

phys-ed-teacher

Phys ed teacher Robert Bekas joined TNCS at the start of the 2014–2015 academic school year.

The New Century School was founded on the principle of educating the whole child, which many schools have neither the luxury nor the capacity to do. Art, Music, and Physical Education are typically first on the chopping block in the current standardized education environment. But, in keeping with its firm commitment to providing a well-rounded scholastic experience, TNCS has not only retained these disciplines critical for development of creativity as well as specific skills, but it has continued to grow its “specials” program and offers a very balanced ratio of academic-to-specials classes.

One emphasis of the 2014–2015 school year is on movement, explained Head of School Alicia Danyali in the fall. True to her word, she has implemented regular yoga throughout the upper programs, encourages teachers to allow plenty of time for their students to move within their individual classrooms—such as K/1st teacher Mrs. Jacoby’s games to hone hand–eye coordination (see TNCS Gets the Wiggles Out and the Learning In!)—in addition to providing dedicated gym time in a formal physical education class. Movement is not only essential for physical health, but evidence in support of movement being just as vital for cognitive health is mounting fast.

Enter Mr. Robert Bekas, TNCS’s new phys ed instructor. Mr. Bekas is The Real Deal in terms of what he brings to the gym. Born and raised in Poland, he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Physical Education from the Academy of Physical Education. His main interest was in martial arts, and he competed for many years in karate, specifically, the Shotokan style. After graduating from college, he opened his own kickboxing academy and taught there for 4 years. In 2004, he came to the United States to do an internship at Sport FIT, a fitness club. (He met his future wife there and has been here ever since apart from brief annual trips back home.) He then worked for 7 years at a Wheaton Catholic school, but when it closed, he came here to teach K and up.

His classes start with basic stretching, then advance to an activity that incorporates some cardio (e.g., playing “Freeze,” “Sharks and Minnows,” or “Lions and Tigers”), and wrap up with skill-building in strength training, gymnastics, or team sports. He is hoping to increase classes from once a week to twice a week so the students are more accustomed to the routine. In Poland, he explained, PE class is usually four times a week. “Elsewhere, it seems to be getting less and less. This is bad for kids; they are spending too much time indoors and on devices and will end up with postural problems. I know this is the 21st century, but playing too many video games is a bad habit.” For his own fitness routine, he does a whole-body workout at the gym incorporating stretching, strength training, and cardio. For fun, he continues his martial arts training and also enjoys hiking.

As for his TNCS students he says, “The kids are doing great. The goal is overall fitness, but I also want them to learn the basic rules of baseball, football, soccer as well as fairplay. I also try incorporate team spirit. When we play, we play for fun. We don’t keep score; I want the students to be nice to each other, not get in arguments over who is winning. I try to keep it on the fun level, not necessarily the sports level.” He also uses the Gerstung equipment to teach basic gymnastics, such as forward and backward roll on the balance beam.

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Mr. Bekas commands respect from his students, and they adore him. “I like being at this school,” he said. “It’s a great place. It’s family oriented, and the classes are kept small.” By the way, Mr. Bekas also speaks four languages (Polish, English, German, and Russian) and might attempt to learn Japanese to support his martial arts endeavors. He is certainly a good fit for the multilingual/multicultural environment at TNCS! Future projects at the school for Mr. Bekas might include some extracurricular martial arts instruction; stay tuned for developments!

See What’s Jumping at The Lingo Leap!

LEAP! (They spell "leap"!)

LEAP! (They spell “leap”!)

Since The Lingo Leap‘s 2012 launch, the more-than-just-a-kiddie gym has made some significant changes and refinements. Now under the supervision of The New Century School‘s Sharon DaCosta, TLL is becoming the go-to studio for the 2- to 10-year-old set. TLL is unique in integrating movement with learning as well as learning about movement. Neuronal synapses fire more readily to juice up the brain when the rest of the body is also active. This is one reason why treadmill desks are catching on for adults—they get to move around instead of being sedentary at work and reap all of the exercise-associated benefits, but they also find that they think better and are more productive. The mind–body connection isn’t just for yogis and yoginis. (For more on the related science, check out an older post on TLL: Exercising that Mind–Body Connection.)

The Lingo Leap coordinator, Sharon DaCosta

The Lingo Leap coordinator, Sharon DaCosta

Says Ms. DaCosta, “Our goal is to create classes that no other aftercare or other facility offers. So, we do things like language immersion movement classes to expose kids to another language.” Not all classes are immersion or language related, however. Drama, Ballet, Hip-hop, Together with Tots, and Team-building classes, for example, have also attracted a solid following. The roster remains flexible; classes are offered based on market demands. Specialty classes like French Yoga, which isn’t currently on the schedule, might return if the interest is there. Ms. DaCosta conducts surveys and does other marketing outreach to find out just what parents want to see available.

Aftercare Director (TNCS) and Events Manager (TLL), Emily Feinberg.

Aftercare Director (TNCS) and Events Manager (TLL), Emily Feinberg.

Finding the right target market is one of her primary means to keep TLL thriving. “Getting the word out there,”  says Ms. DaCosta, whose background is in marketing, “is extremely important. We have such fantastic offerings, but many community parents still aren’t aware.” Currently, TLL draws heavily from the TNCS aftercare student body, but Ms. DaCosta sees TLL as having a much broader reach and providing a much-needed service to the larger Baltimore community. Working in collaboration with Emily Feinberg, TNCS Aftercare Director and TLL Events Manager, the two have developed a very special set of services. “There’s a lot of overlap between our roles,” says Ms. Feinberg, “but basically I try to integrate TNCS’s aftercare program with TLL to give parents lots of intriguing aftercare options.” In other words, students can spend some of their after-school hours in one of TLL’s specialty classes. TNCS and TLL are closely affiliated but function as separate entities.

Finding great instructors is another one of Ms. DaCosta’s tasks in her official capacity as Activity Coordinator. She searches extensively to find just the right fit, and the instructors she has brought on board have elevated the classes to new levels of excitement and energy. Drama instructor Rebecca Kenton is one, and is new to TLL this year. She is an experienced drama teacher committed to learning, creativity, and curiosity. “I think of my teaching career as an adventure,” she says. “Over the past 16 years, I have taught Drama to children ranging in age from 5–18 with the Pumpkin Theatre, Drama Learning Center, The Painting Workshop, and Friends School of Baltimore.” TLL is thrilled to welcome someone with such chops! Young performers in her class will develop their confidence and concentration through a range of improvisational and story-telling exercises. “I’m looking forward to discovering drama with the tiny (yet tenacious) thespians of [TLL] and meeting all of you,” she says. Her Discovering Drama class, which began January 31st and meets at 3:30 for 2- and 3-year-olds and at 4:15 for 4- to 6-year-olds, will conclude with an informal showcase on Friday, April 4th.

Cuban native Danay Rodriguez is another high-caliber instructor, already familiar to TLL and about to assume expanded duties overlapping with TNCS. She teaches the very popular Together with Tots class on Saturday mornings and is now additionally going to be in charge of the overall Spanish Creative Movement program. A one-time Clinical Psychologist and counselor as well as a Developmental Psychology teacher at The University of Havana, Señorita Rodriquez will lead the 2- and 3-year-old and the 4- to 6-year-old groups in this immersion-style introduction to movement class.

Balancing and walking on the beam hones coordination.

Balancing and walking on the beam hones coordination.

Look---I made a car that actually moves!

Look—I made a car that actually moves!

The current full schedule and class description can be found on TLL’s website. But exciting extracurricular movement classes aren’t all that TLL has to offer. During the schoolday, it functions as TNCS’s gymnasium and boasts such features as authentic Gerstung equipment, which “[encourages] children to use their own innate curiosity to stimulate movement,” and the Imagination Playground, a “play system that encourages unstructured, child-directed ‘free play.’” (Read more about the super-awesome Imagination Playground here.) Ms. DaCosta says that despite recent changes, TLL has stayed true to its original mission of integrating movement and learning and that this philosophy is something that everyone (TLL and TNCS staff) has a hand in implementing. “Mr. Gerstung himself actually came to TLL and trained all of us in August on how to use his specially designed equipment,” she says. “We know the purpose of each piece of equipment and what goals we can accomplish with each one.” Pre-primary and primary students have gym classes with their regular-class assistant teachers, who instruct them in Spanish or Mandarin. Elementary students have a more targeted physical education class taught by kids’ strength and agility trainer Emily Socolinsky.

TLL is also fast becoming the place to throw a kid’s birthday party—just ask your kids. Events Manager Emily Feinberg is available to help you plan your event and clearly enjoys her job. She knows kids’ parties! Catering is available, as needed, as well as decorations, balloons, face painting—you name it. Some perks come with your party package, like the ever-popular Moon Bounce; others are priced accordingly. The best thing about hosting a party at TLL from a parent’s perspective (besides, of course, extremely happy kids), is that your party is tailored exactly to your needs. If you want to handle all the details, you may. If you prefer to let TLL do the work, so be it. Or, you can opt to take on what aspects you want and let TLL manage the others. It’s a very civilized form of events planning!

Date Nights at TLL are another offering that have really caught on and are all-around brilliant. Drop the kids off at TLL at 5:30 pm (or later) and have a night out on the town, utterly guilt-free! Parents get some probably much-needed “we time,” while the kids are having an equally great time. They get to socialize with other kids, participate in group games, eat a nutritious dinner, and put the long schoolweek behind them in a melée of play. It’s the kids’ version of TGIF! New this year, hours are extended to 9 pm, to give parents more choices for their evening out. Date Nights occur on a standing schedule, monthly, every third Friday. Sign up in advance here!

Camps are another great service TLL provides. Whether it’s an extended school vacation that parents need coverage for, or a single school holiday, TLL offers an enriching, lively experience for kids. It’s the perfect balance—kids get a break from school, but they don’t have to take a break from movement and learning! Sign up for Spring Break camp here.

Finally, Ms. DaCosta is working with Sanctuary Bodyworks to develop parallel programs in which parents can go work out at the boutique studio upstairs from TLL, while kids are attending movement classes downstairs. The two facilities have offered Salsa Nights so far, for adults (not necessarily couples nor even pairs) to dance (or learn to) and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and wine (olé!), while the kids are happily occupied in their own Friday night fun. Ms. DaCosta says she goes to extreme lengths to get the word out about such events and hopes for increased participation. “I want parents to know how much I want to please everybody. I sit here and think and think and think,” she says, “about how to make TLL the best place to bring their kids.”

Her hard work is bearing fruit; TLL is exciting, engaging, and fun! So take the leap—find out for yourself all that this special kids’ activity realm has to offer!

Open House at TNCS

Our very own Robin Munro, TNCS Admissions Director

Our very own Robin Munro, TNCS Admissions Director

The first Open House of The New Century School‘s 2013–2014 school year got a magnificent turnout of both prospective and current families. Why attend a TNCS Open House? Admissions Director Robin Munro says:

“The easiest way for parents wanting to learn more about the Elementary, Primary, and Pre-primary programs is to attend a weekday Open House. The Head of School, Ms. Danyali, offers a presentation that provides parents a thorough overview of the school. There will also be parents of current students on hand to answer questions and ample opportunity to observe students in their classrooms. If parents like the school, I suggest that they return for a small group tour where they can bring their children for a classroom visit. We also offer a Saturday Open House, which is a perfect event for the entire family. All of our lead teachers invite children into their classrooms to explore and ask questions. Current TNCS parents should also attend to observe their own child in the classroom and to learn about the other programs. As a delicious bonus, all Open House events are catered by our very own Chef Emma and her Kitchen Garden Tuck Shop!”

Main Presentation

Today’s Open House began with a short introduction by Ms. Munro after which Ms. Danyali gave her three-part presentation. Attendees were given take-home information packets as well. Highlights of Ms. Danyali’s talk are broken down into synopses of each program:

Pre-primary: For children ages 2–3 years, the pre-primary classroom offers full immersion in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. The children are instructed only in the theme language. This phase of education at TNCS focuses on the children’s social and emotional development. “We want them to begin learning and demonstrating some independence while being able to interact well with others, too,” said Ms. Danyali.

Primary: For children ages 3–5 years, the mixed-age primary classroom offers a more traditional Montessori approach. The lead teacher is trained in Montessori instruction and guides students in correct use of Montessori materials. Language is still a fundamental part of each day, however. Assistants in the primary classrooms are native speakers of either Spanish or Mandarin and come from a variety of countries and cultures. At TNCS, the assistants give specific lessons (e.g., Practical Life and Cultural Studies) in their native language. In other words, students learn a Practical Life skill while simultaneously developing their foreign language skills. The benefits of mixed ages are numerous and include instilling pride and confidence in the older children who serve as leaders for their younger counterparts, developing socially by being able to cooperate with peers as well as children older and younger, and enjoying a sense of nurturing or being nurtured. Kindergarten is included in the primary program; Ks from each primary classroom join together in the afternoons (while the younger children are napping) for some more advanced work.

Daily 5: Read to Self, Work on Writing, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work

Daily 5: Read to Self, Work on Writing, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work

Elementary: For children in grades “pre-first” through fifth (and adding a grade each year), the elementary classroom emphasizes critical thinking and unit-based discovery. They incorporate the Daily 5, a literacy curriculum that helps students develop the daily habits of reading, writing, and working independently. They read Junior Great Books to encourage critical thinking and deeper understanding. Singapore Math workbooks and SuccessMaker computer software round out the STEM subjects.

Ms. Danyali next spoke passionately about what sets TNCS apart from other private schools. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but here are some perennial favorites.

Head of School, Ms. Danyali gave an overview of TNCS programs for today's Open House.

Head of School, Ms. Danyali gave an overview of TNCS programs for today’s Open House.

What Really Sets TNCS Apart

  • Sustainability: TNCS has initiated Recycling Teams; uses green, non-toxic 7th Generation cleaning and paper products exclusively; and is 100% wind powered by Clean Currents!
  • Kitchen Garden Tuck Shop Program: Run by Executive Chef/Master Gardener Emma Novashinski, this program provides an organic, locally sourced, homemade lunch to participants as part of TNCS’s emphasis on healthful foods for kids. For all TNCS students, the on-premise greenhouse offers chances to explore plant growth from the seed up. Students plant, tend, and harvest produce as well as cook and eat it.
  • The Lingo Leap: The gymnasium/auditorium houses Gerstung equipment and the Imagination playground as well as a stage for our two school-wide annual performances. TLL is also available to host really great kids’ birthday parties!
  • Volunteering: Each TNCS family contributes a minimum of 8 volunteer hours to the school per year. TNCS believes that parents can be better involved in their children’s lives at school this way as well as meet other TNCS families. The volunteer coordinator makes it easy to match your particular skill set to specific volunteer tasks.
  • Lecture Series: New this year, TNCS will be inaugurating this initiative with Dr. Bonnie Zucker on November 13th, 9 am–10 am. Come hear Dr. Zucker’s presentation on how to raise Anxiety-Free Kids.
  • Extended Campus: Because TNCS believes strongly in community, we want students to become very familiar with the school’s environs. They take walks to nearby parks, the post office, or to special Fell’s Point happenings. In learning about their broader community, they will better participate in and contribute to it.
  • Multilingualism: Learning foreign languages increases brain elasticity, executive function, and critical-thinking capacity. How you learn a language is key. Research shows time and again that rote learning is far less effective than immersion. Throughout each phase of TNCS education, full or partial immersion is implemented.
  • Differentiation: Each child is an individual, with strengths, preferences, and traits particular to him or her. TNCS is unique in being able to individualize instruction to each child. “We can accommodate whatever level your children need in terms of education. We will meet them were they are,” says Ms. Danyali. This is possible both because of mixed-age classes and small class sizes.
  • Immersed: TNCS publishes this blog weekly to keep you informed about school events, initiatives, and relevant topics. we invite your participation and feedback!
  • Specials: TNCS emphasizes The Arts. Our art, music, and movement classes are truly special and cultivate your child’s creativity and humanity.
  • Staff: TNCS staff are truly dedicated, loving people. Our children are nurtured—cherished, even—as they are guided through their school day, learning, absorbing, and discovering the while.

Again, the list goes on and on . . . TNCS is a very special place.

Q&A and Classroom Observation

The Open House presentation ended with a Q&A series during which parents asked a lot of great questions about school particulars. A particularly incisive one asked of the currently enrolled families was, “What’s it like to have bilingual kids if you don’t speak the language?” Answers ranged from getting additional support from apps to learn with the child to the child intuitively understanding the correct context for speaking in Spanish or Chinese (i.e., to another speaker of that language). TNCS is also making more opportunities available to parents to learn these languages. The Word of the Week appears on TNCS’s home page, and an upcoming blog post will offer tips for practice at home from our two resident language curriculum experts Senora Capriles and Xie Laoshi.

Finally, parents were free to roam about the school and observe students in classrooms in real time, which is where TNCS really shines.

If you missed this first Open House, not to worry! Two more are offered in November and a third in January. Visit the website to register, because, as Ms. Munro says, Open Houses are the best way to learn more about TNCS’s programs—first hand!

Exercising That Mind–Body Connection

New for the 2012–2013 school year, The New Century School provides a gymnasium for physical education! In keeping with TNCS’s progressive, forward-thinking style, though, this gym is no ordinary gym. The Lingo Leap (TLL), as it is now known officially, integrates physical exercise with cognitive development—moving and learning!

TLL’s philosophy is that brains work more efficiently when the body is also engaged, and there’s plenty of hard science to back up this notion. In fact, neuroimaging shows that during movement, more brain areas are lit up, meaning that more of the brain is active and in use. Why not take advantage of this “powered-up” state and give the brain something to do with its extra energy? Let’s face it—one of the most challenging tasks we can give our hungry brains is learning a new language.

The Lingo Leap is run by Amy Pothong

TLL Director Amy Pothong

So, TLL focuses on multiple language acquisition; currently, yoga, dance, and other movement classes are being offered for ages 2 and up (including for interested parents) in your choice of English, French, or Spanish with plans to add classes in Mandarin and Arabic soon. TNCS students, by the way, get regular phys ed at the gym in Spanish. TLL Director Amy Pothong says that “when [students] are totally immersed, they speak like natives.” Although this idea might sound revolutionary, it’s actually “getting back to the basics.” “As we get older,” says Pothong, we must get more socially standardized, which can hinder our natural ability to learn through movement.” Babies, she points out, largely communicate through gestures, which are a very basic form of movement and hearken back to the earliest human communication by our ancient ancestors.

The connection, then, between bodily movement and thought conveyance is well established in our being. Two main schools of thought have emerged to explore how we can optimize this connection to actually learn to communicate better (or at least in more than one language). First was Total Physical Response (TPR), developed in the mid-1960s by Dr. James Asher as a method of learning a second language. Asher noted that the conventional approach to learning second languages differed dramatically from how infants learn their first language. Infants learn to communicate by internalizing language, a process of protracted listening and absorbing. TPR is a technique that replicates that process for learning second languages and beyond by giving a command, modeling the action described in the command, and then having the student imitate that action. Students are not initially asked to speak, but to comprehend and obey the command. Understanding is at the root of language acquisition, according to Asher. This makes a lot of sense when you consider how babies learn to respond to increasingly complex utterances before ever verbalizing a thought.

Language acquisition expert Stephen Krashen has found this method very effective. Read his article on TPR here. He says, “A constraint on all activities that we might consider is that they be interesting for both the teacher and the students; it is difficult to fake enthusiasm.” Enter TLL with engaging movement classes for kids plus their parents!

The second school of thought is known as SPARK. SPARK was put forth by Dr. John J. Ratey, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Exercise, contends Ratey, dramatically enhances circulation to the brain and encourages synaptic growth, thereby priming the brain for improved function—providing the “spark,” in other words. Improvements in function include both mental health as well as cognitive ability (think, learning languages at TLL!). A significant corollary to SPARK theory is that exercise also improves academic performance after exercise, whereas TPR focuses on learning during movement. Read more about Dr. Ratey’s findings and about his latest book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, on his website. (His wasn’t the first, incidentally: Plato argued for the ideal education to incorporate physical training in The Republic more than 2,000 years ago.)

Gerstung equipment can be moved and reconfigured in endless ways

Gerstung Movement Education equipment at TLL

About that physical training, TLL features state-of-the-art Gerstung gym equipment that “[encourages] children to use their own innate curiosity to stimulate movement. Created by Siegfried Gerstung, a world-renowned educator, Gerstung equipment is not only customizable and moveable to provide “movement education” in three dimensions, but the Gerstung company is locally owned, with that commitment to community shared by TNCS and TLL.

Director Pothong and her staff are themselves polylingual, and instructors are native speakers of the language they are teaching in. Pothong is Thai and may even hold Thai cooking classes at TLL next year. It’s a “multipurpose space,” she says, “that encourages social, mental, verbal, and physical development.” (And culinary!)

Registering for classes is a snap on TLL website–make the jump to polylingualism!

TMCS students stretch and move, following instructions given in Spanish

TMCS students participate in Spanish gym class