Devin Martin: Giving TNCS the Whole Picture!

Part of The New Century School‘s mission is to nurture the whole child. This means faculty and staff focus not just on academics but also on, among other things, social and emotional learning, physical education, and The Arts.

Background

For the 2021–2021 school year, art class has a brand-new teacher: Meet Devin Martin. She even has “art”in her name!

But that’s not the whole picture. Ms. Devin is a natural fit at TNCS in several ways, as you’ll quickly see. She originally came to Baltimore from Ithaca, New York, where she grew up, to attend Maryland Institute College of Art—which we all know as MICA, of course! She graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and also did some course work in Art Education.

She found that Baltimore felt like home to her and has been here ever since. “I’ve made great friends here, and I’m never bored in this city. The art community here is so collaborative, and every time I spend time with my friends we come up with something artistic to do together. People are always performing at each other shows and collaborating, and it’s just a really great place to make interesting art,” she explained.

As for what her medium as an artist is, she says that the general Fine Arts degree allowed her to pursue multiple ways to create. “Fine Arts is a little bit of everything, which works well for me because I used to get bored with just one medium. I bounced around from photography to miniature painting to book arts . . . but what all of that ended up coalescing into was shadow puppetry, which became my main thing. It’s cut paper, it’s more theatrical, and I really got into theater arts after graduating.”

Ms. Devin uses transparencies, water, and ink to illustrate scenes in a stage adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Art Meets Montessori

Alongside this passion for art, Ms. Devin also has known that she wanted to teach since she was 16 years old and has worked with children in various capacities since then. After college, she began leading after-school community art programs. Shortly thereafter, she got a job at the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School, and as you’ve probably guessed, became intrigued with Montessori education. “I was doing after-school things with them and realized that I wanted to be around there all the time! That was also one of the first times I worked with early childhood in the primary classroom. It was a good fit for my personality. Young kids and I have a lot in common in terms of enjoying tactile experiences in nature and art and animals . . . so I feel like I can engage them really easily.” She went on to tie that fascination with small objects to the Montessori tenet of the characteristics of the primary-age child.

So, she started working as a primary assistant (eventually going on to lead a classroom) and decided to pursue Montessori training. She did her assistant Montessori training at Loyola University Maryland’s Center for Montessori Education and her Lead training at the Barrie Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies, where she also worked for a while.

Here at TNCS

And then the pandemic hit, so Ms. Devin had to shift gears. She answered a job listing put up by a group of TNCS families who were interested in finding a Montessori-trained teacher to teach their young children in a home/pod setting. Says Ms. Devin:

It was a wonderful group of seven kids age 2 1/2 through 6 years, and met every day in the guest room one of the families had turned into a primary classroom. We also spent most of the afternoon in Patterson Park learning about nature. We learned all about what kinds of trees grow there, and we extensively studied the cicadas. We learned all about their life cycle, their body parts, and what they do and why they sing. It was a fun way to be able to bring my passion for early childhood science into this wonderful, wonderful park. It was a really great experience, and I think I learned a lot about myself as a teacher during that time.

As will now seem predestined, this is how she ultimately found out about TNCS. She first began long-term substituting in the primary classroom while Señora Salas is out on maternity leave but then saw the art education opening. “A lot of my background is in art education, and it’s definitely a major passion of mine, so I asked if I can do both. In the morning I’m teaching in the primary classroom, and then in the afternoon I’m teaching K through 8 art,” she said.

Although this schedule might sound daunting, it’s easy to see how she blends her various talents and makes it all work. (Puppets in the primary classroom? Match made in heaven! She also makes great use of her skill with miniatures.)

So how is she faring so far this year? Short answer: beautifully in both spheres. In the primary world, she says, “All the primary teachers are kind of new this year, so we were able to figure out how we wanted to run things ourselves. Although I have a lot of experience in primary classrooms, this year is totally different because of COVID. There are all sorts of different considerations for how to stay COVID-safe, from the way we do lunch to the way we do play time. So, there’s a lot of trying new things, but the kids are really adaptable, and I think we’ve fallen into a nice little rhythm and routine.”

As for art . . .

In the afternoon, I’m running around doing art in all the classrooms, and I’ve just been loving it. I think art teaching is really what I’m best at in the world. I’m always smiling so big when I’m walking around the classroom, looking at everyone’s art. They’re all elementary and middle school age and at that point where they haven’t quite decided whether they’re an artist or not. They might say they can’t draw, but they they can and with a bit of encouragement, they’re able to do things that really impress them. For example, we did a geometric tile project looking at Islamic, Moroccan, and Mexican tile-work, and we made simple designs using a straight edge and a circle. At the end of one of the classes, one of the students said, ‘how did you do that?’ and, I replied, ‘you did that.’ They responded, ‘how did you get me to do that?!’ It was funny, and she was so surprised at her own skills.

During the first quarter, students have been focused on building drawing skills through observational drawing as well as imaginative drawing. Recent projects have included drawings based on the colors, compositions, and motifs of Panamanian textiles and a street art–inspired project using bent wire to bring line drawings to life. “I like to take a skill and apply it in a bunch of different ways, but soon we’ll be moving on from drawing into 3D stuff like sewing and clay work. It’s been very fun to figure out what I want to teach and what areas of art I want to delve into.”


Ms. Martin will display student works of art around the two TNCS buildings—get a peek when you can!

Meet the Art Teacher: Jia Liu Illustrates the Importance of Art at TNCS!

The New Century School got a new art teacher for the 2018–2019 school year. This is Jia Liu’s first year teaching at TNCS, but she has loads of experience both making and teaching art. She is from China, where she graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing with a BFA in Writing and Illustrating Picture Books in 2013. “There, I got really into picture books,” said Liu Laoshi. “While I was in school, I started teaching at the same time, around 2011, because, if I’m going to write stories for kids, I need to know them better. So, I started teaching at a children’s art center, and it turns out, I really like teaching kids!” At the same time, “teaching always inspires me to write and illustrate more picture books,” she said. A perfect synergy!

Art Student–Cum–Art Teacher

IMG_1737Liu Laoshi came to the United States in 2014 after graduating from CAFA in order to attend Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where she majored in illustration with a personal focus on picture books. She also took art education classes to complement her teaching experience with the pedagogy that would allow her to teach here. “After I graduated from MICA in 2016 with an MFA, I started teaching at Baltimore public schools through the nonprofit organization Child First and at Walters Art Museum‘s drop-in weekend classes,” she explained. Although most of her friends moved to New York, she stayed in Baltimore, Hampden to be exact, because she fell in love with the quirky neighborhood. She attributes her excellent English to her time studying at MICA.

This is her first time teaching all grades including through middle school, and she is eager for the challenge. She wanted to teach at TNCS having heard about the school from a friend (TNCS’s former graphics designer Yiyun Chu) and being very interested in the concept of teaching core subjects in other languages. “I felt it’s perfect for me. I will be teaching mainly in English, but I’m looking forward to bringing in some Chinese,” she said.

Bilingual Children’s Book Author and Illustrator

Liu Laoshi has published two children’s books in China (with a group of classmates) in 2012, including “Water Monk”, and one here this past April. In 2019, she has two more coming out, including ““Bedtime for Beasties”, with others following in 2020 and 2021. “The Chinese picture book market is still very new, and most books are imported from other countries, ” she explained. However, if she can locate some copies of her Chinese books, she is excited to share them with her new TNCS students. In the meantime, they can read her English titles.

Check out her website at www.jia-liu.com to seeing more of her beautiful work, such as this lovely example below.A+tribe.jpg

It’s Going to Be a Great Year of Art!

Liu Laoshi has a strong conviction that at is good for children (and adults) and is committed to keeping the love of creativity alive in TNCS students both at school and throughout their lives.

I am really looking forward to getting to know the students at TNCS and inspiring them though my classes and work, and I hope to create a successful school year together. From my very first experience teaching, I noticed that kids gradually lose interest in art as they get older or lose confidence because they think they aren’t good at it. Although some people might have more talent than others, I think art is important for everyone. I always believe art is not only an aesthetic need, but also a very practical way of learning about ourselves and the world.

I have high expectations for each student. My goal is to create a safe learning environment, to keep all students interested in art, and improve their creativity though my class. We will be exploring different materials and art forms, as well as integrating art with STEM classes, to enhance their problem-solving skills, such as by exploring what materials they need to use to realize their vision, and provide them with more ways of understanding the world around us. Art has a lot of possibilities—in other words, I give them the assignment, but they figure out what approach will get them to the end result.

 

Currently, TNCS students are finishing up a paper mâché project that ties into the Global Studies Greek unit. Next, they will move on to projects about Rome that also integrate paper engineering (think mosaics!).

 

To parents and families, Liu Laoshi says: “Please remember that your thoughts, concerns, and questions are always important to me.”