TNCS Emergency Personnel Child Care: Heroes Helping Heroes!

Six weeks have passed since The New Century School closed its physical campus to students and ceased normal operations, along with the rest of Maryland and most of the country. As extraordinary as that then seemed, TNCS faculty and administration met the upheaval head on, rolling out TNCS Virtual School within just a few days. TNCS students have been able to actively continue their education, despite these formidable circumstances. In terms of innovation and swift implementation, what TNCS has accomplished is unparalleled—TNCS was among the first if not the first to get online school up and running in Maryland.

But that’s not the only remarkable feat TNCS pulled off. “In mid March, we quickly moved to get approval from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to be an official Essential Personnel Child Care (EPCC) site in less than 48 hours,” explained TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux. “We have an amazing staff who are practicing extensive preventive measures to care for children so their parents can continue to work the frontlines of this crisis.” Some TNCS families have come to Baltimore to work temporarily at Johns Hopkins hospital, for example, to complete a residency, but have no family or support system to rely on to take care of their kids in a medical crisis like this.

All of these “heroes helping heroes” deserve special recognition and gratitude.

EPCC at TNCS

imagejpeg_4Jatiya Richardson, a very familiar face at TNCS, having been an assistant teacher for the last 2 years, became the EPCC Director by stepping up to offer her services. “I felt it was needed, and I love taking care of kids. It was a no-brainer—when Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali mentioned that this might be happening, I knew that I wanted to be there to help. It’s in me.”

EPCC at TNCS currently comprises 12 children ages 2 to 5, whose parents are all health care workers, and 5 teachers. In addition to Ms. Richardson, Yurisan Gonzalez, Sara Espinoza, Yanely Poso, and Yanet Pina Gonzalez make up the group of care providers. The TNCS campus is closed to all with the exception of EPCC staff and students.

“In terms of compliance, we are doing everything we can to make sure that health is the top priority for everybody in this building,” said Ms. Richardson. Each person who enters the building goes through a rigorous process designed to adhere to the ever-changing guidelines issued by the MSDE that includes strict hygiene measures and donning the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Additional measures include daily temperature checks and frequent handwashing and sanitizing.

They have also created a special cleaning station for the facilities staff to clean their tools and any supplies they have to bring in from outside.

So that’s the operational part, but what about the children? How does TNCS EPCC keep them happily occupied under such stringent new regulations? The staff has adapted to provide physical activity, arts and crafts, and good old story time, despite their environmental limitations. “We’re not able to go into the other building, so we transformed the multipurpose room into the gym,” said Ms. Richardson. “We brought over the Imagination Playground and some of the mats and completely sanitized them. We do imaginary play and play hide and seek. We also do a lot of painting.” Ms. Richardson even taught herself Google classroom so that the children could participate in the Montessori activities ongoing in TNCS Virtual School.

As for how the children are handling their new circumstances, Ms. Richardson says, “It can be rough, because we can’t mix them. It can be draining, but we just have to stick with it for everyone’s health.”

The kids for the most part understand a very little bit—they know about social distancing, for example, from talking about it at home and from books I read to them here. And they know that they don’t want to catch the coronavirus! They never ask questions, like, ‘Oh, teacher, why are you wearing a mask?’. I’m surprised by that—I’ve been waiting for them to ask about it, but no one has. They seem to have adjusted very easily. They don’t really get why the other kids aren’t here, though. They do ask about when their other friends are going to come to school, and it’s hard for them to grasp that this is an emergency campus, not school. But, otherwise they’ve been great—having fun, enjoying themselves. I think that has a lot to do with their age; they are very quick to adapt.

“The EPCC staff have been truly amazing and are providing lovely care amid daily temperature checks and while wearing a mask,” said Ms. Faux.

When life returns to quasi normalcy, Ms. Richardson and her EPCC staff will reenter TNCS preprimary and primary classrooms as assistant teachers as well as before and after care teachers in some cases. Ms. Richardson is Song Laoshi’s dedicated assistant teacher and is eager to resume learning Mandarin Chinese right alongside her students. Currently, she can converse briefly in Mandarin as well as count pretty high. We’ve certainly been counting on her and the other heroes at TNCS EPCC.


On a message from April 23rd on their website, MSDE expressed their gratitude for EPCC sites like TNCS: “MSDE wishes to extend its sincere thanks to our state’s child care providers, who have responded to the COVID-19 crisis by delivering exceptional care to the children of health care providers, police, fire and rescue personnel, and so many other first responders and essential personnel.”

Read more about Enhanced Guidelines for Child Care Facilities to Prevent The Spread of COVID-19 and the critical steps involved here.

TNCS Head of Lower School Alicia Danyali Joins Multilanguage-Learning Professional Development Cohort!

Integral to the curriculum as well as the identity of The New Century School is language learning. We are by now well aware of the many kinds of social and cognitive benefit that multilingualism confers (but check out our Resources page if you’d like a refresher!). However, as Head of TNCS Lower School Alicia Danyali understands, staying abreast of the best practices in teaching language is critical.

tncs-head-of-lower-school-alicia-danyaliThat’s why she attended a cumulative 5-day training called “The Can Do Philosophy and the Guiding Principles of Language Development” that took place at the Johns Hopkins School of Education in Columbia, MD from November 4th–6th and December 4th and 5th in order to learn more about how practitioners observe, document, and analyze observations to promote dual (or, in the case of TNCS, triple) language development. The training was provided by WIDA, whose mission is, “Helping multilingual learners—and their educators—reach their potential.” The WIDA acronym stands for World-class Instructional Design and Assessment, but everyone knows this group as “WIDA.” They are headquartered at the University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research in Madison, but they have satellites all over the United States. tncs-wida

Ms. Danyali says she found out about the opportunity from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) weekly newsletter. “I’m so nerdy that I actually read it,” she joked. It’s a good thing she did. The WIDA Consortium is a member-based organization “dedicated to the research, design and implementation of a high-quality, standards-based system for K–12 language learners”—and they offer tons of amazing resources for educators. Says Ms. Danyali, “I noticed that this organization is very interested in dual language learning in the early childhood environment. I thought, ‘I have to look into more about that!’ They’re partnering with MSDE on how to better support family–school partnerships with dual language environments.”

She explains that, even though she isn’t coming from the public school sector, she nevertheless wanted to know what supports are out there and what new advancements in language education have been made. They were separated into three groups to role-play as a Parent, Educator, or Administrator. “This is the first time—and it is exciting to me—that it has been looked at at the early childhood level, which has always been something I feel very strongly about, capturing that age of language acquisition. So, I applied to be part of a cohort and submitted a blurb about TNCS and how we start at age 2 with a full immersion setting,” she explained.

“A big portion of the conversations with the cohort I was in—and it was people from all walks of education, from professors to para-professionals, was about receptive and expressive language. That’s really what we do here at TNCS—develop the ability to understand words and speech, which is the receptive part.” For example, Song Laoshi will say, “Line up” in Mandarin a thousand times to her 2-year-olds the first 2 weeks of school and she’ll model that instruction. One student will figure out what she’s doing and what she wants the class to do, and then slowly everyone else starts to get it. It’s the most beautiful thing.” But how are the teachers able to measure how well that’s happening in the preschool environment? Participants were given worksheets to guide them on how to effectively gather that feedback.

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In expressive language, the student communicates their wants and needs, speaking, not just gathering from their environment. So, back to the example of Song Laoshi’s 2-year-olds, eventually, they will start to talk about what is happening, building on  receiving instruction and being able to act on them.

“Another thing we discussed in our cohort,” says Ms. Danyali, was how to “appeal to young students’ learning styles, which is a lot more difficult in a prescriptive public environment, and how to go off the cuff and meet the students’ needs.” In Maryland, Spanish is the fastest growing language in Maryland and Urdu is the second, which is almost as prevalent. “So we’re not looking necessarily at how we can support Spanish speakers in an ESL environment, which has always been the standard, but more of just how do we support language development?”

What Does This Look Like at TNCS?

Even though the WIDA consortium is primarily about how to support students who speak English as a second language, flipping that the other way around and applying their evidence-based practices to any multilanguage-learning environment makes perfect sense. Accordingly, Ms. Danyali has implemented a program in the primary classes for assistant teachers to provide monthly status reports on each student’s progress with language:

It has been quite a game-changer and very helpful, but I also understand as a former educator that introducing new things sometimes feels like having more added to an already-full workplate. But this is actually so supportive and in line with how we think about how our students obtain language. I tell them, too, ‘I want you to grow in your career. This is the one thing that threads our whole school together. We have language from age 2 through grade 8. The common message that sets us apart is our language program, and you’re driving that, so I want your feedback.’

Another important aspect of language at TNCS is the concept of proficiency versus fluency. At the younger ages, it’s really very important that students are hearing language being spoken, no matter what the language. Definitive milestones are not important here. This process is more organic.

Fifty years ago, when immigrants came to the United States, they were instructed not to speak in their native languages so as (as the thinking went) to assimilate into U.S. culture more quickly. “This created major deficits in their lives,” explains Ms. Danyali. “The mindset is now changing, fortunately, and we want our teachers and assistants to speak their native languages.” The WIDA Consortium wants to move away from “English” and talk more about language development to be more inclusive. In fact, the state of Maryland supports over 100 languages in terms of having translators available for free to translate documents, meetings, conversations, etc.

In the near future, Ms. Danyali will incorporate the Can Do Descriptors and Promising Practices she was trained on into the TNCS curriculum. To be proficient in a language, a speaker must be able to Express Self, Recount, and Inquire.tncs-wida

“The preschool component is really our heart and soul for engaging in language for the long-term student. We attract families who know that language is important. So, all of this will factor in to how I roll out what I’ve learned at TNCS,” said Ms. Danyali.

I walked away feeling very fortunate for the environment we’re in. We don’t have stand-alone teachers in a class of 37 kids who need a lot of support. But I found a lot of compassion among the cohort. Some families do not reach out to avail themselves of services because of the current political climate, but the MSDE was there to confirm that they do not turn over that information to anyone. Everyone was on the same page in this cohort to find ways to help and that education can bridge perception gaps.


Here are some WIDA publications you might find interesting: