TNCS Elementary and Middle School Information Night 2017

What we learn with pleasure we never forget. – Alfred Mercier, 19th century writer and physician


tncs-elementary-middle-school-information-night-2017On November 30th, The New Century School hosted it’s annual “info night”—an event that provides prospective families with an opportunity to get a glimpse of TNCS’s elementary and middle school curricula. TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali presented a brief overview of TNCS, from history to language learning, school philosophy, and a peek inside classroom operations.

In 2006, the school was established with five students in a one-room schoolhouse in Patterson Park. The owners of this school are two like-minded Moms that wanted language immersion as a priority for their own children, so they got some other parents together and thought it would be a great idea to start this school. Here we are, 11 years later with 215 students! We start at 2 years old and go through 7th grade. Our main objective is to attract people who are interested in language immersion in Spanish and Mandarin. We also practice Montessori principles, and I want to talk a little bit about how that overflows into our elementary/middle school program and what things we take from the Montessori preschool into to that program, especially for those families who are currently enrolled in our preschool.

First, some practical points: We have more than 50 staff members, and we offer before care all the way through to after care program. We open at 7:30 am and close at 6:00 pm, wth the school day running from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.

Back to the benefits of multilinguism, what sticks out in my mind as most important and why I like to work in language-immersion environments is that it offers you many ways to problem solve. When you’ve had that language background, your brain will work in a more elastic way—it helps cultivate executive function skills as well as aspects of what I call the ‘invisible curriculum,’ like tolerance. We learn about the world around us through language learning.

If you’re currently in our preschool program, you’ll see that some things stay the same, including our overall approach to whole-child development through differentiated instruction as well as student-driven learning. A typical elementary/middle class size in this school is no larger than 16 or 17 students. We keep it small so that we can meet everybody’s needs in the classroom, regardless of level. Our classroom management system, the Daily 5 (or 3 or 4) Rotation, ensures that every student is getting one-on-one contact with the teacher, collaboration with others in small groups, and time to work independently. Students are given specific parameters to work within that allow them to understand what their responsibilities are. Technology and computer time is also a component of the daily classroom rotation cycle.

Teachers work in pairs or groups of four, depending on grade. Each child has a homeroom class where they are designated to start and end the day as well as to engage in various subjects. Then students have a block of time with, for example, the teacher who handles ELA and Math or Global Studies. Throughout the day, they transition to other core subjects as well as receive daily targeted language instruction for 30 to 45 minutes. In addition, they get a focused subject area in Mandarin and Spanish, such as Global Studies. In this format, language really starts to emerge.

We also have a very strong arts program. K through 8th-grade have two music classes with Music Director Martellies Warren each week. They also have two art classes and two physical education classes every week. Currently we partner with Coppermine.

Our greenhouse and chicken coops, when operational, give children the chance to cultivate plants and livestock, and we also offer a vegetarian, locally sourced lunch. Finally, we offer the Ozone Snack Bar, a student lounge where older kids can relax, socialize, and enjoy a healthy snack at select times.

IMG_2605After Mrs. Danyali spoke, each teacher briefly described his or her classroom approach and particular subject area. Following these teacher presentations, audience members asked specific questions of the presenters.

Info Night is a great way to get an initial introduction to TNCS. Additional highlights of this event can be found in Elementary and Middle School Info Night 2017, a helpful powerpoint presentation. However, to really get to know the school and discover the wonder that takes place in classrooms here every day, attend an Admissions Friday or Open House event and witness the magic first hand. Subsequently, your child will spend a shadow day with other TNCS students and experience what it’s like to actually enjoy learning.

TNCS Middle School: Opening the Window of Awakening

As we approach the end of 2015, our thoughts naturally turn to what lies ahead in the coming year. For The New Century School, one thrilling near-future event looms very large: the opening of the TNCS middle school in fall 2016.

One of the more unfortunate American societal trends is that middle school–age kids are in a slump. Forgotten in the interstices between elementary school and high school, these kids are victims of what has been termed the “lost years.” Multiple factors contribute to this problem, but a key issue is that kids are still maturing yet are confronted with the many pressures and challenges of young adulthood. Many do not yet have the tools they need to face down these challenges and become confused and overwhelmed, which all too often leads to poor decision-making with potentially life-altering consequences, such as teen pregnancy or drug abuse. Another unfortunate consequence is that kids show less interest in learning, with correspondingly lower academic performance.

The good news is, these problems are preventable, and TNCS is leading the charge to revolutionize middle school education. Rather than view the middle school years as inevitably unproductive, TNCS sees them as a Window of Awakening—flipping the entrenched notion that kids at this age are a lost cause on its head. Middle school becomes an opportunity, not a wasteland. A juncture, not a dead zone.

So how will TNCS make middle school a positive experience for students? Of course, the scholastic piece will maintain continuity with TNCS’s core identity as a progressive, inquiry-based learning institution that emphasizes global citizenship and community spirit. TNCS administration is in talks with a middle school curriculum expert to ensure that the curriculum will be rigorous and engaging, meets or exceeds state standards, and is relevant and therefore meaningful for students ages 10–14 years. Mixed-age classrooms, individualized instruction, and language acquisition will remain vital components in effecting this specialized middle school curriculum.

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The real difference will be in embracing the oft-squandered opportunity that these years present to keep them invested in their learning. It’s an opportunity to really set them up for success in high school and beyond with the explicit practical skills they will need. These include physical and mental organizational skills (e.g., keeping track of materials; time management) and developing the habits of successful students (to study smarter, not harder). And, more than that, it’s an opportunity to guide them in their search for their identity to who they really are—to help them actualize their innate potential and goodness.

Akin to the preschool years in some ways, during the middle school years, kids need parents more, not less. Despite their kids’ outward physical growth and the biological changes that seem to propel them to adulthood, parents retain more influence over kids at this age than they might realize. Although kids test out rebellion and throw up opposition every chance they get, these might be requests for attention and help. They are navigating a huge new world, and sometimes they want their hands held along the way.

TNCS is a small, close-knit school. Many among the student body have known each other since toddlerhood. While many preteens and teens are crumbling under peer pressure, pressure to conform, and the pressure to make good choices about huge decisions with their as-yet limited knowledge and experience, TNCS middle school students will benefit from being a part of this protective community where they will be free take things at their own pace.

At the same time, an integral school value is the courage to take risks—not to be confused with condoning risky behavior. This risk-taking is about creativity. Problem-solving, conflict resolution, trying new things, innovating . . . all of these are hallmarks of happy, successful, self-possessed individuals. TNCS middle school will create frameworks for possibility, in the words of The Art of Possibility, a groundbreaking book comprising 12 practices for bringing creativity into any endeavor.

True to TNCS’s mission, fostering compassion and its logical consequence, altruism, the middle school will broaden and deepen the mentorships begun in the younger divisions such as elementary students reading to the pre-primary and primary students. Here, these mentorships might take the form of actual instruction, which will benefit both groups, the younger  kids by the content of the instruction and the older kids by the act of instructing. The “Learning Pyramid” posits that we retain 90% of what we learn when we teach it to someone else. Leadership skills will be further cultivated through proposed formation of a student government.

They will reach out to the larger community as well with targeted “service learning.” In the words of the National Service Learning Clearinghouse, service learning is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.” The possibilities for specific programs are endless, but partnering with Habitat for Humanity is one example of ways TNCS middle school students might participate. Maryland, by the way, was the first state to require service-learning hours as a condition of graduation from high school. (Click here to read some of the many academic, personal, and social student benefits of community engagement.)

Field trips will also take on a service-oriented hue. The upper elementary students are already taking excursions with teachers Kiley Stasch and Dan McGonigal that are connected to their in-class study. By applying what they have learned to the real world, they are then invited to reflect on their experience to reinforce the link between their service and their learning. Given their status as ever-maturing young people, these trips may take them farther afield than where they have so far gone, in keeping with TNCS’s global vision.

Why a middle school? TNCS Co-Founder/Executive Director said it best: “At the end of the day, what we want for our kids is for them to be happy with who they are and what they are doing.” And that’s what TNCS middle school will be all about.

Happy Holidays, TNCS Community! See you next year!