TNCS 2nd- and 3rd-Graders Go Places with Teacher Sarah Weiskopf!

The New Century School values what each individual member of the community brings to the beautiful whole. This is no less true for TNCS teachers, who are, after all, helping introduce young humans to the world and what it offers. Their unique perspectives incrementally broaden students’ horizons and ignite the passion for exploration.

For TNCS grades 2 and 3 English Language Arts and Global Studies teacher Sarah Weiskopf, this is a deeply held tenet.

I really believe in guiding the student toward self-construction, showing them where the tools are, so they can kind of teach themselves. In the Montessori way, you put things out, you give a lesson, and you inspire students toward learning. In that inspiration toward learning, they actually are making themselves into whole human beings. So I like to just be the guide and kind of step back and allow that knowledge and exploration to unfold.

How Sarah Weiskopf Came to TNCS

Ms. Weiskopf started teaching at TNCS in the 2021–2022 school year. She is about to commence her third year at TNCS and is even helping out with summer camp in the meantime.

But she traveled a few dozen thousands of miles to get here. To start this journey from the beginning, Ms. Weiskopf attended Skidmore College, a liberal arts college in Saratoga Springs, NY, for her undergraduate degree. After an on-campus job in the dining hall taught her that food service was definitely not her thing, she began working in a preschool and loves that experience.

She bookmarked that for a bit, not yet certain that teaching children was her avocation, and moved to Prague in the Czech Republic in 2013. There, while teaching English as a second language to adults, she realized that she preferred teaching younger students after all. So, she interviewed at the International Montessori School of Prague as an ELA support teacher and was hired. “Then someone in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd classroom was leaving temporarily, and I took over in that classroom as the assistant,” she explains. “I fell in love with the theory behind Montessori, and watching it in practice was really inspiring.”

She lived in Prague for 3 more years, then made a pit stop in Southeast Asia to do some teaching-subsidized travel there. When she returned to the United States, she had a goal: earning a Master’s degree in Montessori Education. So, instead of going home to her native town of Pittsburgh, PA, she arrived in Baltimore to enroll at Loyola University Maryland. She took a slight detour back to food service to support herself through graduate school, waiting tables and bartending.

With her Master’s degree in hand, Ms. Weiskopf has been teaching for several years. She decided to remain in Baltimore, which is close enough to Pittsburgh to see her family regularly, and bought a house here last year. She taught in Baltimore City and Baltimore County private schools for a bit, but, when the pandemic hit, some of her students’ parents approached her about leading an at-home school in Monkton. She had a cohort of 13 students in grades 1st through 7 and taught all subjects (with the help of an employees she brought on to help out with the upper-level math. They did most teaching and learning outdoors. “In the winter, we had a little garage space that we worked in with space heaters,” she recounts. “We did a lot of hands-on learning. For instance, the kids were really into biking, so I taught the 7th-graders how to use power tools, and they  built bike ramps and little bridges on the property. That was a blast!”

Ms. Weiskopf at TNCS

When in-person school was about to start back up, Ms. Weiskopf got the call to interview at TNCS, having been recommended as a candidate by a teacher friend. Although she misses teaching all subjects and having her students all day long (à la Montessori and her pandemic pod experiences), she is enjoying her time here and especially appreciates her co-teacher Swati Mehta. “She and I are really able to share ideas back and forth and collaborate,” said Ms. Weiskopf. “We are so in sync at this point that it’s just second nature working with her. So I really love the ability to have a co-teacher in that capacity.”

And for you, TNCS parents, she wants you to know that your involvement is most welcome.

The part of the job that I love the most, actually, is parent/teacher relationships. I really see teaching as a partnership between me and the students’ parents or  family members. I can’t do my work without their involvement; they can’t do their work as parents without my involvement. So I really do think that we are a team. I’m an open book, and I really want parents and family members to come and ask questions, see lessons, and really be involved.

Outside of TNCS

Although teaching requires a monumental amount of energy, commitment, and care, Ms. Weiskopf finds plenty of latitude for extracurricular activities: “I like to spend time with my fiancé hiking, biking, and walking our dog Phoebe. We love to travel and go camping as often as we are able! We have a workshop in our basement for home renovation and DIY projects. We most recently built a coffee table.”

Wait—fiancé? You read that correctly; besides starting her third year at TNCS, Ms. Weiskopf has another big event to look forward to: she is getting married in December! As the seasoned traveler you are, we know you will fare very well on that upcoming journey!

Holidays at TNCS: How Do We Celebrate?

Decorating the maypole to herald Spring.

Decorating the maypole to herald Spring.

With Spring celebrations of all kinds popping out of the calendar left and right like whac-a-moles, it seems like a good time to explore The New Century School‘s special take on holidays. Rather than shying away from holidays, which often include a religious component, nondenominational TNCS opens its wide embrace to any and all. Though none are strictly observed, all are respected and welcome topics of exploration. And, as a multicultural, multilingual school with a diverse international student body, opportunities abound to do so, both as part of the curriculum and to enhance it.

Holiday celebrations offer an ideal opportunity to teach children about global cultures and traditions as well as history and geography.

Holiday celebrations offer an ideal opportunity to teach children about global cultures and traditions as well as history and geography.

Although some resent the commercialism that almost any U.S. holiday inevitably entails, holidays present ideal cultural teaching moments, both domestic and international. In addition to culture, holidays also educate us about history and geography as well as help us mark the passage of time and differentiate between the seasons. They serve real, important functions in the annual cycle. Finally, they bring together loved ones (or Peeps, if you will).

So, as the Northern Hemisphere bursts into bloom following the recent vernal equinox, which marked the point at which day equals night, a festive feeling naturally overtakes many of us. From Mardi Gras to Norwuz, from Easter to Shavuot, from May Day to Earth Day, folks want to celebrate. At TNCS, celebrating holidays focuses on the tradition and rituals inherent in the associated culture. Parents are integral here; they are encouraged to share their native holidays with their child’s class, to cook the traditional food that comes with the particular celebration, teach a special dance, or do a related arts and crafts project. They introduce the class to special cultural elements but also share their’s and their children’s identities: “This is how we celebrate where I come from, and where I come from is foundational to who I am.”

Chinese language and culture is integral to TNCS's identity.

Chinese language and culture is integral to TNCS’s identity.

The students are exposed to a kaleidoscope of cultures and celebrations, which is extremely academically meaningful and enriching, and, even more importantly, they learn to truly and deeply appreciate differences and each other. As Robin Munro, TNCS Director of Admissions put it, “An important part of this school is that kids understand their own backgrounds and come in ready to share that. They know who ‘they’ are, but through all of this beautiful cultural interchange, are also able to readily appreciate who ‘you’ are.” No one is excluded; likewise no holiday or celebration is held in higher regard than any other. Maria Montessori believed that this multicultural inclusiveness was the way to achieve no less than world peace.

Celebrating her birth and life, Montessori style.

Celebrating her birth and life, Montessori style.

Speaking of Maria Montessori, it’s worth mentioning that, in TNCS’s primary program, student birthdays are observed with that loveliest of Montessori traditions, “Celebration of Life.” Instead of cake and icing and all the sugar-laden trappings of conventional kids’ birthdays, the emphasis is on the child’s time on earth—metaphysics for 3 to 5-year-olds. Even those who don’t observe birthdays for religious or other reasons could hardly object to this sweet ritual that helps the child understand that his or her life has purpose and meaning. Though witnessing this lovely ceremony is priceless, here is a basic description: A candle is placed in the middle of the room, and the class gathers in a circle around it. The birthday child then circles the “light” while holding a globe to symbolize the earth revolving around the sun and the passage of a year. As the child makes a revolution, significant personal events that occurred during that year are recounted, such as learning to walk. The child’s age determines the number of revolutions. While the child circulates, his or her classmates recite:

We celebrate your birth
And your place on the earth.
May the sun, moon, and stars
Bring you peace where you are.
This elementary student wanted to celebrate his half-birthday by giving his class a concert. The class gave him three encores!

This elementary student wanted to celebrate his half-birthday by giving his class a concert. The class gave him three encores!

But birthdays in the non-Montessori programs are equally special, a chance for each child to bond with his or her classmates and deepen their shared community. Parents can participate by sharing details about the child’s life or by contributing a special snack for snacktime. One elementary student even decided to celebrate his half birthday by giving a violin recital to his class. He got three encores, and the class joined in to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Happy Birthday.” Said his mother and TNCS Executive Director Jennifer Lawner:

For a student to feel empowered and comfortable enough in his environment that he can share something special with the group is a rare and wonderful thing. An education that makes this possible is completely different from one that does not. It is setting up children to be contributing members to society in a very deep way from an early age. I’m so happy that my children can go to TNCS, and that such an experience is natural for them.

Whether small and informal in the classroom or organized for the whole school, these celebrations and rituals highlight and affirm TNCS’s values and vision. By learning to deeply appreciate others, TNCS students come fully into themselves as compassionate, engaged citizens of the world. Now that’s something to celebrate!