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!

Catch Up with the Teacher: Lisa Reynolds!

Immersed is thrilled to announce a new series happening for the 2018–2019 school year! Similar to how we interview new teachers who join The New Century School in the “Meet the Teacher” series, starting with this very post, we will be circling back to profile long-standing veteran faculty members, who also deserve this chance to tell readers a little more about who they are. Let’s call this long overdue series, “Catch-Up with the Teacher”!

Getting to Know Lisa Reynolds

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Lisa Reynolds with the latest addition to her family!

The thing that anyone who encounters Lisa Reynolds immediately notices is that she always seems happy to be where she is, which is in a classroom brimming with the adorable energy of preschool-age children. Ms. Reynolds joined TNCS in 2013 as a primary teacher. After a stint with the preprimary students, she is now back up on the second floor of building south—that is, in primary, and many would say that’s precisely where she belongs. She’s a natural with the 3- to 5-year-old set!

A lifelong Maryland native from Baltimore County, she received her Montessori certification in 2013 from the Maryland Center for Montessori Studies. Calm, patient, and loving, she exemplifies the Montessori teacher.

Inside Ms. Reynolds’ Classroom

tncs-teacher-lisa-reynoldsHer class comprises 19 students, and Xiu (“Nina”) Laoshi is an in-class intern teacher. Their shared goal is to instill a sense of community in their students, to socialize them. “I concentrate on the social aspect of the group,” explained Ms. Reynolds. “I’m seeing how they respond to one another during group activities. I want them to feel like a family—to see themselves as individuals as part of a family, a larger group.”

Such group activities usually involve making things, and, even apart from her innate creativity, there’s a very good reason why, according to Ms. Reynolds. “We do a lot of fun cooking, for example. One of my instructors used to say that the steps in the process really are not the work, but the conversation is, the cooperation. Being able to communicate with one another and work together, that’s the work.” They started with potatoes and plan to make some very communicative, cooperative muffins next quarter.

As appropriate for the Montessori method, her 19 students are a mix of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds. Ms. Reynolds says the mixed ages is going very well. “The children I’ve had for 3 years are really big helpers so they help the younger children a lot. The younger students really appreciate that, and some bonds have become very strong.”

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As reported in a recent post, it’s important that the mixed-age dynamic is bidirectional, so the older students who mentor their younger classmates also get the chance to be mentored, such as when students from upper divisions pay the class a visit to read together.

As mentioned, Ms. Reynolds loves to be creative and finds lots of ways to incorporate art into class time. For special occasions, like the recent Thanksgiving Feast, students make decorations and place settings. And, teaser, mothers of children in her class may see some other beautiful decorations and more this coming May!

Language Learning

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Students have the benefit of a native-speaking Mandarin assistant teacher. Xiu Laoshi is quiet and soft spoken and prefers teaching one to one or in small groups of students. Chen Laoshi also comes in to assist, and she likes larger-group activities, like making carrot and spinach noodles from scratch.

For Spanish, the class has one-on-one teaching and large-group instruction twice a week. “In the larger groups, they might read a story, sing a song, and have a large group lesson. Then we break down into smaller groups, and they do little individualized lessons based on where the child is at,” explained Ms. Reynolds.

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Señora Sanzana leads the students in a song and dance around the classroom.

Primary Workshop

At the fall parent workshop, Ms. Reynolds’ topic specialty was the outdoors. She said:

I was basically giving parents ideas about what they can do outdoors. How to focus more on their gross motor skills and letting them explore, for example. Having certain boundaries but not hovering over them and letting them experience the fresh air, the smell of the grass, the sound of the leaves. Being able to absorb all of those sensory aspects of the outdoors and the importance of connecting with nature.

One terrific suggestion she has is going on a scavenger hunt. Collect paint swatches from a building or hardware store and then ask your children to find something in nature that matches the color. Try it during different seasons to show them the spectrum of natural colors and how they shift through the year.

Takeaway Thoughts

“I love my job!,” said Ms, Reynolds. “I love being with the children. It is the best part of my day. I have so much passion for the Montessori philosophy and the care of the children.”

TNCS is so glad to have you as a teacher!

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TNCS’s Second Biannual Primary Workshop for 2017–2018!

At The New Century School, Montessori instruction not only defines the primary classroom for students ages 3- to 5-years old, but Montessori principles are the bedrock on which TNCS was founded. Although only the primary classrooms are classically Montessori, its importance at TNCS cannot be overstated. Students who start at TNCS in their primary years and progress through the upper divisions find that their elementary and middle school classrooms retain much of the Montessori character in terms of mixed-age classes; an inquiry-driven, student-led approach, and an emphasis on courage, compassion, respect, and service to and for schoolmates and staff.

Because there’s a lot to the Montessori method, TNCS hosts two workshops annually to allow parents to get the full picture of how it works. Last fall, primary teachers Lisa Reynolds, Elizabeth Bowling, Maria Mosby, and Yanyang Li hosted the first of these annual workshops, covering many areas of the Montessori classroom, including  the Work Cycle, Practical Life, the Montessori Skillset, and other broader concepts.

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This current workshop focused on the tools and lessons that Montessori students use to learn Geography and Science, Math, and Language as well as their primary vehicle for learning—their five senses: “The senses, being explorers of our world, open the way to knowledge,” wrote Maria Montessori.

20180118_141103Accordingly, the Sensorial component of the Montessori method is purposeful and orderly. It “refines the senses,” “orders the mind,” and facilitates “appreciation of the world.” There are visual, tactile, olfactory, and auditory (and sometimes even gustatory!) materials for children to work with, all designed to establish fundamental precepts for learning. Each material is beautifully designed and appropriate for children during their sensitive periods of learning. They provide the necessary stimulation for children to learn science and geography, math, and language concepts more readily.

In a Science and Geography activity (known as a “work”), for example, a student might put together a globe puzzle, calling on his or her sensorial training to understand sequence, order, and beauty to successfully complete it (with complete absorption, no less), or match Ancient Egyptian names with figures. Cultural awareness also begins to develop here; in Montessori, concepts begin very concretely to enable to child to fully grasp them before being naturally drawn to extrapolate them to more abstract ideas.

This is nowhere more true than in Math: “Process is taught first, and facts come later. Order, coordination, concentration, and independence are experienced by the child using [Montessori math] materials.” The materials are organized into five groups:

  • Group 1 introduces sets of 1 through 10, which prepares the child for counting and teaches the value of quantity. Children begin to associate numeral and quantity with number rods and number cards and will gain a growing understanding of sequence. To reinforce the 1 through 10 concept, a teacher may add spindle boxes, cards and counters, the short bead stair, and other 1-to-10 counting activities.
  • Group 2 involves the decimal system using the golden bead material. Children become familiar with the names of the decimal categories: units of 10s, 100s, 1,000s, and so on. A  concrete experience with each category is represented by beads, and quantity will be followed by symbol and association.
  • Group 3 deals with the operations using the golden bead material. The concept and process of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are presented. Children work with each other and benefit from these exercises using the bank game. Progression then continues using operations with the stamp game.
  • Group 4 consists of linear counting. Quantity is presented using the teen and 10 boards, followed by symbol and association. The 100 board and bead chains develop number concepts and recognition of numbers 1 through 100. The bead chains also introduce the child to skip-counting—5, 10, 15, 20, etc., for example.
  • Group 5 contains activities such as strip boards, the snake game, and memorization of facts. Fractions are also a part of this group. Fraction skittles and insets serve this purpose.

The activities in the math area are not to be implemented at a set pace. Providing students with the materials at precisely the right challenge level will enable them to demonstrate their development to the teacher through their progress. A child who is able to grasp such math concepts as addition and subtraction demonstrates a successful use of the math materials.

“The only language men ever speak perfectly,” Maria Montessori wrote, “is the one they learned in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!” Thus, language is possibly the area of the Montessori classroom accorded the most space, focusing first on oral language and vocabulary, then writing, and finally reading. From birth to age 6, children are in an exquisitely sensitive period for language development. They absorb multiple languages effortlessly and without direct instruction. The latter half of this plane of development is when they exhibit a strong interest in words.

  • The oral language curriculum focuses on activities that enrich the child’s vocabulary and ability to isolate phonetic sounds, such as having conversations, telling and reading stories, playing sound games, and working with vocabulary cards.
  • Children are typically interested in the practice of writing and often learn to write before they can read. The writing curriculum focuses on preparing the mind and the hand for writing activities through sensorial exercises and manipulatives.
  • A child prepared to begin reading will demonstrate this by first blending phonetic sounds. After much work in this area, the child will begin to work with phonograms, digraphs, and finally puzzle words (sight words). All of this work is done using sensorial objects that the child can manipulate and relate to words.
The primary teachers did a beautiful job explaining and demonstrating the brilliance of the Montessori classroom during the workshop, and they also shared their presentation in digital form for anyone unable to attend. To learn more, go to: TNCS 2017–2018 Parents Workshop.

 

Meet the Teacher: Michele Hackshaw Joins TNCS Primary Division

michele-hackshaw-joins-tncs-primaryMichele Hackshaw joined The New Century School at the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year as a Montessori Lead Teacher with Gloria Jimenez assisting. A native Spanish speaker from Caracas, Venezuela, she moved to Baltimore with her husband in 2000.

In her home country, she pursued a macroeconomics degree but decided to come to the United States to immerse herself in English while earning a Master’s in business. She spent a few years working in the business field, and then, Señora Hackshaw says, the recession of 2008 hit. She began volunteering in her children’s school and found to her surprise that she really enjoyed that type of work. She liked childhood education so much, in fact, that she went for Montessori training. Once certified as a Montessori teacher, she worked at Bridges Montessori School in Towson for about 5 years. “I definitely prefer teaching to business, to my initial surprise. Then, even after the economy got better I told my husband that business is something I don’t want to go back to. I really love what I’m doing right now. I really love to get up and go to my work. This [gesturing to her classroom] is my vocation.”

The switch in careers from business to teaching might seem like quite an about-face, but Sra. Hackshaw believes that the work has greater significance for society. “We have such a a big impact on these children. How they turn out depends on what we do for them, show them, expose them to.” Besides her humanitarian reasons, teaching is also a lot more fun for her than working in an office was, where interactions with irate clients were often less than pleasant. “Here, it’s not like that. Somebody might be crying because I asked him to do something he didn’t want to do, and 10 minutes later, he’s got a huge smile. There are no bad work days,” she says.

Her children, a girl and a boy, are now 9 and 10 years old, respectively and have the good fortune to be growing up bilingual. The same can be said of Sra. Hackshaw’s 10 3- to 5-year-old primary students who are in a Spanish-immersion Montessori classroom. “In the beginning, teaching in Spanish was a bit challenging because it was a new language for my students, who were all new to the school. But they learned so fast, and now it’s just great,” she smiles.

About being at TNCS now, she says it’s not only a wonderful experience, but she is learning a lot, professionally. “This is a different environment,” she explains, “because I never worked in a full Spanish immersion classroom, although it was Montessori. But I have never taught Montessori in Spanish or given a Montessori lesson in Spanish. And, unlike teaching Spanish, for example, at an after-school program, which is mostly teaching vocabulary, here it’s different. I speak Spanish the whole time. It has been a valuable process of learning and discovery.” (Please see Montessori Language Arts, Match, Science, and Global Studies at TNCS to learn more about how Sra. Hackshaw and other TNCS primary teachers give Montessori lessons.)

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For now, Sra. Hackshaw’s “business” is nurturing her students within her warm and peace-loving classrom. “There’s so much that you can give to them, and they will learn from you. If you keep empowering them and model how to be good people, they learn that.”

Welcome to TNCS, Sra Hackshaw!

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TNCS Hosts Education Conference for Teachers from China!

Last week, The New Century School hosted some very special guests: nine kindergarten and preschool educators from China (plus one of the teacher’s 5-year-old daughter, Kitty).  They came to the United States for some training sessions as part of a conference titled “Innovation in Education,” the brainchild of TNCS Co-Founders Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner in partnership with representative Alex Xu from Each Future Cultural Network, a company dedicated to fostering cultural exchanges between China and the United States. Although this was not the first time TNCS and EFCN have jointly hosted Chinese guests (see International Camp at TNCS), this session was unique in being devoted to teacher training for adults.  
Explaining how the conference came to be and its mission, Ms. Faux says:
We were approached by a group in China interested in learning more about U.S. education styles. TNCS partnered with Loyola and Johns Hopkins University to present talks and sessions on a variety of topics. Our mission was to expose Chinese teacher to progressive styles of learning, especially at the preschool and early elementary ages. Many progressive schools approach education based on a model of human development (Montessori). This encompasses two main principles: 1) Children engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments, and 2) preschool children have an innate path of psychological development. Children who are at liberty to choose and act freely within a prepared environment act spontaneously for optimal development. This is a critical time for children, which has a long-term impact on future learning and development. This is a very new concept to Chinese education and culture.
The group arrived on Sunday, April 24th and began attending conference seminars first thing the next morning. As Ms. Faux said above, the concepts presented were mostly unfamiliar to the group, but this did not lessen the appeal of listening to presentations and engaging in question-and-answer sessions afterward. Of the nine, three spoke English and were able to help Mr. Xu with the task of translating the presentations by speakers into Mandarin as well as the responses by the group into English to facilitate smooth communication. The itinerary was as follows.

Day 1

On Monday, the group stuck pretty close to home base, starting with a welcome tour of TNCS and an overview of the week’s workshops. After being treated to breakfast by Chef Emma Novashinski, they observed the primary and K/1st classrooms during the morning, then had lunch with the upper elementary students followed by gelato at Pitango in Fell’s Point. Back at headquarters, they enjoyed their first formal presentation by TNCS K/1st teacher Adriana Duprau on classroom management in a non-traditional classroom, where students enjoy considerably more freedom than in traditional classrooms.
This may well have been the most challenging concept of the week for them to embrace, given that there is little leeway in the typical Chinese classroom, and students are expected to conduct themselves according to a strict standard of behavior. In a classroom that averages 30 or more students, such behavioral expectations make sense—no one would be learning anything amidst the mayhem that would otherwise likely result. Instead, the model Chinese student pays attention to the instructor, sits still (in some cases even sitting on his or hands to avoid the temptation to fidget), and speaks only when called on (see TNCS Visits Schools in China).
 

A very thoughtful discussion followed the talk, with the group inquiring about TNCS’s approach to standardized test taking and arguing that every student needs high scores. In Chinese schools, excelling is a must.

Day 2

On Tuesday, the group traveled to Columbia to visit the Washington Montessori Institute of Loyola. Speaker Jennifer Shields, Director of Primary Training, presented the basics of the Montessori approach and how it not only accommodates how children develop but also optimizes that development. As part of the presentation, the group sang a “Good Morning” song, toured classrooms, and watched video footage of a primary classroom in glorious, productive action.

After the morning session, the group returned to TNCS for lunch, followed by a talk from Head of School Alicia Danyali on bilingual education. Once again, the subsequent Q&A focused on the differences between the organic approach to language acquisition that TNCS adopts with the Chinese way, which is often includes using tutors for extra practice.

Day 3

On Wednesday, escorted by JHU School of Education Assistant Dean for Community Schools Dr. Annette Anderson, the group first toured the relatively new Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School, also known as Henderson-Hopkins, an early childhood center as well as K–8 school. According to their mission, this public school:

. . . will pursue the most contemporary, effective approaches to meeting the needs of students, their families, and the community. The school will take a holistic approach to developing the potential of each student, one that focuses on the behavioral, cognitive and physical health of the child. It will emphasize individualized learning, and family and community involvement supported by wrap-around services.

The creation of an early childhood center is key to assuring early success for students and their families and will help each student reach his or her full potential. By placing an emphasis on physical and social development as well as academic achievement, Henderson-Hopkins is fully committed to making sure that all children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten and that they will be fully prepared to enter their high school of choice and eventually college.

After lunch at nearby Atwater’s, the group headed to the JHU campus School of Education building, where Assistant Professor Dr. Carolyn Parker gave a presentation on STEM Education. Her talk centered on JHU’s National Science Foundation STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES) grant. “The SABES grant is a 7.4 million dollar award that leverages the skills and resources of the schools, community, and businesses in three high-minority, low-resource Baltimore city neighborhoods. The goal is to integrate science into a child’s world as opposed to bringing a student into the world of scientists.”

After this full day, the group was ready for some rest but not before one of them made the very incisive point that China seems to invest its educational resources in the top achievers, whereas the United States seems to be focusing on raising up the underperformers.

Day 4

Thursday started with a very special treat—handmade smoothies courtesy of Chef Emma followed by the first-ever TNCS talent show! Students from all levels performed songs in Mandarin, and the upper elementary also sang in Spanish for good measure. The Chinese group was enthralled, and TNCS faculty nearly burst with pride.

From there, the group attended a talk on Mindfulness in Education by Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish at Johns Hopkins University Medical Campus. See TNCS Teachers Get Mindful! for a similar discussion. Much of this talk involved regulating emotions and how children respond to stressors, which is an also area of expertise of one of the group members, Hui Huang, who goes by “Rowena” in the States.

Lastly that day, the group toured the Baltimore School for the Arts under the guidance of TWIGS (afterschool program) Director and Musical Theatre Instructor Becky Mossing. Here the group saw choir, orchestra, dance, sculpture, and theatre students engaged in their respective arts and also got a peek inside the rigorous academic classrooms.

Day 5

Friday began with a tour of the Washington International School and a presentation on WSI’s international program that challenges students in preschool through 12th grade “to become responsible and effective world citizens.” This was followed by a talk by presenter Alice Zhang on teacher training at the Center for Chinese Language Teacher Development and Training at the University of Maryland College Park.

The final activity was a farewell party back at TNCS, where the group received certification for having completed the training and relaxed with some refreshments. They also provided verbal and written feedback about their experience to help shape future conferences. Said one of the attendees, Xiang Xueying, who goes by “Gloria” in the states, “I really enjoyed my stay here very much.” Gloria was especially impressed with the Western habit of reading to young children nightly before bed and wants to encourage Chinese parents to adopt this practice.

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All in all, according to TNCS Lead Mandarin Instructor Wei Li, they were all quite satisfied with the training program. From their reports, she gleaned the following:

They found the arrangements of this training reasonable and colorful. They have visited different levels and different kinds of school here, from pre-primary to university, from private to public school. Also, they were exposed to different areas of education, like language, math, art, psychology, etc. Several things impressed them a lot. First, they appreciated the warm and thoughtful hospitality from TNCS. Second, they enjoyed the advanced Montessori teaching theory and the “practical life” Montessori classroom environment. Last but not least, they were impressed with TNCS students’ multilingual ability, especially their Chinese proficiency.

Mr. Xu also felt that the program was a success and that it was well organized. His one suggestion for future such programs is to tailor the round of talks more to the given audience’s specific background, such as preschool-oriented topics for this last group. It’s a good suggestion because, as Ms. Faux has confirmed, another conference is in the works and may be becoming an ongoing TNCS endeavor!