The Art of Teaching K/1st: Meet Lindsey Sandkuhler!

Lindsey Sandkuhler took over The New Century School‘s mixed age Kindergarten and 1st-grade homeroom for the 2019–2020 school year. Teaching, she says, is “kind of a family profession,” and both of her parents are teachers. She always knew she would follow in their footsteps and attended Towson University to earn a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. She is from Towson and lives there still.

Road to TNCS

From college, Ms. Sandkuhler never looked back. After graduating, she was hired by Harford County public schools, where she had completed her student teaching. There, she taught 4th grade for 2 years, then 2nd grade for 3 years. Next, she says, “I left the county and decided to go for pre-K—big difference!” At a nature-based preschool, she taught 4- and 5-year-olds, then spent an additional 2 years at a different private preschool for 5-year-olds. “Now, I’m here, year 9!”, she said. “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind!”

So what did bring her to TNCS? A bit of good timing! Her last school announced in February that it would be closing permanently in June. Ms. Sandkuhler saw that TNCS was hiring, liked what she saw, and applied. She was offered a position the day after she interviewed in May, at least partly because her teaching style meshes so well with TNCS’s educational approach. “It was both a relief not to have to scramble for employment as well as very exciting for me to embark on this new adventure,” she explained.

davenport photo

At TNCS

Back to liking what she saw, the aspects that most appealed to her about TNCS were precisely what makes TNCS the school that it is, particularly, small class sizes, the emphasis on The Arts, and differentiated learning. “I have done a lot of different kinds of teaching for a lot of different ages,” she said, which has given her insight into what works in early childhood and lower elementary education.

I really love how small the classes are. In the county public school, at one time, I had 28 2nd-graders in my class with no aide; it was just me. I felt like I couldn’t reach all my students. There was no way, and I burned out because of that. I was trying to get to everybody, and I just couldn’t do it. One of the great things here is the small class sizes. By week 3 I already had a good grasp on where most of my students are.

It’s a story we hear time and again about teachers being underresourced and, by consequence, students often winding up underserved. At TNCS, Ms. Sandkuhler has a very manageable 14 in one class and 13 another. “That’s amazing,” she says, “and I love that it’s so centered around where the students are. Yes, we’re going to encourage them and challenge them, but not to the point of frustration.”

She is here again making a comparison to her stint in the county public school system. “You had to stay on pace. If your students didn’t understand addition, too bad, you had to move on to subtraction because the test is happening on this day coming soon, regardless. That’s another reason I needed to move on. I felt bad for the kids. They weren’t ready, which was totally fine by me—we all learn differently—but that’s not how the county saw it. It was not okay.”

Ms. Sandkuhler teaches Math and English Language Arts (ELA), the two core subjects. She shares the K/1st cohort with Pei Ge, who teaches Global Studies, Science, and Mandarin. When asked about TNCS’s multilingual bent, she says, “I was very forthcoming at my interview about not being bilingual, and it wasn’t a blocker. But I think it’s wonderful to start teaching language so young. My students are now teaching me things in Spanish and Chinese, which is really cool.”

Love of Art and Nature

So what makes Ms. Sandkuhler tick besides a love of teaching? “I love art. My sister is an artist, a sculptor, so I live vicariously through her sometimes,” she said. “When I taught pre-K, during the kids’ naptime, I’d sit and watch YouTube videos on how to do calligraphy, and I would practice during my downtime. That’s something I had always wanted to learn. It’s very therapeutic. I like to draw and paint, too.”

In addition to making art, Ms. Sandkuhler enjoys being outside in nature (hence the nature-based preschool), especially hiking. Her parents live in an idyllic setting on the Choptank River in Dorchester County, and she goes there to kayak, crab, and fish. She describes her mother’s love of hummingbirds and the handheld feeders that the birds will come feed out of if you remain still enough. “Sometimes it’s so nice to get out and away,” she said.

Not surprisingly, her pursuits out of the classroom influence her approach inside it: “Parents should know that I’m creative. I’m patient with the students. If they’re not getting something a certain way, then we’ll try a different approach. Basically, I’ll be their kid’s advocate for the school year.” Among a parent community that values art, creativity, and compassion, this will all come as very welcome news. There are additional benefits as well, including the cognitive gains that come with the synergy between art and academic disciplines:

The county schools are so into math and reading—which is fine, I get that, but they’ll take away band and art. Those are the first things to go. But, for kids who might be struggling with math and reading, the arts might be the only thing they look forward to at school. If they can’t have a reason to go to school, the other subjects are just going to suffer more. So, I really feel strongly that creativity needs to be incorporated not just in art class, but throughout the curriculum, including my subjects, math and ELA. I just find it very important. More understanding starts to open up for the child.

Artfully said, Ms. Sandkuhler! Welcome to TNCS!

Sustainable School Lunch: Garden Tuck Shop Program Part I

One of its many perks, the New Century School features a home-cooked, locally sourced lunch program for students. Many of the ingredients used in the school lunch come right out of the TNCS greenhouse. In this way, the Garden Tuck Shop Program launched in October 2011 by Master Gardener and Executive Chef Emma Novashinski marries her two passions: gardening and cooking. Following is a transcript of an interview with Chef Emma that took place at the very tail end of summer about the program, what it means to her, and what it means for TNCS kids. After being cooped up all week from Superstorm Sandy, this seemed like just the right time to get back “outside.”

Part 1: Background

Emma Novashinski is an engaging and eloquent person to talk to . . . and she’s passionate about food. In fact, she’s so passionate about food and where it comes from, that when she saw a greenhouse going up on TNCS grounds, she walked over and asked if she could run the greenhouse as well as develop a school lunch program out of it. In Part 1 of this interview, she provided background on the program and shared some of her very relevant personal history.

Emma poses with her late summer bounty

Master Gardener and Executive Chef Emma Novashinski in the TNCS greenhouse

TNCS: Where are you from, and how did you become interested in gardening and cooking?

Chef Emma: I moved here in 2006 from Guildford, Surrey in southeast England. My mum loved gardening—she was always outside when she wasn’t working—and I helped her out from the beginning. I must have loved it, too, though, because I know from experience that just exposing a child to something doesn’t always mean he or she will take to it. But for me, her love for the garden and cooking definitely had a huge impact.

TNCS: In what ways did you help your mother growing up?

Chef Emma: She would give my brother and me each a bowl when we would go out to play, and we had to find something edible along the way, like blackberries or raspberries. She was teaching us to identify edible things in nature from early on.

Wherever we went, whatever we were doing, she would always find something off the land that we would end up eating, usually herbs and fruits. And then we would go home and cook!

She also believed in homeopathy, so we used home remedies and aromatherapy. We even cleaned the house using natural ingredients like lemon juice, bicarbonate, and vinegar.

TNCS: Was it difficult to transition this way of living to Baltimore?

Chef Emma: Fortunately, Baltimore is in a similar climate zone to England and has similar plants so it was handy to come here because I am familiar with what these seasons have to offer. I always knew where to go blackberry picking and where the best apple trees were. And around here, there are even a few fig trees growing in front of shops. The shop-owners will call to let me know when the figs are out during fig season, and I can go pick as many as like.

bright green peppers will soon be ready to harvest and become a school lunch component

Peppers growing in the greenhouse

That’s what happens—you get talking to people and they’ll tell you that there’s a mulberry bush growing in the park or that there’s catnip growing in the market roundabout, and you find out about these things that are just growing around. That’s my thing; that’s how I grew up, identifying things and knowing what’s in season and taking advantage of it–because that’s when it tastes best!

TNCS: Do you find that how you grew up, living in sync with the seasons, is unusual in some way?

Chef Emma: No one seems to grow up like that anymore. It’s in your blood, but it’s definitely something very new, a very revolutionary way of looking at food because it’s the most natural way. When I first came here from England, I noticed almost immediately that there was a lot of modified food–chemicals, additives, preservatives in the food that we don’t have in England. Even in the candy—it’s illegal to modify candy in England; it’s vegetarian. No animal byproducts. So, I noticed almost straightaway that I developed allergies, felt sluggish, began to put on weight . . . and it’s because the connection to nature, to our food source, to our most important part of wellness has been severed.

TNCS: Why do you think that the connection to our food sources was severed? How did that start?

Chef Emma: There has been a conscious decision to sever that connection. I think that the food industry and the health industry go hand in hand and together generate so much money that they have lost touch very deeply.

beautiful squash ripens and fills out right before our eyes

Greenhouse squash

Food has been totally commercialized here. You can ask a child, “Where do strawberries come from?” And they’ll say, “the [supermarket].” There’s a disconnect there.

TNCS: The Big Question: How will the Garden Tuck Shop Program change that for TNCS students?

Chef Emma: The greenhouse on TNCS school grounds is intended to reconnect the students to where food actually comes from. Every class is going to start being in the greenhouse every day for half an hour. The plants that are in there now are perennial so they’re going to come back every year. We’ve got figs, brambles, berries, asparagus, rhubarb, grapevines, and more so the students are going to be able to see these plants go through the whole of their process and reemerge next year; we call it “slow food.” We can still do carrots and things in the spring to keep their hands in the dirt, as it were, but from now on I want to hand the greenhouse back to them so that they can see every stage from seeding to harvesting and, finally, to eating.

That’s why the program is called the “Tuck Shop.” A tuck shop is a place to eat—like “tuck in” to a meal—and instead of having soda and candy machines in the school, which is again, commercialized, give them a tuck shop where clean food is available.

TNCS: Can you describe the menu?

this tray features homemade pizza, zucchini, milk, and a wholesome dessert

Yes, this is a Garden Tuck Shop school lunch!

Chef Emma: My son has been on the program from Day 1. He’s my nemesis; if I can get him to eat it, I know it’s good. I had to develop a menu for kids that wasn’t going to challenge them too much. We’ve got about 50 items, and I think I can comfortably say that at least 50% of the meals get eaten and they’re all nutritionally sound.

I’m trying to make it as generic as possible and making it repeatedly and consistently the same so TNCS students can start to identify and recognize the food. The teacher has a menu on hand, and I don’t deviate from that—unless the produce is bad. For example, we got some bad peaches, but right now there’s lots of apples and watermelon, so it’s “1,001 Ways to Cut an Apple”—apple crumble, apple pie, apple streudel, applesauce, apple butter . . .

TNCS: What do you want parents to take away from this?

Chef Emma: You grow in the same environment as your food, so you have a divine connection. Your children and your plants are growing under the same sun and being touched by the same wind, seeing the same clouds and the same moon. The plants growing in your environment have withstood those particular elements. They are perfectly engineered by nature to be exactly what you physically need, right now.

A lot of people spend their lives looking for something they feel is missing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of that feeling disappeared if people had that connection with their food source.

students harvested these greenhouse tomatoes and put together a lovely salad for visiting parents

TNCS students made a Caprese-style salad from ingredients gathered during their daily greenhouse visit for parents to enjoy during the school workshops

 

. . . to be continued