Great Things Are Hatching at TNCS!

Literally. Hatching. As in CHICKENS! The long-awaited feathered foursome have arrived at The New Century School!

This initiative has been in the works for most of the 2016–2017 school year. Executive Chef and Master Gardener Emma Novashinski thought having a TNCS school yard roost would be a great way to give students something to responsibly tend as well as provide delicious fresh eggs.

Habitat Construction

Infrastructure had to be in place first, and so elementary STEM teacher Dan McGonigal rounded up a team of students to design and build a chicken run last fall as an after-school project. This habitat will be maintained by the oldest TNCS students, also known as “The Chicken Monitors,” so dubbed by Chef Emma.

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Next, a pre-primary parent volunteer dad put together the beautiful hand-crafted chicken coop earlier this spring, which will soon be inhabited by its future residents. Two other parent volunteer dads helped finish up the enclosure and other preparations.

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Baby Chicks!

But speaking of future residents, that was the third step in this enterprise—incubating and hatching the chicks, for whom we have primary teacher (and veteran bird whisperer) Maria Mosby to thank (see her previous success story here)! TNCS can accommodate up to four very comfortably but started off with the two shown below, hatched just after spring break.

61BjTSW6iqL._SX382_BO1,204,203,200_Many of you may be aware that Chef Emma holds weekly cooking and gardening classes for TNCS students from pre-primary through middle school. Pre-primary children get 20 minutes of each, while older children get 45 of each. As part of this initiative and with help from books like the one pictured at left, Chef Emma provided an introduction to chicken husbandry from the life cycle of chickens; to their daily needs, to a tour of the new run and coop to decide how best to equip them for habitation and make sure they will feel at home. They need bedding, for example, as well as shade, decoration (believe it or not), ventilation, protection (one student suggested getting guard dogs—vetoed), insulation, and waterproofing—and TNCS students need egg access!

(Activities depended on age and division, of course.) But did you know, for example, that most eggs that hatch are males? TNCS students do. They also know, however, that TNCS’s resident birds will all be hens (#noroostersallowed).

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Full Circle

One of the most important messages that comes out of this initiative that has the entire school abuzz is that TNCS is doing it in a beautifully sustainable, full-circle way. “We’ll be feeding the chickens scraps from the kitchen,” explained Chef Emma, “but because we’ll have more scraps than we probably need, we’re going to start composting as well. The compost will break down and turn into fertilizer, which we’ll then spread through the greenhouse to nourish our growing plants. Once the plants are mature, we’ll eat them!” Chicken feeding, composting, and gardening will largely be done by TNCS students. “That’s another kind of life cycle of your role in the school, now that we have chickens,” Chef Emma told them.

A discussion of what is appropriate to use as scraps followed. Pizza, for example, is a no-no because it has flour and dairy. Although these elements would be fine in a non-urban composting situation, their decay and molding in an urban setting would attract decidedly unwelcome guests. Fruits and vegetables will decompose without a similar downside. Another thing to avoid adding is weeds, which would obviously proliferate when spread among the greenhouse plants.

The chickens will also be fed with grains such as lentils, quinoa, and cous cous.

Chef Emma next explained that most hens tend to lay an egg almost daily, for a yearly take of about 345. “Multiply that by 4, and we’ll have plenty of eggs to go around, and we’ll do all sorts of things with them,” she said. Eggshells, fortunately, are a welcome addition to a compost bin because of the valuable minerals they contain. Eggs, being neither dairy nor meat, are also fine to add.

Newest Members of the TNCS Community

“A whole school vote is in the works to decide on the names of our newest community members,” promised Head of School Alicia Danyali. To whet your whistle for this egg-citing development, here are some of the contenders:

  • Skylar
  • Cluckington
  • Chikaleta
  • Chikaemma

Skylar? Anyway, watch for the winner to be announced via TNCS’s Facebook page in the near future! (The chickens will also have last names. Think: There are four chickens . . . what else does TNCS have four of? Post your guesses in comments either on this blog or on FB. Correct answers will earn you clucking rights.)

Meet TNCS Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Rojas!

Parent volunteering has not only been a key driver of The New Century School‘s evolution to the thriving community it is today, but it also informs the school’s very premise. Head of School Alicia Danyali has always believed strongly that volunteering is a primary component of any successful organization (read her guest blog The Most Important Partner: You). Additionally, the concept of Service was formally made one of four TNCS Core Values this 2016–2017 school year.

Meet Alicia R.!

If parents and teachers are partners in the school and in the children’s individual achievements, what—make that who—is the crucial link in putting it all together? Long-time TNCS parent and Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Rojas, that’s who! As liaison between willing parent volunteers and the school staff and administration and their needs, Mrs. Rojas makes fulfilling the contractual volunteer obligation a snap.

Hailing from Toronto, Canada, she studied French for years and has French Canadian relatives by marriage. Attending Syracuse University in New York for her undergraduate degree, she then came to Baltimore about 10 years ago to pursue a Master’s Degree in business. Around this time, a match-making friend introduced her to her future husband, Phil, who is a native of Bogata, Colombia and, despite having lived in Maryland since he was 8 years old, continues to speak and write fluent Spanish. He is also a “soccer and cycling enthusiast,” says Mrs. Rojas. After taking time off from work when her daughter was born, she decided to return to the world of business. After an unfulfilling stint with Baltimore City as Liaison Officer of the Bureau Heads Department, she realized she wanted to be where the excitement is at . . . in start-ups! She now works in affiliate marketing for Performance Horizons, another arena in which she connects different kinds of groups to accomplish shared goals.

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TNCS Volunteer Coordinator and Unsung Hero, Alicia Rojas!

Meanwhile, the road that led her to becoming Volunteer Coordinator was quite a direct route—during a tour of the school when she was considering enrolling her then preschool-age daughter, she learned of the mandatory volunteer commitment and thought “that was the greatest thing ever. To be able to give back and participate in what’s going on in my daughter’s school day is something I find very enjoyable,” she said. She found herself volunteering on school grounds pretty frequently during her daughter’s preschool years, which, she says, laid the foundation for her current role.

She also appreciates that she gets the opportunity to interact with so many members of the TNCS community, beyond just the quick hello at drop-off and pick-up times. She gets the chance to really get to know teachers, admin, and parents, all of whom she says, “always go above and beyond.” She finds that even after parents have fulfilled their hours helping with event set-ups and breakdowns, for example, they are still eager to help out in “more impactful” ways such as being in the classroom. “And, even when something comes up at the last minute, parents are very accommodating and step up to help us get the job covered.”

But don’t be fooled—enjoyable as it may be, this job is also a huge responsibility. To get it into manageable shape, Mrs. Rojas had to put in a lot of time creating systems and processes for handling the near-constant influx of requests and questions as well as tracking each family’s hours. She implemented Sign-Up Genius, for example, so that would-be volunteers know instantly whether they have been assigned to a task rather than having to wait for an emailed response. In her third year in the position, she has the whole parent volunteering enterprise working like a well-oiled machine and communicates regularly and in timely fashion. She has just the organization and efficiency that the role demands. She is the nexus where parent volunteers, the Parent Council, and Class Parents connect, helping each sphere of that Venn diagram as needed and keeping it all connected and cohesive.

tncs-volunteer-coordinator-alicia-rojasVolunteering at TNCS

Because TNCS recognizes just how stretched many families are, the volunteer obligation is hardly onerous at only 8 hours. Per family. Per year! Also, the hours do not have to be completed by an actual parent, but by anyone affiliated with a particular student, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, caregivers, etc. Best of all? Volunteering doesn’t necessarily involve blood, sweat, and tears (although if that’s what your area of expertise involves, it’s welcome!). Mrs. Rojas sends out a monthly newsletter covering a broad range of ways to help out. There’s truly something for everyone. Moreover, off-school hours are readily available for those who cannot sacrifice work hours to volunteer for the school. Volunteering at TNCS is not a burden; it’s a pleasure—no, an opportunity, a gift even. It’s a chance to be deeply involved in your children’s day-to-day school lives, to connect with them on their turf, and to see and experience what’s going on in their lives from their points of view, all while providing a service to the school. There’s nothing so reassuring in parenting than to get proof that your child is happy and flourishing even when you aren’t there—as well as to have a hand in helping make that possible.

“Once parents volunteer and see how easy and rewarding it is, they’ll also start to create their own initiatives,” said Mrs. Rojas. “We have found that in asking people their specialties, they volunteer not just their time but their experience and expertise. They are bringing a lot to the table. It’s not just dependent on what opportunities come up; a lot of people create their own, which is great.” They are, in effect, providing extra learning and enrichment in areas tangential to the formal curriculum. Indeed, TNCS students have learned about a variety of cultures from natives of those cultures, about playing any number of instruments, about computer programming, and even how to perform various dances—all from parents!

Feeling the volunteer spirit? Parent involvement sets an example to students that we are a true community, an extension of family. No matter what little time parents have available in their busy lives, they can contribute in some way with the volunteer opportunities the school provides. Whether cataloging books in the library, laying down mulch in the playground, or laminating classroom materials from home, everyone is contributing to the school in some way. It fosters a sense of belonging and involvement.

“I’ve learned how much parents and their willingness to give enriches the school. It’s really special,” said Mrs Rojas. “Volunteering can be your time to go into the classroom and share your skills. You can come up with any volunteering idea you want, and I can help you make it happen. Anything that interests you about what your kid is doing, is probably something that you can create a volunteer opportunity in.” One thing she emphasizes is that she is available to answer your questions: She can be reached at volunteer@thenewcenturyschool.com.

Already completed some volunteer hours? Don’t forget to log them by visiting the Parent Hub or by clicking here!