A Day in the Life: Peeking into TNCS Division by Division!

What happens at The New Century School does not stay at The New Century School. Instead, the magic that fills each and every day enriches the lives of the students who experience it far beyond the classroom. Imaginations are sparked, perspectives broadened, values instilled, skills honed, spirits of adventure awakened. All while students pursue rigorous academics in an environment that allows them to learn and progress at their own paces.

Although this last attribute is typically understood to mean that a student who is not ready to work at a standard age level is not forced to try to do so and therefore burn out, and that’s of course the case at TNCS where applicable, it often means the inverse here—students are not asked to wait for anyone to catch up to them but can soar as high as they so desire.

Among the TNCS community, we have watched this magic transform our children lives, but it can be difficult to articulate to someone unfamiliar with the school. Sometimes, it  just needs to be seen to be believed. So, this week’s Immersed is trying something a little different. Throughout the past years, we visited classrooms unannounced to get inside glimpses of what any given day looks like in each division. You can bet there’s almost always something special going on. Maybe that’s because with daily triple language learning, visual and performing arts, an emphasis on service learning, and a pervasive atmosphere of inquiry, there’s just no such thing as quotidian at this school. We invite you to look closely at the montages to follow. There are worlds to see.

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A Day in the Life: Preschool Division

TNCS’s littlest learners in the preprimary classrooms, ages 2–3, focus on social and emotional development. They learn to work in groups and cooperate with their peers. They are immersed in either Mandarin Chinese or Spanish, so, as they cultivate language skills, they do so bilingually. Take a recent visit from Spanish-speaking Clifford the Red Dog and Pete the Cat. In addition to being exposed to language in all forms, making music and art are their main in-class pursuits, and artists are invited to classrooms to present their age-appropriate art. As students are ready, they begin to explore the Montessori materials they’ll see regularly in the primary classroom.

In the TNCS primary Montessori classroom, students ages 3 to 5 develop the ability to concentrate—to start, work through and complete a given task. They use Montessori materials to hone fine and gross motor skills both individually and in small groups. They continue to develop socially and emotionally and begin to refine their language skills in, now three, languages. Art and music are daily pursuits as is an emphasis on peace and kindness.

A Day in the Life: Elementary Division

In elementary grades, K through 5th, academics become more rigorous, but the focus on visual and performing arts, music, and languages also amps up, with dedicated teachers in each subject, making for a truly well-rounded education. Fostering independence while celebrating community, the elementary program encourages students to ask questions then figure out how to find the answers. Field trips to local spots of interest as well as in nearby towns happen at least quarterly.

As elementary students age up, they move to building north, which they share with middle schoolers. Here, service learning expands to include the outside community as well as the campus.

A Day in the Life: Middle School Division

When TNCS students hit the big time, a lot changes for them at school. Academic preparation intensifies, as they ready for high school, but research shows that middle schoolers can flounder socially and emotionally, so TNCS students are given loads of opportunities to try out their burgeoning independence in new ways and develop self-confidence and self-agency.

This peek inside some typical days at TNCS (where a typical day is anything but typical) should make it clear—TNCS students have the world at their fingertips.

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Meet the Coach: Jake Hayden Helps Make February Heart Month at TNCS!

At The New Century School, students show heart every day by being kind to one another and the greater community and showing respect. February is a chance to emphasize kindness and compassion with Valentine’s Day looming, and, across the school, initiatives are coalescing into a big service push (more on that next week). But February is “❤️” month in another sense of the word as well in that it presents an opportunity to focus on heart health, the cardiovascular kind.

Meet Coach Jake!

Jake Hayden’s main gig is with Coppermine Fieldhouse, with whom TNCS has had a long and fruitful partnership. For Coppermine Fieldhouse, in addition to teaching physical education (PE) at TNCS, he has run recess at area schools like Hampstead Hill Academy and Ohr Chadash and taught “Lil’ Kickers” soccer classes on Saturdays. He is currently coaching more lacrosse classes, including player development classes for club lacrosse and “laxaroo” classes at Coppermine, which is lacrosse for 4- and 5-year-olds. “I just love those,” he says. “At that age, they are just learning how to pick up a stick. I love teaching kids the basics because I get to see if they really like it or not.” He also runs lacrosse scrimmage at Coppermine as well as refereeing flag football on Saturdays.

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Sounds like a lot of sports! He comes by his athleticism honestly. Originally from Calvert County, he grew up with with three older brothers and an older sister, and family life, he says, revolved around sports and athletics. In high school and on, his sports foci were lacrosse, soccer, and basketball. After high school, he attended division III Ferrum College for lacrosse (go Panthers!), then transferred to Salisbury University for mathematics. So, it all adds up, right?

Coach Jake at TNCS

Back to what Coach Jake does at TNCS, he teaches four PE classes each Friday on campus: 5th- /6th-graders, 7th- /8th-graders, K/1st, and 2nd- through 4th-graders in that order. Clearly differentiation is necessary, but the overall theme is developing age-appropriate gross physical skills. “For the older classes,” explains Coach Jake:

I like to focus more on the individual skills involved in playing whatever game or sport we are playing that particular day. For the little ones, I usually have them focus on basic hand-eye coordination and balance while running. Most of their games (tag, relay race games, and obstacle courses) involve mostly running. Of course, my main emphasis for all classes is that we play the games the right way, the safe way, and have fun in the process.

Coach Jake also has to be ready to adapt each class, depending on what’s going on at school. “With specific units/sports in mind I encounter every class with the same diagnosis. How many kids are in the class that day, are we inside or outside, questions like that. From there I decide if my original game plan will work or if I have to switch it up and wing it.”

During the past wet Friday, for example, PE class had to be held indoors, but half of the gym was occupied by the Scholastic Book Fair. Thinking on his feet, Coach Jake salvaged the day, and students played games (with cleverly built in skills cultivation) in the back half of the gym. They were moving almost nonstop, getting that cardio workout in, but they were so into the game that they probably never noticed their increased heart rate!

One popular indoor game they play is “Body Guard Dodgeball,” in which ball throwers attempt to (gently—and no aiming for faces) hit a “celebrity” who is being blocked by a body guard (who ends up taking most of the hits). Everyone got a turn, and the action intensified as the rounds progressed.

Next up was a spin on relay races in which the object was to create the highest non-toppling stack of Imagination Playground foam pieces. It quickly became clear that the 5th- and 6th-graders had aged out (or up, as the case may be) of this one!

In Obstacle Course Tag (a game without an official name because TNCS students made it up), obstacles (again made of Imagination Playground foam) are stacked around the gym, and players have to avoid both being tagged by who’s “it” as well as avoid knocking over any obstacles. Either infraction gets you out!

“I particularly love teaching at TNCS,” said Coach Jake, “because I enjoy each and every student from all classes. The kids respond to instruction and are also fun kids to be around. Sometimes it does not feel like work. Compared to past job settings, TNCS is an all around pleasure to work at.”

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What’s Coach Jake’s Game Plan?

For the future, Coach Jake says, “I plan on coaching for as long as I can, whether it grows to be my career or slowly becomes a hobby. My big dream is to become a college lacrosse coach, although it is a rather difficult job to get.”

Although he is not currently on a sports team, he would like to join a men’s lacrosse league. “In the hotbed area of Baltimore,” he says, “the passion for lacrosse is abundant.” Lax to the max, Coach Jake!

Team TNCS: The Race Is On!

While we are still on the subject of cardiovascular health, let’s look at some other ways TNCS is embracing heart month. TNCS students get PE twice weekly, and only one of those classes is led by Coach Jake. The other PE class is teacher led, and Upper Elementary and Middle School ELA and Global Studies teacher Daphnée Hope has taken this opportunity and run with it! You may have heard that since the fall, Ms. Hope has been getting the older students out on weekly jogs—and they love it! “I was so excited to introduce running into our PE curriculum because I believe that it provides multiple benefits to both our students and staff,” she explained. “Running instills discipline, creates endorphins, and builds camaraderie between students and their teachers.”

I also believe in the power of leading by example for my students—when I am running right alongside them and pushing myself mentally and physically as well, I think they are more likely to buy into the conversations that we have about positive physical, mental, and social-emotional health.

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Well said. And off they go for a mile or so run around the Fell’s Point neighborhood. They are building up stamina to eventually run the Sole of the City 10K this April (participation is optional).

The bottom line is, during the month of February, TNCS students are showing their hearts some love.

#HealthyHearts

Phys Ed Is Going Strong at TNCS!

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Phys ed teacher Robert Bekas joined TNCS at the start of the 2014–2015 academic school year.

The New Century School was founded on the principle of educating the whole child, which many schools have neither the luxury nor the capacity to do. Art, Music, and Physical Education are typically first on the chopping block in the current standardized education environment. But, in keeping with its firm commitment to providing a well-rounded scholastic experience, TNCS has not only retained these disciplines critical for development of creativity as well as specific skills, but it has continued to grow its “specials” program and offers a very balanced ratio of academic-to-specials classes.

One emphasis of the 2014–2015 school year is on movement, explained Head of School Alicia Danyali in the fall. True to her word, she has implemented regular yoga throughout the upper programs, encourages teachers to allow plenty of time for their students to move within their individual classrooms—such as K/1st teacher Mrs. Jacoby’s games to hone hand–eye coordination (see TNCS Gets the Wiggles Out and the Learning In!)—in addition to providing dedicated gym time in a formal physical education class. Movement is not only essential for physical health, but evidence in support of movement being just as vital for cognitive health is mounting fast.

Enter Mr. Robert Bekas, TNCS’s new phys ed instructor. Mr. Bekas is The Real Deal in terms of what he brings to the gym. Born and raised in Poland, he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Physical Education from the Academy of Physical Education. His main interest was in martial arts, and he competed for many years in karate, specifically, the Shotokan style. After graduating from college, he opened his own kickboxing academy and taught there for 4 years. In 2004, he came to the United States to do an internship at Sport FIT, a fitness club. (He met his future wife there and has been here ever since apart from brief annual trips back home.) He then worked for 7 years at a Wheaton Catholic school, but when it closed, he came here to teach K and up.

His classes start with basic stretching, then advance to an activity that incorporates some cardio (e.g., playing “Freeze,” “Sharks and Minnows,” or “Lions and Tigers”), and wrap up with skill-building in strength training, gymnastics, or team sports. He is hoping to increase classes from once a week to twice a week so the students are more accustomed to the routine. In Poland, he explained, PE class is usually four times a week. “Elsewhere, it seems to be getting less and less. This is bad for kids; they are spending too much time indoors and on devices and will end up with postural problems. I know this is the 21st century, but playing too many video games is a bad habit.” For his own fitness routine, he does a whole-body workout at the gym incorporating stretching, strength training, and cardio. For fun, he continues his martial arts training and also enjoys hiking.

As for his TNCS students he says, “The kids are doing great. The goal is overall fitness, but I also want them to learn the basic rules of baseball, football, soccer as well as fairplay. I also try incorporate team spirit. When we play, we play for fun. We don’t keep score; I want the students to be nice to each other, not get in arguments over who is winning. I try to keep it on the fun level, not necessarily the sports level.” He also uses the Gerstung equipment to teach basic gymnastics, such as forward and backward roll on the balance beam.

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Mr. Bekas commands respect from his students, and they adore him. “I like being at this school,” he said. “It’s a great place. It’s family oriented, and the classes are kept small.” By the way, Mr. Bekas also speaks four languages (Polish, English, German, and Russian) and might attempt to learn Japanese to support his martial arts endeavors. He is certainly a good fit for the multilingual/multicultural environment at TNCS! Future projects at the school for Mr. Bekas might include some extracurricular martial arts instruction; stay tuned for developments!

TNCS Students Get the Wiggles Out and the Learning In!

Moving Is Learning

The New Century School has always known that movement is good for kids’ brains. For example, studies show that exercise improves both focus and academic performance in children and that fitness and attentiveness go hand in hand. Exercise has recently been studied as a nonpharmacologic way to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. (Read Put the Physical in Education.)

Even while evidence supporting this notion is accumulating like crazy, many schools are reducing physical education class time or cutting it out altogether. Time spent in recess is also dwindling. In many traditional classrooms, students are expected to “sit still!” “Stop fidgeting!” “Pay attention!”

The irony is, kids can’t pay attention if they aren’t permitted to move! Moving gets adequate blood flow to the brain—enough that the brain is awake and ready to get to work, not sleepy and dulled. Many experts suggest that fidgeting is actually a sign that the brain is trying to turn itself back on.

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Climbing, running, and jumping are crucial ways for kids to recharge their brains for learning!

Don’t Skimp on Playtime!

Another recent study attributes similar benefits to unstructured playtime. In Finland, schools give children 15 minutes of unstructured play after every 45 minutes of instruction, and their in-class attentiveness is the higher for those frequent breaks. (Read How Finland Keeps Kids Focused through Free Play.)

TNCS educators know that the mind–body connection is supremely important, and that exercise and play do not necessarily have to be limited to scheduled gym classes or recesses. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate movement into the daily routine at regular intervals to stimulate blood flow to the brain in a variety of ways. When kids take a break from the books, their cognition actually improves.

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While doing their work at the computer, elementary students have the option of sitting on stability balls to simultaneously work on their core strength.

Stability Balls

What are some of their innovative strategies? Last year we reported on how using stability balls in class improves concentration, for example. Says Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist:

Ironically, many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today–due to restricted movement. In order to develop a strong balance system, children need to move their body in all directions, for hours at a time. Just like with exercising, they need to do this more than just once-a-week in order to reap the benefits . . . We quickly learned after further testing, that most of the children in the classroom had poor core strength and balance. In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 1980s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance. Only one! Oh my goodness, I thought to myself. These children need to move!

(Read Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today for more.)

Walking Tours

TNCS teachers are getting quite creative in finding other ways to incorporate movement and are seeing positive pay-offs. For “Teacher’s Choice” time one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, elementary teacher Dan McDonigal decided to take advantage of being located so near the Inner Harbor. His class embarked on a walking tour to take photos of their surroundings and got a spontaneous tour of The Pride of Baltimore II (a replica of the civilian vessels that were used to capture British merchant ships and were critical to our victory in the War of 1812). That walking tour brought together many important TNCS themes, in fact—movement, history, our local community, and art.

Singing, Dancing, and . . . Sweeping?!

When Teresa Jacoby starts to see signs of inattention in her kindergarten/1st-grade class, she plays movement games with the whole class. One, that is similar to “Simon Says” but with an important twist, requires merging physical and mental deftness to play. The trick is that they have to mimic the last movement she made while she has moved onto another movement. It’s surprisingly difficult to do, but she is sharpening their minds even as they have a ball! Her students managed to tap into and draw from the two brain hemispheres simultaneously, that is the key to pulling this off, much more readily than their parents did at Back-to-School Night! Another way Mrs. Jacoby harnesses the mind–body connection is by having her students bounce on the exercise trampoline while reading/learning sight-words.

In the Montessori and pre-primary classrooms, movement is also a natural part of the day. These students are learning independence and self-regulation and are given the freedom to move about the space to pursue their activity of choice. The Practical Life lessons in the Montessori classes are very much about moving and doing, at their core. Activities such as flower arranging and sweeping/tidying are fun, practical ways to get kids up and moving while boosting their self-esteem as they experience what it’s like to contribute meaningfully to their classroom and group. All of the younger TNCS students participate daily in songs accompanied by movement.

Patio Yoga!

Finally, yoga, which has always been in the mix to varying degrees, is now being taught regularly by our very own Head of School Alicia Danyali. She uses yogic techniques with the older elementary students to cultivate mindfulness and focus in addition to gentle exercise. These students take to it like naturals. They seem to genuinely appreciate the opportunity to stretch, relax, and take a break from class. Mrs. Danyali is a certified yoga instructor and a very skilled educator to begin with. She had them breathing and flowing like veteran yogis and yoginis within minutes. Importantly, she shared with them that the breathing techniques they were learning could serve them well in other contexts, too. Anytime they need to regroup or regain focus or equilibrium, they now have some tools to help them arrive at a calmer place.

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School-wide, TNCS students are demonstrating that being allowed to be kids makes them all-around better learners!

See What’s Jumping at The Lingo Leap!

LEAP! (They spell "leap"!)

LEAP! (They spell “leap”!)

Since The Lingo Leap‘s 2012 launch, the more-than-just-a-kiddie gym has made some significant changes and refinements. Now under the supervision of The New Century School‘s Sharon DaCosta, TLL is becoming the go-to studio for the 2- to 10-year-old set. TLL is unique in integrating movement with learning as well as learning about movement. Neuronal synapses fire more readily to juice up the brain when the rest of the body is also active. This is one reason why treadmill desks are catching on for adults—they get to move around instead of being sedentary at work and reap all of the exercise-associated benefits, but they also find that they think better and are more productive. The mind–body connection isn’t just for yogis and yoginis. (For more on the related science, check out an older post on TLL: Exercising that Mind–Body Connection.)

The Lingo Leap coordinator, Sharon DaCosta

The Lingo Leap coordinator, Sharon DaCosta

Says Ms. DaCosta, “Our goal is to create classes that no other aftercare or other facility offers. So, we do things like language immersion movement classes to expose kids to another language.” Not all classes are immersion or language related, however. Drama, Ballet, Hip-hop, Together with Tots, and Team-building classes, for example, have also attracted a solid following. The roster remains flexible; classes are offered based on market demands. Specialty classes like French Yoga, which isn’t currently on the schedule, might return if the interest is there. Ms. DaCosta conducts surveys and does other marketing outreach to find out just what parents want to see available.

Aftercare Director (TNCS) and Events Manager (TLL), Emily Feinberg.

Aftercare Director (TNCS) and Events Manager (TLL), Emily Feinberg.

Finding the right target market is one of her primary means to keep TLL thriving. “Getting the word out there,”  says Ms. DaCosta, whose background is in marketing, “is extremely important. We have such fantastic offerings, but many community parents still aren’t aware.” Currently, TLL draws heavily from the TNCS aftercare student body, but Ms. DaCosta sees TLL as having a much broader reach and providing a much-needed service to the larger Baltimore community. Working in collaboration with Emily Feinberg, TNCS Aftercare Director and TLL Events Manager, the two have developed a very special set of services. “There’s a lot of overlap between our roles,” says Ms. Feinberg, “but basically I try to integrate TNCS’s aftercare program with TLL to give parents lots of intriguing aftercare options.” In other words, students can spend some of their after-school hours in one of TLL’s specialty classes. TNCS and TLL are closely affiliated but function as separate entities.

Finding great instructors is another one of Ms. DaCosta’s tasks in her official capacity as Activity Coordinator. She searches extensively to find just the right fit, and the instructors she has brought on board have elevated the classes to new levels of excitement and energy. Drama instructor Rebecca Kenton is one, and is new to TLL this year. She is an experienced drama teacher committed to learning, creativity, and curiosity. “I think of my teaching career as an adventure,” she says. “Over the past 16 years, I have taught Drama to children ranging in age from 5–18 with the Pumpkin Theatre, Drama Learning Center, The Painting Workshop, and Friends School of Baltimore.” TLL is thrilled to welcome someone with such chops! Young performers in her class will develop their confidence and concentration through a range of improvisational and story-telling exercises. “I’m looking forward to discovering drama with the tiny (yet tenacious) thespians of [TLL] and meeting all of you,” she says. Her Discovering Drama class, which began January 31st and meets at 3:30 for 2- and 3-year-olds and at 4:15 for 4- to 6-year-olds, will conclude with an informal showcase on Friday, April 4th.

Cuban native Danay Rodriguez is another high-caliber instructor, already familiar to TLL and about to assume expanded duties overlapping with TNCS. She teaches the very popular Together with Tots class on Saturday mornings and is now additionally going to be in charge of the overall Spanish Creative Movement program. A one-time Clinical Psychologist and counselor as well as a Developmental Psychology teacher at The University of Havana, Señorita Rodriquez will lead the 2- and 3-year-old and the 4- to 6-year-old groups in this immersion-style introduction to movement class.

Balancing and walking on the beam hones coordination.

Balancing and walking on the beam hones coordination.

Look---I made a car that actually moves!

Look—I made a car that actually moves!

The current full schedule and class description can be found on TLL’s website. But exciting extracurricular movement classes aren’t all that TLL has to offer. During the schoolday, it functions as TNCS’s gymnasium and boasts such features as authentic Gerstung equipment, which “[encourages] children to use their own innate curiosity to stimulate movement,” and the Imagination Playground, a “play system that encourages unstructured, child-directed ‘free play.’” (Read more about the super-awesome Imagination Playground here.) Ms. DaCosta says that despite recent changes, TLL has stayed true to its original mission of integrating movement and learning and that this philosophy is something that everyone (TLL and TNCS staff) has a hand in implementing. “Mr. Gerstung himself actually came to TLL and trained all of us in August on how to use his specially designed equipment,” she says. “We know the purpose of each piece of equipment and what goals we can accomplish with each one.” Pre-primary and primary students have gym classes with their regular-class assistant teachers, who instruct them in Spanish or Mandarin. Elementary students have a more targeted physical education class taught by kids’ strength and agility trainer Emily Socolinsky.

TLL is also fast becoming the place to throw a kid’s birthday party—just ask your kids. Events Manager Emily Feinberg is available to help you plan your event and clearly enjoys her job. She knows kids’ parties! Catering is available, as needed, as well as decorations, balloons, face painting—you name it. Some perks come with your party package, like the ever-popular Moon Bounce; others are priced accordingly. The best thing about hosting a party at TLL from a parent’s perspective (besides, of course, extremely happy kids), is that your party is tailored exactly to your needs. If you want to handle all the details, you may. If you prefer to let TLL do the work, so be it. Or, you can opt to take on what aspects you want and let TLL manage the others. It’s a very civilized form of events planning!

Date Nights at TLL are another offering that have really caught on and are all-around brilliant. Drop the kids off at TLL at 5:30 pm (or later) and have a night out on the town, utterly guilt-free! Parents get some probably much-needed “we time,” while the kids are having an equally great time. They get to socialize with other kids, participate in group games, eat a nutritious dinner, and put the long schoolweek behind them in a melée of play. It’s the kids’ version of TGIF! New this year, hours are extended to 9 pm, to give parents more choices for their evening out. Date Nights occur on a standing schedule, monthly, every third Friday. Sign up in advance here!

Camps are another great service TLL provides. Whether it’s an extended school vacation that parents need coverage for, or a single school holiday, TLL offers an enriching, lively experience for kids. It’s the perfect balance—kids get a break from school, but they don’t have to take a break from movement and learning! Sign up for Spring Break camp here.

Finally, Ms. DaCosta is working with Sanctuary Bodyworks to develop parallel programs in which parents can go work out at the boutique studio upstairs from TLL, while kids are attending movement classes downstairs. The two facilities have offered Salsa Nights so far, for adults (not necessarily couples nor even pairs) to dance (or learn to) and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and wine (olé!), while the kids are happily occupied in their own Friday night fun. Ms. DaCosta says she goes to extreme lengths to get the word out about such events and hopes for increased participation. “I want parents to know how much I want to please everybody. I sit here and think and think and think,” she says, “about how to make TLL the best place to bring their kids.”

Her hard work is bearing fruit; TLL is exciting, engaging, and fun! So take the leap—find out for yourself all that this special kids’ activity realm has to offer!