Writer in Residence Joins TNCS: Meet Ilia Madrazo!

IMG_1209This past November, The New Century School embarked on a new approach to English Language Arts instruction. Welcoming Ilia Madrazo to the faculty, TNCS now features dedicated ELA teaching for 3rd-grade through middle-school students, which allows intensive focus in the all-important skills of enhanced reading comprehension and effective writing.

Although the elementary and middle school  teaching staff had already been established for the 2017–2018 academic year, when Ms. Madrazo became available, new opportunities that were too good to pass up likewise opened for TNCS’s academic offerings. Ms. Madrazo is a passionate educator with over 20 years’ experience teaching ELA, English as a Second Language, and Reading to school-aged students of all levels as well as at the university level. She earned her master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Houston and pursued doctoral level studies in English Linguistics at the University of Puerto Rico. She is a published researcher and has presented at various conferences. In addition to scoring such a credentialed instructor, bringing Ms. Madrazo on as “Writer in Residence” also allowed the other elementary and middle school teachers at TNCS to specialize in their preferred subjects, such as Jon Wallace now being science guru full time.

About Ilia Madrazo

Ms. Madrazo came to Baltimore last March via Houston, Texas but is originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where much of her family including her son still resides. (Her son is currently studying Physics at the University of Puerto Rico with the goal of becoming a radiologist.) She decided to move from Houston (just in time to avoid Hurricane Harvey, she added) because, after 10 years there, she needed a change. Having a brother, sister-in-law, and a nephew here made Baltimore the logical choice. One day in the future, she hopes to move to Spain.

Once here, though, she jumped in with both feet, establishing clear rules and expectations from the outset. She jokes: “So far it’s going very well. I think the kids and I are in the honeymoon period because they are working really well for me.” She immediately implemented “literature circles,” which got students engaged in reading in new and deeper ways—a primary goal of Ms. Madrazo’s. She describes the literature circle as akin to a book club, with a facilitator (her) and a group of students discussing the book theme and associated topics. She also incorporates writing instruction in an innovative way here: “We approach the book not only as the reader, but also as the writer. Good books teach you how to write well. I’m big on non-fiction because it allows students to see the form of the writing, and that can be helpful. Writing is very hard to teach and learn, so starting from another perspective can reduce students’ anxiety about it.”

Despite being Spanish/English bilingual and having experience teaching ESOL, Ms. Madrazo’s preferred medium is definitely ELA. She discovered this while teaching adults during her doctoral studies in Puerto Rico. “Honing in and concentrating on English learners came naturally to me, and I just fell in love with it,” she explained. This came as somewhat of a surprise to her because she did not set out to pursue literature and writing in college. “My bachelor’s is in Psychology,” she explained. “I entered college as a premed, but I wanted to have a life outside of studying, so I thought I would be a child psychologist. I always knew I wanted to work with children, older children.” On graduating, she began pursuing a master’s in Education on her mother’s advice, as something to always be able to fall back on, but marriage and starting a family temporarily interrupted those plans. As mentioned above, however, she did get that master’s and has been a teacher ever since. Her whole family, in fact, even though they study very different disciplines, are all teachers.

Developing her writing skills is another story: “I was never trained to write. So when I got to college, I had to learn how to write a perfect story. I found that I had to do an outline to organize my thoughts and then add the meat to it.” She still uses this formula today to ensure that each piece of writing is coherent, measured, and makes a clear argument.

Writing Program at TNCS

With abundant expertise and experience, Ms. Madrazo has lots of ideas for expanding the writing program at TNCS. Writing is communication, and good communication is an absolutely essential 21st-century skill.  She says: “I want to move writing forward, not only writing a good story but writing a solid essay or opinion piece in which students must give me evidence to support what they’re saying. So, if they’re reading a book, I want them to be able to tell me not only that a character went through a change but also to be able to cite in what paragraph and on what page that change occurred. This practice will be very good preparation for high school and college.”

So far, she is using some of the same materials already in play in ELA, such as Wordly Wise for vocabulary expansion and the Lucy Calkins curriculum for elementary writers, and is also incorporating new ones, like the Just Write series and Words Their Way for 3rd and 4th grades. Middle school students will have an entirely separate curriculum using, for example, Empowering Writers. She will be refining the curricula throughout Quarters 3 and 4.

She is also finding ways to manage the different levels within each group by utilizing the Daily 5 classroom management rotation. This includes “Word Work” in the Wordly Wise website, or SuccessMaker, or Raz kids; a small group that works with her; writing or reading alone, and doing “Word Sorts”—a method of classifying words based on their spelling pattern and phonetics; among other writing and reading-related activities.

“I’m excited to be able to dedicate myself to ELA and really focus here,” said Ms. Madrazo.. “I fell in love when I came to TNCS the first time. Having a greenhouse, chickens, I loved it. The cafeteria is focused on healthy food. I like that the classes are small. I love Fells Point. I also want to thank the parents and administration for embracing me. It’s been lovely so far and I hope to have a great partnership with them.”

If you have not done so already, make time to meet Ms. Madrazo, such as during second-semester Parent–Teacher conferences. Besides being an excellent teacher and writer, in her free time, she enjoys traveling, listening to podcasts, playing board games, and hanging out with her Puggle, Jupiter.

Meet the Teacher: Krysta Jenks Joins TNCS Elementary!

The New Century School welcomed Krysta Jenks as first- through third grade English Language Arts and Science teacher for the 2017–2018 school year. Mrs. Jenks has a special claim to fame in TNCS annals–she has the first-ever all-girls homeroom! She loves this, saying, “It’s really interesting to see what the dynamic is with all girls. They’re so much fun. They want to learn. They’re just excited to be here.”

krysta-jenks-joins-tncs

Mrs. Jenks came to TNCS from a charter school in Anacostia, but, living in the Federal Hill area of Baltimore, she found the commute to D.C. was taking up too much of her time and was stressful besides. She moved here in 2009 after earning a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at Penn State, which is located in central Pennsylvania, where she grew up. “From there I started working in special education,” she said.  In fact, her background is primarily in special education, where she worked for about 7 years. She has also obtained a Master’s degree in Leadership and Special Education as well as a Post-Master Certification in School Administration in this time. “I feel like I’ve gotten a wide range of experience from my administration certification and working in special education in the private, public, and charter school settings,” she said. “This is my first time working in a school that is mostly student-directed learning, so that has been really fun. It is also my first time working in a multilingual school.”

The student-directed learning aspect of TNCS is what appeals to Mrs. Jenks most about TNCS. “A lot of what I’ve done in the past has been more teacher driven, with the focus mostly on the teacher, and a lot of my experience has been in direct instruction, which doesn’t lend a lot of room for creativity,” she explained. “I really like the flexibility that comes with student-directed learning.

When we do our Daily 5 rotations, they have choices within each rotation. So, for example, the word work rotation has a multitude of activities they can choose to do—they could play a game with their words, they could write index cards with their words, they could write a story or comic book with their words from Wordly Wise for that week. They also cycle through read-to-self; listen to reading, which is primarily Raz-Kids; use SuccessMaker; meet with me; or work on writing.

In science, I also I try to do rotations because we are doing a lot of hands-on activities. In the first quarter when we were working on electricity and magnetism, I had a circuit board at one table that they can play with, a magnet station at another, so they have the flexibility to choose where they want to go.

Although the TNCS classroom style has been somewhat of an adjustment for Mrs. Jenks, she has acclimated beautifully. “It’s definitely different for me, but it’s great,” she said. “Also, the kids are fantastic, and all of the parents have been really supportive.” And that’s another aspect of teaching at TNCS that has been new for her: “I’ve always worked with high-risk populations, but at the end of the day, kids are kids. It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic status or what backgrounds they have, I’m learning that they all have the same needs. Having said all that, the kids here are really bright, they are really curious, and a lot of them are very intrinsically motivated. They seem like they genuinely want to learn.”

One thing that was not new to Mrs Jenks is using restorative circles in the classroom, such as introduced by Head of School Alicia Danyali during the previous academic year. Mrs. Jenks explained:

A big component of our classroom community is that we start and end the day with a restorative circle. So we have a talking piece, and then we come up with a question and go around the circle. Then, at the end of the day, we’ll go around and everyone will say what their highlight and lowlight was. And that’s been really fun because they love getting in the circle. I want our students to feel like this is a positive classroom community and environment that they want to be a part of and feel safe in. I think that academics are super important, but I also think building emotional intelligence and peer relationships is something that I really focus on just as much.

Next month will be an important one for Mrs. Jenks, who, although married to her military husband currently, will be having her “real wedding” then. We wish her well on this occasion and are so glad she has joined the TNCS community!

Resources and Tips to Avoid the Summer Slide in 2017!

Since its opening for the 2010–2011 school year, The New Century School has annually offered resources to families to help prevent the “summer slide” phenomenon that can happen to kids over summer break when they might be less academically engaged than during the school year and lose scholastic ground as a consequence. Although this problem disproportionately affects underserved communities, it is nevertheless felt to a certain degree across the board, as teachers find themselves re-teaching concepts that were learned the previous year and then forgotten. Some research has shown that students can lose as much as 3 months of reading and math achievement over the course of just one summer. (See Making Summer Count for more details on relevant studies.)

The best way to slow the summer slide, according to the research, is to provide students with resources and educational activities. Head of School Alicia Danyali provides the following ideas:

1.  Visit museums with your child/ren. Between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore there is an abundance of great, educational opportunities. Depending on the age of the child, together or independently, visit the museum website prior to the visit. If the museum has dedicated tabs for educators or parents, peruse to get ideas of a focus for activities to make the experience a learning one.

2.  Reading is key in the summer to encourage and reinforce a love of reading in spare time, as well as discussions related to comprehension and how authors can open a wide range of interests.  Visit the library weekly and allow your child/ren to choose books of interest. Forming a summer “book club” can bring like-minded kids together to make it a rewarding experience.

3.  Whether it is on car rides to camp, the grocery store, at breakfast, or together time, play language, math, and vocabulary games to keep skills fresh.  If you are comfortable with online platforms (elementary and up) for introducing or reinforcing topics of interest or need, Khan Academy is one of the best with its interactive and descriptive teaching tools (video, examples) built into practice.

4. We encourage you to have your child work through a supplemental workbook selected by your child’s teacher over the summer. The books are published through Singapore Math and align with the backbone curriculum taught at TNCS. They will be collected and reviewed in the first week of next school year. Parents are encouraged to review work completed periodically to ensure students are staying on the right track. Order one here.

To point #2, making sure children have access to books is something Enoch Pratt Free Library is all about in summer. Their former “Summer Reading Program” has become the Summer Reading Challenge for 2017, the challenge being to “Build a Better World.” The challenge incentivizes kids to read, read, and read some more during summer, offering related activities and even prizes.

Señora Sanzana offered these tips for continued Spanish language learning (in addition to what is shown below):

  • One way is reading: Scholastic’s Spanish website offers many titles for young  readers that can be purchased at a low  cost.
  • Pekegits.com is also an amazing website where you will be able to  find readings, tales, games, and grammar  review.

Websites by Category

TNCS students have been introduced to multiple websites throughout the year. These are either free, inexpensive, or can be easily accessed. The children should be familiar with their log-in information because they are familiar with these websites.

Math

Math skills can also be lost without regular practice. Here are websites that TNCS students can use during the summer months:

Language Arts

After TNCS students have worked very hard on their reading and comprehension all year long, to keep these skills sharp, try to read with your child each day and ask questions or talk about what you have read together. Here are suggested lists of unforgettable books, differentiated by grades:

And here are websites:

World Languages

To keep current on both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese skills, your kids can visit the following websites (they will already know their log-in information for some of these):

Handwriting

 Students entering grades 3 and higher are expected to write in cursive. We recommend having your students continue writing throughout the summer. A fun way to do this is to have them write to friends and relatives. There are also handwriting workbooks that try to make the task fun or valuable. Here are two such books, available on Amazon:

Wacky Sentences Handwriting Workbook

Cursive Writing Practice: Inspiring Quotes

Typing Skills

There are a number of great apps and sites that will help to teach typing in a fun way, for students who are not yet typing by touch. This skill becomes more valuable as students advance in school.

Finally, see Hit the Ground Learning in Summer 2016 with TNCS-Approved Resources! for additional websites and resources differentiated by age for keeping English Language Arts, Math, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish skills sharp over the summer.

The TNCS elementary team looks forward to seeing their students back for the 2017–2018 school year, refreshed and ready to once more hit the ground learning!

Hit the Ground Learning in Summer 2016 with TNCS-Approved Resources!

Since its inception in 2010, The New Century School has annually offered resources to families to help prevent the “summer slide” phenomenon that can happen to kids over summer break when they might be less academically engaged than during the school year and lose scholastic ground as a consequence. Although this problem disproportionately affects underserved communities, it is nevertheless felt to a certain degree across the board, as teachers find themselves re-teaching concepts that were learned the previous year and then forgotten. Some research has shown that students can lose as much as 3 months of reading and math achievement over the course of just one summer. (See Making Summer Count for more details on relevant studies.)

tncs-resources-to-avoid-summer-slide

Enoch Pratt’s Summer Reading program awards prizes to kids who fulfill a specified reading requirement and also offers the chance to “read down” your library fines!

The best way to slow the summer slide, according to the research, is to provide students with resources and educational activities. For summer 2016, TNCS’s elementary teachers compiled their own special set, curated especially for TNCS students. They also remind parents that summer is the ideal time to take trips to museums and libraries, get involved in organized activities, and making sure kids have access to books. In fact, Enoch Pratt library offers a wonderful summer reading program to incentivize kids to read, read, and read some more during summer. See Summer Reading Program for more information.

Language Arts

After TNCS students have worked very hard on their reading and comprehension all year long, to keep these skills sharp, try to read with your child each day and ask questions or talk about what you have read together. Here are suggested lists of unforgettable books, differentiated by grades*:

*The TNCS elementary team says: “Please remember, each child’s reading level develops at different rates. Some of these titles or authors may seem too easy or too difficult for your child. If your child picks a book you think may be too hard, have him/her read a full page aloud to you. If there are five or more mistakes while reading, the book is probably too difficult. If there are fewer than five errors, the book seems to be a good fit!”

(If your child is having more than a little difficulty with reading, Teresa Jacoby recommends Loyola University of Maryland Clinical Center’s summer reading programs, which can be accessed here.)

Another list comes from 4th- and 5th-grade TED-Ed Club Members, who shared the books that they’ve recently read and want to recommend to other kids their age: “TED-Ed’s Summer Reading List: 31 great books for students, chosen by students.”

TNCS students have also been introduced to multiple easy-to-access language arts websites. The students will be familiar with their log-in information, having spent time on them throughout the prior school year. These include:

Spanish

For Raz-kids in Spanish, the students will  log in to their accounts, click on the book room icon, and then select the Spanish level reader tab.

Chinese

To keep current on Mandarin Chinese skills, your kids can visit the following websites (they will already know their log-in information for some of these):

Math

Math skills can also be lost without regular practice. Here are websites that TNCS students can use during the summer months:

The TNCS elementary team looks forward to seeing their students back for the 2016–2017 school year, refreshed and ready to hit the ground learning!

TNCS-Approved Resources: Avoid the Summer Slide!

Since its inception in 2010, The New Century School has annually offered resources to families to help prevent the “summer slide” phenomenon that can happen to kids over summer break when they might be less academically engaged than during the school year and lose scholastic ground as a consequence. Although this problem disproportionately affects underserved communities, it is nevertheless felt to a certain degree across the board, as teachers find themselves re-teaching concepts that were learned the previous year and then forgotten. Some research has shown that students can lose as much as 3 months of reading and math achievement over the course of just one summer. (See Making Summer Count for more details on relevant studies.)

TNCS-preventing-summer-slide

Enoch Pratt’s Summer Reading program awards prizes to kids who fulfill a specified reading requirement and also offers the chance to “read down” your library fines!

The best way to slow the summer slide, according to the research, is to provide students with resources and educational activities. For summer 2015, TNCS’s elementary teachers compiled their own special set, curated especially for TNCS students. They also remind parents that summer is the ideal time to take trips to museums and libraries, get involved in organized activities, and making sure kids have access to books. In fact, Enoch Pratt library offers a wonderful summer reading program to incentivize kids to read, read, and read some more during summer. See Summer Reading Program for more information.

Language Arts

After TNCS students have worked very hard on their reading and comprehension all year long, to keep these skills sharp, try to read with your child each day and ask questions or talk about what you have read together. Here are suggested lists of unforgettable books, differentiated by grades*:

*The TNCS elementary team says: “Please remember, each child’s reading level develops at different rates. Some of these titles or authors may seem too easy or too difficult for your child. If your child picks a book you think may be too hard, have him/her read a full page aloud to you. If there are five or more mistakes while reading, the book is probably too difficult. If there are fewer than 5 errors, the book seems to be a good fit!”

Another list comes from 4th- and 5th-grade TED-Ed Club Members, who shared the books that they’ve recently read and want to recommend to other kids their age: “TED-Ed’s Summer Reading List: 31 great books for students, chosen by students.”

TNCS students have also been introduced to multiple easy-to-access language arts websites. The students will be familiar with their log-in information, having spent time on them throughout the prior school year. These include:

Math

Math skills can also be lost without regular practice. Here are websites that TNCS students can use during the summer months:

World Languages

To keep current on both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese skills, your kids can visit the following websites (they will already know their log-in information for some of these):

The TNCS elementary team looks forward to seeing their students back for the 2015–2016 school year, refreshed and ready to hit the ground learning!