The 2021–2022 school year at The New Century School has been characterized by hope, joy, and glad new faces in the student body and the faculty and staff. One such new member of the TNCS community is Ann Marie Simonetti, Director of Enrollment Management (Admissions) and Marketing. Ms. Simonetti joined TNCS in September, when former TNCS Admissions Director Suzannah Hopkins accepted a position at St. Mary’s School in Annapolis, where her son is completing his senior year. Although the TNCS community was sorry to see Ms. Hopkins go, wishing her well in a position she will obviously enjoy deeply and being thrilled to welcome Ms. Simonetti are more than adequate consolation.
With school leadership experience in professional development, admissions, digital marketing and design, and advancement, Ms. Simonetti brings a wealth of knowledge to her position, which is so integral to the school. “I’m super excited to be here,” she said. “Everyone is so helpful and welcoming. It’s been a great couple of weeks, and [Ms. Hopkins] certainly did a great job of giving me all the institutional knowledge in the couple of days we got to be together.” Let’s get to know our new Admissions Director!
Educational and Professional Background
Ms. Simonetti attended the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the alma mater of her parents and a few other family members, right out of high school. “I was undetermined for a while but eventually got into the major of hospitality and quickly found that to be the right place for me. I felt passionate about it, enough to pursue that as a career after college,” she explained. After graduation in 2003, she did a 400-hour internship at the Radisson in Valley Forge (since renamed). A Conference Center was attached to this very large business-oriented hotel, and her internship involved working in all the departments—front desk, sales, reservations, housekeeping—and getting a comprehensive picture of what operations required on a day-to-day basis.
“Through that, I found that sales and marketing was the area I really wanted to focus on and was very lucky to be asked to stay on in that role. I had the opportunity to do that for a while and then connected with the Radnor Hotel on the main line of Philadelphia, where I got into a management position and really started getting my footing in terms of how sales and marketing works together.” During her time at the Radnor Hotel, an unexpected opportunity arose for her to transition from corporate meeting planning to wedding planning. “Doing that, I got more experience working with all members of the family and how they each had individual wants and needs, hopes, and dreams to express. I also quickly acclimated to managing a rigorous project schedule and began exploring workflow management tools.”
It will become clear that her rich, diverse background primed her for her new role. Answering inquiries, providing customer service, following up on the detail-oriented pieces, and communicating the necessary information to all the people who need to work together to make an event successful served her well and parallels some of her current tasks. “The conversations I have now are very similar to those I had in that role in that they are focused on common goals and rely heavily on building a relationship to achieve those goals,” she said.
While weighing various options for graduate school she spent time as a private nanny. This experience reminded her of the many hours she spent in her Mom’s classroom and Dad’s school office as a child. She started on a post-baccalaureate degree at Cabrini University, where, coincidentally, our Head of School, Mr. Jacks, used to ride his bike through campus. During this time, she visited her hometown in south-central Pennsylvania and reconnected with her now-husband who she knew growing up. The couple had their first daughter in 2010 followed by twin daughters soon after.
After moving back to Pennsylvania she transferred from Cabrini into a unique post-baccalaureate teacher intern program. The program allows those with bachelor’s degrees to get hands-on observation time and experience in the classroom. “In this way, we progressed through to an instructional teaching certificate more expeditiously than we may have in a more traditional degree program,” she explained.
From Pennsylvania to Maryland . . . and TNCS!
Before Ms. Simonetti moved to Maryland, she had some more knowledge and experience to glean. After finishing her teaching certificate, she earned a master’s in curriculum instruction while working as a graduate assistant in the Teacher Education Department at Shippensburg University. Adding another piece to the puzzle, she then started working at the Montessori school where her oldest daughter was attending. “This was exciting for us in terms of wanting her to be there—it’s a philosophy I’m very passionate about—so when the opportunity came around to jump on board, I did my Montessori certification with them,” she explained. Toward the end of 2019, her husband was approached with a contract in Glen Burnie. Although only an hour and 20 minutes from where they lived in Pennsylvania, they felt that was not a reasonable daily commute.
So, I started looking for school administration opportunities that might be available near Glen Burnie. The robust community of Montessorians in this area was brought to my attention in talking with colleagues and members of my Montessori training cohort. After accepting a position in Columbia, we started researching schools and different places that we could live. We settled on Marriottsville/Woodstock, which is right in between Glen Burnie and Columbia and moved here in March of 2020.
If March 2020 sounds familiar, you’re probably feeling sympathetic for the timing of the Simonettis’ move. She was in school for only 6 days before the shutdown. Fortunately, this allowed them to get to know their surroundings and neighbors, and, as she neared the end of her 1-year contract, she started looking for different opportunities where she could grow and be part of a larger community. She began looking for schools with a toddler through 8th-grade model similar to the Montessori Academy of Chambersburg, where she worked in Pennsylvania.
At TNCS, the culture and the community appealed to her as well as the core values, which align with her personal mission statement and her vision for her professional and personal life. So, when this opportunity became available, she quickly reached out to TNCS Co-Executive Directors/Co-Founders Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner to convey her interest in the position but also as a “new place to call home and dig in there and set some roots. I really feel like I could contribute to the success and the growth of the students, the school, and the community and also to have that symbiotic relationship that we try to cultivate in the environment with the children,” she said.
In just her few weeks here so far, she’s already enjoying TNCS tremendously:
I really feel that everyone has been welcoming and helpful. The sense of community that I was getting from the website, my first visit here, and from some of the testimonials I’ve read online, is what I’m experiencing here on a daily basis. As someone who spent a lot of time in the classroom, I’m seeing that the things that are happening in practice are what I’m discussing with potential students and families as our philosophy, as our pedagogy and our curriculum. That’s so inspiring and makes it easy for me to promote the school because we really are providing those great opportunities and robust activities and meeting the individual needs of everyone in our community in a way that sets the foundation for learning and growing. It’s a great place for them to be but it’s also what I’m experiencing as a new team member—being met where I am and in terms of what I know and what I don’t know and what I need to bridge the gap.
For now, she’s focused on finding students who are the right fit for TNCS as well as continuing to getting to know current students and their families, learning more about the new advisory program (stay tuned for an upcoming blog!), and bringing some of her background and experience with outreach enrichment. “I’m getting to know our internal community and bringing ideas for how to strengthen our relationship with our external community outside the walls of the school.”
“I look forward to being here every day,” she said. And, when she’s back home in Marriottsville, you can bet she’s staying active. She coaches field hockey for the Howard Stampede and teaches a group fitness class. She also spends a lot of time enjoying the outdoors with her family, kayaking, exploring, and soaking up the beautiful surroundings.
Ms. Simonetti will be offering both in-person/virtual admissions events throughout the year. Please reach out to her if you know of a family who would benefit from being part of the TNCS community. Psst—our Fall Open House Is Saturday, October 23, 2021!
As part of its mission, The New Century School embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) wholeheartedly. However, DEI must be continuously reaffirmed and new ways found to continue making TNCS a welcoming environment for all students. So last school year, the TNCS Parent Council’s Anti-Racism and Social Justice Committee in partnership with the TNCS administration decided to take the temperature of the TNCS community regarding race-related issues at TNCS.
An anonymous survey went out to families on April 8th with the message that, “Findings from this survey will help TNCS administration and the Parent Council assess where we are on the journey and identify the path forward toward ensuring a diverse, inclusive, and equitable TNCS community.”
On June 10th, Head of the TNCS Parent Council Tilly Gurman shared preliminary results with the TNCS community via email focusing mostly on participant demographics:
A total of 70 parents submitted surveys, and we are currently in the process of analyzing the data. Thank you to everyone who participated. Below is a quick snapshot of participants:
• 70% have 1 child at TNCS and 27% have 2 children at TNCS
• Average number of years at TNCS = 3.7
• Approximately 46% from people of color households and 54% from white households
• Relatively even distribution of number of children (n) in pre-primary (n=19), primary (n=20), and K-2 (n=20), with smaller representation among upper elementary (n=14) and middle school (n=9)
During the summer months, Ms. Gurman, Jay Golon (Chair of the Anti-Racism and Social Justice Committee), Roberta Faux (TNCS Co-Executive Director/Co-Founder), Shara Khon Duncan (former TNCS Head-of-School), and Tad Jacks (current TNCS Head-of-School) met “to go over the findings and to begin discussions about practical implications.” By early August, the Committee had synthesized survey findings and were ready to go public.
Although Immersed cannot publish their findings in their entirety, this effort deserves acknowledgment as the first of its kind at TNCS and a giant step in the direction of helping TNCS maintain an actively diverse, equitable, and inclusive atmosphere. We’ll offer some highlights here, and a link to the full results was shared with the TNCS community (if you did not receive it, contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
The primary upshot is that most parents (64%) talk to their children about race and racial identity, believe that participating in broader discussion about race and racism is important (94%), and feel that TNCS is a welcoming environment for every student (96%).
Are you interested in doing some of this amazing and important work? Visit the TNCS Parent Council page on Blackbaud to join the Anti-racism and Social Justice Committee or any of the other wonderful PC groups. In the meantime, the TNCS Parent Council will continue working with the TNCS administration to determine how to implement and apply what they learned from the survey to actionable and meaningful initiatives around campus and throughout the curriculum.
For the 2021–2022 school year, the Pollyanna curriculum that cultivates racial literacy will be taught weekly.
With autumn leaves falling, cooler weather in the air, and the holiday season imminent, people will likely be spending more time indoors and possibly in larger groups. How do we do that safely during a pandemic? On Wednesday, October 21st, The New Century School presented a special virtual Question and Answer session to answer these questions and many more.
Note to readers: Chances are very good that you’ve had many of the same questions. This post is a comprehensive accounting of the event, so if you don’t want to or are unable to read it in its entirety, skim to the topics that concern you most.
TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux emceed the event, beginning with some relevant announcements and updates.
TNCS Safety Announcements
After zero cases of COVID-19 in Quarter 1 of the 2020–2021 school year and no forced school closings, it’s clear that the hybrid model is working. With Quarter 2 beginning November 5th, in-person attendance will increase. About 60% of K–8 families will be on campus full time, another 23% will be half time (every other week), and about 17% will be fully virtual.
A second announcement was about the community pledge to consider getting a flu shot to keep everyone feeling a bit more comfortable. Of the approximately 149 students and 39 staff, 53% reported getting vaccinated. “We’re hoping to get to at least 70%,” said Roberta, “so fingers crossed.” (Her wish was granted—just a few days later, the rate of vaccination is 75%.)
Finally, TNCS began biweekly “Safety Audits” to check for proper mask-wearing, that the intake/outtake fans are running, and that desks remain 6 ft apart. In general, compliance has been excellent: 3rd- through 8th-graders are consistently 100%, K–2nd-graders are averaging 91%, and preschoolers are ranging between 73%–91%. These statistics are regularly shared with staff to encourage increasing compliance.
After this welcome and updates, Ms. Faux gave the Wellness Team the chance to say a few words each about themselves and encouraged attendees to type in questions in the chat box along the way to make the evening as interactive as possible.
Meet the TNCS Wellness Team!
Drs. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, David Griffith, and Nishant Shah comprise the TNCS Wellness committee. Here are their takes on COVID-19 risk management and best practices, both in and out of school.
Dr. McDonald-Mosley began by explaining her long history with TNCS: “I am a parent to a current 7th-grader at TNCS and a recent graduate. We have been a part of the TNCS community since before it was officially The New Century School, back when it was Patterson Park Montessori. So this community to be honest feels like more of an extended family to me than just a school, and that’s the passion that I bring to this team during the tumultuous last few months.”
She is currently the Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, where she has been navigating health care delivery in these “interesting times,” including implementing COVID-specific policies for seven health centers of about 120 staff and 35,000 patients a year. She is an Obstetrician/Gynecologist by training and also has a public health background, having attended Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“I want to take a second to applaud Ms. Faux and Señora Duncan and all of the staff who’ve been working tirelessly to balance keeping the doors open with keeping everyone safe and all of the work that they’ve been doing there,” said Dr. McDonald-Mosley. “I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to convene with you this evening and hopefully answer some of your questions.”
What Dr. McDonald-Mosley felt was an important topic to discuss is the looming holiday season. “For my family,” she said, “Thanksgiving is the ultimate holiday. For those of you who don’t know, my husband is a chef and the owner and proprietor of Black Sauce Kitchen. At Thanksgiving, we throw down! We get together as a huge family and it’s a huge deal.” But with elderly family members, she described needing to be really thoughtful about exposure during the holiday season and what that will mean.
We don’t want to take actions because we miss our family that could potentially put them at risk of being admitted to the hospital or worse by the end of the year. So, my ‘pearl’ is be mindful, be thoughtful, try to think ahead and make some plans. We all want to spend time with our family and friends but perhaps finding a way to do that more safely and implementing some risk-mitigation strategies during your holiday plans would be my advice. If you have specific questions about your plans, we’d be happy to touch base on those offline.
Dr. Griffith has a kindergartener and a primary student at TNCS. He is a pediatrician and internal medicine doctor with special training in pediatric and adult infectious disease. He works at Johns Hopkins, where he cares for pediatric patients admitted to the hospital, and also at both outpatient adult and pediatric infectious disease clinics. “I’ve been focused clinically on the active disease, and it’s been nice to be part of this group and to think about how we mitigate risk and what we can do to help our school community,” he said. “I also want to echo how nice it’s been to work with the school and administration. As a parent, I feel the messaging has always been very clear and the staff has been really responsive, so I’d like to commend Ms. Faux and Señora Duncan on all the work they’ve done.”
Dr. Griffith brought up the topic of “COVID fatigue.” We’re tired of this thing and yet it’s an important time to check in and discuss the coronavirus because we’re likely going to continue seeing increasing cases. Although we’ve learned a lot over the last 7 months, this is a novel virus, and its transmission and disease course was largely unknown. “We must make sure we’re doing everything we can as a community to keep all of us safe.”
Dr. Shah has a 3rd-grader at TNCS and says he considers TNCS a part of his extended family. They have been in Baltimore for 5 years and love being part of the community. Dr. Shah is a family medicine physician and works with Dr. McDonald-Mosley at Planned Parenthood. Before coming here, he worked in a public health department at the county level in Martinez, California doing infectious disease outbreak investigations. “The language is familiar,” he said, “but this disease is not.”
As the newest member of the Wellness Committee, he thanked the others for the work already done to get us to where we are now and feeling more confident about making decisions.
It’s new to all of us, and I feel like I’m learning something new every day. It’s changing what I’m saying to people and it feels kind of crazy, but I’m doing my best, and my mantra to all through all of this has been ‘safer not safe.’ Whatever I do, I try to make it safer because there’s no way to know whether it’s actually safe or not. So, ‘is there a way I can make a situation safer?’ is kind of the way I think about it.
Dr. Shah got some audience love with his closing statement: “Little by little, things will get better and things will get safer. But winter is coming.” As chilling as any Night King, we’re bracing for what winter will bring.
Parents could submit questions ahead of time or while the Q&A was happening. The topics raised are most apropos—again, you’ll likely be seeking answers to many of these same questions. Committee members handled the issues in a “round-robin” fashion.
How Will We Celebrate Halloween?
With Halloween right around the corner, Dr. McDonald-Mosley recommends using Dr. Shah’s framework of safer and thinking about risk mitigation as we’re wondering how to celebrate Halloween. The CDC and Baltimore City are not recommending traditional trick-or-treating.
So, to be safer, think about other ways to celebrate: you could organize an outside gathering with people wearing masks and kids swap prepackaged treats. You could plan a scavenger hunt or pumpkin carvings or a costume parade in your neighborhood. Think about activities that allow you to recognize the holiday and allow the kids to dress up (if that’s important to you and your family and your culture), but do it in a way that doesn’t involve direct interaction with large groups of people or large numbers of strangers.
Dr. Shah added that it’s okay to back out of a commitment. Have a backup plan and set expectations so you can always change gears if you don’t feel comfortable.
Timeline for Mask-Wearing and Social Distancing?
Dr. Shah fielded this one. “As we’re getting more COVID fatigue,” he said, “we’re all going to start to try to figure out safer ways to see family, to participate in activities, to let the kids do sports or whatever. Even in those contexts, COVID won’t be behind us.” Most scientific communities are acknowledging that COVID is going to be around for some years to come, and even when we have an effective vaccine and better treatments, “effectiveness” just means less rapid spread rather than 100% elimination. “Mask-wearing and social distancing give us the most bang for our buck in preventing transmission,” said Dr. Shah. “I anticipate that those principles are going to stay in place this year and probably the next school year. They might change a bit, but just know that the antibody treatments and vaccinations you hear about on the news are things that even when approved and available are going to be slow to roll out.” Maryland just released their plan for vaccination, and high-risk groups will be first. As vaccines and treatments aren’t being tested in kids, they will not be in the first rounds of vaccinated individuals, so it wouldn’t serve the TNCS community to compromise the safety protocols currently in place until we fully understand what the rollout of vaccines will involve.
Dr. McDonald-Mosley agreed, adding, “We’ve never had a vaccine development at this speed before and at this scale and so many uncertainties surround it. What we do know are that masks and and social distancing help. The vaccine will catch up eventually, but I don’t think we can hang our hats on that being the solution any time soon.”
Are Play Dates Still a Thing?
Dr. Griffith discussed whether it’s okay to have play dates outside of school. “It’s along the same lines of knowing your family’s own assessment of risk and trying to make things as safe as possible,” he said. “I think it’s very reasonable if you are outside with smaller numbers—maybe one other child or family at a time wearing masks and doing activities that allow the kids to be socially distant.” For younger children that’s harder to pull off, but some families are consoled by the knowledge that their children are in school and able to have some time with friends that way. Children in virtual school, however, really need that social connection and to interact with their peers, all of which helps them learn and develop. Unstructured play is likewise important for development. “So, if it’s feels comfortable for your family in terms of your personal risk,” said Dr. Griffith, “I think there are ways to do it safely as I described as well as by choosing families you’re on the same page with. And, as Dr. Shah said, if it doesn’t seem right, you can always leave if you get uncomfortable.”
Routine Testing at TNCS?
Dr. McDonald-Mosley took on the viability of routine COVID-19 testing for students and staff. “This is something the Wellness committee considered over the summer, but back then it was extremely difficult to find a place to get a test within a reasonable amount of time, and then sometimes the results were taking upwards of 10 days to come back back, which essentially made the test useless,” she said. She also explained that for someone who is asymptomatic, a screening test basically amounts to a snapshot of your recent exposure over the last week and not much else. “So, while widespread testing on a routine basis is ideal, at that point it didn’t seem reasonable or helpful, and we would also want to make sure that everyone has equitable access to it if we’re going to make it a requirement.” If cases in Baltimore rise once more, however, routine testing may be something that TNCS revisits, especially as testing has become much easier to obtain and the results are coming back faster. At this point, though, TNCS does not plan to mandate testing, but the Wellness Team can certainly help provide resources for individuals in particular circumstances (e.g., recent travel) who would like to get tested.
Dr. Shah chimed in to point out that testing is not a replacement for standard risk mitigation (i.e., social distancing and mask-wearing) as well as that the tests are not 100% accurate by any stretch.
To Pod or Not to Pod?
With folks desperate for personal interaction, the rise of the pod, otherwise known as a “social bubble,” in which a couple of families agree to socialize with one another but no one else, has staved off insanity for many. Pod families hang out without social distancing but agree to follow recommended social-distancing and mask-wearing rules outside of the pod.
Dr. Shah pointed out that forming a pod has risks and that you must take careful stock of who you are joining with and who they have other contact with such as at work (and vice versa). Another point is to be clear about the purpose of the pod—is it to participate in an activity important to me? Is it so my kids can have social interaction? Is it a school pod? Know your goal and make sure the pod is truly allowing you to obtain it. And it doesn’t have to be a slippery slope—just because you’re podding with three families, doesn’t necessarily mean you expand that number, which exponentially increases your exposure to other people.
“Be thoughtful about each step you take because it will impact the others in the pod as well as other people you come in contact with in your life,” urged Dr. Shah. He also recommends setting ground rules, making very deliberate decisions, and always striving for “safer.” Safer can take the form of parents wearing masks while the kids aren’t required to, for example. Also be willing to pod with people that you’re willing to share your health risks with (in other words, you probably wouldn’t want to share your risks with your grandmother). “Finally, just kind of know that infection is going to happen, and contact tracing will mean that you all have to quarantine for 14 days because members of the pod will all be considered each other’s close contacts. Be prepared with a plan that addresses how you’ll deal with work and with your kid being at home for 2 weeks. Call your doctor know their process for testing,” said Dr. Shah.
Holiday Travel: What Will It Mean?
Thanksgiving and Christmas are times when families traditionally gather. Ms. Faux brought up the TNCS Community Compact and explained that so far, TNCS is not looking to ask for additional requirements beyond what it states, which follow Maryland State guidelines. In essence, if you travel to a place with a positivity rate higher than 10%, get tested or quarantine for 2 weeks. Dr. Griffith elaborated: “Within that state recommendation is that nonessential travel should be reconsidered. I know that’s hard for a lot of families with the holidays coming, but my recommendation is to not travel.”
Nevertheless, if you are going to travel, do it as safely as possible (e.g., drive rather than fly, be outdoors if possible, limit interactions, test before and after) and carefully assess the risk of your particular travel—to where, for what, and around how many people? As for what this means for TNCS, Dr. Griffith again defers to Maryland’s guidance and says to consider testing when you get home even if you don’t go to a hotspot and quarantine until you have a negative result. Despite the imperfections of our current testing model, it’s better than nothing. The kids can switch to virtual learning—in fact, the TNCS Wellness Committee encourages you to switch to virtual if you ever have a concern, which is much easier to deal with than a forced all-school closure.
“Everyone is a part of this community,” said Dr. Griffith, “and our decisions affect each other’s kids and families. What’s important for this committee is what are you doing to help ensure the health of the school. We do think about how it impacts our community.”
And yet . . . those grandparents really need to see the grandkids. Lay ground rules, advises Dr. Griffith, and be prepared to have to enforce, and re-enforce, them! If a visitor is coming to your house, for example, ask them to get a test. “In every circumstance,” echoed Dr. McDonald-Mosley, “ask yourself, ‘is this necessary?’ and ‘is there a safer option?’.”
Winter Is Coming . . . Will TNCS Students Be Outside?
The short answer is yes, although lunch is starting back up November 9th and will be served indoors. (Students must eat at their own desks, spaced at least 6 feet apart and they may not talk while eating.) “As far as how cold is too cold,” said Señora Duncan, “we follow a metric from the MSDE office of child care. We will eat outside, but not in extremely cold conditions.”
Do make sure your student has clothing for colder and inclement weather, however, because part of TNCS’s identity is spending time outdoors. As one parent put it, “we really appreciate that TNCS is determined to get students outside and give them some freedom to move, take walks around the neighborhood, and spend some time away from their desks.” Señora Duncan responded, “Yes! Send those rain boots; send the accoutrements. We do go outside, so it’s really important that the students are dressed for the weather.”
How Are Preschoolers Doing?
A parent who joined TNCS during the pandemic asked how the 2- and 3-year-olds are doing with mask-wearing, and Interim Preschool Director David Sarpal fielded this one: “I’m very pleased to say that whenever we prompt young children to put on or fix their their masks, they respond immediately. They know it’s something that needs to be done in general.” Señora Duncan agreed: “It’s like second skin to them. They don’t really pay attention to it; they just put it on and go!”
What Social and Emotional Learning Is Happening?
Another parent question was about social and emotional support. TNCS teachers are very attuned to what’s going on with students, explained Señora Duncan. The younger ones do various activities during circle time, and the older students do journaling and ELA activities, for example. Teachers have even found ways to have on-campus outdoor activities for all-virtual students to optionally attend so that they can actually be with their in-person classmates safely. Said Señora Duncan:
We don’t have a formal program per se, but we’ve been finding out where our kids are and addressing needs as they arise. It’s such a changing environment, and there isn’t a COVID Social and Emotional Handbook yet. Our students are in such a different place right now, and there’s so much going on in our world with social justice issues, the pandemic, the election . . . Our kids are feeling all of it, so it’s really important that we take stock of those feelings.
Ms. Faux encouraged parents to continue sending questions that the Wellness Team will compile and address in forums and Q&As.
For Dr. McDonald-Mosley, the takeaway message is: “We’re going to need to be flexible as we move through the fall and the disease starts to surge again in our area, as it probably will. Continued communication and flexibility are going to be critically important. Again, I just want to applaud Señora Duncan and all the teachers who, despite all of the uncertainty, pushed through and have continued to provide an excellent educational experience to our kids.”
Dr. Griffith closed with, “I was just reflecting on kind of the first calls we had about this back in March and how little we knew and how much more we know now. We’ve come a long way, but we’re still learning.”
Dr. Shah offered three pieces of advice: “1) If you’re concerned about your kid being sick or you’re not sure what to do, stay home and call us or email us; 2) get your flu shot and start figuring out what you’re going to do if and when someone in your family gets sick; and 3) at some point, TNCS will have to close, so let’s be supportive of each other as a community, whatever that takes and whatever help you need, just ask.”
Señora Duncan said, “We didn’t know how this was all going to go—it was nail-biting and hair-raising at times, but it has been truly wonderful to have the support that we’ve had from all of you to get through this, especially the Wellness Team. Thank you so much; we could not have done it without you. You answered our calls and a billion questions and you answered away. This is just such an amazing and supportive community, and we really appreciate what we have here.”
For more information on what TNCS is doing to protect students from COVID-19, see updates posted regularly on Blackbaud, including additional safety measures, how to talk to students about COVID-19, and precautions for the holidays.
Remember, students can move to virtual classes as needed and everyone should STAY HOME if they are sick!
“Thank you everyone for being a partner. Together, with exceptional diligence we will tackle the upcoming months.”—The TNCS Wellness Team
The New Century School‘s Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau has been very busy heading into the third quarter of the school year. That’s due, of course, to the fact that she oversees the curricula of both elementary and middle school divisions, which is no small task, but there’s another aspect making this particular year rather special—in 2019, TNCS will graduate its first 8th-grade class!
So, let’s just get this out of the way. In Baltimore, it’s not where you went to college, it’s where you went to high school. It’s a thing.
High School Readiness
The implications of graduating the first 8th-grade class are huge. First, it’s important to get it right and pay close attention to the process to be able to replicate it seamlessly in subsequent years as well as to avoid pitfalls. Most importantly, however, the students must be ready for high school, and that readiness entails a lot, especially here in Baltimore City, where high schools are not zoned; rather, students choose the school they want to attend and then apply to get in. This is true for both public and private high schools. Many city high schools have unique identities, so students can match up their individual strengths and interests to the particular school that is going to meet their needs. Ultimately, they are embarking on a path that should prepare them for future success, whether that’s in college, career, or whatever else they envision.
This process takes planning: School choice starts by exploring available options to learn what each school offers; where it’s located; and, importantly, what special academic (e.g., results on a standardized assessment) or admissions requirements (e.g., audition or portfolio) must be met to be accepted. Attending school Open Houses and doing Shadow Days are also typically part of the process.
So, Mrs. DuPrau has been supporting this effort in many ways, starting with testing. “We learned that some of our 8th-graders had not taken many tests, and so we need to provide more test-taking opportunities. Next year, practicing for tests will take the place of teacher’s choice time for middle school students. Let’s learn how to take a test. It’s also important to have a test for students coming in to TNCS to see where they’re at,” she explained.
Wait—TNCS doesn’t do standardized testing, does it? Although the TNCS approach is the antithesis to “teaching to the test,” as mentioned above, the results of a standardized assessment are probably going to be necessary for any student bent on getting into the school of choice.
Oh, I See!
That’s where the Independent School Entrance Exam—the ISEE—comes into play. This test comprises Reading Computation, Essay, Quantitative Reasoning, Mathematical Computation, and Analogies. Dean of School Alicia Danyali began implementing test-taking skills instruction as well as practice time during the 2017–2018 school year.
“Most private school students need to take the ISEE, and then their score is what the majority of private schools will look at. That’s the big standardized test,” explained Mrs. DuPrau. She signed up TNCS to be an Education Records Bureau (ERB) member so that the ISEE could be administered on site. (“ERB is a not-for-profit member organization providing admission and achievement assessment as well as instructional services for PreK–Grade 12,” according to the ERB website.)
Said Mrs. DuPrau: “We opened the ISEE up to 6th–8th graders. It was optional for 6th and 7th grade and mandatory for the 8th grade because they need that score.” The 3-hour test took place on November 14th and was proctored by TNCS Language Arts teacher Ilia Madrazo. “It ran all morning,” said Mrs. DuPrau, “and was the first time our students had taken a real test.” (A practice run took place last May.) “To prep the 8th graders for this test, [TNCS Co-Executive Director/Co-Founder Roberta Faux] worked with them weekly, especially in math,” she said. How did the students fare? “They said it was super hard,” said Mrs. Duprau. “The ISEE is hard. Out of all the high school testing they have been doing, they said the ISEE was by far the hardest.” (But they scored highest in math!)
It’s important to note that the ISEE is required for applications to private schools.
And Are They Ready?
For public schools, on the other hand, the i-Ready is a required test, which, unlike the pencil-and-paper ISEE, is administered online and took place a month after the ISEE, on December 14th. “From my understanding,” explained Mrs. DuPrau, “the computerized test will first assess ‘where the student is’ and either build on questions if the student keeps getting everything right, or it will go back. In this way, it’s similar to how SuccessMaker works.” Thus, i-Ready is both intuitive and differentiated.
After students had taken the test, Mrs. DuPrau escorted them to Taco Fiesta for lunch!
Having taken both the ISEE and the i-Ready, TNCS 8th graders now have the option of applying to both public and private schools. They also took both tests early enough that they could retake one or both if desired.
Students applying to Institute of Notre Dame additionally had to take the High School Placement Test (HSPT), which was administered at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.
High School Applications
While all this testing fervor was happening, students had to begin completing their high school applications, which were due December 14th for most private schools and approximately a month later for public schools. Some other schools they are applying to include Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women and Western High School—for those of you true Baltimoreans sure to inquire!
Mrs. DuPrau was instrumental here as well. She worked with TNCS scholarship students during the school day as needed to help them navigate the less-than-straightforward application process. She got the students accordion binders so they could organize materials by school—one tab per school. “For each school they applied to, we made checklists, put in our applications, made copies, and made sure we scheduled a shadow day and an interview,” said Mrs DuPrau. With binders in hand, they attended the Baltimore City Schools Choice Fair at the Convention Center on December 9th. Explains Mrs. DuPrau: “All the high schools from Baltimore City go there and have their own booth. A few representatives from the school man the booth and share about the school. There were also a lot of performances—singing and dancing and things like that. The girls would visit the booth and ask questions, and there were also students from the school on hand whom they could talk to.”
“The girls had so much fun with it,” recounts Mrs. DuPrau, “and I also taught them how to research information on their own. They’re binders are still growing, and they keep adding tabs!”
Mrs. DuPrau also had the good fortune to meet a representative of the i-Ready test whose job is specifically getting 8th graders into high school. She invited Mrs. DuPrau to join a committee on how to prepare 8th graders, follow up with them, make at least two visits throughout each high school year, and later help them apply to colleges.
As busy as she was with the 8th-graders, Mrs. DuPrau still made time for all of the other TNCS students, for tutoring, for setting up programs around campus, for doing dismissals (always with a big smile) as well as for teachers and faculty.
For students in grades 4 through 8, Mrs. DuPrau arranged a self-defense/self-empowerment workshop on December 18th with author and mindfulness guru Jillian Amodio. The class focused more on promoting self-confidence and respect rather than combat techniques and was divided into boys and girls sessions, with slightly different curricula. Tips for online safety and other common-sense habits were also encouraged.
This video gives an idea of what her workshops might cover; however, they are tailored to context and age.
Finally, Ms. Amodio gave the following mantras for the students to reflect on.
Mantra for Respectful Males
I respect myself, my body, my mind, and my emotions.
I respect the bodies, minds, and emotions of others.
I respect that others feel differently and value our differences.
I am allowed to express sadness and hurt without being seen as weak.
I offer to help others when I see they are in need.
I will not place myself above anyone else. We are all equal and worthy.
There is no place for unnecessary aggression in my life.
Gentleness is a something I value.
Sensitivity towards others is something I take pride in.
There is no reason to be rude.
Mantras for Strong Girls
I respect myself, my body, my mind, and my emotions.
I respect the bodies, minds, and emotions of others.
I respect that others feel differently and value our differences.
I am allowed to express sadness and hurt without being seen as weak.
I offer to help others when I see they are in need.
I am in control! I am Strong! I am worthy!
Bold is beautiful!
I will never settle for less than I deserve!
I will not apologize for others! I will not apologize unnecessarily!
Every great woman has encountered fierce battles. Wear your battle scars with pride and rejoice in all you have conquered!
Although her official title is “Curriculum Coordinator,” Mrs. DuPrau’s responsibilities stretch beyond the classroom. She works closely with TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, for example, and also meets regularly with teachers. “[Señora Duncan and I] work together on how we can help with or improve the curriculum. I also help her observe teachers as well as with applying for federal grants (e.g., Title II and Title IV). We are also trying to figure out how our school can be recognized on school choice applications.”
She notes that morale among teachers has been especially high this year, which makes her job more fun—as well as trickles down to happier students. Part of this, she reasons, is the wonderful teachers themselves and another part of it is how valued they feel by the administration. In general, a spirit of collaboration and positivity pervades.
Coordinating the International Trip
Another first for TNCS this year is the international service trip middle schoolers will take this spring. They are planning to go to Puerto Rico, where passports are not required. “That is a big project,” said Mrs. DuPrau. “Figuring out all the details and coming up with fundraising ideas has been challenging.”
But, never fear! It will happen, and Immersed will fill you in on all the fun! In the meantime, thanks for all you have done to make the 2018–2019 school year such a huge success, Mrs. DuPrau!
On Wednesday, October 17th, The New Century School welcomed some very illustrious guests. Maryland’s Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith, Director of International Affairs Mary E. Nitsch, and intern Rosanna Mantova (Intern, International Division, Maryland Office of the Secretary of State) visited the TNCS campus to see the Mandarin Chinese program firsthand. Secretary Wobensmith met TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux earlier this year, who told him about TNCS. Based on her description of how Mandarin Chinese is taught at TNCS, he was eager to see it for himself. As part of the Maryland Sister States Program, Secretary Wobensmith and his team find ways to promote the connection between Maryland and Anhui Province of China, and education is a key area.
Ms. Nitsch explains:
Anhui Province, China, is one of 20 Sister States that Maryland has around the world. It is also the state’s oldest Sister State partnership, having been established in 1980. The program was established to provide a forum for the promotion of international cooperation and understanding. Through broad-based citizen participation in a wide variety of exchanges in areas of mutual interest, like education, arts, and culture, and economic development, the Sister States Program offers countless opportunities to develop partnerships around the world.
Mandarin Chinese Program at TNCS
It was easy to showcase TNCS’s program, owing to the amazing teachers and students who participate. The members of the Office were met at reception by Ms. Faux, TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, TNCS Dean of Students Alicia Danyali, and staff member Monica Li. After a brief welcome, the group began a tour of the school, starting from the ground up with Donghui Song’s preprimary classroom of 2- and 3-year-old students. Song Laoshi’s class is immersive; students are spoken to in Mandarin Chinese throughout the day. They are expected to understand and respond with the appropriate action to instructions given in Mandarin—and they do so beautifully. Not long after entering the classroom for the first time, they begin speaking a few words and singing songs.
The group next visited Lisa Reynolds’ primary classroom on the second floor. At ages 3 through 5 years, primary students are no longer in an immersion environment but are taught both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish (in addition to the Montessori curriculum representative of the primary program) and have native-speaking assistant teachers rotating through the classrooms and conversing with and instructing students in their native languages. At these ages, students are not just responding to instructions but are rapidly increasing their verbal skills. They demonstrate perfect intonation and pronunciation. They begin to recognize Chinese characters.
They charmed the visitors, saying “hello” and “welcome” in Mandarin.
Hope to see you again!
The group continued their climb through building south, headed next to Pei Ge’s kindergarten/1st-grade classroom on the third floor. The members of the Office of Secretary of State were very impressed by what they witnessed here. The entire classroom was bubbling with eagerness, a testament to Ge Laoshi’s teaching skills, and their Mandarin is nothing short of amazing.
Throughout the tour, Ms. Faux explained details about the school and its approach. “It’s less about being a linguist,” she said, “and really more about becoming a global citizen.” Thus, culture is an important emphasis and taught alongside the target language. So the visitors could get the full picture, the group also visited Barbara Sanchez’s 2nd-/3rd-grade Spanish classroom. These students also learn Mandarin, but, at the mid-to-upper elementary level, core subjects are partially taught in the target language, so, in addition to Spanish Language Arts, Sra. Sanchez integrates Spanish into her Math and Global Studies lessons.
Ms. Faux gave a quick powerpoint overview of the school, including the background, history, and overall ethos, and then the group finished up their classroom tour in Wei Li’s middle school lesson. Li Laoshi led the 6th- through 8th-graders in a conversation in Mandarin, then had them write sentences using Chinese characters and finish by making a presentation.
Said Ms. Nitsch in a follow-up email: “One of the nicest parts of my job is having the opportunity to personally experience so many of the wonderful international programs and projects that are taking place around the state. As a former ESL teacher, I truly appreciate how important multilingualism and multiculturalism are to our state and country’s future success. And, as a Baltimore resident, it’s inspiring to know we have such wonderful resources like TNCS here in the city.”
For his part, Secretary Wobensmith declared himself “totally smitten” with TNCS. “Your enterprise. . . is a remarkable effort, and it struck me that you have done it exactly right in all aspects. Congratulations!” he said. When he asked Ms. Faux about the possibility of expanding to other locations, she thought for a moment and then replied, “We have built a very strong community here, and that might be hard to replicate somewhere else.” It’s true—that foundation of families, teachers, students, staff, and everyone else who is part of the TNCS community is integral to the school’s continued success.
The visit by the members of the Office of the Secretary of State will not soon be forgotten. TNCS will cherish the memory of this great honor!