Meet the Teacher: Leslie Shaffer Joins TNCS Lower Elementary!

This fall, The New Century School welcomed Leslie Shaffer to teach kindergarten/first-grade for the 2018–2019 school year. Immersed had the pleasure of interviewing her recently and brings you the highlights in this post.

Meet Leslie Shaffer

tncs-k-1st-teacher-leslie-shafferMs. Shaffer is originally from New York state and graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York in 2015 with concentrations in Government and English. She went on to get a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education at Bank Street College of Education in New York City.

Once she was out of college, Ms. Shaffer moved to Connecticut to take a position teaching pre-K and kindergarten at Greenwich Country Day School, in what she says was similar to an apprenticeship program. After 2 years, she returned to New York City to teach kindergarten at the all-girls school Sacred Heart and reports that she thoroughly enjoyed that 1-year experience.

So far, she has not merged her undergraduate Government concentration into her teaching, because once she realized later in college that reading books for fun could be a major, she was hooked. “I took an English class by accident and wound up loving it. It’s now something I use a lot in the classroom, and I’m so excited that I get to do so,” she said.

This past summer, she moved to Annapolis to be closer to family, who have a business on the Eastern Shore. When asked what inspired her to apply to teach at TNCS, she says: “I think a lot of it was the neighborhood. I knew I didn’t want to teach in Annapolis, even though I would be living there. Having just come from New York, I wanted to be in more of a city environment, with more going on. I wanted a little bit of excitement. Annapolis is a lovely place, but it’s not a city.”

The 15 students in her homeroom class plus the 14 students she co-teaches from Pei Ge (“Ge Laoshi”)’s homeroom are contributing to that excitement Ms. Shaffer enjoys. “I love it here,” she said. “I really do. I think what I’ve liked most is that the parents are so interesting, and so the kids are, too. Everyone is traveling to different places, has family in different countries . . .  I think it’s fascinating.”

Ms. Shaffer’s primary subjects are Math and English Language Arts, and she does the Daily 3 or 4 rotation for both (including a snack rotation). Her homeroom students spend the first 1 1/2 hours of the day with her, and then they move to Ge Laoshi’s classroom for Global Studies and Science. The two classes also switch for part of the afternoon. Many of her first-grade students came up through the TNCS primary program, and many of her kindergarteners are new to the school, but everyone has adjusted beautifully, thanks to the built-in differentiation that rotations afford. Says Ms. Shaffer:

I think my favorite parts about being a teacher have always been the small group work and working one on one with a student. I think that the day lends itself so well to having rotations, and although I enjoy my time with them, I make sure they stop at a good amount of independent stations, too. But also there’s always one more, and that’s just with me. I love that part of it.

English Language Arts Class

“In ELA, differentiation is crucial,” explains Ms. Shaffer, “because some of the students coming in could not yet identify all of the letters of the alphabet, while many of the 1st-graders can completely read on their own.” Thus, her ELA class will typically have a rotation that includes her reading with a small group in the “library” (pictured below) and another with her listening to a student reading independently as well as various exercises involving more intensive focus on individual letters. “For those who are still working on letter recognition,” she said, “each week we focus on a letter. For those who can read on their own, this becomes more like coming up with a list of how many words they can spell with the letter of focus.” Most of the books in the K/1 classroom are “decodable,” meaning that there are no tricky sounds or silent letters, to give young learners the chance to gain some confidence before encountering the many exceptions to the rule that comprise the English language.

The best part of the day for Ms, Shaffer takes place in ELA class, with her students circled around her:

My favorite part of the day is always doing a read-a-loud, which, for the past 2 months, has been a Marcy Watson book. They are chapter books, which seems like a lot for kindergarteners to listen to, but because the books are so funny, the students are really, really attentive, even from the beginning of the year.  I think it’s been a good place as well for the kids who are very comfortable reading. Every once in a while, they’ll want to read the next chapter, and the other students still listen to them, which is so nice.

Math Class

The Math curriculum for all TNCS elementary students is Singapore Math. For K/1 students, many who are transitioning from preschool, math class includes manipulatives, but, albeit quite similar, these are from Singapore Math rather than Montessori materials the students would have used in primary.

“The students have mainly been using the base 10 block so far, explained Ms. Shaffer. The 1 is represented by a tiny cube, 10 is a stick, 100 is a block of 100, and 1,000 is a cube. “This system works really well, especially for the 1st-graders, who are doing addition and subtraction, but also for the kindergarteners who are just starting to figure out what the numbers represent.” She is also incorporating bead rings, another way to represent smaller numbers, as shown below.

“They’re doing very nicely,” said Ms. Shaffer, “and we had a professional development training in Singapore Math earlier this year that really helped us understand how to use the materials most effectively.” (More on that in a future post!)


Ms. Shaffer is very much at home at TNCS, and her fascination with people and culture—and learning—makes her an ideal fit for the school. There is one aspect of the day in which her students have the upper hand over her: “They love it when they come back from Chinese class, and they know all these words that I don’t,” she laughed. But even here, she is picking up vocabulary and enjoying the fun of learning right alongside her wonderful students.

Welcome, Ms. Shaffer! Huānyíng (欢迎)!

TNCS’s Annual Elementary and Middle School Back-to-School Night: Your Source for Need-to-Know Info for the 2018–2019 Academic Year!

Now that summer has unofficially ended, and school is back in full swing, The New Century School kicked off the 2018–2019 school year with its annual Back-to-School Night. The focus of the evening was to meet your student’s teachers and to present the student’s daily schedule, a curriculum overview, and school policies. In other words, students have had 2 weeks to acclimate—now it’s our turn!

As TNCS enters its 12th year, it’s worth noting how the school and its programs have expanded and grown to what they are today. Changes each year are inevitable, but TNCS has stayed true to its identity and has successfully weathered those changes, transforming would-be obstacles into opportunities and growing the student body to more than 200 children, 117 in the preschool and 88 in the elementary and middle schools.

An overview of tips and policies is given here, and specific documents can also be downloaded at the links provided at the end of this post as well as from the TNCS Parent Hub.

Welcome to Some Great New Enhancements!

The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Shara Khon Duncan warmly welcoming parents, new and old: “It’s nice to see all of your faces again—welcome,” she began. She next introduced teachtncs-back-to-school-night-2017ers, who then returned to their classrooms to prepare for the group breakouts by division. Sra. Duncan then addressed the parent audience and presented some important school year expectations.

Just a few things before we get started—that you’ll probably hear the teachers reiterate because these things are really important. First arriving on time to school is very important for all of our students. It gets the day started right, it helps the students feel that they are coming in and ready to go. So, please, as much as possible, arrive on time. That includes preschool. We have to get them modeled right from the beginning. I know from experience how hard it is to get out of the house—I had two girls who did not want to cooperate, so I totally get it.

Next, be sure that when you pull up into the carline rectangles at drop-off and pick-up times that you are actually in the lines and not blocking the crosswalk, so that walkers can cross safely. Also do not walk anywhere but the crosswalk for everyone’s safety. Again, we’re trying to model as best we can what we want our children to do.

Another thing I’d like you to remember is that you have been sent the Parent Guide by Admissions Director Mrs. Sanchies, which is a fabulous resource that breaks down all the essential things you need to know—such as signing up for before and after care or school lunch, what happens when it snows, and so on—so please refer to that often. You also should have received the Family Handbook, so please take some time to look through it and sign the second page.

Yet another exciting new thing this year is that, in addition to receiving weekly emails from your child’s homeroom teacher with pertinent information about what’s going on in the classroom and what’s coming up, we’re moving toward implementing software called Sycamore that will allow teachers to have class web pages. This will be very easy to log in to and use to see class-related information. The weekly emails will be sent every Friday around 5; emails about specials will be sent every other week.

Finally, please remember that we are a nut-free school and are also committed to having a sugar-free environment. So when it comes time to celebrate birthdays, for example, please make sure that you talk to the teacher ahead of time and discuss what kind of treat might be appropriate.

With that, have a lovely evening and a great year!

Elementary and Middle School Breakouts

Once the initial introductions and welcome message concluded, parents moved on to spend time with their child’s teachers. This was the opportunity to learn about what the school day looks like, what the educational goals are for the year, and what the specific class-related expectations are of both parent and child. Upper Elementary and Middle School was jointly hosted by veteran Math and Science teacher Nameeta Sharma and veteran English language arts and Global Studies teacher Ilia Madrazo.

Ms. Madrazo handled many of the practical details, reminding families of the importance of being on time. Class begins promptly at 8:25 am with key information and planner assignments, all things you don’t want your child to miss. She promised parents that any questions or concerns about anything going on in the classroom would be responded to within 24 hours. She also went over the handout that enumerated class and school policies as well as gave a deeper dive into each subject’s curriculum. First up, the fun stuff!tncs-2018-2019-back-to-school-night

Specials

New art teacher Jia Liu will be profiled in an upcoming Immersed “Meet the Teacher” post, and art happens twice weekly. Students also have music taught by the illustrious Martellies Warren twice a week. Physical education now includes 1 day of teacher-led PE consisting of yoga, plus 1 day of regular coach-taught PE each week. Teacher’s Choice is also now considered a once-weekly special, and this 45-minute block can be used for exploring a topic students want to learn more about, an activity the class collectively would like to pursue, or anything different from the usual academics, explained Ms. Madrazo. This might even be making a fun visit to the Ozone Snack Bar!

Ozone Snack Bar

Speaking of “the ‘zone,” students can also visit the snack bar housed in the second-floor Union Box space of Building North, from 8:10 am–8:25 am on Tuesday and Thursday mornings starting the week of September 10th. Teachers will have sent permission slips that allow parents to set a spending limit for their children as well as opt for cash payment or convenient billing through FACTS. Li Laoshi will supervise these morning visits.

Recess

New this year, students will be going outside every day, regardless of weather. “Rain, shine, snow,” said Ms. Madrazo, “whatever happens, we’re going out every day. We’re taking them to Thames Street Park currently, so they have plenty of space to run and have fun.”

Field Trips

At least four trips are planned this year (at least one per quarter). Parents–chaperoning field trips is a fantastic way to not only experience a fun trip with your child but also to rack up some of the obligatory 10 volunteer hours! This quarter, a trip to the Irvine Nature Center is scheduled (9/17). Next up, the ever-popular National Aquarium! Successive trips will be announced as they are confirmed.

Math

Ms. Sharma took over to explain the math curriculum. “We have four rotations,” she explained. “Students will work on the computer on Success Maker, in small groups playing math games, independently in their workbooks, and one on one with me.” The primary resource is Singapore math, which returning students are already very familiar with and probably worked with over the summer to stay in practice. Middle school students will use the Go Math curriculum. TNCS students may also once again opt in to participate in the Math Kangaroo competition in March—TNCS’s third annual!

English Language Arts

Ms. Madrazo took back over for ELA. “I had the pleasure of going to New York this summer,” she began, “to take training in teaching writing. We will continue using the Lucy Calkins writing curriculum.” (See State-of-the-Science Elementary Writing at TNCS for more on Calkins’ acclaimed approach.) “We will use ‘mentor texts’ that are great works of literature that help students figure out what was done really well that they can incorporate in their own writing. They write every day in class for 20 minutes. The biggest indicator of success in high school is the volume of writing they have already done. It is extremely important for them to be able to take notes, to write deep and long, and to develop ideas.”

ELA uses the Daily 5, which consists of: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, and Word Work.

Wordly Wise 3000 will once again be used for ELA homework. Wordly Wise 3000 focuses on improving students’ vocabulary by furthering their understanding of new words and concepts. By focusing on vocabulary development, students are able to read increasingly challenging texts with fluency and improve their chances for success in school and beyond. Additionally, spelling practice will also help improve student writing. (See more on ELA homework below.)

Science

The major science themes throughout the year that will guide learning and understanding will include Unit 1: Macrobiology and Genetics, Unit 2: Engineering, Unit 3: the Scientific Method (Science Fair), and Unit 4: Astronomy and Weather.

Interdisciplinary learning is a big part of TNCS’s approach, so ELA and world language reading will routinely relate to science and global studies units.

Global Studies

Global studies will comprise both United States history and World history. The Elementary and Middle School programs will focus on the same unit of study but will be differentiated based on grade level:

  • Quarter One, Ancient World Cultures with focus on India, Greece, and Rome
  • Quarter Two, World Cultures and Geography with focus on India and Africa
  • Quarter Three, Civics
  • Quarter Four, American History

Surprise! Ms. Madrazo plans to teach in and incorporate as much Spanish as possible here! (Reinforcement in English will always be available, but learning a subject in another language deepens language fluency exponentially.)

Spanish

Spanish learning will be taught through the use of different games, dances, and songs. I was born in Chile, and this is my third year as lead Spanish teacher,” said Sra. Sanzana. “Spanish class is a little bit of everything—grammar, culture, vocabulary, talking, reading, and listening,” she said. As in other subjects, teaching is differentiated. “I divide students into groups based on levels after making a differentiation plan for each child,” she explained. “Don’t be afraid of whatever comes; I will be here helping them.” Note that, as TNCS has evolved, Spanish class now happens daily, with Friday being reserved for fun and games in Spanish.

Spanish class will adopt a Daily 4: Read to self, read to each other, independent work in their folders, and work with the teacher. Reading comprehension will be a big emphasis. A big addition this year for students who are ready for it will be writing 100-word essays in Spanish. For everyone, learning by teaching will be introduced—the big kids get to read to their smaller compatriots in Spanish and work with them on vocabulary and so on. “They will become the teachers,” said Sra. Sanzana. “They will solve their own problems to do so, such as figuring out how to pronounce an unfamiliar word.” This idea was happily embraced by parents, who well know the benefits of this popular TNCS approach.

Mandarin

Li Laoshi believes Mandarin Chinese is best learned through pursuing various real-life activities that connect to what lesson is being taught. “I really believe that interest is the best teacher,” she explained, “so we cook, do calligraphy, go on trips, and other do other activities that the students really enjoy.” Project assessments are mainly performance based—in other words, she wants to see her students successfully using their Mandarin skills. Like Spanish, Mandarin class now happens daily.

Better Chinese will continue as our backbone curriculum as well as our Daily Four,” said Li Laoshi. In Daily Four, students are divided into small groups and use different levels of books according to their language proficiency. The students rotate among the four centers, which are meet with teacher, computer, reading, and games. “Friday will be the weekly Activity Day featuring various activities that integrate Chinese culture, such as calligraphy, Tai chi, Kung Fu, Chinese games, and cooking Chinese food,” she continued. “On Friday, September, 21st, we will make mooncakes in honor of China’s mid-Autumn Festival, and the students are very excited!”

Li Laoshi got big laughs when she suggested that parents allow themselves to be interviewed by their students as part of homework and thereby begin to pick up some Mandarin themselves! Around the room, parents began counting to themselves (“yī, èr, sān, sì, wǔ, liù, qī , bā, jiǔ, shí . . .”), rightly proud of their Chinese prowess! She suggested the websites Hello World for beginners and Duolingo for other students to get further practice at home.

Students will be assessed the traditional way (pencil and paper); however, the main approach of assessment will be performance based. For every new unit, formative assessment will be used daily and summative assessment will be used at the end of each unit.

Homework

The big question on BTS attendees minds’ was, “what’s up with homework this year?” There’s good news: The bottom line is, homework is necessary but should never be onerous. “Our purpose here is to help the kids to succeed,” said Ms. Madrazo, “not to have unrealistic expectations and make everyone unhappy.”

Homework in math, ELA, and world languages will be assigned each Monday and is due on Friday. Other important points to note are:

  1. Students are expected to record their homework assignments each Monday in their planners, but please check that they are doing so.
  2. Students are expected to complete this work independently with minimal support as needed from parents. This is key—helping your child to an extensive degree will not show teachers where and how they need to adjust assignments and better meet students where they are.
  3. After care participants are given time to complete homework as well as as-needed support from Sra. Sanzana.
  4. Your child’s teachers are flexible. If a student needs more time to complete an assignment well, communicate this, and teachers will work with you to accept it the following Monday.
  5. Mandarin and Spanish alternate weeks for elementary students, whereas middle school students should expect weekly Spanish homework.
  6. Additional Internet research may be assigned when pertinent to, for example, specific global studies or science lessons.
  7. To great applause from parents, weekly science homework will not be assigned, however.
  8. Altogether, weekly homework assignments should take about 2 hours or less, depending on division, apart from daily reading and writing and any music practice (if your child takes instrument lessons).

Here is the breakdown:

  • Math: Homework will consist of ~30 minutes per week of problem solving or Workbook completion (translating to four pages in the workbook for 4th- and 5th-graders and two or three for 6th- through 8th-graders).
  • English Language Arts: Each week, there will be one lesson (~30 minutes) in Wordly Wise per week, which includes a list of vocabulary words to know, and various assignments to complete.
    • In addition, this year, students are expected to spend 20–30 minutes reading independently and at least 10 minutes writing (or mind-mapping, which is a critical part of the writing process) every day.
    • Daily writing should be in cursive and in pen; students will have been given prompts from Ms. Madrazo or can free write. Journals are provided, but separate sheets of writing are also acceptable when a student forgets to bring the journal home.
  • Spanish: Grades 4 and 5 will work on a small packet the 1st and 3rd weeks of the month; 6th- 7th, and 8th-graders will have homework weekly. Homework will be reading-comprehension based.
  • Chinese: Grades 4–8 will work on a small packet the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month.

What Lies Ahead!

Although BTS night is over, know that teachers and administration are always readily available to answer any questions regarding your student’s development. Also know that you’ll be meeting teachers new to TNCS in Immersed profiles throughout the coming year as well as hear more from staff and administration who are adopting new roles and taking the school in new directions.
Finally, expect to hear more about forthcoming parent volunteering opportunities and service learning initiatives. Stay tuned!

To get a look at past year’s back-to-school nights or just to reminisce about the school’s early days, read:

Building a Strong Foundation in Math: Tips, Resources, and Activities to Foster a Love of Math at Home

The New Century School is unique in combining a robust music and arts program; triple language-learning; and a student-driven, inquiry-based approach with a competitive academic environment. Although TNCS embodies the antithesis of the “three r’s” (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) approach to education that focuses on rote learning, math is a paramount discipline that is duly emphasized.

Math Programs at TNCS

While doing math includes a certain amount of repetition, the purpose of math does not reside in knowing the times tables for the sake of knowing them. Applying math to real-world problems makes math dynamic, interactive, and meaningful at TNCS. Math hones powers of reasoning, creativity, abstract/spatial thinking, critical thinking, problem-solving ability, and communication skills. Math opens up possibility.

At TNCS, math starts early. The youngest preschoolers on up through the primary division have access to Montessori math materials, for example, which help children progress from concrete/discrete “manipulatives” to abstract concepts. Once TNCS students graduate to the elementary program, they have dedicated math classes that consist of some combination of a Daily 4 rotation. They work independently, in small groups, one-on-one with the teacher, and with a computer.

The crux of the elementary math program is Singapore Math, the basic components of which are 1) a Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract approach, 2) model drawing, 3) teaching to mastery, 4) spiral progression, 5) and metacognition. In middle school, the Go Math! curriculum is used that emphasizes conceptual understanding, fluency, and application.

Differentiation is a part of every math division—wherever a student happens to be on his or her math journey, that student is supported and guided forward. Moreover, math is taught as a uniting, globalizing force. While students are doing math, everyone speaks the same language no matter what country they are from. This concept is conveyed best by TNCS’s annual participation in the Math Kangaroo competition, a math contest with 6 million participants worldwide. In Maryland alone, over 800 students participate. TNCS has had multiple students place nationally since joining the competition.

tncs-math-kangaroo-national-winners

In the 2018 Math Kangaroo competition, three TNCS students placed in the Top 20 nationally!

Math in Summer: Practice Makes Progress!

Beloved-School-Building1Math is a constant presence in our lives, whether or not we are always conscious of its ubiquity. Sunflowers, snowflakes, nautiluses, and even Romanesco broccoli are geometrically inclined examples of how the Golden Ratio, also known as the Fibonacci sequence, manifests in nature. (Need a Fibonacci refresher? Each number is the sum of the two numbers that precede it: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and so on, ad infinitum). This cosmic numbering system is phenomenal enough, but animals even down to the Arthropoda actively employ math–cicadas count years, butterflies use physics to plot and adjust complex flight trajectories, ants calculate the fastest paths to their destinations, and now bees are thought to understand zero.

Just as math is a part of everyday life, for students to excel in math, they should do math every day. Summertime is no different: Daily math is critical for optimal student success. Each summer, TNCS offers resources to support student gains made during the school year and to combat the summer slide. (Scroll below for a list of where you can access past years’ offerings.)

Research has shown that math achievement is often the hardest hit over the summer months, if math practice is not kept up. TNCS administrators recommend that TNCS students practice math every day (or at least three to four times per week) and have made summer workbooks available to help students get in the habit of daily math.
The workbook is ideal for summertime, because it can be done in the car during road trips, while vacationing, before and after mealtimes, and on days of inclement weather. Its convenience makes it easy to work in frequent small increments.tncs-summer-math-resources

“My strong feeling is that children should do math daily,” said TNCS Co-Executive Director/Co-Founder Jennifer Lawner. “Just like music. It is hard to get kids to practice if you make them do it intermittently, but easy if it is a required part of the day. Even if they only do 15 minutes of math on a given a day, it keeps the mind going.”

An essential component for daily summer math success is parent involvement. Parents are encouraged to review work completed periodically to ensure students are staying on the right track. Make and post a schedule to help your student maintain discipline and to avoid fights.

If daily math is not possible, encourage as many days of the week as possible with a schedule like this:

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: Math practice from 8:00 am–8:15 am
  • Sunday: 15 minutes of math practice for bonus

Bonus can be whatever your family enjoys doing together, such as taking a walk or bike ride in the park, making a trip to the library or the zoo, and so on.

The workbooks will be collected and reviewed the first week of the 2018–2019 school year by your child’s math teacher.

tncs-summer-math-resources

“The reality is that there is an entire globe of students doing daily math through the summer, and, if our children are not doing it, they are not going to be competitive,” said Mrs. Lawner.

Although workbook practice is the preferred method of doing daily summer math, math game apps and websites are another option that can be used supplementally. However, these are not as effective at keeping skills sharp, and they have the added disadvantage of contributing to screen time, so, ideally, they should not be the exclusive means of math practice during summer. A more effective supplemental way to encourage daily math is to help your child work it into other daily activities. Find some creative ways to “Get into the Daily Math Mindset This Summer” on TNCS’s brand-new web page: Summer Learning Resources.

The bottom line is, if you set expectations and work with your children at home, you will foster strong mastery and a love of math that will serve them well academically and professionally. As math is necessary for art and music, it is also a bridge between the humanities and the natural sciences. Said mathematician-turned-philosopher Bertrand Russell: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere . . . without appeal to any part of our weaker nature . . . yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.”


TNCS’s Annual Elementary and Middle School Back-to-School Night!

back-to-school-night-2017Now that summer has officially ended, and school is back in full swing, The New Century School kicked off the 2017–2018 school year with its annual Back-to-School Night. The focus of the evening was to meet your student’s teachers and to present the student’s daily schedule, a curriculum overview, and school policies.

Welcome!

The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Alicia Danyali warmly welcoming parents, new and old, and introducing TNCS’s teaching staff. “They make the school an amazing experience for the students everyday, with their nurturing and professional expertise that enables a professional learning community,” said Mrs. Danyali. She also reminded the packed audience about the school’s Core Values. As the school’s foundation, these values of compassion, courage, respect, and service are displayed throughout the school and emphasized daily by all at TNCS, as well as during classroom lessons, assemblies, and restorative circles.

As TNCS enters its 11th year, it’s worth noting how the school and its programs have expanded and grown to what they are today. Changes each year are inevitable, but TNCS has stayed true to its identity and has successfully weathered those changes, transforming would-be obstacles into opportunities and growing the student body to more than 200 children. (To get a look at past year’s back-to-school nights or just to reminisce about the school’s early days, read TNCS-Back-to-School Night, 2013Back-to-School Night, 2014Back-to-School Night, 2015, and Back-to-School Night, 2016.)

Elementary/Middle School Break-Outs

Once the initial introductions and welcome message concluded, parents moved on to spend time with their child’s teachers. This was the opportunity to learn about what the school day looks like, what the educational goals are for the year, and what the expectations are of both parent and child. Upper Elementary and Middle School was jointly hosted by veteran Math and Global Studies teacher Beatriz Cabrera and new English language arts and Science teacher Jon Wallace. Mr. Wallace introduced himself, saying:

This is my 15th year teaching, 13 in private, and 2 in public recently. I’m very happy to be here with this amazing bunch of students who are all so diverse, and it’s wonderful working with the parents. I became a teacher because I really enjoy seeing the students learn. It’s a great thing when you see the light bulb go on. When I child first realizes a concept or becomes good at doing something, learning skills, to see that happen is just amazing. I come from a family of teachers and I’m working hard to give the students the best education I could possibly give. I’ll be here early, and I’ll be here late to try and give the best to your children.

Sra. Cabrera handled many of the practical details, reminding families of the importance of being on time. Class begins promptly at 8:25 am with key information and planner assignments, all things you don’t want your child to miss. “Check the planners and make sure to sign them. You will receive four quarterly report cards, we and will have two parent/teacher conferences, one in November and one in February. We are always available to meet with you and discuss anything you want,” she said.

A deeper dive into each subject’s curriculum followed.

tncs-back-to-school-night-2017

Specials

New art teacher Eunhee Choi made a cameo appearance (she had several classrooms to visit) and told the group, “I was born and raised in Korea—South Korea,” she clarified, to audience laughter. “I’ve been teaching 17 years. I’m very happy to teach here, I feel very comfortable in this school,” she finished. Students have music, physical education, and art twice a week.

English Language Arts

ELA uses the Daily 5, which consists of: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, and Word Work. Reading themes will include realistic fiction, fantasy, biographies, mystery, immigration/migration, historical fiction, and folktales. Writing will focus on a variety of skills including narrative, informational, persuasive/opinion, and poetry. We will continue using Lucy Calkins in the classroom throughout the year as well. (See State-of-the-Science Elementary Writing at TNCS for more on her acclaimed approach.)

In spelling, Wordly Wise 3000 and Spelling Workout will be incorporated. Wordly Wise 3000, focuses on improving students’ vocabulary by furthering their understanding of new words and concepts. Spelling Workout is a more traditional spelling program to help improve on identifying spelling patterns. “Our goal is to focus on vocabulary development, which will enable students to read increasingly challenging texts with fluency and improve their chances for success in school and beyond. Spelling will be focused on helping improve student writing,” explained Mr. Wallace.

Science

The major science themes throughout the year that will guide learning and understanding will include electricity and magnetism, chemistry, the Scientific Method (Science Fair), and oceanography.

Math

In math, students will work in small groups and independently everyday as well as do Khan Academy—the Daily 3. “They will do different math games and once again participate in Math Kangaroo, said Sra. Cabrera. “We will practice these problems in class and continue to use Singapore math. I will work with them in small groups mostly. I think it’s better to help them gain confidence.” Middle school students will be introduced to the Go Math curriculum.

Global Studies

Global studies will comprise both United States history and World history. The Elementary and Middle School programs will focus on the same unit of study but we be differentiated based on grade level:

  • Quarter One, Ancient World Cultures
  • Quarter Two, World Cultures and Geography
  • Quarter Three, Civics
  • Quarter Four, American History

Mandarin

As for language immersion, we are fortunate to have two wonderful, enthusiastic teachers in Wei Li, Mandarin, and Fabiola Sanzana, Spanish. Chinese will be learned through various activities and projects with assessments being mainly performance based. “Better Chinese will continue as our backbone curriculum as well as our Daily Four,” said Li Laoshi. In Daily Four, students are divided into small groups and use different levels of books according to their language proficiency. The students rotate among the four centers, which are meet with teacher, computer, reading, and games. “Friday will be the weekly Activity Day featuring various activities that integrate Chinese culture, such as calligraphy, Tai chi, Kung Fu, Chinese games, and cooking Chinese food,” she continued.

Students will be assessed the traditional way (pencil and paper); however, the main approach of assessment will be performance-based. For every new unit, formative assessment will be used daily and summative assessment will be used at the end of each unit.

Spanish

Spanish learning will be taught through the use of different games, dances, and songs. I was born in Chile, and this is my second year as lead Spanish teacher,” said Sra. Sanzana. “Spanish class is a little bit of everything—grammar, vocabulary, talking, reading, and listening,” she said. As in other subjects, teaching is differentiated. “I divided students into groups based on levels,” she explained. “Don’t be afraid of whatever comes; I will be here helping them.”

Homework

The question on BTS attendees minds’ was, “what’s up with homework?” Here is the breakdown:

  • Chinese: Grades 3–7 will work on a small packet the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month.
  • Spanish: Grades 3 and 4 will work on a small packet the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month; 5th- 6th, and 7th-graders will have homework weekly.
  • Math: Homework will consist of 15 minutes of problem solving or Workbook completion.
  • Language Arts: Each week, there will be one lesson in Wordly Wise, a list of vocabulary words to know, and various assignments to complete.

Forging Ahead!

Although BTS night is over, know that “teachers and administration are always available to answer any questions regarding your student’s development as we partner throughout the school year,” as Mrs. Danyali put it. Also know that you’ll be meeting teachers new to TNCS in Immersed profiles throughout the coming year as well as hear more from staff who are adopting new roles and taking the school in new directions! Stay tuned!

 


Here are links to other elementary classroom BTS Night handouts for your convenience.

 

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!

TNCS’s Annual Elementary & Middle School Information Nights: An Overview

On the first two Thursdays of December, The New Century School hosted Information Nights about TNCS elementary and middle school programs, the first for current elementary/middle school families, the second for prospective families including those currently enrolled in TNCS’s preschool program.

The event is the best opportunity to get an in-depth look at the various curricula. After an introduction by TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali, each teacher described his or her classroom approach and particular subject area. Following these teacher presentations, audience members asked specific questions of the presenters. They also had the chance to flip through relevant curriculum materials.

The TNCS Difference

Mrs. Danyali first explained that one big change from the primary program is that, beginning in elementary, students have a homeroom teacher but then cycle through other classrooms throughout the school day, receiving instruction from a “team” of teachers, who each teach by subject area, rather than remaining with primarily one teacher as in preschool. Another key difference is that fewer Montessori elements are incorporated in the curriculum, although certainly the spirit and even some of the math materials are retained, depending on grade level.

Aspects that do continue from the preschool program include combining age groups within individual classrooms. “Staying true to our philosophy that students learn best in a mixed-age environment, we do combine ages in our elementary and middle school programs,” Mrs. Danyali explained. Thus, there are currently two K–1st-grade homerooms, one K–2nd-grade homeroom, a 2nd–3rd-grade homeroom, and a 4th–6th-grade homeroom.

Another continuous feature is individualized instruction—meeting the child at his or her academic and social level.

Her discourse then turned to what sets the TNCS elementary and middles school programs apart from those of other schools: “One thing we really believe in is learning languages,” she continued. “Every single day, your child will have individual time with their language educator, so they get a 45- to 90-minute block of Spanish and another with Mandarin Chinese. As their skills develop, they do more focused reading and writing, math, and culture in those two languages.”

Another difference she mentioned is the degree of depth in Science and Global Studies. “These disciplines are theme based as well as cross curricular,” she explained, “resulting in deeper exploration of the topics. For example, in Quarter 1 of the 2016–2017 school year,  students studied Egypt, with projects differentiated by grade level. The topic of Egypt carried over into English Language Arts as well as art class. We ensure that they get the full experience across the curriculum.”

Finally, so-called “specials” classes—that is, art, music, physical education—each take place twice weekly, which subjects get squeezed out of many public and charter school curricula to make room for disciplines more geared toward “what’s on The Test.”

Mrs. Danyali also has implemented twice monthly assemblies that explore aspects of character development, each assembly devoted to a particular theme. So far this year, elementary and middle school students have been taking a deep dive into the four Core Values and have enacted skits, made drawings, and told storied to illustrate what these concepts mean to them. Service learning, in particular, has been a key focus in the elementary and middle school program, and students have regularly participated in initiatives both in and around school as well as for the surrounding communities such as by serving as “safeties” who escort younger students from the car line into the school building a few mornings per week, cleaning up Gunpowder Falls State Park, and serving as “blanketeers” through Project Linus.

Science & Math, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade

fullsizerenderKiley Stasch is in her second year at TNCS. As Science and Math instructor for K–2nd grade, she explained that in Kindergarten, the Montessori approach to math is used, which relies on manipulatives to demonstrate increasingly abstract concepts. The “Daily 5” (or some permutation thereof) is also used for classroom management as well as to provide very individualized instruction.  Divided into small groups, students rotate with their group through a series of five stations: computer technology time (ABC Mouse, SuccessMaker, Khan Academy, depending on age and skill level), hands-on math games with partners or individually, meet the teacher, read to self (math- and science-related topics), and a science center.

“Although all levels are doing an energy unit, currently, what I’m doing with my Kindergarteners will be different from what I’m doing with my 2nd-graders and different from what Mr. McGonigal is doing with his 6th-graders,” she explained. “We try to build our instruction on whatever the students need, what they are capable of, and guide them as far as they can go.”

English Language Arts, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade

tncs-elementary-and-middle-school-programs-information-nightAdriana Duprau has been with TNCS for 7 years and is the lead for English Language Arts and Global Studies for K–2nd grade. “We have 45 students in our cohort [about 12 but no more than 16 per class], which includes many different personalities and abilities. Our goal is to make sure they get the personalized instruction they need. They also stay motivated to progress by their peers who might be working on something they aspire to.” This class also uses the Daily 5 approach. Here it is read to self, read to someone, word work, listen to reading (on the computer), and writing work. “Even my youngest 5-year-olds can quietly and independently rotate among these stations. It works very smoothly and allows me to work with at least four groups a day, meaning that students get one-on-one teacher time virtually every day.”

She incorporates Junior Great Books, which is a monthly whole-class exercise that encourages sharing new ideas and rich conversation; Lucy Calkins and Just Write for writing instruction; Fundations, for beginning readers/spellers; and Wordly Wise 3000.

“It’s nice to see my students working at their own level, not necessarily their assigned grade. Because I have mixed ages and therefore multiple curriculum materials, I can provide higher level materials for the student who is rapidly advancing,” she said.

Spanish Language Arts, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade

fullsizerender-02Profesor Manuel Caceres is in his second year of teaching at TNCS and teaches Spanish speaking, reading, writing, and grammar to the K–2nd cohort. “I know you hear about me a lot,” he joked. “Each teacher has his or her own recipe to provide each student with the best academic experience.” He uses the Santillana platform for helping students develop skills and achieve fluency but was quick to remind us that there’s no magic bullet for learning another language.

He uses Daily 3—writing, reading, and speaking—in the classroom. He approaches the curriculum by school quarter, starting with the basics of vocabulary and handwriting and building on reading comprehension and, for example, verb conjugation, as the year progresses. He also incorporates games, singing, and media to keep them moving and engaged. “Academically, they will be at a very high level in terms of Spanish proficiency when they eventually transition to high school,” he said. “It’s a really amazing opportunity that the school provides.”

He explained that he also tailors his lessons to connect with the areas of exploration happening in other disciplines, such as the unit on Egypt (Egipto) already mentioned. As with other teachers, he also makes sure that instruction is individualized and sees a wide range of abilities and skill level among the cohort.

Mandarin Chinese, Kindergarten through 6th Grade

fullsizerender-03Another teacher in Year 2 at TNCS, Wei Li, or “Li Laoshi,” teaches Mandarin Chinese to all elementary and middle school students. “We use the same methods here as were used in preschool to teach Mandarin,” she explained. This method centers on Total Physical Response (TPR), a proven strategy that incorporates movement to deepen comprehension. “So, we sing, we dance, and we play games in Chinese class. But, we focus more on Chinese characters and reading skills in elementary and middle school, so they can read books independently,” she explained.

“Another way we incorporate TPR is with acting out stories each Friday,” she went on. They write these stories and act them out on stage. “Books are the backbone of the curriculum,” she said, “and students can progress at their own pace through them.” Here again, due to the mixed ages and as well as the varying degrees of skills among them, individualized instruction is paramount. To achieve this, Li Laoshi uses the Daily 5—meet with teacher, write sentences using Chinese characters, read books, play games, and use the computer.

jianzi-1Cultural elements are also emphasized, so they do a lot of cooking and eating Chinese food as well as playing traditional Chinese playground games, such as jianzi, a feathered shuttlecock (see photo) played similar to hackey sack, and Chinese squash. Calligraphy and painting is also taught to further promote the students’ interest in learning Chinese.

Art, Kindergarten through 6th-Grade (So Far)

fullsizerender-07Elisabeth Willis has been at TNCS for years and in different capacities. She now, in fact, teaches art to all TNCS students, including pre-primary and primary students. By Kindergarten, her students have attained functional skills and can apply them ever more masterfully. She also incorporates Art History at this point, which is her specialty. Her students can now recognize artwork by artist.

Mrs. Willis encourages her students to bring their ideas for projects to her, and, as such, did some bookmaking with them earlier this year. She also encourages them to embrace their own styles and adapts assignments as necessary to accommodate, for example, a student’s inclusion of more detail than was called for. Instead of using oil pastels to add color to such a piece, she allows that student to use a different medium.

Importantly, she links art class with other content areas, to deepen and enrich the student’s experience. When they were studying Ancient Egypt, for example, she introduced them to hieroglyphics, and some students even began sending notes to each other written in this representational alphabet. The older students even designed cartouches to feature their hieroglyphic messages.

“Art is a more meditative place in the school,” she said. “The students relax, do some introspection, and really put the work out there. I’m very proud of them,” she said. “All of my students are doing art past what they would be learning in their assigned grade. Kids are more than able to make really good art, despite what a curriculum made by adults says.”

English Language Arts & Science, 2nd Grade through 6th Grade (So Far)

fullsizerender-04Dan McGonigal is in his third year at TNCS, having worked in different capacities in the elementary program and teaching English Language Arts and Science for the 2016–2017 school year. Mr. McGonigal also taught for 8 years in the public school setting. With his dual perspective, he says, he clearly sees the advantages that TNCS students have in this program. “As several teachers have mentioned,” he explained, “we are highly individualized with students’ education, and this is certainly also true for 2nd- through 6th-graders. We try to meet students at their ability level rather than their assigned grade level, whether it’s a 6th-grade student reading at a 4th-grade level, or a 4th-grade student reading at a 6th-grade level.”

The focus of his reading class is to get students thinking more deeply about the content, to pick up context clues and infer the author’s meaning. “We also do a lot of discussion-based learning when it comes to language arts acquisition,” he said. “Building on the skills that students have learned earlier and applying them to higher-level texts, we are developing a love of learning in students.”

Regarding writing, he says he tries to find opportune moments to ask for a piece of writing to make it “real.” “Instead of doing writing in isolation,” he explained, “we apply it to a real-world situation. We integrate writing not only with what we are reading but also with science topics and any other content areas.” Chapter books, teacher-led discussions, and student-led discussions comprise a big part of class time, and he also incorporates spelling and vocabulary acquisition with Wordly Wise, which puts challenging vocabulary in context and gives words multiple meanings. In spelling, he emphasizes patterns rather than rote memorization in order to build up skills.

Moving on to science, he describes himself as a “passionate science educator.” “I recently got certified as a STEM Education Leader, among the first cohort of only eight teachers to receive this certification from Towson University.” He says he integrates engineering everywhere he can, always applying it to solving real-world challenges and problems. “For example, he explains, “we have just started our energy unit, and after we have learned all about energy and how it works, what it is, and its different types, we will then put that knowledge to use in an engineering challenge. It’s a way to really bring that instruction alive, and it’s also a great way to assess students insofar as their designs and creations reveal the thinking and understanding that went into them. We are developing 21st-century skills and instilling the kinds of habits that The New Century School embodies.”

Curriculum materials include Engineering is Elementary, Fox Education Systems, and a lot of teacher-created items designed with individual students in mind. “In 2nd through 6th grade, we are getting more serious in terms of holding students accountable for their learning. We start to see quizzes and tests, for example, all to make sure each student is getting what he or she needs,” he concluded.

Math & Global Studies, 2nd Grade through 6th Grade (So Far)

fullsizerender-05Beatriz Cabrera is new to TNCS for the 2016–2017 school year (look for a Meet-the-Teacher post on her in the coming weeks) and teaches Mathematics and Global Studies to 2nd- through 6th-graders. But that’s not all—Sra. Cabrera teaches her subject areas in Spanish, thus providing an authentic immersion experience. Thus, students enhance their Spanish language acquisition and also learn core content in that language.

“I came from Spain 2 years ago,” she said, “and I am really happy to join The New Century School. My students are learning Spanish very quickly.” She describes the process by which she pulls of the amazing feat of teaching Math and Global Studies in Spanish to mostly nonnative speakers as one of accrual. Initially, she repeated everything she spoke in Spanish, in English, so she could be sure they understood their instructions for a given lesson, until she observed that her students were comfortable enough to go full Spanish. “They are very bright,” she said. Her materials are also in English, so those she translates herself into Spanish.

Sra. Cabrera also implements the Daily 5 rotation approach to class time and dedicates more time on Fridays to playing games. “By the last day of the week, they are tired, so I try to make it fun. They love it,” she said. In fact, this game-playing is strategic in another way by preparing her students to participate in Math Kangaroo, an international competition that U.S. students will join on March 16, 2017.

In keeping with the theme of individualized instruction, she says she also allows students to work where they are. “Students can have the perception that math is hard or that they cannot do math, so I try to make them feel comfortable. ‘You are here to learn,’ I tell them, ‘and the most important thing is to try. You do not need to be afraid if you don’t know how to do something. That’s what you are here to do—to learn how,'” she explained.

Currently, in Global Studies, they are studying the Ancient Roman and Greek Empires, having completed their “Egipto” unit in the first quarter. Here again, she translates her class materials into Spanish and encourages students to also speak and write in the language, often offering extra credit if they do so. In this class, the focus is not so much on proper usage as on just usage. Grading on grammar and the like is reserved for another class.

Spanish, 2nd through 6th Grade

fullsizerender-06Fabiola Sanzana is another TNCS veteran, having been with the school for many years. She teaches Spanish to the 2nd- through 6th-graders. “I am from Chile,” she began, “and in my culture, the Spanish language is very, very important, especially in terms of writing.” All of her materials are Latin American based that she obtains from her teacher networks.

Sra. Sanzana is currently teaching her students how to interpret instructions. Nothing is in English, and she expects them to figure out and understand their instructions in Spanish, which they manage very well. “I give them the tools,” she says, “such as how to use online Spanish dictionaries and to choose the most accurate translation, so they can proceed with a given activity.” She describes how, at the beginning of the school year, students relied heavily on the dictionaries (parents may recall this during homework time), but now they have progressed beyond the need for such help and can read and interpret the instructions independently. “They have assimilated an enormous amount of vocabulary,” she said.

They are also learning syllables, nouns, big numbers, and more. “They are not little kids anymore. They are ready and able. Also, if they have been with Profesor Manuel, they come to me with very advanced vocabulary,” she said. “Here they are facing more difficult lessons and advanced Spanish.” She emphasizes correct pronunciation in speech and correct orthography, including accent marks, in writing.

She implements a Daily 3 rotation in the classroom: one-on-one instruction, in which they address specific concerns about assignments or cover new material if appropriate; read to self or others, in which they have begun reading short novels and answering related questions to test comprehension (which Sra. Sanzana deems “amazing”); and group work that might include dictation, role-playing, games, or songs. Her students always want more, she says, which is a very good sign indeed!

Regarding instructional differentiation, her class is composed of a spectrum of levels from native Spanish speakers to novice speakers who just joined TNCS this year. “I prepare materials for each student,” she says. “I meet with all of them to determine where they are and teach accordingly.”

All Wrapped-Up

After the teachers each spoke, Mrs. Danyali explained some administrative points that are always frequently asked about, such as that TNCS sends out report cards four times a year, with a specialized reporting system that accommodates a multilingual school. TNCS is also MSDE (MD State Department of Education) certified. Parent–teacher conferences are held twice yearly, and teachers may be contacted separately at any time to address specific concerns or just to check in and keep the lines of communication open. Homework begins in Grade 2 and is given on Mondays, with the remainder of the week to complete it. Prior to Grade 2, nightly reading is encouraged.

img_0238

The evening ended with Q&A between staff and audience on specific points, and curriculum materials were made available for parent perusal. Current families appreciated the in-depth look at the elementary and middle school programs and the amount of preparation that went into each teacher presentation. Prospective families were surely impressed by the robustness of education at TNCS. From the academic rigor infused into core subjects, to the multilingualism, to the emphasis on The Arts, coupled with the customized instruction each child receives, these elementary and middle school programs are truly unique in Baltimore.

 

TNCS Elementary Information Night Rounds Out a Great 2014!

Refreshments were thoughtfully provided by Chef Emma Novashinski.

Refreshments were thoughtfully provided by Chef Emma Novashinski.

The New Century School‘s fifth year has been undeniably amazing. Rounding out 2014 with yet another breakthrough, Admissions Director Robin Munro announced Thursday that TNCS received a record number of K–5th applications by the 12/17/14 due date. That TNCS’s elementary program has earned its bragging rights—and is attracting hordes of new enrollees—was made clear at the Kindergarten/Elementary Information Night held 12/11/14.

The event was well organized, informative, and fun. Yummy refreshments were provided by Chef Emma Novashinski (who also gave away lovely little jars of homemade pickles), and free childcare including dinner was also offered. Recognizing that parent involvement is vital to student success, TNCS makes it so easy—no, appealing—to participate in school functions.

Elementary Program Overview

Mrs. Munro sent out an agenda before the event to help parents make the most of their time there. The schedule started with her Welcome speech, followed by a program overview by Head of School Alicia Danyali and a brief question-and-answer session. The elementary program—“where traditional and progressive education meet”—provides a solid foundation in the liberal arts by incorporating the following elements:
  • Small class size: Keeping classes to no more than 16 students allows for individualized, differentiated instruction. 
  • Daily language classes in both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish: Younger students begin with conversation and vocabulary building. As their written English language skills progress, they begin to work on reading and writing in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Introductory character work in Chinese begins immediately. 
  • Specialty classes: Students have music, art, and physical education classes twice every week. Creativity is encouraged through music and art, while body awareness and health is taught in phys ed class. 
  • Inquiry- and skill-based curricula: We provide a solid foundation in the core subjects of language arts and mathematics, and our teachers develop auxiliary science and global studies lessons based upon student questions and interest. This approach encourages critical thinking and allows children to work to their fullest potential. 
  • Field trips: Teachers take students on weekly trips to our on-site greenhouse and into the school’s extended classroom, lower Fell’s Point. Students take a full-day trip at least once each quarter. Past field trips have included the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the Confucius Institute at University of Maryland College Park, the National Aquarium, and more. 
  • Emphasis on values: Students learn to treat others and themselves with respect. 
  • Mixed-age classrooms: Students to work to their skill level, not just their grade level and benefit both from mentoring and being mentored. 
  • Enhanced learning via technology: Students use children use multiple apps and programs, learn proper keyboarding skills, and begin to learn basic programming.

After the initial gathering, parents were asked to “self-sort” (love that new term coinage!) into three groups and rotate among the three elementary classrooms. In his classroom, Dan McGonigal, the upper elementary mathematics and science teacher, demonstrated a unit on bridge construction in the science curriculum, Engineering is Elementary (scroll below for photos of the students executing this project). Adriana DuPrau, the upper elementary English language arts and social students teacher showcased the English, Chinese, and Spanish curricula. Teresa Jacoby, the K/1st generalist teacher discussed integrating traditional Montessori materials with more progressive curricula and how she differentiates to the various levels in her class. Mrs. Danyali and Mrs. Munro circulated throughout to answer questions.

Elementary Program Philosophy and Approach

As an independent private school, TNCS does not follow the Common Core standards. Individual grade standards set forth by the Maryland State Department of Education are met—and in most cases surpassed—through the use of carefully selected curricula which best supports our mission to challenge students to realize their richest individual potential through progressive, multilingual education and meaningful participation in the world community.
Students are placed according to their birthday into one of three mixed-age classes: K/1st, 2nd/3rd, and 4th/5th. As the student body matures, upper grades will be added (through 8th) each year, accordingly. Mixing ages is part of the school’s Montessori-inspired vision. Research continues to prove what Maria Montessori observed over 100 years ago, which is that children learn best from their peers. By mixing ages, students can work to their own skill level and not be boxed in by grade-level expectations. TNCS students learn to be friends with everyone and to solve social problems without aggression.
A day in the life of a TNCS elementary student. Looks pretty engaging!

A day in the life of a TNCS elementary student. Looks pretty engaging!

The TNCS format of mixed-age, skill-based classrooms allows our teachers to truly teach and inspire students to reach, or more typically exceed, grade expectations. Through inquiry-based lessons, TNCS teachers can educate the whole child and are not limited by the constraints of a standardized test.

Tools they use to help accomplish these goals include the following.
In Language Arts:
  • The Daily 5 consists of reading to self, reading to someone else, listening to reading, writing, and doing word work.
  • Junior Great Books brings high quality literature and student-centered discussions to the classroom.
  • Wordly Wise 3000 improves student vocabulary.

In Mathematics:

  • Singapore Math is the backbone of the mathematics program.
  • Montessori math materials are used in the K/1st classroom to provide a solid foundation for the transition into Singapore Math in upper elementary.
  • The Daily 3 consists of doing math individually, math writing, and doing math with someone else.

In Science and Technology:

  • Engineering is Elementary allows for learning scientific principles through hands on experiments. The photos below show an example of one project in the bridge design unit.
  • SuccessMaker software is aligned with national grade standards and

Now that’s something to brag about, kids! And keep up the great work, TNCS!