Devin Martin: Giving TNCS the Whole Picture!

Part of The New Century School‘s mission is to nurture the whole child. This means faculty and staff focus not just on academics but also on, among other things, social and emotional learning, physical education, and The Arts.

Background

For the 2021–2021 school year, art class has a brand-new teacher: Meet Devin Martin. She even has “art”in her name!

But that’s not the whole picture. Ms. Devin is a natural fit at TNCS in several ways, as you’ll quickly see. She originally came to Baltimore from Ithaca, New York, where she grew up, to attend Maryland Institute College of Art—which we all know as MICA, of course! She graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art and also did some course work in Art Education.

She found that Baltimore felt like home to her and has been here ever since. “I’ve made great friends here, and I’m never bored in this city. The art community here is so collaborative, and every time I spend time with my friends we come up with something artistic to do together. People are always performing at each other shows and collaborating, and it’s just a really great place to make interesting art,” she explained.

As for what her medium as an artist is, she says that the general Fine Arts degree allowed her to pursue multiple ways to create. “Fine Arts is a little bit of everything, which works well for me because I used to get bored with just one medium. I bounced around from photography to miniature painting to book arts . . . but what all of that ended up coalescing into was shadow puppetry, which became my main thing. It’s cut paper, it’s more theatrical, and I really got into theater arts after graduating.”

Ms. Devin uses transparencies, water, and ink to illustrate scenes in a stage adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Art Meets Montessori

Alongside this passion for art, Ms. Devin also has known that she wanted to teach since she was 16 years old and has worked with children in various capacities since then. After college, she began leading after-school community art programs. Shortly thereafter, she got a job at the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School, and as you’ve probably guessed, became intrigued with Montessori education. “I was doing after-school things with them and realized that I wanted to be around there all the time! That was also one of the first times I worked with early childhood in the primary classroom. It was a good fit for my personality. Young kids and I have a lot in common in terms of enjoying tactile experiences in nature and art and animals . . . so I feel like I can engage them really easily.” She went on to tie that fascination with small objects to the Montessori tenet of the characteristics of the primary-age child.

So, she started working as a primary assistant (eventually going on to lead a classroom) and decided to pursue Montessori training. She did her assistant Montessori training at Loyola University Maryland’s Center for Montessori Education and her Lead training at the Barrie Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies, where she also worked for a while.

Here at TNCS

And then the pandemic hit, so Ms. Devin had to shift gears. She answered a job listing put up by a group of TNCS families who were interested in finding a Montessori-trained teacher to teach their young children in a home/pod setting. Says Ms. Devin:

It was a wonderful group of seven kids age 2 1/2 through 6 years, and met every day in the guest room one of the families had turned into a primary classroom. We also spent most of the afternoon in Patterson Park learning about nature. We learned all about what kinds of trees grow there, and we extensively studied the cicadas. We learned all about their life cycle, their body parts, and what they do and why they sing. It was a fun way to be able to bring my passion for early childhood science into this wonderful, wonderful park. It was a really great experience, and I think I learned a lot about myself as a teacher during that time.

As will now seem predestined, this is how she ultimately found out about TNCS. She first began long-term substituting in the primary classroom while Señora Salas is out on maternity leave but then saw the art education opening. “A lot of my background is in art education, and it’s definitely a major passion of mine, so I asked if I can do both. In the morning I’m teaching in the primary classroom, and then in the afternoon I’m teaching K through 8 art,” she said.

Although this schedule might sound daunting, it’s easy to see how she blends her various talents and makes it all work. (Puppets in the primary classroom? Match made in heaven! She also makes great use of her skill with miniatures.)

So how is she faring so far this year? Short answer: beautifully in both spheres. In the primary world, she says, “All the primary teachers are kind of new this year, so we were able to figure out how we wanted to run things ourselves. Although I have a lot of experience in primary classrooms, this year is totally different because of COVID. There are all sorts of different considerations for how to stay COVID-safe, from the way we do lunch to the way we do play time. So, there’s a lot of trying new things, but the kids are really adaptable, and I think we’ve fallen into a nice little rhythm and routine.”

As for art . . .

In the afternoon, I’m running around doing art in all the classrooms, and I’ve just been loving it. I think art teaching is really what I’m best at in the world. I’m always smiling so big when I’m walking around the classroom, looking at everyone’s art. They’re all elementary and middle school age and at that point where they haven’t quite decided whether they’re an artist or not. They might say they can’t draw, but they they can and with a bit of encouragement, they’re able to do things that really impress them. For example, we did a geometric tile project looking at Islamic, Moroccan, and Mexican tile-work, and we made simple designs using a straight edge and a circle. At the end of one of the classes, one of the students said, ‘how did you do that?’ and, I replied, ‘you did that.’ They responded, ‘how did you get me to do that?!’ It was funny, and she was so surprised at her own skills.

During the first quarter, students have been focused on building drawing skills through observational drawing as well as imaginative drawing. Recent projects have included drawings based on the colors, compositions, and motifs of Panamanian textiles and a street art–inspired project using bent wire to bring line drawings to life. “I like to take a skill and apply it in a bunch of different ways, but soon we’ll be moving on from drawing into 3D stuff like sewing and clay work. It’s been very fun to figure out what I want to teach and what areas of art I want to delve into.”


Ms. Martin will display student works of art around the two TNCS buildings—get a peek when you can!

Kids and Internet Safety: Start the Conversation!

At The New Century School, technology is an important component of the curriculum. But, with technology, comes cyber activity—at least a little anyway. Though the practice is kept to a minimum, sometimes TNCS students go online to research a project, participate in interactive learning games, or enter a learning portal such as SuccessMaker. Parents should know that TNCS has oversight, internet restrictions, and firewalls in place—students are not given independent time to surf the ‘net. Activities are overseen by teachers and correspond to a classroom lesson. TNCS has integrated some very high-tech systems that are regularly updated.

Home Agreement on Internet Usage

School probably isn’t the only place where children probably spend some time online, though. To tie together home and school usage, an email from TNCS homeroom teachers to parents went out on Friday, April 5th providing an overview of a very important topic that upper elementary and middle school students have been exploring with Dean of Students Alicia Danyali during Quarter 3. Students in grades 4–8 reviewed their online habits, learned what constitutes cyber-bullying in various scenarios, and were encouraged to broach the topic at home with the adults in their lives.

The email also included this suggested template for a “home agreement” on internet usage. “By no means is TNCS navigating or superseding rules currently in place at home, but if you are seeking some guidance regarding talking points that ensure everyone in your home is aware of expectations, you may consider this document as a “jumping off point,” explained Mrs. Danyali. “It’s not limited to what is shown here, but this is a good place to start.”

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School and Home Partnerships for Safe, Healthy, Happy Children

This Immersed post will delve a little deeper to explain how and why the discussion arose and why TNCS feels the conversation should be ongoing. We’ll walk through the document to provide a little commentary on each part. First, here is Mrs. Danyali’s rationale for this initiative:

Señora Duncan and I worked together to create this message. It’s a big topic that we feel should have a spotlight, especially for the 4th- through 8th-graders. It’s about having those bigger conversations of technology oversight in the school house and what that looks like in your house. It’s not a judgement of what people are doing—there’s no right or wrong. We’re just saying that we strongly encourage having the conversation. Maybe there are things parents haven’t thought of before because they might think their children are still too young for the conversation to be relevant. We want students to have an open line of communication with their parents at home, that they know they can to go to them with questions and concerns.

It’s hard to believe, but even at the age of 9, what a child does online is creating a permanent footprint. We all need to better understand what that means, and they need to know that there’s a safe place with the adults in their lives to go to.

What they are suggesting is a family agreement. This starts with reflecting on internet usage in your home. “Some of the reflection questions are meant to get parents thinking about their own online usage—again, not as a judgement—but because we are partners in the students’ education, safety, and well-being,” said Mrs. Danyali. Having studied the topic in school, it makes sense to also have a complementary or supplemental conversation at home. Questions such as, What is the amount of time we agree on? What are the boundaries? What are parental controls on your children’s devices? Do you know how to set parental controls? can really deepen awareness and even expose some areas that might need tightening up. “I have a tracker that tells me how much time I’m spending on my phone, which I really like, because it helps me avoid mindless use,” she explained.

As is likely the case at most schools, TNCS students run the gamut regarding home usage, from students who do not go online at all to students who are managing their own SnapChat and Instagram accounts. “Maybe their parents don’t always know what they are putting on these sites,” mused Mrs. Danyali. “Even though it sounds like everyone is being safe, the reality is, having that parent oversight is vital.”

Something some parents may not be aware of is that even some online video games have a chat feature, and home gaming systems can have an online chat feature. Do you know how to disable that, if necessary?

Once parents have reviewed their own usage habits and that of their children, the agreement part comes in, and this is where you are building trust. In effect, you are saying to your children: “I trust you to be on here for our agreed-on time period and to conduct yourself safely.” You are also telling them that you want to make sure they are protected: “If someone asks you for your address, come and tell me so we can block that person.”

“This is well worth investigating,” said Mrs. Danyali. “You are preventing predators from being able to come in that are savvier than we might realize. Even if your child does not go online at all at home and is not allowed to play video games, it’s important for this to be on you radar because it will become part of their world at some point.”

More on this in future, but sex ed expert Debbie Rothman recommends having a conversation about online pornography starting as early as age 8. Some parents may find that shocking, but children need to know how to distinguish fact from fiction when it comes to what constitutes a healthy intimate relationship. “It’s important to have the conversation and get out ahead of the issue—there’s probably not many children who haven’t been exposed to some form of pornography by the time they hit high school, whether they sought it out or not. We are not having that conversation in school because that one is more appropriate at home, but we do have resources to support parents if they need it,” said Mrs. Danyali.

Social and Emotional Learning at TNCS

As Dean, Mrs. Danyali has always been deeply invested in the “invisible curriculum” at TNCS and on the values of the school and its students—social and emotional learning (SEL), basically. She became aware that social media apps led to problems in relationships among students, some of whom may have misinterpreted what was actually being conveyed, and this was stressful for students. “When that face-to-face component is missing, you can’t pick up on facial cues,” she explained. “That has led to misunderstandings.” To address this as part of the unit wrap-up activity, she divided the whole cohort into two groups so they could engage in some role-playing to explore how to effectively communicate. They very quickly saw how face-to-face communication provides information that a text cannot convey . . . no matter how many emojis are included.

“I also worked with a TNCS family who has helped in this area in the past, and they shared an FBI site called Safe Online Surfing that has links to online safety curricula, formatted as games tailored to grade so it’s appealing to students,” said Mrs. Danyali. This screen shot of the 4th-grade portal takes users in an interactive journey through 1. Safe Surfing, 2. Personal Information, 3. Crossing to Safety, 4. Computer Health, 5. Treasure Hunt, 6. Word Search, and 7. Marine Matching.

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Each TNCS student had to answer a set of questions about internet safety to assess their level of background knowledge. They then did the game itself independently.

Where Do We Go from Here?

And where did this idea spring from in the first place? Mrs. Danyali has long been incorporating best practices that she has gathered from a multitude of articles and from researching dozens of websites recommended by other educators. “I keep a file of these recommendations to draw from, and they are all different based on individual preferences,” she explained.

One recommended website is InternetMatters.org, which even offers this downloadable poster on Internet Manners.

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Consider printing this and posting it near a home computer or by your child’s desk. Positive habits encouraged in your children today may lead to a less dystopian cyberspace for all to enjoy safely participating in.