Meet the Teacher: Megan Dematteo Joins TNCS Lower Elementary!

Now in its 10th year, The New Century School continues to grow up, with a new grade added each year and an expanding student body. With greater numbers of students comes the need for additional teachers, especially in the elementary division. This year, TNCS welcomed Megan Dematteo to teach one of the four lower elementary classes.

Ms. Dematteo is one of those perfect fits that the school seems to attract, with her varied background, progressive approach to education, and her love of language and culture.

MeganHighRes7 copy.jpgBackground

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and growing up in nearby Harford County, Ms. Dematteo majored in Spanish at the University of Tennessee, with an additional focus on Journalism. On graduating with her undergraduate degree, she sought some real-world experience and joined AmeriCorps. “I volunteered for a year in Southeast Utah, primarily working for a non-profit that mostly served the Mexican community there,” she recounts. “We called ourselves the multicultural center and were open to serving any population, but we did have the only Spanish translation services in town. That’s where I began using Spanish on a daily basis.”

That experience made an impression on her that still informs her approach to education and life today. “I loved that community, and I felt like that was my first opportunity to see how language can open you up to meeting a whole new group of people and learning about them. A different perspective and a broadening world view comes with that,” she said.

After completing her volunteer service with AmeriCorps, she returned to the Southeast in 2015 and pursued a master’s degree in Creative Writing. During this process, she also took up teaching. “I got a job offer teaching part-time to K through 2nd-grade students at a Title 1 public school in Asheville, North Carolina doing literacy in small groups, which was was a skill set I had acquired. That was a lot of fun. I loved teaching and opening kids up to reading and writing,” she said.

The school where she taught had an incredibly diverse community, representing 32 countries ranging from Central and South America to Eastern Europe to the Pacific Islands. She enjoyed both the school and its students and the community surrounding it. She also found the experience to be “eye-opening” insofar as Asheville draws a lot of affluent tourists who do not necessarily reflect the social fabric of the people living there full time. “It was a very interesting place to be a public school teacher,” she explained, “because the public school kids don’t represent the facade that you see.” She realized that being a full-time classroom teacher was going to be her next step.

Although she was originally accepted into TNTP, an alternative credentialing program for public schools that seeks to “reimagine teaching,” in order to teach in Baltimore City public schools, she found herself instead at The Nueva School’s Innovative Teacher Program. Thus, her step turned out to be another big one, taking her all the way to the West Coast to teach at an independent school for gifted and talented students in the San Francisco Bay area. “I wanted to diversify my training,” she said. “That school has a progressive approach to education that I found really exciting, and I loved working with the gifted population. It was just fun. You could throw anything at them, and they would typically rise to the occasion.”

At TNCS

Although that experience was fun, she always looked on it as temporary: “I knew ultimately that I wanted to be closer to my family and be in a place where I could see myself settling down for a while, so California was my last hurrah.” And that’s how she wound up in Baltimore, at TNCS. “I’m only in my 4th year as a teacher, but I’ve tasted every little sampling from the platter of environments to work in, and TNCS is kind of a hybrid of all the different experiences I’ve had,” she explained. “I feel like TNCS is all of those pieces of training put together in one program.”

Things are certainly coalescing—she brings bilingualism, a service orientation, and a focus on reading and writing to the classroom, which are key elements of the TNCS identity. As for ways she integrates her background of creative writing, journalism, and Spanish in the classroom, she says:

We do writing workshop a lot. I think the kids like the opportunity to be creative. We’re going to switch our focus to a little more reading this semester because we got really excited about a writing project toward the end of the year—the kids created their own book. They learned about character and plot, the beginning, middle, and end. The created their own original books, then dictated them to me, and then illustrated them. It really made them come alive. Kids that formerly weren’t super interested in the technical aspects of writing, all of a sudden found that they had a voice and became really excited and proud of the stories they were telling. It was wonderful to see that process.

To bring Spanish in, I read stories in the language, such as Mexican folk tales. I also have a couple of ‘Spanglish’ books that are written in English, but the characters might have Spanish names, for example. The students are sometimes surprised to hear me, an English native speaker, speak Spanish. I like being an example to them of somebody who is bilingual. So, I try to use Spanish in the classroom a little every day, but I am primarily an ELA teacher, and I can’t switch too much because I don’t want to confuse my students.

Ms. Dematteo is glad to see TNCS flourishing as a school and is especially appreciative of the Mandarin Chinese and Spanish language teaching. “They are doing something in Baltimore that’s never been done before, and I think it’s really commendable,” she said. “It’s also a big year as far as reaching a critical mass of students and being able to be fully operational as a pre-primary to middle school. That’s very exciting.”

She and Profesor Manuel share classes, each having 15 homeroom students. Ms. DeMatteo handles ELA and Math for the cohort of 30 total, and Prof. Manuel, Global Studies and Science. “I’m enjoying this,” she said. “It’s good to be back in Baltimore!”

TNCS Spanish Immersion Summer Camp 2017!

Just as with last summer, The New Century School is hosting language immersion camps in both Spanish and Chinese for summer 2017 to keep students’ minds engaged and provide practice during the summer months. They’ll return to the academic school year refreshed from the break but revved up to hablar!

Spanish camp took place from June 19th through June 30th. The 2-week camp immersed campers in Spanish language—from vocabulary to activities to culture, TNCS Spanish campers improved their pronunciation, willingness to use the language, and confidence in speaking it.

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Camp daily schedule!

This increased skill and fluency can be attributed to the fun students are having both inside and out of the “camp-room.” Instructors Gloria Jimenez (who is originally from Spain and already known to the TNCS community as the assistant Spanish teacher most recently in Sra. Hackshaw’s primary classroom) and Yurisan Gonzales (from the pre-primary Spanish classrooms) make sure of that. Sra. Jimenez says she believes strongly in interactive learning: “For Week 1, we were concentrating on food, so we talk, learn some food-related vocabulary, which is important for the unit, and then we cook!” They also engage in role-playing such as acting out going to a restaurant and interacting with the waitstaff. This is training for real life, she explains.

In between, campers get plenty of opportunities to “vamos” to the playground and get some physical activity in. This is essential for keeping kids happy and focused, especially because the camp roster comprises students of widely varying abilities. Some have never spoken any Spanish, while at the other end of the spectrum, others have been learning Español for 6 or more years. Sra. Jimenez nevertheless finds way to differentiate the lessons and make sure each camper is benefiting. Ages also vary from age 6 years through 9 years.

For just a “taste” of the activities they undertook, see these photos of tortilla-making . . . and eating. Note that in order to prepare this ages-old Spanish recipe that Sra. Jimenez has been making her whole life, campers needed to be able to follow instructions given in Spanish. This is no easy feat but certainly attests to their understanding of the language if the results below are any indication. Sra. Jimenez handled the actual cooking, but her campers took care of all preparations. Also note that tortilla Español is quite different from a Mexican tortilla, as it is made with eggs, onions, and potatoes and resembles an omelette. Delicioso, indeed!

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Another cultural activity Sra. Jimenez introduced her campers to was salsa dancing. She made utterly sure that her campers didn’t have time to feel bored or restless—let alone to realize how much Español they were steadily absorbing! Learning by doing is unquestionably the most effective way to learn a language. Gracias el campamento de inmersión de Español en TNCS*!

*Immersed would like to once again thank former TNCS Pre-primary Spanish Immersion Lead Teacher Raquel Alvarez for translation assistance :)!

TNCS Spanish Immersion Camp Gets Kids Hablar*!

Talking, that is—and cantar (singing) and dancing (bailar) and playing lots of fun games (disfrutar un montón de divertidos juegos)!

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Amidst a classroom fairly jumping with color, motion, and Spanish words everywhere, kids attending Spanish summer camp at The New Century School se la pasaron de maravilla (had a blast)! Their parents probably noticed a very palpable increase in the kids’ pronunciation, willingness to use the language, and confidence in speaking it.

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Camp daily schedule!

This increased skill and fluency is beyond doubt due to instructors Fabiola Sanzana, who was TNCS Elementary Lead Spanish Teacher, Grades 2–5 for the 2015–2016 school year, and Mariela Valenzuela, who was the Montessori Spanish Assistant Teacher. Sra. Sanzana says she believes strongly in interactive learning: “We talk, then we sing, then we have a physical activity. Students read for 30 minutes, then we have another physical activity!”

She does not exaggerate. As bursting with energy herself as any 6- to 10-year-old, she made sure her campers didn’t have time to feel bored or restless—let alone to realize how much español they were steadily absorbing! In addition to practice with conversation and with learning popular Spanish songs, campers played “Simón Dice,” life-sized Ludo, and “Freeze Dance,” all of which demanded that they understand commands given in Spanish.

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Freeze dance champions!

Freeze dance, in particular, got downright competitive as the game grew increasingly complex, requiring the kids to not only understand the language, but to be able to think and strategize in it! Sra. Sanzana even tested their willpower to stay with the game while having the already-out players tempt them with snacks. They hung tough even in the face of raisins and goldfish crackers!

Whether strumming her guitar or waltzing with campers, Sra. Sanzana made sure her students learned by doing, the most effective way to learn a language. Gracias el campamento de inmersión de español en TNCS!

*Immersed would like to thank former TNCS Pre-primary Spanish Immersion Lead Teacher Raquel Alvarez for translation assistance :)!

Gilman School Seniors Visit TNCS for Some Spanish Fun!

May has finally arrived, and you know what that means—Cinco de Mayo is but days away! Accordingly, The New Century School has been ramping up Spanish language activities, and Immersed is here to bring you up to date (that is, al día) on all the goings on!
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TNCS and Gilman forged a very productive partnership!

Last week, TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali invited senior Spanish conversation students from the Gilman School to speak with two TNCS Spanish teachers for a class project. Accompanied by instructor Erin Butler, the Gilman students were primarily there to complete their interview assignment, but during their time on campus, they also put their language skills to use by interacting with TNCS students, which was to everyone’s mutual benefit. “It is important that our students make connections with older students who are competent language learners as role models and to find opportunities to be ‘risk-takers’ with others willing to explore communication together without feeling judged,” said Mrs. Danyali.

The results were increíble. The Gilman students had time to let off a little steam and get acclimated during an impromptu playground soccer match with TNCS elementary students, who were positively starstruck by the attention from the high school seniors. Said Mrs. Danyali, “I actually couldn’t tell who was having more ‘fun’! The elementary students were very comfortable connecting with the older kids and vice versa.” Ms. Butler agreed: “I know my students had a great time playing with the kids on the playground, and it was wonderful that they had the opportunity to meet two different native speakers. I know they enjoyed the visit and I hope it was a positive experience for the teachers as well. I really appreciate their willingness to participate and Mrs. Danyali’s help in setting it up.”

The idea for this very fruitful exchange came from Ms. Butler, who has taught Spanish at Gilman since 2012 (with a hiatus in 2013 to complete a Fulbright grant in Peru, where she taught and completed a research project). For the last quarter of her senior conversation class, students complete a series of interviews with native Spanish speakers who now live in the Baltimore area in order to to both practice their language skills as well as to gain a better understanding of the community. She explains, “The students are paired in teams of two, and each group is responsible for conducting an interview and writing a reflection paper. Our interviews have taken place across the city, and we have met people from various countries and cultures. Students ask questions about the person’s life, family, job, transition to the United States, what he/she likes and dislikes about living here, etc. We have done interviews with nurses, teachers, business owners, scientists, and more.” For their visit to TNCS, the seniors interviewed Spanish Language Program Director Jennifer Hodapp first, followed by a chat with Pre-Primary Spanish Immersion Lead Teacher Johanna Ramos.

Ms. Butler’s approach to teaching another language closely parallels TNCS’s 5 Cs approach. “I believe that students should be given as much contextualized exposure to the language as possible,” she said. “The purpose of learning a language is to be able to use it to communicate, so what’s a better way to learn and practice than by having a conversation with a native speaker?” ¡Bien dicho! She chose TNCS as an interview site quite deliberately, having done a Spanish internship during college at a bilingual immersion  charter school. “I saw firsthand how amazing the program was, and when I heard about TNCS, I really wanted my students to have the opportunity to see and learn about the type of education that the school offers,” she said.
One thing is certain—TNCS will continue to build on its language program and open up new worlds for participants. “I would love to explore other opportunities for the students to communicate with native speakers as well as those experienced in learning other languages,” said Mrs. Danyali.
Watch the video below to see some of the interview with Srà. Hodapp in action.