Adriana Duprau Becomes Curriculum Coordinator at TNCS!

With the commencement of the 2017–2018 academic school year, The New Century School scaled some exciting new heights. To name just two, the inaugural 7th-grade class made its debut, and the student body en masse has grown to more than 200 children. These milestones are impressive, certainly, but are also not without accompanying challenges. How does one small school accommodate an age range from 2 to 12 years? How do teachers keep all students engaged in mixed-age classrooms? With such a well-rounded curriculum, how is continuity of instructional approach maintained across so many diverse subject areas?

Enter Adriana Duprau, TNCS’s new Curriculum Coordinator (also known as Curriculum Specialist). Mrs. Duprau is already known to many among the TNCS community—in fact, there’s a very strong chance that she has taught your child in her classroom at some point, considering that she has been at TNCS since it first opened back in 2010. Being so familiar with TNCS operations, she was the natural choice to take on this new role, which, in brief, entails supporting teachers and giving them constructive feedback on how they are implementing the curriculum. Interestingly, however, she came into the role less because someone was actively being sought and more so because she was already the go-to when an instructor needed strategies for example, for differentiating lessons. In Mrs. Duprau’s case, as you’ll see, this support extends to students as well.

Job Description

She spends about 80% of her time in the classroom so she can see firsthand what teachers are doing. She makes sure, for example, that lessons are being appropriately differentiated to accommodate the varying skill student levels in each classroom. At the same time, she wants to see that students are being challenged. On a macro level, another thing she looks for is that students are transitioning smoothly among divisions (e.g., pre-primary to primary, primary to kindergarten, elementary to middle school).

These are tasks that Head of School Alicia Danyali has handled in the past, but as the school grows, it became clear that a dedicated role was needed so that Mrs. Danyali can devote her time to running the school.

Sometimes school teachers can feel overwhelmed. Mrs. Duprau is there to “close the loop,” as she puts it. “What are their challenges; what are things that I can help with?” she asks herself, to provide an extra resource to the teachers. In some ways, it’s also a means of quality assurance. “If teachers are having a hard time, how can I offer support? Or, they may be having a hard time with a particular student—what can we do to come up with solutions?” she explains. “Having an objective observer who can stand back and take notes can be very revealing in these situations,” she continued, “and together we can problem solve and brainstorm the best approaches to addressing the challenges.”

Mrs. Duprau also plays a big part in helping Mrs. Danyali with professional development outside of the classroom, such as by demonstrating lessons during PD days and doing trainings.

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Curriculum Coordinator Adriana Duprau

Although she has embraced this support role, taking on a new position also can come with challenges. For Mrs. Duprau, the one thing she most worried about was not having her own classroom. “But, as it turns out, I spend most of my time in classrooms, so I’m really excited that I still get to have that time with students and with other teachers,” she said. And, although she has found herself so far spending most of her time in elementary and middle school classrooms, she nevertheless has had to get to know all 200+ students on a first-name basis . . . now that’s a challenge!

However, the biggest challenge she has found so far is having her suggestions go unheeded, whether inadvertently or from an unwillingness to take feedback, although Mrs. Duprau anticipates that this will probably dissipate as teachers acclimate to the idea of having a curriculum specialist and get used to accepting support.

Job Goals

She says her main goals, at least initially, are to make sure that teachers feel supported and know what should be taking place inside their classrooms. For example, programs like Reading A–Z might be new to a instructor, so Mrs. Duprau guides him or her through implementation. Again, her experience—not to mention her particular area of expertise—come in very handy here. She also sets up technology in classrooms so that appropriate ages all have access to SuccessMaker, a stalwart in the TNCS math program. All this, says Mrs. Duprau, because “we want to make sure we see growth in the students. This will give us a ‘closer look’ at the kids.”

She then uses the data she gathers to close any would-be gaps, such as finding ways to help former Montessori students matriculate into the non–classic Montessori Kindergarten classroom, or, conversely, introducing students who did not come up through the TNCS primary ranks to the “Montessori feel” of the K classroom. The Kindergarten group, by the way, is the largest it has ever been, so this is an area of keen interest. Moreover, Kindergarten can comprise a wide variety of skill levels, from students who are not yet reading and writing to students already completely comfortable with chapter books. Helping teachers set up their Daily 5 stations, for example, can go a long way to successful classroom management in this heterogenous setting. This has given her ideas for how to manage next year’s K transition: “A goal for us is to figure out what objectives the primary kids should end this school year before ‘going up’ so that they are prepared and can thrive in the more structured environment,” she explained.

Incidentally, in her tenure at TNCS, Mrs. Duprau has always had children of this age in her classroom, but now she says, “having my own kindergartener at home and seeing where he is developmentally has taught me even more about this age than having been a kindergarten teacher for so long.” So now, she can bring a dual perspective to the support she offers current TNCS K teachers—that of the seasoned teacher as well as the parent.

“I also get to spend a lot of time in other subject areas,” she explains. Chinese, music, and art, for example, are not classes she would have been a part of as a teacher. Now she observes how those are going to make sure all aspects of the curriculum hang together in a cohesive way and that instructors are meshing well. “One thing I saw was that having all of one division participating in a specials class together made the class too big. Being able to be there and see what’s unfolding and offer potential solutions has been very useful. We are now splitting the groups and adapting schedules to make sure that students and instructors are getting what they need.”

Another goal is to firmly establish units of study (e.g., in Global Studies and Science) that rotate on a 3-year basis so that students are all getting the full breadth of each discipline. The information is taught at differentiated levels, and she envisions gathering all of these lessons together in a master curriculum.

Reflections

“Although I really miss having my own classroom,” says Mrs. Duprau, I am really enjoying this new position, and I think it’s very beneficial to the school. “There are aspects of the role that I am continuing to grow in, because I have never held a job quite like this one before—I now work as much with adults as I do with kids!” She finds the position perfect for her current situation, with two young children at home to care for, and she is also learning a tremendous amount about teaching from this new vantage point.

“My primary objective is to be helpful and to facilitate smooth operations,” she said. “My interest was sparked when I would help other teachers who were unfamiliar with the mixed-age and mixed-language approach, and I found that I loved that interaction. I broached the idea of having a curriculum specialist in some capacity at TNCS, and the administration agreed immediately.” She learned her superb classroom management skills both as a Baltimore City public school teacher and by her first mixed-age experience at TNCS.

If she ever does return to the classroom, she says she is considering trying an older cohort to see what that would be like. In the meantime, Curriculum Coordinator suits her just fine!

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!

TNCS Elementary Information Night: A School Grows and Flourishes

The New Century School started off 2014 with a bang—on the very first Thursday of the new semester, TNCS held a 1-hour Elementary Information Night followed in a second hour by the first-ever Town Hall. This exciting and important double event was geared toward all current TNCS families regardless of student age and to prospective families interested in joining TNCS’s community. Acknowledging the 2-hour duration, a table of gorgeous appetizers was prepared by Chef Emma Novashinski to see us through, and light beverages were also served. To make attendance even easier, free parking was provided as well as free childcare. The lucky kids got Fell’s Point’s B.O.P. pizza and healthy snacks. This delightful evening, which TNCS administration plans to repeat annually, was a testament to the dedication and commitment of both the TNCS staff for organizing and executing it as well as the families who gladly attended in order to learn more about how TNCS was founded, the current state of the elementary program, and TNCS’s future. These joint efforts ensure that this special school will continue to flourish.

Chef Emma Novashinski provided an array of healthy but delicious hors d'oeuvres to tide over guests arriving just after work.

Chef Emma Novashinski provided an array of healthy but delicious hors d’oeuvres to tide over guests arriving just after work.

After an introduction to the evening by Admissions Director Robin Munro, Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux gave a heartfelt, enthusiastic, and at times funny speech about TNCS’s rather surprising origins as well as where its heading—“why we got started and how we got here,” as she put it. After attempting to eschew childcare for their daughter born in 2005 and care for her themselves with their “flexible work schedules,” Ms. Faux says that process wore her and her husband down pretty quickly (drawing quite a sympathetic collective chuckle from the audience). She met the other TNCS Co-Executive Director Jennifer Lawner soon thereafter, and together they decided to do something about the lack of stimulating preschool options in Baltimore. They especially identified with the work of education luminaries such as Dr. Maria Montessori and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. “In October of 2007, we opened Patterson Park Montessori with five students,” she recalled. That one-room preschool would very quickly prove too small, and TNCS came to be in its current incarnation at 724 S. Ann St. in Fell’s Point in 2010. The Co-Executive Directors felt that the Montessori method “really resonated” with their vision of what early childhood education should be. “Prepared spaces,” said Ms. Faux, set the stage for individual discovery. Within this “freedom within limits that fosters independence,” kids can explore, wonder, touch, and learn about their worlds. They are, moreover, empowered to do so.

Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux speaks fondly of discovering how naturally children learn with Montessori materials and how eye-opening and gratifying an experience that was for her.

Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux speaks fondly of discovering how naturally children learn with Montessori materials and how eye-opening and gratifying an experience that was for her.

This story becomes the more poignant when you consider that both Founders/Co-Executive Directors not only have children attending TNCS in the Elementary and Primary classes, but also that the programs were created very much for those children. And isn’t it very comforting to know that your kids are being taught, nurtured, and cared for every day by a staff hand-picked by these mothers of fellow students? As any new school—or any other kind of establishment for that matter—goes through certain growing pains, that process of becoming can be unsettling. Though TNCS is  still a new school and is still coming into itself, the knowledge that it was born out of the simple desire to provide actual, real children a place to truly thrive preempts any doubt about its integrity, its child-centered approach, and the rosy future it promises itself and its graduates.

After Ms. Faux spoke for about 15 minutes, Head of School Alicia Danyali next took the floor to give an overview of TNCS’s philosophy for elementary education. As the school matures alongside the student body, it’s more and more identifying itself as an elementary school rather than a preschool. A tremendous amount of thought, planning, and resources have gone into the creation of this special elementary program to continue fostering the school’s defining value—whole-child education. Unlike the pre-primary and primary programs, the elementary is not strictly Montessori by any means, which is entirely intentional. With the spirit of independent but guided inquiry very much intact, however, it is certainly “Montessori-inspired.” The commitment to small class sizes as well as the mixed ages within them, says Ms. Danyali, ensures that each student gets individualized instruction and that no one is pigeon-holed according to age but is rather met at his or her skill level. For Ms. Danyali, the emphasis on multilingualism is also a key component of TNCS’s elementary program and one that sets the school truly apart. Elementary students get 45 minutes in each Mandarin and Spanish instruction daily. No other area school can boast this degree of language concentration, even despite the multitude of benefits experts agree that learning other languages confers. (See Top 10 Benefits of Multilingualism.)

Another point Ms. Danyali drove home was that the elementary program is designed to teach kids to learn and be curious about the world around them rather than set up primarily to see them through a test. But she was likewise not about to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Though many curricula are criticized for “teaching to the test,” there is a value to testing when it’s done appropriately. Ms. Danyali wants to implement a test used in other language immersion schools that would give TNCS a yardstick on which to measure overall progress and to give students that practice . . . but not to guide or interfere with the school’s scholastic approach and especially not to assess a teacher’s performance, a criticism that has been leveled at standardized testing in recent news (see the article here). There are also elements of the new Common Core curriculum standards for public schools that she feels are on the right track and could be selectively implemented if appropriate.

And that’s just it. Being a small, independent school offers the freedom to stretch and explore and continue to find ways to really engage students in learning that many schools just cannot have. Another advantage is in the simply amazing educators such an educational model attracts. Speaking of whom, elementary teachers Alisha Roberts and Adriana DuPrau next spoke, each presenting a 10-minute overview of their specialties. Ms. Roberts handles Math and Science (read more here), while Ms. DuPrau teaches English Language Arts, and both teachers mix independent work with small groups. They also create synergies among their disciplines, such that reading and writing is always a component of the science classroom, and discussion and inquiry likewise a component of the reading lesson. Foreign Language Curriculum Director Xie Laoshi spoke last and painted a portrait of how and why teaching foreign language at TNCS is a unique affair. Xie Laoshi creates a dynamic classroom, emphasizing the importance of making the activities relevant for students rather than asking them to complete book lesson after dreary book lesson. In fact, she had the audience in stitches after recounting how she ordered a slew of the best acclaimed books and materials for her curriculum, only to judge them unsuitable and set about making her own from scratch!

An evident degree of preparation and planning went into this evening. Why? Because the elementary program is where it all coalesces—it’s where all of the students are headed and it will define the school in a way that the pre-primary and primary programs do not. Not that those programs aren’t important—they absolutely are! They set the stage for what comes next, and building that solid foundation is critical for development. But making the decision of where to send your child to elementary school carries a lot of additional weight insofar as that education is what will equip him or her for life. The choice to send your child to an environment where his or her whole self is nurtured, not just the academic part, is certainly a lucky choice to have. Again, TNCS is unparalleled in this regard. In addition to their math, science, language arts, and foreign language instruction, elementary students get art, music, and physical education twice weekly to stimulate all areas of development. They also get “Teacher’s Choice” time, which often targets the cultivation of those character qualities a conventional classroom probably lacks the resources for. For instance, Ms. Roberts’s class is learning to crochet, with the help of some parent volunteers, and the scarves they make will be given to Baltimore’s homeless community. Pitching in and helping out is a school-wide value that manifests continually, setting an example to kids to be active, responsible members of their communities (as Dr. Montessori would have utterly sanctioned).

Maria Tecla Artemesia Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952) created the child-centered approach to education that TNCS grounds itself in and grows from.

Maria Tecla Artemesia Montessori (August 31, 1870–May 6, 1952) created the child-centered approach to education that TNCS grounds itself in and grows from.

In one of her very first remarks of the evening, Ms. Faux perhaps best described TNCS’s elementary program trajectory, which has its roots in Montessori but also branches beyond into language immersion and other forms of progressive education and continues to grow. In mentioning that Dr. Montessori, who believed that revolutionizing education would ultimately give rise to a more peaceful society, had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize no less than five times, she paused and said, “She would have continued to evolve, just as we are doing.” It was quite a revelatory moment. Of course Dr. Montessori would be exploring new ways to engage children and  embracing new platforms on which to do so—her methodology was built around innovation. TNCS is currently approved to teach through Grade 5 and will continue to add a grade level annually through Grade 8, staying one or two steps ahead of the current “pioneer” elementary student body as well as continuing to find new ways to stimulate and engage them. In the Fall of 2014, a third elementary classroom will be added and a new teacher hired to accommodate that growing elementary student body.

Wait a sec, did you say Grade 8? That’s right. A Middle School comprising Grades 6-8 will open in the Fall of 2016, with new classrooms, new spaces, a science lab, etc. But you’ll have to check back for a follow-up post on what happened during the Town Hall meeting that followed the elementary discussion. Stay tuned!

What Does Kindergarten Look Like at TNCS?

Editor’s Note: For the 2014–2015 school year, TNCS modified the kindergarten program to better accommodate the growing student body. While the primary program still comprises a 3-year cycle, kindergarteners now move up to the elementary floor for a mixed-age K/1st classroom instead of kindergarten taking place within the primary classroom. This adaptation has proven a marvelous success and provides another very important transition mark for students as they broach their elementary years. The gist of the post below, therefore, still very much applies.

The New Century School offers a fresh, progressive approach to educating young children. Kids age 5 years and younger get the nurturing, caring environment provided by the Montessori classroom, and elementary-age kids get a specially designed program that encompasses technology, STEM, the Arts, physical education, language arts, and foreign languages. So what does Kindergarten, that sort of in-between scholastic phase, look like at TNCS?

Appropriately, in some ways it’s a hybrid of the primary Montessori and progressive elementary programs. To say that it’s simply a stepping stone between one phase and the next really doesn’t capture the essence of TNCS Kindergarten, however, nor does it consider the very real importance of this period of development in a child’s life. Says Robin Munro, Director of Admissions, “A lot of parents see Kindergarten as the beginning of ‘big kid school’.” Indeed, in the public school system, Kindergarten is expressly geared toward prepping for first grade. As one mother describes her son’s day in a Baltimore City public charter school, students have a laundry list of skills they must acquire to pass, they work at desks for much of the day just as they will in their elementary years, and the atmosphere is one of strict adherence to the curriculum–it has to be with classrooms of 30 and more children. “It was a huge wake-up call for [my son],” she said, who attended a parochial preschool.

But in all this urgency to get ready for first grade, what actually happened to Kindergarten? Says Ms. Munro, “For TNCS, Kindergarten is more like the conclusion of preschool. Its not a ‘send-off’; we are instituting a radical cultural shift.” Here, the focus is on the child’s development rather than academic achievement. This is a critical point, and one that many of us parents in the fever of making sure our children are “ready,” have a hard time coming to grips with. This begs the question, ready for what, exactly? For TNCS, being “ready” to move on is in some ways a paradox. A child is developmentally where that child is, and it’s the school’s job to meet him or her there, rather than the other way around. (This is the beauty of mixed-age classrooms, which inherently avoid pigeonholing children into certain categories based solely—and rather arbitrarily—on age.) However, it would be naive to pretend that our kids don’t have to measurably progress academically, and TNCS is by no means throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, the answer to “ready for what?” becomes more about the child’s social and emotional skills than about his or her scholastic performance. Says Alicia Danyali, Head of School, “We don’t abandon the child’s development. Their social self needs to be nurtured much more than their academics at this age.”

TNCS’s Kindergarten Information Night this past Thursday provided additional insight into the inner workings of TNCS’s radical approach. Both Ms. Danyali and Ms. Munro were on hand to provide program overviews and answer questions, and primary/Kindergarten teachers Mrs. Catherine Lawson and Mr. Jonathan Sellers presented their Kindergarten curricula. In effect, a primary student’s third year of the 3-year primary cycle becomes his or her Kindergarten year.

A K student’s day starts just like his or her primary classmates’ day. The K student has the range of Montessori materials at hand to independently choose from. Because the student has already spent 2 years in this classroom, he or she is naturally gravitating to the more math and language-oriented materials, as appropriate for his or her age and skill level, rather than Practical Life and Sensorial. However, if he or she prefers the latter sometimes, that’s completely okay, just as it’s fine for the younger kids to want to learn skip-counting with the bead cabinet if they are ready (yikes—that word again) for it. Another part of the Montessori classroom popular with the 5-year-olds and the Ks is the language drawers. These materials designed by a Montessori educator take the tried and true Montessori approach to learning to read and spell but house it in an organized system of cubbies, each containing a set of cards or objects that the student must represent as a word on paper. It’s a very logical extension of the moveable alphabet, and the kids love both the self-guided nature of this activity as well as the immediate gratification and sense of accomplishment they derive from completing each drawer.

The bead cabinet and the language drawers are just two of many materials available to the Ks (and, again, to all primary students no matter what age). As Mr. Sellers put it, “Although there are no specifically K Montessori materials per se, we’re providing the Ks with all the materials they need to set them up for success.” After the morning spent in their respective primary classrooms, lunch, and 30 minutes of quiet time (which can be resting, listening to music, reading a book, etc.), all Ks gather together from all primary classrooms as one group. Thus, says Ms. Danyali,”Ks don’t have to wait until the afternoon to do age-appropriate work, but they come together as a group in the afternoons to do work specific to the K curriculum.” She also points out that a full day in Kindergarten is mandated by the state of Maryland, so TNCS is not able to offer a half-day K program.

Kindergarten is, thus, within the Montessori classroom and stretching a little beyond it. The Kindergarten curriculum is well-rounded and takes into account that the students do need to demonstrate certain abilities by the year’s end. However, Mrs. Lawson is quick to remind us that “Children don’t work for products. Its adults who expect that.” The kids are doing the work for the sheer love of discovery. Important skills are also cultivated, such as good handwriting and computer basics. Each day of the week focuses on a different curricular area, including Global Studies,  Language Arts, Math, and Science. Foreign languages are still taught within the primary morning group, and they get art and music in both environments. The Kindergarten program lets K-age children be kids, be nurtured, and blossom—at their pace—in whatever areas they are ready to bloom in. The atmosphere is that same caring environment they are familiar with and happy in; this encourages them to flourish rather than expend all of their energy adapting to unfamiliar—and  potentially very discomfiting—surroundings.

K students are introduced to the SuccessMaker software they'll use daily in the elementary program.

K students are introduced to the SuccessMaker software they’ll use daily in the elementary program.

Nevertheless, we parents sometimes can’t help letting that doubt creep in that our K-age children will be the oldest in their primary classroom and therefore deriving the least benefit. Research into the benefits for all ages in the mixed-age classroom is unequivocal: the mentor–mentee relationship is mutually beneficial in all sorts of ways. But the real advantage here is that our children are probably doing more advanced work than they would be doing at an other-than-independent school while being able to still be the little kids that they are, getting all the nurturing and special care they still need.

Visit the archives for the Top 10 Reasons to Attend a Montessori Kindergarten.

Open House at TNCS

Our very own Robin Munro, TNCS Admissions Director

Our very own Robin Munro, TNCS Admissions Director

The first Open House of The New Century School‘s 2013–2014 school year got a magnificent turnout of both prospective and current families. Why attend a TNCS Open House? Admissions Director Robin Munro says:

“The easiest way for parents wanting to learn more about the Elementary, Primary, and Pre-primary programs is to attend a weekday Open House. The Head of School, Ms. Danyali, offers a presentation that provides parents a thorough overview of the school. There will also be parents of current students on hand to answer questions and ample opportunity to observe students in their classrooms. If parents like the school, I suggest that they return for a small group tour where they can bring their children for a classroom visit. We also offer a Saturday Open House, which is a perfect event for the entire family. All of our lead teachers invite children into their classrooms to explore and ask questions. Current TNCS parents should also attend to observe their own child in the classroom and to learn about the other programs. As a delicious bonus, all Open House events are catered by our very own Chef Emma and her Kitchen Garden Tuck Shop!”

Main Presentation

Today’s Open House began with a short introduction by Ms. Munro after which Ms. Danyali gave her three-part presentation. Attendees were given take-home information packets as well. Highlights of Ms. Danyali’s talk are broken down into synopses of each program:

Pre-primary: For children ages 2–3 years, the pre-primary classroom offers full immersion in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. The children are instructed only in the theme language. This phase of education at TNCS focuses on the children’s social and emotional development. “We want them to begin learning and demonstrating some independence while being able to interact well with others, too,” said Ms. Danyali.

Primary: For children ages 3–5 years, the mixed-age primary classroom offers a more traditional Montessori approach. The lead teacher is trained in Montessori instruction and guides students in correct use of Montessori materials. Language is still a fundamental part of each day, however. Assistants in the primary classrooms are native speakers of either Spanish or Mandarin and come from a variety of countries and cultures. At TNCS, the assistants give specific lessons (e.g., Practical Life and Cultural Studies) in their native language. In other words, students learn a Practical Life skill while simultaneously developing their foreign language skills. The benefits of mixed ages are numerous and include instilling pride and confidence in the older children who serve as leaders for their younger counterparts, developing socially by being able to cooperate with peers as well as children older and younger, and enjoying a sense of nurturing or being nurtured. Kindergarten is included in the primary program; Ks from each primary classroom join together in the afternoons (while the younger children are napping) for some more advanced work.

Daily 5: Read to Self, Work on Writing, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work

Daily 5: Read to Self, Work on Writing, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work

Elementary: For children in grades “pre-first” through fifth (and adding a grade each year), the elementary classroom emphasizes critical thinking and unit-based discovery. They incorporate the Daily 5, a literacy curriculum that helps students develop the daily habits of reading, writing, and working independently. They read Junior Great Books to encourage critical thinking and deeper understanding. Singapore Math workbooks and SuccessMaker computer software round out the STEM subjects.

Ms. Danyali next spoke passionately about what sets TNCS apart from other private schools. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but here are some perennial favorites.

Head of School, Ms. Danyali gave an overview of TNCS programs for today's Open House.

Head of School, Ms. Danyali gave an overview of TNCS programs for today’s Open House.

What Really Sets TNCS Apart

  • Sustainability: TNCS has initiated Recycling Teams; uses green, non-toxic 7th Generation cleaning and paper products exclusively; and is 100% wind powered by Clean Currents!
  • Kitchen Garden Tuck Shop Program: Run by Executive Chef/Master Gardener Emma Novashinski, this program provides an organic, locally sourced, homemade lunch to participants as part of TNCS’s emphasis on healthful foods for kids. For all TNCS students, the on-premise greenhouse offers chances to explore plant growth from the seed up. Students plant, tend, and harvest produce as well as cook and eat it.
  • The Lingo Leap: The gymnasium/auditorium houses Gerstung equipment and the Imagination playground as well as a stage for our two school-wide annual performances. TLL is also available to host really great kids’ birthday parties!
  • Volunteering: Each TNCS family contributes a minimum of 8 volunteer hours to the school per year. TNCS believes that parents can be better involved in their children’s lives at school this way as well as meet other TNCS families. The volunteer coordinator makes it easy to match your particular skill set to specific volunteer tasks.
  • Lecture Series: New this year, TNCS will be inaugurating this initiative with Dr. Bonnie Zucker on November 13th, 9 am–10 am. Come hear Dr. Zucker’s presentation on how to raise Anxiety-Free Kids.
  • Extended Campus: Because TNCS believes strongly in community, we want students to become very familiar with the school’s environs. They take walks to nearby parks, the post office, or to special Fell’s Point happenings. In learning about their broader community, they will better participate in and contribute to it.
  • Multilingualism: Learning foreign languages increases brain elasticity, executive function, and critical-thinking capacity. How you learn a language is key. Research shows time and again that rote learning is far less effective than immersion. Throughout each phase of TNCS education, full or partial immersion is implemented.
  • Differentiation: Each child is an individual, with strengths, preferences, and traits particular to him or her. TNCS is unique in being able to individualize instruction to each child. “We can accommodate whatever level your children need in terms of education. We will meet them were they are,” says Ms. Danyali. This is possible both because of mixed-age classes and small class sizes.
  • Immersed: TNCS publishes this blog weekly to keep you informed about school events, initiatives, and relevant topics. we invite your participation and feedback!
  • Specials: TNCS emphasizes The Arts. Our art, music, and movement classes are truly special and cultivate your child’s creativity and humanity.
  • Staff: TNCS staff are truly dedicated, loving people. Our children are nurtured—cherished, even—as they are guided through their school day, learning, absorbing, and discovering the while.

Again, the list goes on and on . . . TNCS is a very special place.

Q&A and Classroom Observation

The Open House presentation ended with a Q&A series during which parents asked a lot of great questions about school particulars. A particularly incisive one asked of the currently enrolled families was, “What’s it like to have bilingual kids if you don’t speak the language?” Answers ranged from getting additional support from apps to learn with the child to the child intuitively understanding the correct context for speaking in Spanish or Chinese (i.e., to another speaker of that language). TNCS is also making more opportunities available to parents to learn these languages. The Word of the Week appears on TNCS’s home page, and an upcoming blog post will offer tips for practice at home from our two resident language curriculum experts Senora Capriles and Xie Laoshi.

Finally, parents were free to roam about the school and observe students in classrooms in real time, which is where TNCS really shines.

If you missed this first Open House, not to worry! Two more are offered in November and a third in January. Visit the website to register, because, as Ms. Munro says, Open Houses are the best way to learn more about TNCS’s programs—first hand!

A TNCS Original

Interview with Grace Addison Lintz

With The New Century School’s 2013–2014 school year starting back up this past week, we thought we’d get an insider’s perspective on how things are going. Miss Grace Addison Lintz is one of the original children to start at TNCS’s forerunner, Patterson Park Montessori, and has been a member of the student body from the ground up, as it were. As you will see, Grace, a.k.a., “Gracie,” is a true original, in all senses of that word. Read on to learn all about TNCS through Gracie’s eyes.

Wearing her TNCS shirt, Grace represents the school beautifully!

Wearing her TNCS shirt, Grace represents the school beautifully!

In TNCS’s library:

TNCS: Can we begin by you telling me a little about yourself?

Gracie: I’m Grace Addison Lintz, and I’m turning 8 years old on September 30th. And I’m going to Costa Rica in October to meet my baby brother Lucas.

TNCS: How exciting! How long have you been attending TNCS?

Gracie: I think 6 or 7 years . . . I was either 2 or 3 when I started, and now I’m in the third grade.

TNCS: Wow! You must really like TNCS, huh?

Gracie: I love it! It’s my favorite school! Wait—it’s my only school! (Ba dump bump)

TNCS: Do you remember who your very first teacher was?

Gracie: (Pointing to a spot slightly below her shoulders) She had black hair to here. I don’t remember her name. I only remember Mrs. DuPrau; I’ve been with her since I was 3 or 4.

TNCS: What’s it like to be one of the oldest students here at school? You must feel very special to be a third grader!

Gracie: (Unmoved) I thought I was still in 2nd until I saw the list. (Pause) Mrs. Roberts is the new elementary teacher, and I have homeroom with her.

TNCS: You have homeroom this year? What’s that like?

Gracie: (Thoughtfully) You know how you go home? Mrs. DuPrau is my reading and global studies teacher, and Mrs. Roberts does math, science, teacher’s choice, and snack—and a few other things—and that’s a homeroom teacher.

TNCS: Got it. What is “teacher’s choice”? That sounds kind of exciting!

Gracie: Okay, teacher’s choice is like the teacher can choose. It can be anything, like music. (Here we were interrupted by a knock at the door. Gracie ran to answer it and saw Señor “Freddie” there, who was just checking on why the library door was closed. Grace scampers on back, having been reminded of something important to tell me by his brief appearance.) And aftercare is really fun!

TNCS: Ahh. What makes aftercare so fun?

Gracie: Well, you get to play outside, and you have to join clubs. Last night on the computer, Mommy signed me up for some clubs . . . story club, origami club, and another one but I don’t know what it is. (Pause) Your breath smells like gum.

TNCS: (Giggle) Thanks. I think. So what are your favorite subjects in school?

Gracie: Weeeeell, I love to read—it’s really fun. And I like art because I get to paint. And music because we do a lot of plays. And math. And science. (Pause; coyly) Why are you asking me these questions?

TNCS: (Amused) For the TNCS blog. Do you know it?

Gracie: Yeah, well, my mommy gives it to me to read sometimes.

TNCS: (Throwing caution to the wind) Do you like it? (Long silence) I bet you’re going to read the next one, because it’s going to be about you!

Gracie: Do people read the blog?

TNCS: (About to crack up) I hope so! (Regaining composure) Do you have a favorite book?

Gracie: Yes!!! I do! I have two: Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Babysitting War.

TNCS: (Seeing a preferred line of questioning) Are those chapter books?

Gracie: Mm hmm. I love chapter books. I don’t really read picture books anymore . . . now I’m onto chapter books without pictures because I like to just imagine the pictures.

TNCS: Can you tell me what your favorite thing about TNCS is?

Gracie: (Perplexed) What do you mean?

TNCS: Imagine you met someone who had never heard of TNCS and didn’t know anything about the school—what would you tell that person to give him or her an idea of what TNCS is like?

Gracie: (Promptly) It’s on South Ann St.

TNCS: So it is!

Gracie: Wait—wait! It’s very good because it has a lot of fun things.

TNCS: Like what, for example?

Gracie: Music, art, aftercare . . .

TNCS: (Trying to trigger more details) Do you like the stability balls you sit on?

Gracie: The what? Oh, the bouncy balls? Yeah, because it’s more comfortable. (Switching subjects and tracing a finger from the bottom of her foot to the to the top of her head) A thought starts here and comes all the way up here where I keep five at a time.

TNCS:  That will come in handy at test time.

Gracie: Yeah, but sometimes I just have to pick one. Can I get water? (Returning) I love to talk. Can I see your notebook? I’m going to see how many pages we wrote. (Counts 9, which would ultimately become 12)

Grace was very impressed by the number of pages we generated during our interview. We could have chatted for hours!

Grace was very impressed by the number of pages we generated during our interview. We could have chatted for hours!

TNCS: So, as an elementary student, do you get homework?

Gracie: No, we only have to read every day. Mrs. DuPrau says 15–20 minutes, but I like to read for an hour. Mommy says I should talk about reading because I love it. Sometimes we get a few math problems.

TNCS: (In closing) So, Grace, what final thing would you like to tell me about TNCS?

Gracie: Um, like what?

TNCS: (Coaxingly) Think about it this way: you kind of know TNCS the best because you have been here since the very beginning—

Gracie: Kathryn and Fiona and I know it the best because we were the first ones to walk in here. Our little sisters weren’t born yet. (Returning her attention back to the question) Like what?

TNCS: Anything at all from your point of view. (Mischievously) Try bringing a thought up from your foot.

Gracie: We have a lot of classes in our school . . . Let me think for a minute—is that okay?

TNCS: (Really struggling to suppress laughter) Of course—whatever you need.

Gracie: Okay, I’m going to go check on something, and I’ll come back with an answer.

TNCS: (Only able to nod at this point but utterly charmed by her gravitas) Okay—try to think about what makes TNCS special.

Gracie: (Bursting back into the room after about 30 seconds) Spanish and Chinese languages in our school!!!!!! A lot of people from TNCS speak lots of different languages. How could I forget about that?! In Spanish class we learn lots of new things . . . And this year we have new teachers! And the lunch program is yummy!

TNCS: Well done, Gracie! I think you hit some of the most important things about TNCS. By the way, the foreign languages and the lunch program are two of my favorite things about TNCS, too. So, that’s it! I want to thank you very much for your time and for answering all of these questions. I enjoyed this very much.

Gracie: Wait—I want to talk about something else! It’s SuccessMaker. SuccessMaker has reading and math. There’s a cool game in math; you have to use your brain a lot to solve the problem before time runs out. There’s a board that has all our names on it, and we put a sticker on each time we do a reading or math game. (Gush over, she sits back with a satisfied smile.)

TNCS: I can’t wait to learn about SucessMaker firsthand. Thanks again, Gracie. You did great!

. . . And there you have it, readers—TNCS through the eyes of one very clever, charming, special (and sweet!) little girl!

Talking to Grace is both informative and really entertaining!

Talking to Grace is both informative and really entertaining!