TNCS Middle School Capstone Trip: Return to Puerto Rico!

At The New Century School, when the student body aged out of elementary school in the spring of 2016, TNCS added a middle school division the following fall. Just as with all other TNCS divisions, however, middle school at TNCS needed to be something extraordinary.

Adding to all of the characteristics that make TNCS essentially TNCS (like small class sizes, mixed-age classrooms, multilingual curricula, differentiated instruction, learning by discovery, and so on), the administration decided to cap off this critical development period with an international service-learning trip. The first students to complete TNCS middle school would graduate in the spring of 2019, and to commemorate that momentous occasion, they were also the first to head out abroad on what has become known as the aptly named Capstone Trip. That destination was Puerto Rico, followed by Costa Rica in 2020 just before the pandemic halted international travel, no trip in 2021 because of the pandemic-related travel restrictions (but graduates had gone to Costa Rica the prior year as 7th-graders), and now back to Puerto Rico in 2022.

Puerto Rico, Here We Come!

After school and a quick meal of pizza on Monday, April 25th, TNCS 7th- and 8th-graders were BWI bound, accompanied by chaperones Adriana DuPrau (TNCS Dean of Students), Daphnee Hope (TNCS School Counselor), and Lori Gorbey (TNCS Front Desk).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

They landed in San Juan around midnight and went straight to their dormitory-style lodgings at The Inter American University of Puerto Rico/Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico – Recinto Metro in Cupey. Their kind handler Pedro would be with the them for the duration of the trip.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tuesday, April 26th: No Rest for the Weary!

Their first day in PR was packed, so they were up an at ’em early that morning. They had breakfast and headed out to  the Centro Ambiental Santa Ana (CASA), located in the Julio Enrique Monagas National Park in Bayamón. The CASA (Santa Ana Environmental Center in Englsh) provides educational programs for the appreciation, study, and conservation of the environment. Perfect for the first day of service learning!

TNCS students toured the park, had lunch, then spent the afternoon cleaning and painting at CASA. This urban forest has great ecological, cultural, recreational, and educational value, as the slideshow below will demonstrate. CASA promotes the reconnection of people with nature through educational programs; research; thematic, organized fun; and relevant interpretative experiences.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The exhausted but happy kids returned home then met up for dinner and a movie with CeDIn students (more on CeDIn below). From there, things got pretty goofy!

Wednesday, April 27th: CeDIn Day!

This day’s itinerary was all about CeDIn (a laboratory school from preschool to 4th-grade). Its mission is:

to provide a humanistic education, of excellence, sensitive to changes in the world, that prepares for university life, tends to the integral development of the individual, and provides a space for practice and research for students of education and professions related to behavior.

The educational process is framed by universal Christian-ecumenical values; the development of knowledge skills; the integration of fine arts, technology and sports, and the promotion of a Culture of Peace.

TNCS students spent the day with CeDIn middle schoolers, visiting their classrooms, which Mrs. DuPrau described as themed and that teachers had clearly put a lot of work into. They also went into a forest together to get their eco on, then returned to school to make bracelets and play water games. Friendships blossomed! Ms. Gorbey said she particularly enjoyed meeting the students here and spending the day doing what they normally do. “It was really cool to sort of see how the kids were so different and also exactly the same,” she said. Mrs. DuPrau said, “All of the teachers there were so kind and excited to meet our students and had so many fun things for them to do. We were all excited to see what we could offer to their students and what their students could offer us. We became close with some of those kids, and it was really fun to see all of our students jump right into their recess and lunch and feel comfortable just hanging out with them.” Phone numbers and SnapChap info was exchanged!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Later that afternoon, TNCS students got a much-anticipated trip to the beach!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thursday, April 28th: Tutoring!

On Thursday, TNCS students headed out to Academia Interamericana Metro (AIM), a school that emphasizes differentiated learning for preschoolers through 12th-graders. TNCS students tutored kindergartners through 5th-graders, helping them with their daily schoolwork, reading aloud to them, and playing math games. Mrs Hope explained that AIM was passionate about not separating students with disabilities (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, for example) from the traditional student population but instead to find ways to give them any additional support they might need. “The students and the faculty were so warm and loving—you could just feel it when you walked in; you could tell everyone had the same goal,” she said. Ms. Gorbey said she was extremely proud of how TNCS students comported themselves with their AIM friends.

These photos will make their parents so proud as well!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As a special treat for their generous volunteering at AIM, the gang had a little fun exploring Old San Juan later that day and into the evening.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Friday, April 29th: Hola El Yunque!

El Yunque National Forest, the groups Friday destination, is the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system! The favorite activity for Mrs. Hope was this trip to El Yunque. “We went on this really beautiful, tranquil hike. Some of the kids decided to swim and others wanted to explore the rocks and climb them upstream. You feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere and can just breathe” she described.

After exploring that beautiful locale, they headed to Playa Luquillo for a swim.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Saturday, April 30th: High Altitude!

On their last day, a beach-cleaning activity had been planned, but the weather had other ideas, so after a hearty breakfast . . . they went to a trampoline park instead!

Altitude Bayamón is one of the largest in the world, and there, TNCS students reached new heights!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a quick stop at a restaurant to refuel, they returned to Inter American and expended more energy in the gym.

Back Home and Final Thoughts

Once back in Baltimore, the three chaperones had a chance to reflect on the trip and share some takeaways. In the end, beaches and waterfalls aside, the capstone trip is about personal growth—a chance for the students to demonstrate how they’ve matured.

Ms. Gorbey, who described the trip as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said she was impressed by the empathy she saw TNCS students display each and every day. This trip was remarkable for being the most service-learning focused so far. “Their all-around willingness to help was a highlight for me,” she said. “They really threw themselves into the service learning.” At the end of the trip, they circled up and discussed their favorite moments: several students ranked the service learning above the “fun stuff,” another thing that made Ms. Gorbey happy. (As a quick aside, they also held nominations, and one student was named Most Likely To Have an International Romance. So cute! We love that for them!)

A third thing that struck Ms. Gorbey was how game the students were to use their Spanish-speaking skills and how well they did—ordering their food, conversing with their new Puerto Rican friends, and so on.

Mrs. DuPrau witnessed some personal growth in a few students and a dawning realization in one in particular that things were about to change in high school in the fall. Like Ms. Gorbey, she also appreciated all of the students’ willingness to really be there and do what was asked. At the same time, she feels strongly that these trips should be fun and memorable. “In some ways it was a typical middle school trip—everybody was losing their voice and maybe not sleeping as much, because they all couldn’t stop talking and having fun,” she recounted fondly.

For Mrs. Hope, the highlight was the school visits. “It was so amazing to be able to partner with the schools and have our kids meet their kids, to see the differences, and also how they interact. That was really rewarding for our students, too.” Like Mrs. DuPrau, she also saw an individual student find themselves in a new way. This student became a terrific helper and a real asset on the trip.

For Mrs. Hope, this trip was bittersweet in more than one way. Her husband was about to be deployed, and she would be sacrificing that week that she could have spent with him to go. The scales tipped in favor of going when she remembered how well she and Mrs. DuPrau travel together (and imagining what Ms. Gorbey would bring to the mix), plus this: “It was also a nice way to close off my chapter at TNCS, this last thing with them. They have been my students for 3 years . . . it was really good to be able to spend that time with them and see so much growth in individual students.”

Ultimately, this trip caps off an academic career at TNCS for the 8th-grade students and so much more. It’s the end of an era, in a way, but also opens the door for a new era at TNCS to dawn.

Hasta el año que viene!


As always, the TNCS community—families, faculty, and everyone in between—plays a tremendous role in making the capstone trip possible, from hosting fundraisers (shout out to Damien Mosely and Blacksauce Kitchen!) to planning (Mrs. DuPrau worked tirelessly!) to teaching the language (Señora Noletto made sure her students were good and ready!), to seeing to all of the details that go into such an enormous undertaking (literally, everyone!).

And for this particular trip, we have another very special person to thank: Inter American Chancellor Wayland, who generously helped coordinate the trip from inside Puerto Rico and gave TNCS students access to the wonderful Inter American sister schools (CeDIn and AIM) they visited. If that name rings a bell, it’s no accident: Chancellor Wayland (aka, “Tata”) is the grandmother of two TNCS students. Gracias por todo!

Meet Lori Gorbey: TNCS’s Front Desk Phenom!

First impressions, as they say, are everything. At The New Century School, many people’s first impressions are formed when calling or arriving at The Front Desk—fortunately, that all-important post is helmed by the irrepressibly good-natured Lori Gorbey.

Ms. Gorbey joined TNCS in October 2020, and, although she wasn’t looking for a receptionist position specifically, the timing was right. She lives in Baltimore now but says she grew up “all around and up and down the East Coast.” She was born in North Carolina; then lived in Syracuse, NY; Peachtree City, GA; and finally here in Maryland during her high school years. The East Coast exploration then continued when she enrolled at Wilmington University in Delaware, where she majored in behavioral science, having a predilection for psychology.

She graduated in 2018 and is now ready to pursue a Master’s Degree in teaching. “I think I’ll end up in the classroom,” she says. She plans to go into Special Education or English (maybe both)—she likes to read and write.

In the meantime, she is enjoying her current position at TNCS and is sort of a nexus for school operations. “The really cool thing about the Front Desk is that I get to have my hands in a lot of different areas and figure out where I might fit best in the future.” These different areas encompass both administrative and educational environments. In addition to answering the phone and welcoming visitors and students to school, she handles billing, helps with lunches, monitors the car line, assists in the 4th- through 6th-grade ELA classroom (reading the assigned books right along with students . . . the list goes on. “I do whatever the task at hands demands,” she says. “I’m sort of the first responder to a lot of the little crises that we have throughout the day. I’m also on the ‘front lines’ for parent interactions such as during drop-off. It can be a high-pressure job, but I like being busy, and I work best under pressure.”

Because of her ability to stay calm yet get things done, another important role Ms. Gorbey played this year was Advisor as part of the new Advisory Board at TNCS. This entails meeting with her small group of students; talking; socializing; and providing a de-pressurized environment for them to relax and let go in. She also accompanied TNCS Middle Schoolers to Puerto Rico last month, much to the relief of co-chaperones Adriana DuPrau (TNCS Dean of Students) and Daphnee Hope (TNCS school counselor). Parents, many of you have also probably benefited from the comfortable atmosphere she creates.

In her spare time, Ms. Gorbey enjoys making resin jewelry, true creative spirit that she is.

Meet the Teacher: Joan Cui Takes Over TNCS’s Chinese Immersion K/1st Classroom!

Rounding out the second floor of The New Century School‘s building south, this post features Kindergarten/1st grade teacher Jingqiong “Joan” Cui!

As promised, Immersed has been highlighting the younger student divisions this spring (see posts on preschool, K/1st, and the preschool/lower elementary coordinator), and with this post, we introduce Cui Laoshi, who joined TNCS for the 2021–2022 school year.

Meet Jingqiong “Joan” Cui!

Cui Laoshi arrived in Baltimore in 2015 from Chongqing in Shanxi Province, China, about a 3–4-hour car ride from Beijing. She explains that she had just graduated college, but there was a job shortage, so she decided to come to the United States to improve her proficiency with the English language. “I had no real plans,” she said. “I thought I would stay maybe 2 or 3 months, finish my language learning, and then go back to China to find a job, but it didn’t happen.” She was accompanied by a close friend and her son, and all three were education-minded. The son attended high school here, and Cui Laoshi and her “cousin” enrolled in language classes at Notre Dame of Maryland University here in Baltimore.

Cui Laoshi says that she always knew she would work in the field of education but wasn’t sure in exactly what role. “I just knew I wanted to work in education,” she said. “I got a Master’s degree from Towson University in instructional technology in 2019. No matter what I was studying, it was all around education.”

Cui Laoshi at TNCS!

And here we are! Cui Laoshi says that she began as an assistant at TNCS in January, 2020, just a month after earning her graduate degree. She joined then-primary teacher Maria Mosby’s classroom and got her first taste of the Montessori method. “It was a new teaching style for me,” she said, “as I had only known traditional education before. I learned it step by step.” She is grateful to TNCS for giving her the opportunity to learn something new and to grow as an educator.

Of course, soon after she adopted her new role as assistant teacher, TNCS shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cui Laoshi was ready, though, and used her instructional technology expertise to create videos to teach students during the lockdown. These were language themed as well as crafty—young children love to make things with their hands! She also helped edit videos that other teachers made. “Using technology is helpful for teaching. Every teacher uses technology tools and equipment to improve teaching quality,” she said.

With the start of the 2021–2022 school year and the teaching vacancy left by Ge Laoshi when she assumed her new Curriculum Coordinator role, Cui Laoshi got her own Chinese immersion homeroom class and a promotion to lead teacher. “It’s challenging because I’m a totally new teacher, but I’m really excited,” she said. She also has some totally new subject matter to teach: in addition to teaching Mandarin Chinese, she also teaches Global Studies and Science . . . in Chinese. For this, she had to translate a lot of materials into Chinese. She says her students gave adapted very well, and that in the beginning she taught these core subjects in 60% English and 40% Chinese but has since progressed to 80% Chinese. Her methods are ingenious: she works the necessary GS and Science vocabulary into her language class, so her students have a foundation to build knowledge on, all 15 of whom are learning Mandarin for the first time.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

She now has ample opportunities to incorporate technology in her classroom. She uses apps   like WordWorld, for example, to “make words come alive” for her K/1st students who are just beginning their reading journeys. She also finds tools that help them practice writing. Other “tools,” like stickers, reinforce positive learning experiences.

As for what she likes best about TNCS, one special aspect is that she gets more than 1 year to get to know her “loving and warm” students, some of whom she knew from the primary classroom and will have them for 2 years in her homeroom. This makes for a lot of beautiful memories, she says. She also has made lots of new friends among her colleagues.

Cui Laoshi’s desire to educate is clear, and because she knows her students are hungry to learn, she pushes herself to do her best for them, such as preparing more materials to engage them. “There’s two things I know,” she said “they still need to work hard and to improve, and I’m so proud of them.”

When she does allow herself time to relax, she likes to play card games with friends and to travel around the country, which has been curtailed lately. She enjoys the Mid-Atlantic area best but has also visited Boston, New York City, Las Vegas, and so on. One day soon, she hopes to resume her exploration of the United States.

In the meantime, she continues striving to be the best teacher she can be and to encourage her students. “I may not have a lot of teaching experience yet,” she said, “but I have a lot of love. I always remind myself that I’ll get more teaching experience because the kids are giving it to me.” That’s really a very wonderful insight—that, in teaching, she is also learning.

Welcome to TNCS, Cui Laoshi!

Meet the Teacher: Charlotte Longchamps Joins TNCS as K/1st Teacher!

Charlotte Longchamps joined The New Century School for the 2021–2022 school year to lead a mixed-age kindergarten/1st grade classroom. She may be a relatively recent addition to the faculty, but her philosophy of teaching this age group is deep rooted and has facilitated a very rapid acclimatization to TNCS.

Meet Charlotte Longchamps!

Mrs. Longchamps grew up in Severna Park and has been in Maryland for most of her life. Her now-husband is from the Columbia area and lived here in Baltimore when they began dating. They moved to Boston, both pursuing advanced degrees: a PhD in Human Genetics for him and a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with certificates in Social Justice and Policy Development from Boston College for her. She previously earned a bachelors degree in Early Childhood Education from Towson University.

If it’s starting to sound like Mrs. Longchamps is a natural fit for TNCS, there’s more: “I’m very influenced by Montessori practices and philosophy, so in my own personal philosophy of education and instruction I will implement Montessori practices,” she explained. Although the K/1st classroom is not considered a Montessori classroom, many of those practices are still incorporated into the curriculum by teachers at this level—they work!

Mrs. Longchamps did her student teaching in Arundel County schools (where she went to school as well). She then taught in Montgomery County and first grade at Bethesda Elementary School for 3 years before the temporary relocation to Boston in 2019. It was there that she experienced the Montessori Method, providing weekly STEM instruction at a Montessori school.

The Longchamps moved back to Baltimore in 2021 to be closer to their families.

Mrs. Longchamps at TNCS!

Now happily ensconced at TNCS, she appreciates the smaller class sizes and the tight-knit community of teachers and families. “I have great relationships with all the teachers in the school,” she explained, “and we’re all able to work together to kind of develop curricula and improve our classrooms and instruction.”

In addition to being a K/1st homeroom teacher, Mrs. Longchamps teaches two core subjects: math and ELA. “Since I have the joy of teaching both core subjects, we really get to do some intense work with math and reading,” she said. At first, navigating the mixed ages was challenging. She had experience teaching both ages, but, until now, not both ages together:

It’s been a learning experience teaching two age groups at once. It was interesting to learn how to parallel teach or even compartmentalize those areas with those grades. It was a lot of setting up initially with differentiated centers and differentiated lessons and getting the kids to be independent so I can work with them individually or in small groups. But it’s helped me become more flexible as an educator and really tweak my own planning and instruction to fit the individual students. It was a bit tricky to figure out in the beginning with not yet knowing the kids and the community and wondering if I was heading in the right direction, but you to be able to think on your feet and modify to fit their needs as you go.

Now that she has the hang of it, the emphasis on differentiated instruction and individualized approach to learning are what she likes most about TNCS, apart from the community of teachers she speaks so highly of.

Even though kindergartners and first graders may seem like they are developmentally very similar, “where they are” can actually be quite different. In addition, kindergarten at TNCS is considered a transition from preschool to elementary, so it’s approached differently. Kindergarten students are in an immersive language experience (and Joan Cui, the other K/1st teacher teaches them Mandarin Chinese and Global Studies and Science in Mandarin), whereas 1st graders learn 45 minutes daily of both Spanish and Chinese. (Not to confuse things, but kindergarten students also receive 45 minutes a day of Spanish instruction.)

Back to thinking on her feet, Mrs. Longchamps has also had to be flexible with even where the class eats lunch because of COVID-19. “We try to eat lunch outside whenever we can,” she said. “There are picnic tables on the playground, some students have picnic blankets, and some of them have little folding chairs. So we’ll do that outside as much as possible but when the weather isn’t great or in the winter, we would eat at our classroom desks. Not any longer, but for a while, that meant eating in shifts of four kids at a time to minimize the amount of time not wearing masks.”

Parents, Mrs. Longchamps has an important message for you:

I want them to know—and I hope that they could tell from my actions—that my number one priority is their child’s perception of belonging at school and feeling safe and included. Feeling loved and welcomed is first, and then the academic piece comes behind that. You can’t learn if you’re feeling unsafe or stressed out or not included, so cultivating this safe environment for their children is important. I really emphasize building relationships, getting to know their children individually and deeply during our time together. I feel like the more we know each other, the more motivated they’ll be to learn. The more I will know to help them succeed. So that’s my priority. It is so essential to build up that positive attitude toward learning. You need that foundation before you can build up and bring in academics.

Mrs. Longchamps may well be cultivating lifelong happy learners with this beautiful approach to educating young children. She also says, “my students are so sweet and funny, thoughtful and loving . . . it’s great to watch them grow through the year.” Although she is planning to return for the 2022–2023 school year, she will be out for part of it, welcoming and nurturing a future student of her own. Congratulations, Mrs. Longchamps!

Pei Ge Transitions to a “Supporting” Role at TNCS!

Now in its 10th year, The New Century School has grown . . . and grown up! But even though the TNCS student body now comprises children through 8th grade, let’s not forget how this wonderful school began—as a preschool! To celebrate TNCS’s beginning, Immersed dedicates the next few posts to the preprimary through 1st grade divisions.

Pei Ge: TNCS’s Preschool Coordinator

Enter Pei Ge, TNCS’s official Elementary and Preschool Immersion Coordinator. Ge Laoshi, who was a long-time TNCS teacher of K/1 as well as primary and preprimary (also see MD Secretary of State Visits TNCS!), saw a need that opened up during the pandemic and made up her mind to do something about it. “I didn’t get a lot of support during the pandemic. So I thought to myself, ‘next year, I can support K/1st teachers more based on my teaching experience’.’ We all know how difficult teachers of young children had it during the shutdown. Unlike older students, little ones can’t really get much out of an onscreen zoom. So, she brought her inspired idea to TNCS Co-Executive Director, Co-Founder Roberta Faux, who embraced it and suggested adding the preschool component as well, since the preprimary and primary teachers were also feeling the need for a little extra support. Ge Laoshi agreed, and here we are!

Her coordinator position is, just as she said, primarily revolves around helping the preprimary (both Chinese and Spanish immersion), primary, and K/1st teachers during weekly meetings as well as whenever they might need, but it encompasses a whole lot more. Other large components are developing the Chinese curriculum for students ages 2 through 1st grade, creating action plans for students who need behavior coaching, mentoring new teachers (including Joan Cui “Cui Laoshi” who took over Ge Laoshi’s Chinese immersion K/1st classroom), and liaising with parents. Then there are sundry responsibilities that come up here and there. For example, when new students enroll, she reminds teachers to send out welcome letters and present the TNCS signature yellow bag. She makes sure each class has daily tasks to complete. She also helps coordinate all the funs school events—Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Spring concert, Winter Concert, the Spring picnic, and so on. The 2021–2022 school year enrollment totals 87 preschool students and 30 K/1st students.

“It’s very busy, and I’m still learning since this is my first year,” said Ge Laoshi, about how she is finding the new role so far. “It’s totally different from what I did before with teaching students. Now I manage our preschool team, and it’s a transition for me. But I am enjoying the challenge!” She explains that some days are busier than others, with lots happening, and that she is learning to balance all of the priorities that come with such an important position and making sure teachers, students, and parents are fulfilled.

The curriculum development component is an especially large task that Ge Laoshi takes step by step. “I need to make sure each grade is on the same page and learning about the same topic, even though they are on different levels. So, all grades will learn about describing weather, for example. As the students grow older, they will still review the topics they have learned and build on that knowledge. They can step up a little each year.” She also interfaces with Li Laoshi, TNCS’s elementary and middle school teacher, so that when it’s time for students to transition to an upper division, Li Laoshi is familiar with where they are and what their Mandarin Chinese language needs might be. This continuity is certainly contributing to enhanced proficiency and is quite a boon for the Chinese program at TNCS.

Training the new Chinese assistants who come to TNCS is another task that Ge Laoshi assists with. She prepares teaching material like vocabulary cards for them. Currently, TNCS has Cui Laoshi (not to be confused with “Big Cui” or Joan) assisting in the primary classrooms. Cui Laoshi joined TNCS in March of 2021 after emigrating from Nei Mongol in China to the United States with her family.

One special perk is that when a classroom needs coverage such as if a teacher is out a particular day, Ge Laoshi can step back into her former role as teacher, an opportunity she thoroughly appreciates. “It’s really fun. I get the chance to play with the little ones, but I also get to step away and do other things,” she said.

Her biggest success so far as coordinator? “Supporting teachers,” she answers without hesitation. “They have me if they need me. I also want to create more events for the preschoolers, like the firetruck that came to visit last month. I want to do more next year such as walking field trips, seeing puppet shows, and visiting libraries for story time.”

In her spare time, Ge Laoshi like to do yoga, swim, and tend her yard.

Ge Laoshi will continue as Elementary and Preschool Immersion Coordinator for the foreseeable future, and the TNCS community is so lucky to have her! See what wonderful things she was able to pull together along with lead teachers and Miss Devon for the preschool Spring Concert on May 26th! In the meantime, she says, feel free to contact her about your student: “If you need my help or support, I will be there!”