TNCS’s Annual Elementary and Middle School Back-to-School Night: Your Source for Need-to-Know Info for the 2019–2020 Academic Year!

Now that summer has unofficially ended, and school is back in full swing, The New Century School kicked off the 2019–2020 school year with its annual Back-to-School Night on Thursday, September 5th. The focus of the evening was to meet your student’s teachers and to present the student’s daily schedule, a curriculum overview, and school policies. In other words, students have had 2 weeks to acclimate—now it’s our turn! However, many parents were not able to attend, so this post will outline some of the more important bits of information you’ll need to get ensure a great year ahead.

As TNCS enters its 10th year, it’s worth noting how the school and its programs have expanded and grown to what they are today. Changes each year are inevitable, but TNCS has stayed true to its identity and has successfully weathered those changes, transforming would-be obstacles into opportunities and continuing to grow the student body.

An overview of tips and policies is given here, and specific documents can also be downloaded accessed via the TNCS Parent Hub (as well as Blackbaud—see more info below).

Welcome to the 2019–2020 School Year!

The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Shara Khon Duncan warmly welcoming parents, new and returning: “It’s nice to see all of your faces again—welcome,” she began. She next introduced the new staff and elementary and middle school teachtncs-back-to-school-night-2017ers, who then returned to their classrooms to prepare for the group breakouts by division. (Immersed will profile Suzannah Hopkins, Admissions; Lindsey Sandkuhler, K–1; Loretta Lee, 2–3; and Daphnee Hope, 7–8 in the annual “Meet the Teacher” series so you can get to know them better.) Chef Danielle provided tasty refreshments for attendees.IMG_2827 copy

Sra. Duncan then addressed the parent audience and presented four primary points about this school year at TNCS.

Blackbaud Comes to TNCS

Never fear, it’s not a swashbuckling pirate! Blackbaud is a brand-new student information platform rolling out for the new school year. Led by Sra. Duncan, TNCS had been on a quest for an effective, efficient system for more than a year, and Blackbaud rose to the top after a thorough vetting process. Said Sra. Duncan,”with a student information system, we should be able to get information about a student; make queries within the database; and, most importantly, we should be able to communicate with families.” Sra. Duncan gave well-deserved props to Karin Cintron for setting up Blackbaud and getting it out to parents.

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In addition to everything Blackbaud will make easier to accomplish from an administrative perspective, like admissions, re-enrollment, and so on, the parent experience will be greatly enhanced as well. The system houses class pages, an interactive calendar, community groups for networking (e.g., class parents, Parent Council, volunteering), resource boards, a newsfeed, links to Family ID and other sites, and more. Throughout this school year and as parents get familiar with it, Blackbaud will become the go-to for just about everything school related. “No more digging back through emails to find out what concert attire is supposed to be,” said Sr. Duncan. “It’ll all be there for you in one convenient location.”

The rollout will continue in a piecemeal fashion, as TNCS administration recognizes that too much change all at once can be overwhelming. This initiative is to help make school processes easier, after all. “I really want everyone to buy in to Blackbaud as our primary communications tool,” said Sra. Duncan. “However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t email a teacher—please continue to do so. Blackbaud is more for our school-wide points of business.”

Communication: It’s Not Just Talk

Speaking of communication, this brings us to Sra. Duncan’s second topic. “Last year was my first year as Head of School, and I learned a lot. One thing was the importance of communication. I really want to beef up communication with parents, but that’s a two-way  endeavor.” She urges parents to speak up when they have a concern, not to wait around and let a situation get out of hand or cause bad feelings. “If something’s bothering you, please let us know,” she said. “It’s better for all of us if we can address a problem from the outset and possibly make a difference. You’re not bugging us—these are your children. We’re supposed to be working together.”

Sra. Duncan has a way of getting to the heart of a matter! Keep the lines of communication open through emails, phone-calls, conferences . . . but preferably not during drop-off.

Carline: Ins and Outs

And that brings us to the third topic of the evening: drop-off and pick-up. The most important take-away here is safety. There are children and adults walking about, and their safety is paramount. The carline is a wonderfully convenience for parents, but it only works the way it’s supposed to when everyone follows the rules.

Drivers: The speed limit is 5 mph. Not any higher for any reason. Please obey the traffic directors and their signals.

Walkers: Use crosswalks–don’t walk through the parking lot! Drivers are obeying traffic directors and might not see you. The directors themselves might not see you. Do yourself and your child a favor and use the crosswalks!

Double parking: Don’t do it! You might get ticketed, as police officers are really cracking down on that this year. It also causes numerous circulation problems and causes frustration for TNCS’s neighbors. What is double parking? It can mean temporarily parking next to a legally parked car and leaving your car with the hazard lights on, but it also applies to leaving your car at all anywhere on the street that isn’t a designated parking spot. “It gums up the system,” said Sra. Duncan.

Obey traffic laws: For example, avoid blocking the intersection of Ann and Aliceanna streets.

You may have noticed that Sra. Duncan is no longer directing exiting traffic. Unfortunately, not to mention unacceptably, she was nearly hit three times last year and is not willing to repeat that risk. “I love my life,” she said, “and I would love to continue being Head of The New Century School with my legs intact.”

“I don’t know of any school that has a carline that everyone likes,” said Sra. Duncan, “and it never goes perfectly. But, we all have to work together. We are doing the best that we can to get the students out of the school buildings and into your cars. So, your patience is really important and appreciated.”

Grades Get Real

“I saw way too many high grades last year,” began Sra. Duncan. “While you might think, ‘great—that’s awesome!’, it’s really not. High grades are great only if they are truly earned.” So, she met with teachers to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what the grades mean. How are children earning their As, Es, and 1s? Indiscriminately serving out high grades now will not serve students well when they move on to high school, and reality sets in. “One, we’re not setting our students up for success with this approach,” continued Sra. Duncan, “and two, we certainly don’t want to get the reputation that we inflate grades.” She also pointed out that students will not try harder if they have already achieved the pinnacle of success. “They need room to grow, something to work toward. There’s room to grow in a B, and it means that teachers will be working with your child in those specific areas.”

“Please don’t panic if you see some honest grades come home. We really want to do what’s best for our students.” Inflate gate deflated! Homeroom teachers will provide more information on grading rubrics.


And that was the gist of Back-to-School Night. More homeroom-specific information will be communicated by teachers, via Blackbaud, and from Class Parents. Enjoy your school year!

American Music Camp Keeps the Beat for Third Year Running at TNCS!

The New Century School has made quite a reputation for excellent music education. Summer 2019 closed with the third annual American Music Camp (AMC), formerly known as AMS-Baltimore, led by Camp Director Yoshiaki Horiguchi “fondly known as “Mr. Yoshi.”american-music-camp-at-tncs

Here’s the thing about AMC—it needs to  be seen and heard to be believed. Returning campers and new recruits alike took their music-making abilities to new levels and, most importantly, they had so much fun doing it. The point of AMC, after all, besides exposing younger generations to America’s rich musical heritage (AMC is sometimes referred to as “fiddle camp”), is to help them get comfortable making music, to let loose and jam, to give something different a try, to collaborate in new ways.

And, it works!

Mr. Yoshi was quick to comment, though, that TNCS itself gets credit for some of the magic: “Thank you to the staff of The New Century School and this wonderful facility,” he said. “This camp would be so different if it were anywhere else. So thank you for making it possible.”

So much can be said of AMC and its origins, and Immersed encourages readers to visit 2017’s American Music System Summer Camp at TNCS! and 2018’s AMS-Baltimore Enjoys Second Amazing Year at TNCS! for more background, but this year’s post will focus on what happened at TNCS from August 12th through August 16th. Because it truly is magical and speaks for itself.

So, enjoy! Oh wait—one more thing—AMC included mandolin for the first time this year, instruments courtesy of Laura Norris’s Mando for Kids Baltimore Chapter!

Jam and Bucket Drum Classes

Each day followed a similar structure, with students doing music lessons, taking specialty jam and bucket drum classes, doing recitals, and also getting lots of time to play games and run around.

This is Jam Class. You may recognize returning camp instructor Melissa Tong, back for her third year from New York, New York.

Mind you, that’s just a taste. Visit TNCS’s YouTube channel for more videos of Jam Class, including “Havana”!

This is Bucket Band. Remember camp instructor Rob Flax?  He joined us for the third year running from Boston, Massachusetts. Mr. Yoshi thanked both Rob and Melissa for taking a week out of their busy performance schedules to join AMC camp. Cellist Zoe Bell also helped out this year.

Recitals

Now things get really interesting. Each morning when campers arrived at AMC Camp, they were given the opportunity to join up in bands. They agreed on their formats and then told camp instructors their band name and what tunes they’d be a’playin’. Here are Thursday’s bands.

Thirsty for more? Once again, visit TNCS’s YouTube channel for more recital videos by such awesome chart-toppers as The Chicken Noodle Soup!

On Friday’s recital, attended by some other TNCS camp-goers, bands posed for band shots (hover over the image to see their band names). For their songs, visit, you guessed it, TNCS’s YouTube channel!

Final Performance

And now, for the culmination of the marvelous week of music-making—the final performance!

“I’m a firm believer,” said Mr. Yoshi. . .

. . . that all of the life lessons you need for living in a health, happy community are all things you can learn from being in music camp, whether it’s getting a group of people together and collaborating on a tune to play in a recital or getting up on stage, conquering your fears, and presenting yourself or being able to improvise when life throws seemingly random curveballs and being able to respond appropriately for the benefit of all  the people around you. So thank you parents and students for being a part of this week.

More final performance videos can be found at TNCS’s YouTube channel, and you won’t want to miss them! Let’s face it, it’s going to be a long wait for AMC Number Four in Summer 2020! Can’t wait to see you there!
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Musical Theatre Camp 2019 Welcomed Some Very Special Visitors!

The New Century School is special for a great number of reasons, and several of those reasons come together in this week’s Immersed. To start with, TNCS offers hands-down the city’s most varied and exciting lineup of summer camps, and Musical Theatre camp led by the always marvelous Martellies Warren is a perennial favorite. Then there’s all that goes into what makes such a camp so effective and so wonderful for young learners—the arts, the music-making, the mixed ages collaborating so beautifully! Not to mention skills relating to the camp  theme! But there’s one extra-special aspect to this year’s Musical Theatre camp that elevated it even further: four attendees from China joined the fun!

Meet Mike, Jane, Coco, and Alex!

“Mike” (Zimo Han), age 11, is from Hunan. “Jane” (Xinyi Ma), age 11, and “Coco” (Jiarui Sunn), age 9, both live in Beijing. “Alex” (Qinghua Shang), age 6, is from Tianjin. The group was in Baltimore for 1 week, after which they headed to New York, NY for 4 days of sightseeing (Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Times Square, etc.). It was everybody’s first visit to the United States. Mike and Jane were accompanied by their mothers (Aili Mao and Jing Li), and Alex was accompanied by both his mother and grandmother (Yu Zhang and Aixian Zhang). The group also had a “handler” of sorts from the Harvest Company of China to help facilitate activities and make sure everyone was comfortable. They stayed in two furnished Baltimore row houses in the Bolton Hill neighborhood and enjoyed having three spacious floors of living space to run around in. Their evenings after camp were mostly spent relaxing at home, playing chess and other boardgames and watching tv—they even learned the idiom, “to click around” when referring to not watching anything in particular but channel surfing. The adults in their party cooked breakfast for them each day, but they had plenty of opportunity to eat their favorite food—pizza! Lunches and dinners were often enjoyed out at restaurants.

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The kids spoke wonderful English as a result of lessons in school, but they also appreciated the chance to speak Mandarin Chinese with TNCS students. They reported having a great time and made lots of friends at camp. Back at home in China, their hobbies included playing basketball (Mike), drawing (Alex), reading (Jane), and figure skating (Coco). See some of their other talents below! While the kids were in camp, the adults did some sightseeing around town, taking in Johns Hopkins University and the Peabody Library, for example, as well as visiting the Naval Academy in Annapolis and getting some shopping in at Arundel Mills Mall. A Target run was also de rigueur!

Behind the Scenes

Because Peter and the Wolf only has a handful of roles, the 25 total campers took on roles as a group, so, for example, the character of “Duck” was actually four campers. Campers ranged in age from rising 1st-graders to rising 7th-graders, and they hailed not from just China and TNCS but from schools all over the city like Patterson Park Public Charter School, Hampstead Hill Academy, St. Casimir’s, and the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Helping Mr. Warren lead camp was intern Carrie, who came to TNCS from China in early July and will stay for 1 year.

They learned important technical skills like stage blocking related to being part of a musical theatre production. Mr. Warren reported that they had the whole performance mapped out on the first day and so were able to devote their remaining days to rehearsing. After each rehearsal, Mr. Warren provided some debriefing notes for each group.

Comments like, “Wolves, wonderful job today! You were in time with the music, and you have amazing music to play off of!” and “Remember AIC? Always in character!” were common. The performers themselves likewise offered suggestions for how to improve a certain scene, like “Grandpa(s) should hang their heads and look disappointed in Peter.”

As per usual, campers made art to decorate the stage front. These are stunning!

They also crafted props and costumes and made great use of the Imagination Playground for set pieces.

The Play Is the Thing!

Mr. Warren introduced the performance and vowed not to interfere but to let his pros handle anything that came up. “They did an amazing job acting and putting up with my silliness,” he said. “It was wonderful!”

And now, we present Peter and the  Wolf, in its entirety!

Farewell, Friends!

On the last day of camp, after the performance of Peter and the Wolf, Mike, Jane, Coco, and Alex treated the audience to some performances of their own.

They were also presented with Certificates of Participation in their English language immersion camp.

The adults who accompanied them were thrilled by the whole experience and were kind enough to share some of their impressions of the program. Alex’s mother is an English translation teacher at a college in Tianjin. Mike’s mother both promotes literacy and runs an Adidas store in Hunan. She also takes her job as mother very seriously and was very happy to be able to spend mornings with her son, here in Baltimore, cooking special meals. Jane’s mother is also in education.

They had various reasons for wanting their children to attend camp at TNCS. They wanted the authentic experience of a customized trip and did not want to be stuck on tours such as what a typical travel agency would offer. They wanted the flexibility to be able to have their possibly changing needs met, as Mike’s mom described it. They also wanted the chance to practice their English. Furthermore, their children tended to be shy, they reported, and they were hoping that an immersion summer camp might bring them out a bit. An ancillary reason is that they were very curious about immersion-style learning itself, which is quite rare in China. “The way you teach students and the way you live so freely is totally different from China. It really impressed me,” said Alex’s mother.

At TNCS Musical Theatre camp, Mike, Jane, Coco, and Alex were doubly immersed, in a sense, because they also had to get comfortable being on stage and making new friends. For this, the adults were beyond grateful. They saw their children bravely trying new things and quickly becoming comfortable doing so. “I still remember the first day Alex went to school,” said his mom, “and when he came back home he told me he didn’t want to go again because he was too nervous. The next day he came back and something had changed. He tried his best to join the class, and he was so happy from then on.”

Jane had a lovely time, too. She wrote a letter to her friends back home completely in English, which made her mother very proud. She was having so much fun with them that she stayed up late to make gifts for them. “She really cherishes the friendships she has made,” said her mom.

Normally very independent Coco experienced some homesickness at first but quickly adapted and returned to her gregarious, social self.

Jane’s mom mentioned that she noticed a big change in all four of the children after their week at camp. At first they were reticent, but they very quickly embraced the experience and were livelier than she had ever seen.

Mike’s mom’s nicest surprise was the Orient Express restaurant owned by a TNCS family. She said the Chinese food there was better than what she can get in China!

Alex’s grandmother was most taken with the arrangement itself. She appreciated being able to learn from the trip on their jaunts, while the children were having such a rich immersion experience. She also enjoyed feeling so welcome and commented on how friendly and thoughtful everyone has been. Monica Li got an especially warm compliment for all she did to make their time comfortable and smooth. Monica is indispensable to TNCS!

On their last evening in Baltimore, they were going to Tokyo Seafood Buffet, where they would be trying their first taste of Maryland blue crab. We miss them all already and hope they remember TNCS and Charm City fondly, as we will hold them dear as well!

 

TNCS Summer Theatre Campers Embrace The Bard!

From July 15th through 19th, The New Century School welcomed back annual guest instructor Alex Hewett, who led the first TNCS Shakespeare Camp! Ms. Hewett is a TNCS favorite and has taught many aspects of drama, including scenes from various Shakespeare plays, to TNCS students through the years. (You can see some of her past camps and workshops here, here, here, and here.) but this year is special for being dedicated to one of the Bard’s plays. Currently, Ms Hewett is a Teaching Artist at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC).

A Midsummer Dream Camp at TNCS!

We know what you’re thinking—Shakespeare?! For kids?! Ms. Hewett’s answer is a resounding yes. Nevertheless, with a mixed-age group, she had to be strategic. Interestingly, all of the campers are either going into 2nd grade or 5th grade, so she paired them up, younger with older. It worked like a charm!

I started with Puck’s monologue to see how we did with that, and then determined which abridged version of the play with how many lines we could get through in 1 week. I don’t like dumbing down things, but in order for us to get this done, I went with The 10-Minute or So A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ‘creatively edited by’ Brendan Kelso. It keeps the integrity of some of the text and definitely keeps the overall feel. It brings in some colloquial language, too, which helps the kids’ understanding.

Besides, A Midsummer Night’s Dream has fairies—very mischievous fairies at that—and lots of laughs. You don’t have to be a scholar to find the Rude Mechanicals funny! That’s not to mention Bottom in donkey form. Even more importantly, the play is about love, and camp centered on that theme. Ms. Hewett says:

Even though Shakespeare’s stories are hundreds of years old, the feelings that the characters have, whether heir kings or peasants, are the same feelings that we have today. We have love, we have disappointment . . . we have sadness and grief. His stories transcend any time period and any culture because we’re all human. The story plots are also relatively simple—someone loves someone else, but the love is not reciprocated; someone wants to have power but somebody else in charge. I particularly love A Midsummer Night’s Dream because it’s magical, and I think kids really relate to that.

She was joined by Amy Hechtzizes, who hadn’t worked with elementary age children in a while but found the experience “difficult and hilarious and awesome”! (Sounds about right.) The two met at a women’s theatre ensemble workshop at The Strand theatre. Costuming help came from artist Liz Swanson. The campers themselves came from schools all over the city in addition to TNCS, including Hampstead Hill Academy (HHA), Patterson Park Public Charter School (PPPCS), and St. Casimir’s. They contributed some lovely drawings on theme to decorate the stage. Props were fashioned out of Imagination Playground materials—those trees (see videos below) are works of art!

Hello, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company!

Midweek, as a reward for all of their hard work, the group of budding thespians got quite a treat—a field trip to the CSC’s theatre in downtown Baltimore! Led by Studio Director, Gerrad Alex Taylor, they toured the theatre, getting to see all areas, including backstage and the gasp-inducing armory . . . all those swords! Go ahead—ask your kids what orchestra, mezzanine, and second mezzanine are! They can also probably clue you in as to how the Green Room got its name. Back in Shakespeare’s day, backstage was outdoors, so unless they were on stage, actors were passing the time until they were needed outside “on the green.”  Some of the important directorial considerations he shared with them included how to stage the play so that the actors can engage all of the audience, even those they may not be directly facing.

Mr. Taylor is also an actor in the company. One of his favorite recent parts with CSC was the rebel Hotspur in Henry IV, Part 1, because he got to “throw a table” in that volatile role. He also acts in Washington, D.C. and has taught drama at HHA. The tour ended with a Q&A with Mr. Taylor. Then, to top it all off, they borrowed costumes and got to rehearse on the CSC stage!

The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth!

But this special production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream sure did! (Okay, there was one casualty in the form of a pair of unfortunate sunglasses.) Back at TNCS, the last day of camp meant that families were invited to come for a performance.

Want more? You can see additional videos including the full rehearsal at CSC on our TNCS YouTube channel—while you’re there, please consider subscribing!

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Chinese Immersion Camp 2019—Wǒ Kěyǐ (我可以)?

From July 1st through 5th, The New Century School hosted a Mandarin Chinese Immersion summer camp that not only boosted participants’ language acquisition and speaking skills, but also emphasized the importance of having fun while learning. Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) believes that young learners will gain proficiency faster when they are doing something while learning a new language, rather than focusing just on the language itself. Thus, camp was built around activities, and specific lessons in vocabulary and grammar related to those activities. Did you notice the name Xie Laoshi? You read correctly! TNCS campers welcomed back their dear former teacher, and she brought along some new friends from her current school to join the fun. The group also included a raffle winner from Patterson Park Public Charter School (see more about that program in this post from summer 2018)! Students came from all over the city; other schools included Greenspring Montessori and Baltimore International Academy.

You may be wondering, with such a varied group of students, how did Chinese immersion camp come together? In fact, the 14 campers ranged in age from 4 to 12, but Jewel—like always—rose to the challenge. Instead of focusing on a single theme as past camps have done (see here and here), Chinese Immersion Camp 2019 took a slightly different approach and emphasized interaction. This meant lots of practice communicating with each other and partaking in various activities in groups.

Jewel has a lot of experience in teaching Mandarin summer camps for children. (She taught Startalk camp at TNCS in summer 2014 and again in summer 2015 as well as developed her own camp the following year.) She employs the 5 Cs of language acquisition developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) that TNCS has been using all along in its multilingual language program curriculum. Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities inform every language-learning activity the day holds. The most effective language program designs activities in which these five concepts intersect, which is exactly what Chinese Immersion Camp achieves, as photos throughout this post eloquently demonstrate. Now let’s take a peek at camp!

Camp Day to Day

This year, Jewel was joined by assistant Miss Pung, which allowed the camp to subdivide for part of the day, with older campers working on skits to be performed at the end of the week and younger campers practicing conversation while working on related art projects.

 

Although camp was not specifically themed, each day had a standard framework. Mornings were devoted to lessons, which progressed to applying what they just learned in practice.

 

Even the vocabulary lessons, however, were extremely interactive. See Jewel and her devoted students in action!

After lunch and recess, afternoons usually meant art (working with clay, making dragon fans, creating blue “porcelain” plates) and other cultural activities—singing, dancing, cooking, and so on . . . even some martial arts displays!

 

Building Blocks of Conversation

Key here is that everything was interrelated; vocabulary was specific to the day’s activities—in other words, campers were acquiring the tools they would be using throughout the day. In addition to placards and the whiteboard to teach language, Jewel also employed Chinese Buddy, a collection of YouTube video songs designed to teach discrete conversational units and grammar points. Campers watched and sang along, clearly enjoying them. Each unit built upon the next, and campers ultimately used what they learned to write, produce, and perform their end-of-week skits.

If your child is learning Mandarin, you’ll want to meet Chinese Buddy. The songs are funny, catchy, and adored by kids. Start with the very memorable, “Stinky Tofu Song (臭豆腐之歌)” that focuses on how to communicate “want”:

Now see TNCS campers!

How about the “May I/Can I (可以吗)” song?

Move and Learn!

Attendees really did learn by doing—another TNCS Chinese program tenet. Plenty of movement and physical activity took place each day, and multiple benefits accrue from this approach. Kids obviously need to move around and release some of their boundless energy, but research shows that learning while moving deepens learning. (Read more about this theory called Total Physical Response here.) In the following short video clips, you’ll see campers competing in short physical contests. They comprehend Jewel’s commands given in Mandarin effortlessly, and she mixes in new vocabulary with the Mandarin campers are already familiar with, like counting, which gives them both practice—so important for language proficiency—and new brain food to chew on. They are having so much fun they don’t even realize they are learning! And don’t forget the cultural component—in China, school children do daily calisthenics, much like what TNCS campers are doing here!

And Now, for the Skits!

In their skits, campers put it altogether. They were all, thus, variations on a theme, but each group put their own stamp on it! The basic premise was a child asking a parent permission for something, the request being denied, and the child moving on to another parent, who then grants the request. Some marital friction might ensue, depending on the group. Or, dad might be Captain America—again, it depends on the group. Jewel said, “They didn’t have a lot of practice, but they really did an amazing job and did everything by themselves.”

Míngnián Zàijiàn (明年再见), Chinese Camp!

Their last-day party was also an occasion to be remembered—campers prepared and gobbled up Chinese noodles with gusto! What did Jewel think of camp? “I was very happy to be at The New Century School and working with the students here again,” she said. The week went great, and we had fun together. I felt like I have never left. TNCS is always close to my heart.”

If you notice a bump in your child’s Mandarin skills over the next few weeks, you have the rich cultural experience of TNCS Chinese Immersion Camp 2019—and Jewel—to thank.

 

 

TNCS Head of School Wraps up the 2018–2019 School Year!

Shara Khon Duncan has been Head of School at The New Century School for a full year.  Immersed had another sit-down with her for a nostalgic look back at her first year, what goals she set and accomplished, what went well, what she’s continuing to address, and what she’ll tackle next.

Immediately, Sra. Duncan expressed her pleasure and gratitude for what she called a great year.

It’s really great—I love it. Friends, family, and former colleagues will say things like, ‘you don’t look tired enough,’ or ‘you’re still smiling; how is that possible?’, and it’s because I love what I do. It’s not a job. I love coming to this place everyday, where I have such wonderful people to work with as well as wonderful students and families. I tell people that this is one of the most diverse environments that I’ve been in. It’s a blessing to be here.

Diversity and languages are, indeed, important to Sra. Duncan, who was a Diversity Coordinator at one of her former schools. She is amazed that TNCS doesn’t even need one—it organically attracts a culturally diverse population and is inherently inclusive and respectful of the community’s various needs. And the languages really elevate the school for her; in fact, that’s what originally drew her to TNCS (see TNCS Welcomes Shara Khon Duncan as Head of School for her rich history with languages). She gets to use her adopted language Spanish daily, and she is even picking up some Mandarin, thanks to the perseverance of Li Laoshi. Sra. Duncan joked that, so far, she can tell you whether it’s raining or not. “In all seriousness, though, it’s just wonderful to hear the students speaking in Spanish and Mandarin,” said Sra. Duncan. It amazes me to hear kindergarten students who just started in the fall and spoke only English singing in both languages at the spring concert and sounding like they’ve been doing it all their lives. It gives me chills.”

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Goals Accomplished

The year went really fast in a lot of ways, and in a lot of ways I feel like I’ve been here a long time,” said Sra. Duncan. “It presented some challenges in the sense that there was a lot of work to do just putting systems into place, trying to make it so that we can run more efficiently in the background, which was one of my goals.” She explained that in order to be as visible and out and about on campus as she’d like to be, she needed to first work behind the scenes to establish a framework.

One such system is a new student management system, which the TNCS community will learn about in the coming weeks and will launch for the 2019–2020 school year. It’s called Blackbaud, and it will provide a much more efficient platform for communication—think school delay and closing announcements—as well as much, much more. Staff will be able to readily send out notifications, and teachers will have individual web pages that parents can access to find out what’s going on in the classroom rather than receiving such information from a sometimes unwieldy email platform. Resource boards will also be available to house other kinds of information so parents don’t have to go spelunking through their inboxes to find out, for example, what is the requested dress for an upcoming student performance. It’s right there in one easy-to-access place.

“That process of vetting various systems to see which one would work best for us took a good deal of my time,” said Sra. Duncan, “but we established teams, and I talked to other schools. Things like that take time; you want to do your due diligence. There’s no one system that works well for everyone, perfectly, but our hope is that this one will probably work the best for us.”

Blackbaud will also facilitate the application process as well as the administrative workflow for teachers and other staff so that they can maximize their time. “When you’re a small school, you wear many hats. But anything we can do to make people’s jobs better, so they work smarter not harder, is really important. We can, including me, find ways to use our other skills more effectively,” said Sra. Duncan. Curriculum is one thing that is very much on her mind that Blackbaud will help streamline.

See what other successes the year held in Thoughts on the First Half of the Year from TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, and read on for what’s to come!

What’s Next

One important change is with the upcoming implementation of i-Ready supplemental work. “We used to use SuccessMaker, but it didn’t really work for us the way we wanted it to this year. What we found through our research is that i-Ready will give students the ability to practice their skills in ELA and Math in a classroom rotation,” said Sra. Duncan. The advantage is that, as a supplemental program rather than a primary curriculum, it will help diagnose any problem areas students might be having and feed that information to the teacher.

Narrowing the focus a bit, with TNCS having graduated its first-ever 8th-grade class this past year, the Middle School is very much on everyone’s mind. One thing that this class showed Sra. Duncan is that test-taking skills are critical. “It’s a double-edged sword,” she said. “Being a school that doesn’t do standardized testing, per se, we nevertheless have to prepare our students for the standardized testing they’ll need to enter high school. So, we’re working on test-taking skills for our middle school students, in particular, and they all took the ISEE test this past year.”

She says she wants to make the TNCS Middle School the best it can possibly be and is focusing on strengthening that program over the summer.

Our goal is to help people understand that we go all the way through 8th grade. We want people to see this as a school that doesn’t end after preschool or even after elementary, it ends at 8th grade, and we want families in for the long haul. Families who enter in preprimary or primary believe that something is good about our program, so why not see how that can continue in their child’s life? They know that language is important, and they get to see it in action. I’m in awe everyday of what our teachers do, but we want that to continue all the way up. So that’s something we are working on.

Another thing the first crop of 8th-graders revealed to Sra. Duncan and to Curriculum Coordinator Adriana DuPrau, TNCS’s “resident expert on high school applications,” is that middle schoolers must get used to doing daily homework, so they increased the amount mid-year. “That may sound like not a popular thing, but it helps them get that time management piece down that they really need in order to be prepared for high school,” explained Sra. Duncan. “Students adapted to it wonderfully, and parents were right along with us!”

With the test pilot of increased homework having gone so well, this new initiative will continue for the coming year. Additionally, research and other long-term projects are on the horizon. “There’s a lot more that we need to teach our students, such as understanding how to use and be critical of technology. There are pieces that they have to learn about the whole process, and what’s important is helping them understand what goes into the process of researching. It’s almost as important as the writing process,” said Sra. Duncan.

She continued: “We feel very good about our first graduating middle school class, and we learned an awful lot about the whole process. Ultimately, we just want to make sure that we have everything we need to make sure our students are prepared for when it’s time to move on from here.”

It’s a Partnership

With everything that Sra. Duncan and the rest of the school is doing to ensure that TNCS students are learning and flourishing, it’s vital to remember that parents also play important roles in this process. One big theme of Sra. Duncan’s is the importance of two-way communication and that her door is open. When community members hear things thirdhand, for example, but don’t bring their concerns forward, uncertainty spreads. “When people are talking to others about something they’ve heard regarding the school, but they don’t come to me, I can’t address it. If you have a concern, I’m happy to talk to you about it,” she said.

She’s going to be straight with you, but she also really wants to hear what you have to say and is going to be very fair about that. “I know I have more peace of mind if I just say my piece or ask my questions. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they can’t come talk to us. This is your child. Come talk to us. We may not agree, but we’ve got to talk about it. I get it—I’m a mom, too.”

A second important theme is that TNCS is a work in progress—a very innovative and exciting work in progress—and that there’s no such thing as a perfect school.

The advantage is that we will always keep trying to be better. We are a young school, but that’s a good thing, because we’re trying to figure out how to make this work beautifully every single day. We are trying to learn from every little thing that doesn’t quite work the right way. We fix what doesn’t work, and we figure out how to do more of what goes great. This hidden gem down here is pretty amazing, and when people really find out about it, they are duly amazed.

Final Thoughts

When asked what the main thing she wanted parents to know about her first year at TNCS, Sra. Duncan said: “This is what I was made to do. This is my thing. I’ve been working toward this my whole life, and I didn’t know it. It’s just so wonderful. This is my place. I love it. I really love it.”

And, with characteristic good humor: “Also please don’t run over me while I’m directing traffic. Please.”

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TNCS Upper Elementary and Middle Schoolers Make Their Annual Pilgrimage to Echo Hill!

On May 30th and 31st, The New Century School 4th- through 8th-grade students took their fourth annual overnight field trip to Echo Hill Outdoor School (EHOS), in Whorton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Chaperoned by teachers Nameeta Sharma and Ilia Madrazo, girls bunked together in two separate dormitories (older girls, younger girls), and boys bunked together in two separate dormitories (older boys, younger boys). The idea of trekking to Echo Hill originally came from former TNCS teacher Kiley Stasch, who used to go when she was in school and cherished the memories. See the first TNCS trip to EHOS here.

And, for the first time, Immersed got to see the fun firsthand!

tncs-echo-hillEHOS is a very special place. The campus is strikingly beautiful, sitting in forested acres adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay, and it’s brimming over with happy faces—children and camp counselors alike. Birdsong and bullfrog calls are everywhere, and these natural sounds mix in a very interesting way with the sounds of munitions being fired across the bay at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. This only adds to the feeling of having traveled in space but also in time. Also, the beauty is not merely skin deep. EHOS has a clear mission and has been carrying it out for close to 50 years: “We are dedicated to creating a safe and supportive environment for students to feel challenged and successful with the freedom to think, question, and express themselves.”

If those words seem buzzy, they are not just for show. In all aspects of their day, camp attendees are reminded of these values, from waking each morning to going to bed at night and through all of the delightful things that happen in between. TNCS campers were there for just over 24 hours, but weeklong programs are also available.

Types of programs also vary in curricular content. TNCS has so far always opted primarily for the Individual and Group Development curriculum, which matches up beautifully with TNCS’s own school values. It is what it sounds like—each student is asked to set certain goals and encouraged to work toward achieving them, all while maintaining respect for the needs of the group as a whole. This makes for both personal success as well as great bonding experiences. Now, these goals . . . they are not related to work in the traditional sense nor to academics. The Individual and Group Development program takes place on the exalted Adventure Challenge Course, which features experiences like a rock-climbing wall and a zipline, among others.

Because of the size of this year’s group, components of other EHOS programs were also mixed in so that each student got at least four “classes.” So, in addition to lots of time on the Adventure Challenge Course, they were also offered classes from the Science and Ecology curriculum, such as Chesapeake Bay Studies (by boat!), Night Hike, and even time to hang out on the beach.

The overall experience was incredibly rich, and TNCS students will surely not forget it soon. The photos and videos in the post will tell much of the story, and we’ll walk through the general outline of the trip, step by step.

Arrival

tncs-echo-hillTNCS arrived just before lunchtime, and after a 2-hour bus ride were hungry! EHOS counselors know kids, however, and immediately walked the group to a big field to play Sword-and-Shield tag. In this version of tag, if someone touches you with their arm (sword), and you were not able to defend yourself with your shield (arm bent in front of you as if holding a shield), you knelt in your spot with both arms bent and hands facing up. A well-meaning passerby could then high-five you as he or she runs past. You can ask for help, too, if you see that someone is close. Once you get two high-fives, back onto the “battlefield” you go. The kids had a ball with it, and it was not lost on the adults watching nearby that the team-building message had already begun!

Lunch

Next, it was time to feed the hungry hordes. Note that TNCS was far from the only school in attendance—hundreds of kids were there, and everyone dines together. How does EHOS handle such a huge group? We take you now to their giant mess hall, known as the “Whip.” Inside, camper volunteers acting as “biddies” help set up the long dining tables with silverware, plates, and cups and make sure the surroundings are clean. TNCS students volunteered right away!

Once set-up is complete, a bell rings and everyone on campus gathers in a big circle to first offer thanks for individual moments a camper might be grateful for (optional) and then for a moment of silence before the meal (compulsory for all). This circle hints at the Quaker roots of Echo Hill and is a very pleasant tradition.

Groups are next invited to enter the Whip and find a seat. Schools may sit together or they may mingle with other schools. At each table of 10, though, an adult sat at each end. At least one of the adults would be a camp counselor and that counselor served the family-style meal. Only two people are allowed up from the the table at any time, so even despite the crowds, meals proceed in a remarkably orderly fashion. Two campers fetch the dishes and bring them to the table, and one by one the counselor asks each diner what he or she would like and how much. Once everyone is served, diners have the option of going up for salad, fruit, a vegetarian option, and whatever leftovers are available from the leftover table. This is part of why meals are served family style—the food is touched by only one serving utensil to keep it clean so it can be offered again at the next meal. It also helps convey the message that we’re all in this together; let’s enjoy it! There’s even a giant dinner bell!

Campers can eat as much as they want, and many around the Whip had third and fourth helpings. But, and this is a big but, the individual diner is agreeing to eat what is on his or her plate. This being a Thursday, a mock Thanksgiving meal was served complete with all the fixins’.

TNCS students were introduced to the concept of SLOP at their very first meal at EHOS. SLOP stands for Stuff Left On Plate, and stuff left on plate is waste. Campers were always reminded of the impact of wasting food, and all campers strove to reduce their individual contributions to the SLOP bucket. At the end of each meal, the bucket is weighed with the goal of seeing that eight progressively decline over the course of the stay. Bet that has never not happened! Not only does the practice really motivate the kids to reduce waste, but EHOS food is universally considered delicious, so eating it was not a problem!

Orientation

After lunch, the group learned the ropes of EHOS. Camp counselors Elizabeth, Emma, Sahil, and Annie provided an orientation, explaining the rules to be followed and how things work in general. The #1 rule at EHOS, they stressed, is being polite. This includes being respectful and listening. “You are your own mom this week!” Counselors went over everything from bugs (download a helpful pdf here), hygiene, and safe practices to the all-important passports! These included information about classes as well as opportunities for reflection on those classes, handy maps, journal pages, and space for autographs.

Campers were also asked why they were brought to EHOS and gave such answers as, “to interact with nature,” “to have new experiences,” “to have fun,” and “to learn new things.” That pretty much sums up exactly what happened! They were also introduced to the concept of “Echo Hill time,” which basically means letting go of the tyranny of the clock, as in, “What time is it?” “It’s Echo Hill time.” Counselors stressed the importance of being fully present in the experience happening rather than anticipating what is to happen next. The daily schedule is organized by the ringing of a bell loosely corresponding to a general time of day rather than to a specific hour or moment in time. It’s quite nice!

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Orientation ended with “tribes” being assigned. TNCS students were split up into three groups, and each group would remain together as a tribe during all classes. Finally, the group returned to Merrick Hall to set up bunks and settle in. Once they got their belongings in order, they were free to play indoors or out while “extra time” wound down, and afternoon classes began.

Afternoon Classes

And then it was time for class! One tribe went off for Chesapeake Bay Studies, and two groups went for separate Adventure I and Adventure II Classes in the adventure area.

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Tribe 7 wound up at the Pathfinder, “a climbing wall and cargo net topping out at a trapeze, while classmates coach and aid in the belay system.” Not familiar with the belay system? This is part of the security used while campers scale the wall. They are asked to make contracts with the counselors and observe certain rules while on the equipment. They are also asked to make observations about the equipment and then to set goals, “find their path,” and challenge themselves. Students then had to collectively agree on what order they would climb in, with two at a time on the wall. “Rock on” was the signal that they could get to it!

Unfortunately, thunder soon rolled in, followed by drenching rain, so activities shifted indoors. EHOS staff had no trouble keeping everyone happy, entertained, and challenged, however. It took TNCS students a few minutes to get the nuance of the games they were playing, but once they figured out the key, Counselor Cody was no match for them!

Dinner

Before they knew it, the afternoon had passed, and so had the rainstorm. Back to the Whip they went, with another pre-meal circle and some outdoor games.

After another delicious meal—after every delicious meal, in fact—the counselors put on some form of entertainment. Sometimes there’s a message; sometimes, it’s just plain goofy–and the kids eat it up!

Night Classes

From about 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm, students got to take part in one more class. This ranged from Night Hike to learning what it’s like to be a nocturnal animal and have eyes that can adjust to seeing in darkness.

Then it was light’s out at 10:00 pm and all quiet by 11:00 pm.

Breakfast 

Breakfast at the Whip was a much-looked-forward-to affair, and it did not disappoint. Having worked up such an appetite the day before and slept so well Thursday night, by Friday morning, TNCS students were ravenous!

Morning Classes

Friday was a gorgeous sunny day, so all activities were in full swing. The Chesapeake Bay studies group (Tribe 7) actually got to board the boat and head out on the water. Catfish were kissed. The Pathfinder was scaled by many in Tribe 6, and the Zipline was tackled by the Middle Schoolers (Tribe 5). It was a fabulous morning.

The shrieks heard in the background came from the nearby Zipline action. For this activity, campers had to climb up a tree to a platform, transfer to a zipline harness, and then soar on down to the ground. They could opt for all of the above or part of the above, but they had to try at least part. This is part of the “challenge by choice” philosophy and TNCS students pushed themselves past what they thought themselves capable of.

It was also mandatory for anyone stepping inside the “cone zone” to wear a helmet, and all students had to help out at the landing.

Yes, that’s a miniature ukulele you hear in the background.

Even Mrs. Sharma went for it!

Some students made it look easy; others had to work up their courage, but they were all happy with their outcome.

Goodbye, Echo Hill!

Although no one wanted to leave, it was time to depart after lunch on Friday and head back to TNCS to close out one truly memorable school year. And we’re so glad to have gotten that special time with TNCS’s first-ever graduating class of 8th-graders. What a send-off!