Writer in Residence Joins TNCS: Meet Ilia Madrazo!

IMG_1209This past November, The New Century School embarked on a new approach to English Language Arts instruction. Welcoming Ilia Madrazo to the faculty, TNCS now features dedicated ELA teaching for 3rd-grade through middle-school students, which allows intensive focus in the all-important skills of enhanced reading comprehension and effective writing.

Although the elementary and middle school  teaching staff had already been established for the 2017–2018 academic year, when Ms. Madrazo became available, new opportunities that were too good to pass up likewise opened for TNCS’s academic offerings. Ms. Madrazo is a passionate educator with over 20 years’ experience teaching ELA, English as a Second Language, and Reading to school-aged students of all levels as well as at the university level. She earned her master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Houston and pursued doctoral level studies in English Linguistics at the University of Puerto Rico. She is a published researcher and has presented at various conferences. In addition to scoring such a credentialed instructor, bringing Ms. Madrazo on as “Writer in Residence” also allowed the other elementary and middle school teachers at TNCS to specialize in their preferred subjects, such as Jon Wallace now being science guru full time.

About Ilia Madrazo

Ms. Madrazo came to Baltimore last March via Houston, Texas but is originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where much of her family including her son still resides. (Her son is currently studying Physics at the University of Puerto Rico with the goal of becoming a radiologist.) She decided to move from Houston (just in time to avoid Hurricane Harvey, she added) because, after 10 years there, she needed a change. Having a brother, sister-in-law, and a nephew here made Baltimore the logical choice. One day in the future, she hopes to move to Spain.

Once here, though, she jumped in with both feet, establishing clear rules and expectations from the outset. She jokes: “So far it’s going very well. I think the kids and I are in the honeymoon period because they are working really well for me.” She immediately implemented “literature circles,” which got students engaged in reading in new and deeper ways—a primary goal of Ms. Madrazo’s. She describes the literature circle as akin to a book club, with a facilitator (her) and a group of students discussing the book theme and associated topics. She also incorporates writing instruction in an innovative way here: “We approach the book not only as the reader, but also as the writer. Good books teach you how to write well. I’m big on non-fiction because it allows students to see the form of the writing, and that can be helpful. Writing is very hard to teach and learn, so starting from another perspective can reduce students’ anxiety about it.”

Despite being Spanish/English bilingual and having experience teaching ESOL, Ms. Madrazo’s preferred medium is definitely ELA. She discovered this while teaching adults during her doctoral studies in Puerto Rico. “Honing in and concentrating on English learners came naturally to me, and I just fell in love with it,” she explained. This came as somewhat of a surprise to her because she did not set out to pursue literature and writing in college. “My bachelor’s is in Psychology,” she explained. “I entered college as a premed, but I wanted to have a life outside of studying, so I thought I would be a child psychologist. I always knew I wanted to work with children, older children.” On graduating, she began pursuing a master’s in Education on her mother’s advice, as something to always be able to fall back on, but marriage and starting a family temporarily interrupted those plans. As mentioned above, however, she did get that master’s and has been a teacher ever since. Her whole family, in fact, even though they study very different disciplines, are all teachers.

Developing her writing skills is another story: “I was never trained to write. So when I got to college, I had to learn how to write a perfect story. I found that I had to do an outline to organize my thoughts and then add the meat to it.” She still uses this formula today to ensure that each piece of writing is coherent, measured, and makes a clear argument.

Writing Program at TNCS

With abundant expertise and experience, Ms. Madrazo has lots of ideas for expanding the writing program at TNCS. Writing is communication, and good communication is an absolutely essential 21st-century skill.  She says: “I want to move writing forward, not only writing a good story but writing a solid essay or opinion piece in which students must give me evidence to support what they’re saying. So, if they’re reading a book, I want them to be able to tell me not only that a character went through a change but also to be able to cite in what paragraph and on what page that change occurred. This practice will be very good preparation for high school and college.”

So far, she is using some of the same materials already in play in ELA, such as Wordly Wise for vocabulary expansion and the Lucy Calkins curriculum for elementary writers, and is also incorporating new ones, like the Just Write series and Words Their Way for 3rd and 4th grades. Middle school students will have an entirely separate curriculum using, for example, Empowering Writers. She will be refining the curricula throughout Quarters 3 and 4.

She is also finding ways to manage the different levels within each group by utilizing the Daily 5 classroom management rotation. This includes “Word Work” in the Wordly Wise website, or SuccessMaker, or Raz kids; a small group that works with her; writing or reading alone, and doing “Word Sorts”—a method of classifying words based on their spelling pattern and phonetics; among other writing and reading-related activities.

“I’m excited to be able to dedicate myself to ELA and really focus here,” said Ms. Madrazo.. “I fell in love when I came to TNCS the first time. Having a greenhouse, chickens, I loved it. The cafeteria is focused on healthy food. I like that the classes are small. I love Fells Point. I also want to thank the parents and administration for embracing me. It’s been lovely so far and I hope to have a great partnership with them.”

If you have not done so already, make time to meet Ms. Madrazo, such as during second-semester Parent–Teacher conferences. Besides being an excellent teacher and writer, in her free time, she enjoys traveling, listening to podcasts, playing board games, and hanging out with her Puggle, Jupiter.

It’s a New Dai for Extended Care at TNCS!

The New Century School is well known for its convenient before- and aftercare programs as well as its robust extracurricular programming. In October, TNCS welcomed Dehojeni “Dai” Cousins as Aftercare Director to oversee and expand on these popular offerings.

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Ms. Cousins came to Baltimore 3 years ago but is originally from San Diego, California.  She first came to the East Coast to attend college in Atlanta, where she earned a B.A. in Mathematics, although she originally majored in Biology with the intent to become a medical examiner. She soon realized that math was her passion, and, upon graduating, arrived in Baltimore to teach math at Vivian T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, a medical high school where students get certified to work in the nursing, pharmaceutical, or EMT fields.

While she was teaching, Ms. Cousins earned two master’s degrees, one in Special Education and another in Secondary Education, all by the time she was 23 years old. She explains why she decided to apply for the TNCS Aftercare Director position, despite having so much education experience: “Teaching was a big time commitment—I didn’t have time for anything else. So I thought I needed something different, but I knew I still wanted to work with children.”

Despite being so accustomed to working with high school–age children, she adjusted to the younger age groups at TNCS immediately. “Younger kids want you to help them, and they want you to talk to them, so it’s easier to try to get them to do something. They’re easier to engage, and they’re just so loving. High school students tend to have more ‘attitude’ and don’t always want outside input,” she said.

Although she came into a program that was already pretty well established, she knows what direction she’d like to take it in from here. Her main focus in the fall was to ensure that students enrolled in before and after care had plenty of opportunities to be creative and active and to basically enjoy being where they are. (Psst—she loves Pinterest!) “I want them to make stuff so they can take home something different. I definitely want to incorporate more activities and a little bit more structure with the students. Some students haven’t learned certain social skills, so I want to help them develop those behaviors,” she said.

As far as extracurricular activities, she says, “I’m still figuring that out. There are already a lot of choices now, so I just need to fill in some gaps. I also want to incorporate more extracurriculars for primary students.”

All in all, for being in a new environment both geographically and professionally, Ms. Cousins is adapting beautifully. San Diego and Baltimore are quite different, for example.  “At first it was an adjustment. The weather, the buildings, just everything about it was an adjustment, especially because San Diego is more of a calmer place, and it’s always sunny. It’s a little colder here,” she said. Back in San Diego, she frequented the beach, helped her younger sister with schoolwork—especially math—and did a lot of volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club. Here, she is developing friendships, loves to cook with her boyfriend, and plans to explore East Coast beaches to see how they measure up. Although all of her family is in California, she goes back at least once a year to visit them, and her mother loves to travel and comes here often. Her work, she says, is going very well. She finds it a fun challenge to design new activities for students in Extended Care to pursue.

Ms Cousins was adamant about one thing in particular: “Even though I’m young, I’m ready for this task.” You may have noticed—the kids adore her!

Baltimore Gets a Special Visitor from the North Pole!

On Friday, December 22nd, something truly special occurred in Baltimore, MD: A Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) flew all the way down from the Arctic to land at Masonville Cove overlooking the Patapsco River, as shown in the photo below (lack of resolution due to distance from the owl).

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“What’s the big deal (and what does this have to do with The New Century School)?” you may be asking. To find out what made this event so extraordinary, Immersed spoke to Jim Rapp, Co-organizer of Baltimore Birding Weekends (scroll below for details) and lifelong aficionado of the natural sciences.

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Jim Rapp, Co-organizer, Baltimore Birding Weekends

Snowy Owl FAQs

First, check out this video about Snowy Owls on Assateague Island that Mr. Rapp filmed just a couple of weeks before our visitor graced us with its presence.

So, what’s all the fuss again? Mr. Rapp explains:

For birders, a Snowy Owl is considered a birding rarity. Although a few usually show up in the mid-Atlantic during the winter months each year, it is such an unusual occurrence that birders will travel for miles to see one, or to add the species to their life list.

Every 4 or 5 years, a natural phenomenon known as an irruption occurs. During an irruption, Snowy Owls fly south into the United States during the winter months following a very successful nesting season in the Arctic. The successful nesting season is attributed to large populations of lemmings, the Snowy Owl’s favorite prey species.

Once in a birder’s lifetime, a “mega-irruption” occurs, when massive numbers of owls migrate south. The last mega-irruption occurred in 2013–2014, when owls made it as far south as Florida and Bermuda.

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Photo Credit: Dave Messick, Hooked on OC/Unscene Productions.

Also read Snowy owls come back to Assateague island.

Masonville Cove: Your Chance to See the Owl!

As to how and why Masonville Cove is temporarily hosting a Snowy Owl, no one really knows, but this is a great chance to see a beautiful creature that you may never again see in your lifetime. According to its website, “Masonville Cove is 70 acres of water and 54 acres of cleaned-up wetlands, nature trails, and a protected bird sanctuary, all soon-to-be protected by a conservation easement and part of the Shores of Baltimore Land Trust.” In partnership with Living Classrooms, this environmental education center (located at 1000 Frankfurst Ave., Baltimore, MD 21226) connects students with the rich habitats and inhabitants of this piece of Baltimore’s biodiverse waterfront.

Mr. Rapp continues:

Irruptions are still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Years ago, the southern movement of Snowy Owls was believed to have been caused by a lack of prey in the north. Scientists thought the owls were leaving in search of food, and were starving when they arrived in the United States. Thanks in part to capturing live owls to study and band them, researchers have instead found that owls wintering in the United States are typically fat and happy. Snowy Owls that winter near the water, such as near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor or Assateague Island, will feed on wintering ducks. The spark that causes the owls to migrate is still a bit of a mystery, but it appears that irruptions are connected to a bounty of food rather than scarcity.

There’s a good chance that the Snowy Owl spotted at Masonville Cove in Curtis Bay on Friday, Dec. 22nd will remain there through the winter months. The open habitat is just right for Snowy Owls, and there are lots of Buffleheads and other ducks on the water. If you choose to go see a Snowy Owl, please remember to obey property rules, and never get so close to a resting owl that you cause it to get nervous or fly away. A calm owl will sit in the same spot for hours during the day, conserving it’s energy for night-time hunting. If you get too close, Snowy Owls will fidget and bob their heads back and forth, and will fly away if really anxious. Surviving the winter is hard enough without being harassed while you’re sleeping, so give our visiting owls a break and keep your distance.

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Says Mr. Rapp, “I love how Snowy Owls connect non-birders to nature. This bird has charisma that extends far beyond the birding world, perhaps due to Hedwig from the Harry Potter books and movies, or simply because these Arctic ambassadors are just so stunningly beautiful. Whenever a Snowy Owl is reported, you’ll find a nice diversity of people willing to bundle up to take a hike just to see one.”

Besides getting this lovely visit from our current friend, Charm City has another special connection with Snowy Owls. A young male owl named “Baltimore” made history in 2015 by revealing more about the routes a Snowy Owl might trace in a year than ever before recorded. In fact, aptly-named Baltimore is the “best known Snowy yet”! This video from NPR tells Baltimore’s story—and follows his amazing journey.

As the video also describes, “to study their behavior in more detail, scientists have partnered to form Project Snowstorm,” explained Mr. Rapp. “Some Snowy Owls that migrate into the United States. are captured and outfitted with small transmitter backpacks. Using cell phone technology, scientists can track their movements in the United States and southern Canada while the owls are in cell phone territory. When they move into the Arctic out of cell service range, the tracking ability ceases to work, but the owls can “blink” back on if they fly south in future years.” For more information, visit www.ProjectSnowstorm.org.

Finally, says Mr. Rapp, “If you want to go winter birding in Charm City with a knowledgable guide–and maybe see a Snowy Owl!–check out the Winter Baltimore Birding Weekend, hosted by Patterson Park Audubon Center. The event will be held February 10–11, 2018, and will include birding field trips at Masonville Cove, Fort McHenry, and boat trips on the Inner Harbor.” For more information, visit www.BaltimoreBirding.com. A second birding weekend is planned for May 2018.


Rare Bird Sightings as Reported on Baltimore eBird

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (1) CONFIRMED

TNCS Students Save the World!

During the week of November 13th through 17th, upper elementary and middle school students at The New Century School participated in a very special nationwide event: the World Peace Game (WPG). Said Head of School Alicia Danyali, “We chose the World Peace Game to be a part of the the curriculum since it is in line with TNCS’s focus on global citizenship, which includes problem solving. Both of these areas also make up part of the TNCS student learner profile.”

Teaching Children the Work of Peace

Started in 1978 by Virginia native John Hunter, this special game, according to the website, “is a hands-on political simulation that gives players the opportunity to explore the connectedness of the global community through the lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war. The goal of the game is to extricate each country from dangerous circumstances and achieve global prosperity with the least amount of military intervention. As ‘nation teams,’ students will gain greater understanding of the critical impact of information and how it is used.”

At TNCS, the game was facilitated by science teacher Jon Wallace, who attended training for this role over the summer in Charlottesville, VA. “The World Peace Game was not all fun and games,” he said—and, indeed, “teaching children the work of peace” is ultimately about “learning to live and work comfortably in the unknown.”

So, from 10:00 am through 2:30 pm for 5 days, TNCS 4th- through 7th-graders stepped up to the challenge of finding themselves in unfamiliar, chaotic, and sometimes dangerous real-world situations, assuming various political roles among four fictional countries, such as prime ministers, secretaries of state, ministers of defense, CFOs, and secretaries of trade and commerce, among others. WPG places enormous problems before students that must be solved within a strict time constraint and requiring collaboration and creativity. The first 2 days demanded a lot of patience and attention from students because they had to learn how to play—the facilitator presented descriptions about how the leadership of each nation was structured, geographic and economic details about each country, and the specifics of each of the 50 crises the teams would face. They also had to familiarize themselves with one very complicated game board. The following 3 days involved negotiations between the nations teams in order to solve each crisis.

(As randomly assembled as the board may appear, each component and game piece is stipulated by the rules of the game. To gather them all, they must be purchased from a parts list. For the assembly itself, we have TNCS Facilities Manager Christine Rice to thank. Ms. Rice, a former contractor, is evidently quite the handywoman!)

Learning how to work with each other is a stated goal of WPG. Mr Wallace explains: “Part of the game is, simply put, being thrown into chaos, into positions you’ve never performed, and having to negotiate in order to win. If countries don’t communicate, the game is over. Interestingly, you don’t really state the purpose of the game to the students; you kind of let them have their way about it. They don’t really know how you win. So, after the game was over, a couple of students wondered who won. It was interesting to see how different students were looking at it.”

It turns out, in order to win the game, all participating nation teams need to be at least $1 above their initial budget, and all crises must be resolved. Mr Wallace reports that the hardest part for his students to get a handle on was accounting and keeping good track of budget records. “When you’re dealing with 4th graders, you can’t expect perfectly accurate accounting. They’re trying to account for losses and gains, but it’s extremely difficult. But, as facilitator, I can decide if they have managed well enough. For me it was a matter of, “is the CFO trying?’,” he said.

As for the participants themselves, WPG players are supposed to be volunteers, but in TNCS’s game, they were more or less “conscripted.” This meant that some were more enthusiastic than others. “I know some kids felt, ‘I don’t like this mentality,’ and other kids were really into it, which to me is reflective of what goes on in the classroom in terms of willingness to get something done. Some have that ‘middle school malaise,’ whereas others are more like, “I want to learn just for fun; count me in’,” he explained.

The mandatory participation also meant that students who don’t necessarily get along well had to nevertheless play together:

We had a number of students who hadn’t volunteered, so that adds a little extra difficulty because they really had no desire to be there, which made it difficult for some of the leaders to motivate them. Even though I picked the Prime Ministers, and the PMs picked their cabinets and did the best they could, assuming that it would be a smooth situation, it doesn’t always work out that way. On one team, everything was really flowing and working, but if every team were like that, the game wouldn’t really do much because they’re already communicating so well. The purpose of the game is to put kids in an uncomfortable position so chaos does happen, and somehow they have to figure out how to cut through that and communicate well enough to get something done. The threat of loss has to be part of the game.

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Playing the Game

Mr. Wallace provided the following synopsis of the TNCS players and what happened during their game.

The Weather Goddess’s job is of great importance in the game: She determines the severity of storms and what impact that might have on each nation. She must make quick, on-the-spot decisions that have serious consequences for the four nations involved. Student KH did a tremendous job and had to make necessary decisions that inevitably caused hardship for some players. One of her many roles is to enforce participant conduct laws that, if not followed, may result in a country incurring heavy financial penalties. For example, speaking out during a nation’s declaration period may result in a $10 million fine. Our weather goddess reached a point when she was almost unable to enforce the laws due to negative feedback by those fined. Yet, KH recovered, understanding that her role was simply that, a role. She saw that it was a role necessary for the game to be played, just as laws in our society must exist to preserve order and provide a stable platform for peace.

Each country had a different initial budget. Peacia, an ice-locked poor nation, had many early challenges to face in order to keep their budget in check. They were able to solve a crisis involving a volcanic eruption that threatened a nearby nuclear power plant. Prime Minister AI found that the struggle to maintain lines of communication doesn’t just exist between countries, but also within countries. The greatest obstacles to peace may lie within a country rather than between countries.

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Richy Hill, an oil rich nation, had serious issues right off the bat as they were short a CFO. This greatly impacted their ability to manage money. It didn’t take long for their entire fleet of aircraft to be permanently grounded due to lack of refueling. Prime Minister DI had a lot on his plate. Fortunately,  Chief Legal Counsel IM stepped into the CFO position, literally saving the nation from looming financial crisis. Prime Minister DI was able to stop a massive money hemorrhage caused by the nuclear proliferation by his own country. He saw the need for nukes was secondary to the need for cash.

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Richland, the wealthiest of nations, had many crises including a mountainous region that not only contained gold, but also the remains of NIN, a tribe of peoples that had existed in the area for thousands of years prior to the formation of the nations. What was more important, the gold or the ancestral remains of the NIN? It isn’t easy to give up gold, but Prime Minister FC didn’t blink and allowed the NIN to keep their ancestral burial ground intact. Nice work! Her cabinet worked outstandingly well together. We witnessed a nation that was functioning well in Richland.

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Folium, an eco-oriented nation, accomplished much. It seemed that they were all too willing to accept refugees but had to solve the problems that refugees bring. Folium was willing and able to work with other leaders to spread the refugees all over world in order to reduce the financial woes that come with being a bit too nice. Relations between Richland and Folium were in jeopardy due to a secret island owned by Richland that also had been used by the NIN for worshiping purposes for thousands of years. Tensions boil over with the threat of violence between the tanks and soldiers of Richland and Folium.  Both countries came together and negotiated swiftly, bringing peace to the area by simply dividing the island. These two countries made it look easy.

IMG_2562An unusual occurrence happened in this game when members of Folium broke off to form a separate independent nation called Coralfield. Coralfield’s apparent mission was to facilitate the negotiation process between nations by providing a greater area for peace to occur. Fascinating idea! Co-Prime Ministers PH and NB took on development and leadership of this new nation.

 

The role of the World Bank in the game is to receive checks and keep an accounting of the payments of all nations. President DL did an excellent job keeping track of payments.  At times it seemed as though President DL’s pen was smoking hot due to all the receipts he was writing. Nice work!

IMG_2564The Role of the UN in this game is to maintain peace worldwide. Secretary General ED did a wonderful job living up this role as world peacekeeper. He was in constant motion and took on the responsibility of tracking crises completed and yet to be completed. The UN also helped nations with providing extra funds.

The Arms Dealers are tasked with providing small arms to nations but may also design and invent new creations that are not necessarily providing fuel for war. President WM designed an oil gusher cap that cost a bunch of the UN’s money.

IMG_2563Last but not least, the Legal Counsel was tasked with ratifying treaties from the UN. Chief Legal Counsel IM did an outstanding job not only with checking treaties but also with helping out whereever help was needed. She worked as CFO for Richy Hill and generally really stepped up. Nice work!

World Peace Is in Their Hands

You can exhale—we are safe for the moment. Mr. Wallace said, “There were plenty of tense moments and times when students just wanted to quit. The majority who stood strong and would not accept failure are responsible for the win. They are the leaders of our future, the ones who have a chance at making the world a better place. It is not going to be easy. The obstacles will seem insurmountable at times, but we have seen that peace can be achieved.”

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You’ll also be very relieved to learn that John Hunter has never lost in the nearly 40 years he has been playing. (Talk about hope for the future!)

In response to what he ultimately though of this experience, Mr. Wallace said, “I think it tends to magnify the social scene in a good way. A lot of things that weren’t obvious became obvious, in terms of interactions. That can make things difficult, and, for some, it made things very difficult. There are a lot of emotions that come out when you’re Prime Minister and you’re trying to get your cabinet together but they don’t want to be together. It’s a hard role for some students who have never been put in those roles before, having to lead others and so forth.”

Although having willing volunteers would makes things easier for both participants and for the facilitator, the EPG became a real lesson in how to make something work when the situation is not straightforward or ideal. “That’s the real world, you know?” said Mr. Wallace. “That’s the cool thing. As far as a learning experience, it made it better for the leaders because that is the way the world works. It was real in that sense,” he said.

 

 

 

As far as how he thinks the game went overall, he feels it went just as it should. “There were times when students were really discouraged, which is normal, but they had to work together to get through it, and they eventually did.”

 

Now that he is trained, a process that involved watching John Hunter himself play the game, taking notes, then discussing what happened with other trainees,” Mr. Wallace thinks WPG could potentially happen annually at TNCS. “The philosophy of the game is that it can be run every year, but it runs better if students have no idea, going in cold.,” he explained. “Otherwise it may be too easy, especially for folks who volunteered to be involved. It’s not that difficult if you already know how to get it to happen. But the way I look at it, the game can go many different ways, and the facilitator can throw a lot of sticks in the wheel if he or she chooses to.”

For this initial game, our friendly facilitator did not intervene to complicate the already complex events students were embroiled in. However, Saboteur LR did a good job of gumming up the works from time to time: “His job is to just make things hard. And he is an anonymous person in the room, so the players don’t know who it is. They can have a trial to see if they have an accusations or suspicions about his identity,” said Mr. Wallace. “There are so many variables—like 350 pages of different possibilities.”

 

In some ways WPG shaped students or brought out nascent qualities that Mr. Wallace was very pleased to see. “I thought it was fascinating to see some really step up and try to help out in ways we don’t always see in the classroom.” Others who are usually motivated to try anything were not so surprising, if no less vital. “If we didn’t have these leaders,” said Mr. Wallace, “the game would have sunk, and there’s nothing I could do about it.”

It sounds like we’ll be in good hands once these youngsters grow up to take the helm! In the meantime, watch John Hunter’s TED Talk to learn more about this truly wondrous enterprise.

Meet the Teacher: Elizabeth Bowling Joins TNCS Primary!

The New Century School follows a classic Montessori structure and approach in its primary division for children ages 3 to 5 years old. For the 2017–2018 school year, Elizabeth Bowling, who is from Carroll County here in Maryland and lives there now with her husband and their three children, joined the primary Montessori team. Although new to the school, she was already well known to her current colleagues!

Journey to Montessori

Having now been in a Montessori classroom environment for the last 14 years, she began her present career as an assistant at Bethesda Montessori School. After assisting for 4 years, she decided to take the training herself. Her route to that decision, however, had some twists and turns along the way:

I was an education major in college initially, and then I changed my major to law and became a paralegal. But, in the back of my mind, I wondered if I had made a mistake. When I told a former high school teacher of mine, he said, ‘You’ll regret it, and you’re going to end up a teacher. You think that you want something more exciting now because you’re young. But you’ll end up a teacher.’ So I kind of always kept that in the back of my mind.

Although Mrs. Bowling did not set out to become a teacher, let alone a Montessori-certified one, once she started, she knew she had found her calling. “After I graduated from college and in the legal field, I was not really very happy. I just sort of looked around one day and thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ and wondered what would be a better fit for me,” she recounted. Still in her 20s, she felt it was an ideal time to explore options and happened to see a job opening for an assistant at a Montessori school. “I knew nothing about Montessori, but I thought, just to be in a school setting, let me see if I like that. I had the interview, and the head of school had a good feeling about me. So, even though I had no experience, I worked there for a couple of years.”

When asked to elaborate more on how and why she chose the path of Montessori with no prior familiarity with it, she explains that having only been inside a traditional classroom was actually a benefit. “Although I had some adjusting to do, coming in with a clean slate meant that I didn’t have any preconceived notions and was very open and very trainable that way.”

Although she enjoyed her colleagues and the administration, she went back into law for financial reasons but was soon once again miserable. She says, “I had hit some crossroads in life and knew I needed to change my course. That’s when I went back and I took the Montessori training.” She had been encouraged by her colleagues (as well as students who wanted their in-class lessons from her) to do so and had felt such a strong connection in the Montessori classroom that this next step felt right and natural to her.

Once certified, she began teaching as classroom lead at what was then called the Montessori School in Lutherville, MD (and also where she completed her training) and is now known as Greenspring Montessori. She reports having a truly wonderful experience there and an amazing mentor, who has since retired from teaching. “She taught me everything that I know. I was her student teacher, and we were still extremely close and very good friends,” said Mrs. Bowling.

Welcome to TNCS!

In that reciprocity intrinsic to Montessori, Mrs. Bowling was later able to become a mentor in her own right. TNCS’s own Lisa Reynolds was once her assistant and mentee! Mrs. Bowling enjoys being back together and also with Ms. Mosby and the rest of the team. She feels they all work together incredibly harmoniously. (See TNCS Primary Workshop 2017 that demonstrates how each lead teacher on the Montessori team plays to her strength and contributes to a whole greater than the sum of its parts.)

Her current classroom here at TNCS comprises 19 3- and 4-year-olds. She is assisted by Yanely Pozo, who is in her first year as assistant and who Mrs. Bowling is thrilled to be working with and finds a “perfect match.” “Im really enjoying it here,” she said. “The administration is very kind and very supportive, so I feel very calm, joyful, and accepted here. I feel like what I bring to the table is is always considered and respected, which is lovely.”

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And then there’s her established connection with the other teachers:

Ms. Mosby, Mrs. Reynolds, and I all worked together earlier on, so we already knew each other quite well. But it’s nice to kind of come full circle and be back together. And Yangyang is fantastic—extremely supportive and so kind—so it’s just so nice to feel like you can easily go to a colleague for an idea or to share work or whatever the case may be. We have that kind of support among us, which is really nice and not always the case. We powwow and brainstorm together, and that’s usually how we handle our division. At the primary workshop, for example, we worked out how to convey what we feel is important and what we feel that the parents should know and would be helpful to understand. I happen to like the work cycle, so explaining that was my part of my contribution. We just share the love.

She says of her students: “My children are precious. At this age, they are a work in progress, but they enjoy each other and they have a great amount of potential.” She says her classroom functions quite smoothly. “This a good fit for my personality and the things that I believe in,” she said.

TNCS Elementary and Middle School Information Night 2017

What we learn with pleasure we never forget. – Alfred Mercier, 19th century writer and physician

 

tncs-elementary-middle-school-information-night-2017On November 30th, The New Century School hosted it’s annual “info night”—an event that provides prospective families with an opportunity to get a glimpse of TNCS’s elementary and middle school curricula. TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali presented a brief overview of TNCS, from history to language learning, school philosophy, and a peek inside classroom operations.

In 2006, the school was established with five students in a one-room schoolhouse in Patterson Park. The owners of this school are two like-minded Moms that wanted language immersion as a priority for their own children, so they got some other parents together and thought it would be a great idea to start this school. Here we are, 11 years later with 215 students! We start at 2 years old and go through 7th grade. Our main objective is to attract people who are interested in language immersion in Spanish and Mandarin. We also practice Montessori principles, and I want to talk a little bit about how that overflows into our elementary/middle school program and what things we take from the Montessori preschool into to that program, especially for those families who are currently enrolled in our preschool.

First, some practical points: We have more than 50 staff members, and we offer before care all the way through to after care program. We open at 7:30 am and close at 6:00 pm, wth the school day running from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.

Back to the benefits of multilinguism, what sticks out in my mind as most important and why I like to work in language-immersion environments is that it offers you many ways to problem solve. When you’ve had that language background, your brain will work in a more elastic way—it helps cultivate executive function skills as well as aspects of what I call the ‘invisible curriculum,’ like tolerance. We learn about the world around us through language learning.

If you’re currently in our preschool program, you’ll see that some things stay the same, including our overall approach to whole-child development through differentiated instruction as well as student-driven learning. A typical elementary/middle class size in this school is no larger than 16 or 17 students. We keep it small so that we can meet everybody’s needs in the classroom, regardless of level. Our classroom management system, the Daily 5 (or 3 or 4) Rotation, ensures that every student is getting one-on-one contact with the teacher, collaboration with others in small groups, and time to work independently. Students are given specific parameters to work within that allow them to understand what their responsibilities are. Technology and computer time is also a component of the daily classroom rotation cycle.

Teachers work in pairs or groups of four, depending on grade. Each child has a homeroom class where they are designated to start and end the day as well as to engage in various subjects. Then students have a block of time with, for example, the teacher who handles ELA and Math or Global Studies. Throughout the day, they transition to other core subjects as well as receive daily targeted language instruction for 30 to 45 minutes. In addition, they get a focused subject area in Mandarin and Spanish, such as Global Studies. In this format, language really starts to emerge.

We also have a very strong arts program. K through 8th-grade have two music classes with Music Director Martellies Warren each week. They also have two art classes and two physical education classes every week. Currently we partner with Coppermine.

Our greenhouse and chicken coops, when operational, give children the chance to cultivate plants and livestock, and we also offer a vegetarian, locally sourced lunch. Finally, we offer the Ozone Snack Bar, a student lounge where older kids can relax, socialize, and enjoy a healthy snack at select times.

IMG_2605After Mrs. Danyali spoke, each teacher briefly described his or her classroom approach and particular subject area. Following these teacher presentations, audience members asked specific questions of the presenters.

Info Night is a great way to get an initial introduction to TNCS. Additional highlights of this event can be found in Elementary and Middle School Info Night 2017, a helpful powerpoint presentation. However, to really get to know the school and discover the wonder that takes place in classrooms here every day, attend an Admissions Friday or Open House event and witness the magic first hand. Subsequently, your child will spend a shadow day with other TNCS students and experience what it’s like to actually enjoy learning.

Meet the Teacher: Krysta Jenks Joins TNCS Elementary!

The New Century School welcomed Krysta Jenks as first- through third grade English Language Arts and Science teacher for the 2017–2018 school year. Mrs. Jenks has a special claim to fame in TNCS annals–she has the first-ever all-girls homeroom! She loves this, saying, “It’s really interesting to see what the dynamic is with all girls. They’re so much fun. They want to learn. They’re just excited to be here.”

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Mrs. Jenks came to TNCS from a charter school in Anacostia, but, living in the Federal Hill area of Baltimore, she found the commute to D.C. was taking up too much of her time and was stressful besides. She moved here in 2009 after earning a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education at Penn State, which is located in central Pennsylvania, where she grew up. “From there I started working in special education,” she said.  In fact, her background is primarily in special education, where she worked for about 7 years. She has also obtained a Master’s degree in Leadership and Special Education as well as a Post-Master Certification in School Administration in this time. “I feel like I’ve gotten a wide range of experience from my administration certification and working in special education in the private, public, and charter school settings,” she said. “This is my first time working in a school that is mostly student-directed learning, so that has been really fun. It is also my first time working in a multilingual school.”

The student-directed learning aspect of TNCS is what appeals to Mrs. Jenks most about TNCS. “A lot of what I’ve done in the past has been more teacher driven, with the focus mostly on the teacher, and a lot of my experience has been in direct instruction, which doesn’t lend a lot of room for creativity,” she explained. “I really like the flexibility that comes with student-directed learning.

When we do our Daily 5 rotations, they have choices within each rotation. So, for example, the word work rotation has a multitude of activities they can choose to do—they could play a game with their words, they could write index cards with their words, they could write a story or comic book with their words from Wordly Wise for that week. They also cycle through read-to-self; listen to reading, which is primarily Raz-Kids; use SuccessMaker; meet with me; or work on writing.

In science, I also I try to do rotations because we are doing a lot of hands-on activities. In the first quarter when we were working on electricity and magnetism, I had a circuit board at one table that they can play with, a magnet station at another, so they have the flexibility to choose where they want to go.

Although the TNCS classroom style has been somewhat of an adjustment for Mrs. Jenks, she has acclimated beautifully. “It’s definitely different for me, but it’s great,” she said. “Also, the kids are fantastic, and all of the parents have been really supportive.” And that’s another aspect of teaching at TNCS that has been new for her: “I’ve always worked with high-risk populations, but at the end of the day, kids are kids. It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic status or what backgrounds they have, I’m learning that they all have the same needs. Having said all that, the kids here are really bright, they are really curious, and a lot of them are very intrinsically motivated. They seem like they genuinely want to learn.”

One thing that was not new to Mrs Jenks is using restorative circles in the classroom, such as introduced by Head of School Alicia Danyali during the previous academic year. Mrs. Jenks explained:

A big component of our classroom community is that we start and end the day with a restorative circle. So we have a talking piece, and then we come up with a question and go around the circle. Then, at the end of the day, we’ll go around and everyone will say what their highlight and lowlight was. And that’s been really fun because they love getting in the circle. I want our students to feel like this is a positive classroom community and environment that they want to be a part of and feel safe in. I think that academics are super important, but I also think building emotional intelligence and peer relationships is something that I really focus on just as much.

Next month will be an important one for Mrs. Jenks, who, although married to her military husband currently, will be having her “real wedding” then. We wish her well on this occasion and are so glad she has joined the TNCS community!