Welcome to the 2020–2021 School Year, TNCS Community!

Hey, folks—it’s been a minute! But never fear, The New Century School is ready to welcome you back to school, and Immersed is here to tell you how! (We’ll spare you the litany of pandemic grievances so we can get right to the good stuff!)

We all know that things will look a little different on September 1, 2020—in fact, Head of School Shara Khon Duncan describes it as “a school year like never before.” This post is your guide to how TNCS will safely open, what the physical campus will look like and how instruction has evolved.

But first, a word from Sra. Duncan on education in general. Amidst all the upheaval we’ve weathered and in spite of what may yet come, she sees the silver lining and offers an incredibly uplifting perspective:

Over the last weeks, I’ve shared with teachers some tools they can use to step back and reflect on how they’re teaching so that they don’t do it the same way they always have. This is an opportunity for us in some ways—an opportunity for all teachers everywhere to look at their teaching and see it differently and make improvements. I think it’s a great time for educators. It will force us to look at how we’re delivering our instruction. We can’t keep doing things the same old way.

Safe Reopening

Although TNCS remained open in various capacities (as a childcare site for essential personnel and for limited summer camp) since the pandemic shutdown last March, gearing up for the imminent school year has brought a host of new challenges, and TNCS admin, staff, and faculty have been hard at work all summer to meet those challenges with creative, innovative solutions.

As stated on the new Reopening page on the TNCS website: “As we work through the complex questions surrounding potential scenarios for reopening, we are relying on guidance and recommendations from recognized experts and authorities in the field of public health. Our mission, philosophy, and core values also help guide us in our preparations.”

TNCS families were also asked to participate in a community Compact. As Sra. Duncan wrote recently in a letter to TNCS families, “TNCS has remained committed to keeping true to who we are as a school and community while focusing on mitigating the risks that will help keep our community safe. . . we are confident that if we, as a community, work together and support each other, we will be able to provide our students with a safe, engaging, and enriching experience.”

TNCS Wellness Team

A taskforce called the “TNCS Wellness Team” was established in the spring and comprises an epidemiologist and other clinicians. This team of medical professionals ensures that TNCS has the most up-to-date information available from local health departments and the MSDE Office of Child Care to execute safe reopening.

Keeping the TNCS community safe involves a variety of measures that range from enhanced cleaning to adopting new on-campus practices and protocols to offering a hybrid approach to education. During the week leading up to reopening, teachers and staff returned to TNCS (both in person and virtually) not only for annual professional development but also for intensive training on the new policies and protocols.

Facilities

Health and safety policies are enhanced and enforced in order to protect the TNCS community. Cleaning practices at TNCS follow the CDC COVID-19 Environmental Cleaning Disinfection protocol established during the operation of the EPCC and summer camps.

  • The buildings are closed to parents and nonessential staff.
  • Movement of students and teaching staff is restricted to predefined indoor zones.
  • Social distancing will be practiced as much as possible; no interaction between classes will take place including at lunchtime and recess.
  • Outdoor space will be used to its fullest potential.
  • Classrooms are well ventilated using our HVAC systems in conjunction with open windows and fans.
  • Classroom spaces in all divisions and in both buildings have undergone adaptations and reconfigurations as shown.

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Face Masks

  • All students are encouraged to wear masks provided by their families (TNCS Wellness Team recommends reminding your child at drop-off to put their mask on).
  • Students ages 2–4 years will be asked to remove them if they are handling the masks too much.
  • Older students (ages 5+) are expected to wear masks while in the building.
  • All adults wear masks when inside the building or if they are outside in close proximity to others.

Drop Off & Pick Up

  • Families should allow extra time for drop off and pick up.
  • Both drivers and walkers must drop off and pick up outside, in dedicated cohort zones, as outlined in procedures sent via Blackbaud as well as in this presentation.
  • Drivers must remain inside their vehicles at all times.

Temperature Checks & Health Screening

  • On arrival, staff and student temperatures will be taken and must be below 100.4ºF to attend school; screening questions will also be asked before staff and students can enter the building.
  • Children and staff will be sent home if they exhibit signs of respiratory infection, fever, acute onset of cough, sore throat, or new shortness of breath.

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Implementing these measures will mitigate the risks that are within TNCS’s control. So that’s what the physical aspects of the 2020–2021 school year will look like, at least to start, but what about the education itself?

Adapting to Changes

This year, TNCS will have two Kindergarten classes, two 1st/2nd-grade classes, a 3rd/4th-grade class, a 5th-grade class, and a middle school class (6th–8th grades). The pandemic brought changes not just to class configurations but also to staffing, and TNCS is pleased to welcome some new faces (stay tuned for more on that).

Agility during this school year will be vital. The best laid plans for remaining on campus will depend on the circumstances of the city, state, and world, recommendations from health and government entities, and what is best for the overall health and safety of the TNCS community. “I know parents are nervous; we’re nervous too,” said Sra. Duncan. “But that means we care about getting this as as right as possible, and we try to think of different angles. We’re constantly questioning, making sure we’re thinking of all the pieces.” She explains that it’s a bit of a trial-and-error process, and that adjustments may have to be made as we go. “We haven’t done this before, and we just don’t know what it’s going to look like yet.”

One of the most difficult things that parents need to prepare for is establishing a backup plan for childcare in the event that the physical campus cannot stay open. Another aspect that Sra. Duncan stresses is the importance of multi-directional communication: “Students are going to have to be self-advocates. They’re going to have to speak up in class. Parents will need to communicate directly with teachers; it’s really important that they do that. We will also still have the weekly communication through Blackbaud.”

Perhaps most important of all? TNCS students will be the beneficiaries of all the planning, thought, and hard work that has gone into making the 2020–2021 count.

Adopting the Hybrid Model

With the overarching goal of continuing to deliver a high-quality and rigorous academic curriculum, TNCS faculty and admin have made smart modifications to educational programming. These curricular adjustments were made alongside a dual focus on the social and emotional well being of all students, staff, and families.

The hybrid model of instruction ensures that students receive instruction while continuing to be a part of their classroom and school community. Families elected to send their student to campus full time, participate virtually full time, or alternate on-campus and virtual weeks.

“The teachers have been working hard all week,” said Sra. Duncan. “We’ve been doing our virtual meetings, we’ve gone through protocols, and we’ve looked at how we can deliver lessons more effectively across the various ways that students are going to be taking classes.” She says they also focused on how to make classes feel engaging and to make sure students at home do not feel isolated. “We want on-campus and virtual classes to feel like one class.”

Curriculum Adjustments

Independence is another key area. “We want students to learn how to take charge of their education, which is really important. We want to foster a sense of student agency and having some more choice in their learning because that will help with their motivation, especially in an environment where they’re virtual.”

“We’ve got to reach kids and break things down in a new way,” said Sra. Duncan. “When you teach new things, it gives you a chance to break down and figure out how you’re going to deliver that instruction. It helps you to have a new perspective on things, which I think is good.” She explains that faculty and admin analyzed curricula over the summer to make sure everything that is most important for each subject is getting covered. “We’re revamping so we can help TNCS students reach all the benchmarks for each grade and know that they are getting exactly what they need.”

Technology Needs

Should transitioning to an all-virtual model become necessary, technology cannot be a barrier that inhibits students’ ability to learn. So, TNCS has optimized programs so that a smooth transition is possible. “We identified the foundational technology skills that students need to know in order to function in a digital environment, and the teachers will spend time on those skills in the beginning of the school year. Whether students are fully virtual from the start or the ones in school have to move to fully virtual, they’ll know how to do the things they need to do,” explained Sra. Duncan. “All of these things will take some time, but we’ll get it done. We’ll make it through!”

She also wants parents to understand that it’s okay to let your student work to figure things out. “I know that’s hard, but it’s something they have to learn and that they learn by doing. We don’t want them on the point of breakdown, but at the same time it’s okay for them to struggle a bit. It’s a balance of knowing when to step in and when not to.”

Here again, communication with the teacher is important. “We’re trying to make sure that directions are very clear and that they truly help students navigate in the digital environment. It’s okay if they don’t get it the first time. They’ll learn by doing. Of course, we don’t expect preschoolers to do this; that’s a different story. But we want our K through 8s to have that independence.”

Here We Go!

“We’ll get through this,” said Sra. Duncan. “We just have to keep working together and just be prepared as much as we can. It’s like trying to pack for a trip but you don’t know where you’re going. Do we pack for the cold or the rain or the beach? We don’t know, so we have to pack for everything all at once, so we’re prepared.”

Congratulations on an Extraordinary Journey, TNCS Class of 2020!

On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, The New Century School was proud and thrilled to graduate its second class of 8th-graders, a monumental accomplishment in more ways than one. In a year during which the out-of-the-ordinary became the new ordinary, these middle schoolers faced not only the challenges inherent in adolescence and making the huge transition to high school, but wholly new kinds of challenges as well, including embarking on their coming-of-age journeys during a worldwide pandemic and then witnessing the massive and ongoing societal protest against racism in all its many forms.

Through all of this upheaval, TNCS graduates stayed connected to their values and to each other. While the pandemic forced them to stay physically remote from each other, they nevertheless drew closer together. In fact, the same can be said for the TNCS community as a whole, and we should be proud of this, too.

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The TNCS Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2020 took place over Zoom. For anyone worrying that the 8th-graders missed out on not being able to walk across a stage, shake hands, throw their caps in the air, and embrace each other, be consoled. This ceremony—though different, to be sure—was beautiful. Although we can’t show the whole recording here to protect TNCS students’ privacy, participants dropped regularly from the Zoom screen to wipe their tears off camera. Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 12.38.32 PM

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.44.41 PMThe ceremony began with TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan’s welcome. “While we cannot be in person as we had hoped,” she began, “we wish to make this celebration as special as we can. We appreciate you being here as a community and as a family.”

Next, came a video of the TNCS String Ensemble playing “Red Wing,” a feat of production pulled off by former TNCS Strings Instructor Yoshiaki Horiguchi.

This was followed by some “Words of Wisdom” from several 8th-graders to 5th-graders, who also graduated (from the TNCS Elementary Program) this year and will begin Middle School for the 2020–2021 school year.

“Middle school is a short and fun ride,” began one student, “but you have to make it that way by beginning with a positive attitude. The work will be harder, and the workload bigger, but that’s life. Think of middle school as a stepping stone for high school, college, and the ‘real world.’ It’s important to let work come before recreation so you can reap the rewards later in life. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask your elders for guidance. After all, experience is one of life’s greatest teachers.”

“Always do your homework,” warned another. “It will pile up otherwise, and you will fall behind. To handle the workload, make a schedule and do your work with energy.”

Said a third student: “My words of advice are to not always hang out with the same people. You can get to know new people and realize how cool they are. And be yourself.”

“I want you to know that a lot of exciting things are about to happen to you,” said yet a fourth. “It may seem like there are a lot of obstacles in middle school and a lot of work, but use your time wisely, and you’ll persevere. If you’re going to go to a good high school, you’ll need good grades. Something I learned about myself is that I’m strong. There were times when I wanted to give up and times when I lost faith in my myself, but I pushed myself, and look where I’m at.”

“To be the best version of yourself, avoid the drama—just be yourself. Also put 100% in; don’t do things halfway so you can feel proud of your work.”

“Middle school can be a great experience, but it all depends on your mindset. It will be challenging, but if you decide to face difficulties head on, you will succeed. It all pays off in the end. Stay confident and work hard. These years will shape you as a person. Make good use of them because you’re not going to get them back.”

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These sage pieces of advice were followed by an “Homage to the Graduates” by the 7th-graders, some of whom have known each other since kindergarten, in TNCS’s very first days. This segment was especially poignant, as most graduates will attend different high schools, and paths will diverge. In their clips, 7th-graders reminisced about how they met their 8th-grade mentors, celebrated their positive attributes, and wished them good luck. Cue the waterworks!

“See you later friend,” said one. “Hopefully we cross paths another time.”

“Without [my friend], I wouldn’t be the person I am today, taking me out of my comfort zone and encouraging me to be my best,” said another. “Good friends are like stars,” she quoted. “You can’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.”

“I look up to [my friend]. She is full of bright ideas, and I admire this. She is an amazing leader and has an adventurous and caring spirit.”

“[My friend] showed me a lot of things that I couldn’t have gotten from anyone else. He showed me my now favorite instrument, the bass guitar. He’s such a caring person. Something I like about him is his plentiful amount of determination. He could always make it work. We’re all rooting for you.”

“[My friend] always stands up for what she believes in. She is a natural leader. Although it is sad to say goodbye, I know we will never forget each other.”

“My favorite thing about [my friend] is his sense of humor, which matches mine. I also admire his smartness. Thank you for being such a great friend to me. Hopefully, we can stay in contact.”

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Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 2.37.13 PMRemarks by one of the six graduating 8th-graders came next. He was challenged more than he thought possible in the last year, he recounted, and was surprised to learn that he enjoyed the creative writing assignments Mrs. Hope gave him.

He feels his creativity, open-mindedness, and intuitiveness have all benefited. He went on to explain what he feels sets TNCS apart.

TNCS prides itself on four core values: Compassion, courage, respect, and service. These are great traits for any student to have, and the teachers and staff put a lot of effort into emphasizing their importance. Perhaps the most impressive feature of TNCS is that it has plenty of both Mandarin and Spanish teachers. The ability to speak the three most spoken languages in the world will be fundamental to ur success. I know this skill set will open many doors for us. Finally, as a parting gift, I’d like to give my fellow graduates a lesson of my own. Until recently, I hadn’t realized the value of hard work. However, I now have purpose and determination to succeed. Congratulations, graduates. I bid you a merry farewell and a great life ahead of you.

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.11.46 PMAdriana DuPrau spoke next. Although she is now TNCS’s Curriculum Coordinator, she also has the distinction of being one of TNCS’s very first teachers and taught some of these 8th-graders when they were in kindergarten and 1st grade—she taught many of them to read! Mrs. DuPrau remarked that it has been a privilege to watch them learn and grow, and she has been with them the whole way in one capacity or another. It was especially moving to hear her remember them as small children “sitting criss-cross applesauce” on her classroom rug, and then describe them now on the brink of the next big step. “Your journey at TNCS may be ending,” she said, “but the journey of your life is just beginning.” She quoted from “Oh, the Places You Can Go” and closed by saying that it was an honor and pleasure to have watched them “blossom into young scholars, scientists, environmentalists, artists, musicians, mathematicians, and authors. You are articulate and thoughtful, she said, “You have strong voices to express yourself and deep insight to think about the world. You have grown as individuals, too, and what it means to be a kind and caring classmate, friend, and world citizen. You have taught me so much.”

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Mrs. DuPrau also thanked parents for entrusting their children’s education to TNCS as well as TNCS teachers for “having great expectations and loving these kids each and every day.”

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Surprise guests spoke next, as former TNCS teachers, recent friends, and a Class of 2019 graduate shared their well wishes with the graduates. 

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“Yours was the very first class I ever taught. In my time at TNCS with you, I knew I met some students who are going to change the world.” –Lindsay Duprey, former TNCS Teacher

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.20.50 PM “I’m so excited for you guys to be moving onto high school. I absolutely loved being your art teacher and to see you grow as artists over the years. Together, we learned about taking chances and sharing ideas. My wish for you is to keep on dreaming and drawing to make this a more just and beautiful world.” –Jenny Miller, former TNCS Art Teacher

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.26.23 PM“I wish you good luck your whole life!” —Sr. Ronnie, driver Costa Rica capstone trip

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.28.00 PM“Hola todos! I am very proud of you, and I wish you the best. I’m so happy I had the chance to see you again when you came to Costa Rica!” –Raquel Álvarez, former TNCS Teacher

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.31.23 PM“You’re about to face a huge turning point in your life—be ready for it!” Zaila, TNCS Class of 2019

Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.34.18 PM“I’m extremely proud of all of you, and I’m looking for you to do amazing things in the future.” –Martellies Warren, former TNCS Music Teacher

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Thank you for making that happen, Mrs. DuPrau!Screen Shot 2020-06-13 at 3.47.26 PM

At this point in the ceremony, Sra. Duncan gave her Commencement Speech.

This year began like so many others, getting back into the routine of going to school. You met Mrs. Hope and rose to that occasion; there was a flurry of activity, such as Hispanic Heritage Night, preparing for high school, and the Winter Concert that made the fall just fly by. We then added two new community celebrations to the winter calendar with Lunar New Year and Black History Month.

It seems especially poignant to me that both of these events occurred not long before we had to close the campus and move to virtual learning. My last memories of all of us together were celebrations of what makes TNCS a wonderful place. The richness of our cultural diversity, the incredible dedication of our teachers and students, and the way we come together as a community. This has served us well during this time when we are most separated.

I have listened to your teachers talk with admiration about how you have adapted to the virtual learning environment. You have supported each other, taken time to read to primary students, and have looked beyond yourselves to talk about your place in the fight for social justice. Members of the Class of 2020, you embody the spirit of our Core Values, Compassion, Courage, Respect, and Service, through leading school drives or service initiatives that you chose, having thoughtful and profound conversation with Mrs. DuPrau and Mrs. Danyali during social-emotional learning lessons, and acting as ambassadors for admissions tours and open houses.

Throughout the planning of this ceremony, it was mentioned repeatedly how much we will all miss you. Your thoughtfulness, your ability to speak up, your care for your school community and the world around you are just a tiny portion of what makes you special. My hope for you is that, as you depart TNCS, you will continue to be the outstanding individuals that you have grown to be, that you heed your own advice that you gave to 5th-graders as you move on to high school—be individuals have a plan for your work, avoid the drama, and cherish the time you have. Please remember TNCS, come back to visit us often, and make your indelible mark on this world that you were destined to make.

The TNCS gate is open; it’s time for you to go. It’s your time.

After her moving and heartfelt words, Sra. Duncan thanked everyone who made this event, and the 2019–2020 school year, possible. Just when the audience thought it couldn’t get any better, the final segment of the ceremony brought the house down.

Tribute to the 8th grade was produced by a TNCS 8th-grader, who is also a TNCS original, having been at the school since its inception.

And with that, goodbye 2019–2020 school year—it’s been not just out of the ordinary . . . it has been extraordinary.

Take pride in how far you have come; have faith in how far you can go. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey.

–Nameeta Sharma, quoting Michael Josephson

“There’s a reason I’ve never taught 8th-grade—I have such a hard time saying goodbye to my students after just one year, and I’m definitely realizing it today as I’m saying goodbye to you. You are such an incredible group of students and humans, and I’m privileged to have been your teacher and to have watched you grow academically and socially and emotionally. . . I can’t wait to see how you transform the world and what kind of mark you leave on it.”

–Daphnée Hope

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