Jalynn Harris Writes a New Chapter for TNCS 5th- through 8th-Graders!

At The New Century School, farewells usually also mean hellos! That’s why, when former TNCS middle school homeroom teacher Daphnée Hope went on maternity leave unexpectedly early, Jalynn Harris was ready to step in. “Ms. Lynn” as she prefers to be called, began acclimating to TNCS in October, learning the ropes alongside Mrs. Hope to ensure a smooth transition for students. But, as you’ll see, her joining the TNCS community seems almost destined.

Prologue

Before becoming the 6th- through 8th-grade homeroom teacher and English Language Arts (ELA) and Global Studies teacher for the 5th through 8th grades, this west Baltimore native was immersing herself in her craft—writing. She studied Linguistics as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After her years as a Tar Heel, though, she felt called back home and pursued a Master’s of Fine Art at the University of Baltimore in poetry and book design. “I really learned a lot and enjoyed my studies,” she said. She also began teaching Writing Composition to undergraduates during her time at UB and graduated in the spring of this year. “I’m finally out of school,” she joked.

But she never really left the classroom. Earlier this fall, she taught a book-making class for the Baltimore Youth Film Arts Program, an affiliate program of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. They wrote, took photos, and designed their own books. “It’s a really great program that starts at age 16 through high school,” explained Ms. Lynn. “I encourage kids to enroll. They even give you a stipend for your work.”

The Story Begins

And now here she is! She says that she saw the listing on Indeed for a daily substitute, and something clicked:

I was thinking I felt ready to teach but hadn’t been applying for teaching positions yet. When I saw that listing, I knew it was time to do what I knew I wanted to do. Prior, I was feeling kind of shy about it, and then, of course the pandemic made me question whether this was the right time. But I really knew I want to be in the classroom. So I applied and spoke with Señora Duncan. When I learned that Mrs. Hope taught ELA and Global Studies, it was like serendipity—my major was Linguistics, and my minor was Geography. I was like, wow, my two favorite subjects—it was obvious alignment!

Although hybrid teaching (simultaneously virtual and in-person) might seem especially daunting to any new teacher, Ms. Lynn has adapted beautifully, probably largely due to her approach that will sound familiar to anyone among the TNCS community. “This is totally new, so I’m making mistakes and learning as I go,” she said. Being willing to try something new and challenging is just the resilience that we need right now, and it’s a great attitude to model for TNCS students. On top of the special demands placed on educators this crazy year, this is also her first experience teaching this age group. Nevertheless, she is particularly well suited for this new role she has adopted:

I’m very passionate about certain aspects of ELA. I’ve had two incredible writing teachers in my life who basically inspired me to write and to teach. The model is one of toughness combined with nurturing. They were always pushing me to pursue my curiosities and my work. That’s the kind of teacher I am—I really am very excited about student work. I encourage them to do their best and find their voice because I really believe writing is so powerful and potentially life-saving. Reading and writing saved my life, and I want kids to be able to engage with that and express themselves. Being able to express yourself is the most important thing. I also really hope to reach students who aren’t super excited about ELA as a subject. I hope to figure out what is interesting and see if I can pull that out.

Ms. Lynn credits Mrs. Hope for setting expectations. ELA requires rigor, but it pays off in so many ways. She describes her students as very independent. “I’m very impressed with how independent they are at such a young age. They are a mix of types of learners, so I’m still learning how to get to everyone, but I’ve encouraged them to explore EdTech tools, little add-ons, to try to engage them differently.”

Although her writing has had to take a bit of a back seat currently as she’s teaching full time, she is still writing. As a creative writer, she writes poetry: “I self-published my thesis, which was my poetry debut,” she said, “and I had a few poems published this year.” Of late, she says her writing has taken more of an editorial, journalistic turn. As these pieces published in BmoreArt show, Ms. Lynn is a fan of the late Lucille Clifton, who lived in Baltimore for many years and was the Poet Laureate of Maryland. In fact, Ms. Lynn says Clifton is her inspiration.

A Writers Workshop is Coming to Lucille Clifton’s Baltimore Home

This update just published earlier this month.

Baltimore Residency Space The Clifton House to Launch February 2021 

And she also recently published a piece in the archival journal Black Archives.

This dovetails nicely with what her students are working on—personal narratives followed by expository writing. For the reading component, the theme this semester is historical nonfiction:

  • A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park: 5th grade
  • Path to the Stars, by Sylvia Acevedo: 6th grade
  • Every Falling Star, by Sungju Lee: 7th grade
  • Night, by Eli Wiesel: 8th grade

In class, they hold literature circles, do peer review workshops on each other’s writing, and enjoy the occasional pep talk from Ms. Lynn about doing their best on quizzes and tests. She has students write about their writing strengths and weaknesses as well as make a plan for improvement. She also meets one-on-one with each student to get to know them better.

“I am very excited to be a part of this community and learn from the students,” said Ms. Lynn. “Teaching has taught me so much, and I’ve learned something from my students every class. I don’t know if they realize how much I’ve learned from them.” Another important thing she wants the TNCS community to know is how much she wants to get to know everyone:

I’m excited to meet everyone’s parents. I’m disappointed that with this coronavirus year there will be some people I won’t ever meet in person or won’t for a long time. I wish I could have more of a relationship with both students and parent, but it’s just not what’s going to happen. I’m very much still open to talk, though! If parents want to reach out and just say hello, I would love that. Parent communication is very important here, so I’ll make sure I keep everyone in the loop and don’t exclude anyone.

Jalynn Harris at the beach in Cape Town earlier this year, a favorite spot of hers. She studied abroad there during her undergraduate friends and made a lot of friends. “I go back almost every year to soak up the sun and chill with my friends,” she said.

Epilogue

“This community is so awesome, I love how small the school is, the greenhouse . . . there are so many aspects of the school that are unique. I felt really invited and welcomed,” said Ms. Lynn.

We are so glad you are here, Ms. Lynn, and are excited to see how you help our children find their voices, as you have so wonderfully found yours!

Catch-Ups with Aftercare Stars Ciera Daniels and Nicole Marshall!

Vital to the successful operation of The New Century School are the staff members who work somewhat behind the scenes—including those who provide extended care and assist in the classroom. Students might require care before the school day begins, after it ends, and during school holidays. Though not always directly in the spotlight, the individuals who supervise these extended care opportunities, therefore, have the immense responsibility of keeping the children who participate safe, entertained, and happy. Likewise, those who support teachers in the classroom as assistants are similarly tasked in addition to having other classroom-associated responsibilities. These dedicated people deserve recognition for the care they so generously provide.

This is where Ciera Daniels and Nicole Marshall come in. These two wonderful human beings are long-time TNCS employees and fulfill their duties with obvious pleasure. It’s rare, if not impossible, to encounter either of them not smiling. Immersed sat down with them to find out what makes them so particularly well suited to their work. (Why together? They not only work together, but are now besties and are almost never apart!)

Ms. Daniels began at TNCS in 2012 so has been at the school almost from the beginning. Ms. Daniels joined 5 years ago. Both are from Baltimore, MD, born and raised. They both work in aftercare at TNCS and either are currently serving as a classroom assistant (Ms. Marshall) or have done so in the past (Ms. Daniels), but, as you’ll see, they approach their job(s) as a team—and are all the more effective for this synergistic collaboration.

About Ciera Daniels

tncs-aftercare-instructor-ciear-danielsMs. Daniels recently graduated college with a communications degree from Bowie State University and is currently working two jobs. She says she applied at TNCS as a sophomore in college, just looking for a side job for some extra income. “Honestly, it was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said.

She next announced the big news that she is going to law school next semester to pursue a dual degree with a Masters in Public Policy at the University of Baltimore. “Since I was in fifth grade I knew I wanted to go to law school,” she said. “Then, 2 years ago, I did an internship with planned parenthood. We did a lot of lobbying and collaborating for gay rights and minorities, so I want to lobby for gay rights and minorities as a lawyer. That’s where I am.”

But that doesn’t mean she will no longer be involved in child care. She’ll continue at TNCS to support herself while she pursues her law degree and even feels that these two fields are not incongruent. “My work at TNCS is awesome,” she says, “and has taught me a lot. I have gained a lot of important skills here that I will use throughout my career.”

She seems to have the nurturing instinct built in. Her first job at the age of 14 years was in a daycare center, she currently works at TNCS in aftercare, and she wants her life’s work to be elevating the lives of others.

And that’s not all. Remember that second job mentioned above? She works mornings at the middle school at Kennedy Krieger Institute, and she says her two jobs complement each other well:

It’s a good shift from there to TNCS. I like the fact that I get to go there and be a bit more hands on, because I work with people with mental and physical disabilities. The kids here at TNCS are a lot more independent. So, I like that I can go there, be hands on and help those students with almost everything, and then come here and help these students do certain things and then step back and watch them go.

About Nicole Marshall

tncs-aftercare-instructor-nicole-marshallMs. Marshall also came to TNCS somewhat serendipitously. She has established a career as a nanny and cares for children up to age 2 years. One year, when her position was reduced to just the morning hours, she applies at TNCS to work here in the afternoons. “I knew I wanted to be in a school setting,” she explained, “but I really didn’t expect to be here so long. It’s hard to leave. You just fall in love with it. It’s beautiful.”

Like Ms. Daniels, Ms. Marshall also started her work life in a daycare and also at age 14. She has now been working in early childhood education for more than half of her life. “I helped out at my godmother’s home daycare until I turned 18, and then I became a nanny. I also got a 90-hour preschool certificate but continued to nanny. And then I came here.”

TNCS’s Dynamic Duo

So what does their TNCS life entail? For one thing, they both express gratitude for what they have learned during their time at the school. Ms. Daniels came to really appreciate the Montessori aspect, which she had not been familiar with before coming to TNCS. “Montessori has opened my eyes a lot. The way it works is amazing,” she said. For her part, Ms. Marshall appreciates the experience: “When you take the 90-hour class, you only learn a little bit. You can’t really know it until you are doing it.”

They primarily work with the preprimary students, currently, which is by choice. “We want to provide structure. Having a routine is much easier for the kids,” said Ms. Daniels. Ms. Marshall says this is also hard in some ways because, once the students move up to primary, that routine gets disrupted, dissolving the bonds they had established: “When they go upstairs, they don’t want to say ‘hi’ anymore.”

Another thing they appreciate is the language aspect. “I took Chinese for 4 years in high school,” said Ms. Daniels, “and when I came here it helped strengthen my Chinese so much, especially working with Yu Lin when she was here. Working here has also helped me learn Spanish. I’ve had teachers give me homework to help me learn.”

Ms. Marshall is amazed by how independent the students are: “It’s been just great to see how well they do. I love being able to see them make their journey.”

Back to their approach, they really prefer handling aftercare as a unit. Ms. Daniels says, “It’s not the same without each other.” Ms Marshall says, “You’ve got to prepare yourself when one is not here.” She explains, “In aftercare, we like to give them a lot of different choices, and we learn what they like and don’t like. So we know what works, and they just love it. They don’t want to leave sometimes when their parents come.”

Some afternoon activities they might do together include listening to music, playing games, or sometimes just “running around.” Their teamwork pays off in that it also models cooperation for the students. Says Ms. Marshall, “they kind of all agree on what we decide to do each day. They all work together. Most of the time they just want to run around. They have so much energy at 5 o’clock.”

“We’re just big kids, too,” joked Ms. Daniels. “And we adore the kids.”

The most important thing they wanted to convey, though, is the value of their partnership with parents. Said Ms. Marshall: “We appreciate the parents. If we go to them and tell them anything about what’s going on with the kids, they fix it, they try, they’re very cooperative. They respect our opinions, even though we’re just aftercare.”

“We’re so appreciative of their cooperation because with potty training, new languages, learning new life skills, all the parents are so cooperative and understanding. It’s just great,” agreed Ms. Daniels.

And, let’s back up a second, “just aftercare”? More like, “just about the best thing that ever happened to aftercare”? Thanks for all you do, ladies!

tncs-aftercare-stars-ciera-and nicole


Ed. Note: Just after this post published, Ms. Daniels and Ms. Marshall announced that they are writing a children’s book together. More great things to come from these two in 2019!