Meet TNCS Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Rojas!

Parent volunteering has not only been a key driver of The New Century School‘s evolution to the thriving community it is today, but it also informs the school’s very premise. Head of School Alicia Danyali has always believed strongly that volunteering is a primary component of any successful organization (read her guest blog The Most Important Partner: You). Additionally, the concept of Service was formally made one of four TNCS Core Values this 2016–2017 school year.

Meet Alicia R.!

If parents and teachers are partners in the school and in the children’s individual achievements, what—make that who—is the crucial link in putting it all together? Long-time TNCS parent and Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Rojas, that’s who! As liaison between willing parent volunteers and the school staff and administration and their needs, Mrs. Rojas makes fulfilling the contractual volunteer obligation a snap.

Hailing from Toronto, Canada, she studied French for years and has French Canadian relatives by marriage. Attending Syracuse University in New York for her undergraduate degree, she then came to Baltimore about 10 years ago to pursue a Master’s Degree in business. Around this time, a match-making friend introduced her to her future husband, Phil, who is a native of Bogata, Colombia and, despite having lived in Maryland since he was 8 years old, continues to speak and write fluent Spanish. He is also a “soccer and cycling enthusiast,” says Mrs. Rojas. After taking time off from work when her daughter was born, she decided to return to the world of business. After an unfulfilling stint with Baltimore City as Liaison Officer of the Bureau Heads Department, she realized she wanted to be where the excitement is at . . . in start-ups! She now works in affiliate marketing for Performance Horizons, another arena in which she connects different kinds of groups to accomplish shared goals.

tncs-parent-volunteer-coordinator

TNCS Volunteer Coordinator and Unsung Hero, Alicia Rojas!

Meanwhile, the road that led her to becoming Volunteer Coordinator was quite a direct route—during a tour of the school when she was considering enrolling her then preschool-age daughter, she learned of the mandatory volunteer commitment and thought “that was the greatest thing ever. To be able to give back and participate in what’s going on in my daughter’s school day is something I find very enjoyable,” she said. She found herself volunteering on school grounds pretty frequently during her daughter’s preschool years, which, she says, laid the foundation for her current role.

She also appreciates that she gets the opportunity to interact with so many members of the TNCS community, beyond just the quick hello at drop-off and pick-up times. She gets the chance to really get to know teachers, admin, and parents, all of whom she says, “always go above and beyond.” She finds that even after parents have fulfilled their hours helping with event set-ups and breakdowns, for example, they are still eager to help out in “more impactful” ways such as being in the classroom. “And, even when something comes up at the last minute, parents are very accommodating and step up to help us get the job covered.”

But don’t be fooled—enjoyable as it may be, this job is also a huge responsibility. To get it into manageable shape, Mrs. Rojas had to put in a lot of time creating systems and processes for handling the near-constant influx of requests and questions as well as tracking each family’s hours. She implemented Sign-Up Genius, for example, so that would-be volunteers know instantly whether they have been assigned to a task rather than having to wait for an emailed response. In her third year in the position, she has the whole parent volunteering enterprise working like a well-oiled machine and communicates regularly and in timely fashion. She has just the organization and efficiency that the role demands. She is the nexus where parent volunteers, the Parent Council, and Class Parents connect, helping each sphere of that Venn diagram as needed and keeping it all connected and cohesive.

tncs-volunteer-coordinator-alicia-rojasVolunteering at TNCS

Because TNCS recognizes just how stretched many families are, the volunteer obligation is hardly onerous at only 8 hours. Per family. Per year! Also, the hours do not have to be completed by an actual parent, but by anyone affiliated with a particular student, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, caregivers, etc. Best of all? Volunteering doesn’t necessarily involve blood, sweat, and tears (although if that’s what your area of expertise involves, it’s welcome!). Mrs. Rojas sends out a monthly newsletter covering a broad range of ways to help out. There’s truly something for everyone. Moreover, off-school hours are readily available for those who cannot sacrifice work hours to volunteer for the school. Volunteering at TNCS is not a burden; it’s a pleasure—no, an opportunity, a gift even. It’s a chance to be deeply involved in your children’s day-to-day school lives, to connect with them on their turf, and to see and experience what’s going on in their lives from their points of view, all while providing a service to the school. There’s nothing so reassuring in parenting than to get proof that your child is happy and flourishing even when you aren’t there—as well as to have a hand in helping make that possible.

“Once parents volunteer and see how easy and rewarding it is, they’ll also start to create their own initiatives,” said Mrs. Rojas. “We have found that in asking people their specialties, they volunteer not just their time but their experience and expertise. They are bringing a lot to the table. It’s not just dependent on what opportunities come up; a lot of people create their own, which is great.” They are, in effect, providing extra learning and enrichment in areas tangential to the formal curriculum. Indeed, TNCS students have learned about a variety of cultures from natives of those cultures, about playing any number of instruments, about computer programming, and even how to perform various dances—all from parents!

Feeling the volunteer spirit? Parent involvement sets an example to students that we are a true community, an extension of family. No matter what little time parents have available in their busy lives, they can contribute in some way with the volunteer opportunities the school provides. Whether cataloging books in the library, laying down mulch in the playground, or laminating classroom materials from home, everyone is contributing to the school in some way. It fosters a sense of belonging and involvement.

“I’ve learned how much parents and their willingness to give enriches the school. It’s really special,” said Mrs Rojas. “Volunteering can be your time to go into the classroom and share your skills. You can come up with any volunteering idea you want, and I can help you make it happen. Anything that interests you about what your kid is doing, is probably something that you can create a volunteer opportunity in.” One thing she emphasizes is that she is available to answer your questions: She can be reached at volunteer@thenewcenturyschool.com.

Already completed some volunteer hours? Don’t forget to log them by visiting the Parent Hub or by clicking here!

New Year’s Resolutions TNCS Style

Keeping New Year’s resolutions is notoriously difficult. Some experts advise against making any at all due to the consequent self-loathing that can envelope us once we realize we have failed epically! A new study claims that only 8% of those who make New Year’s resolutions keep them, and those who don’t give up after just 1 week. On the flip side, however, “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.” So do we or don’t we make resolutions?!

We absolutely should (we’re actually hardwired to) . . . but with two key differences. Part of the key is not putting so much emphasis on target dates. Without room to slip, fall, and pick yourself back up, a resolution becomes one of those all-or-nothing pipe dreams with a built-in escape hatch—“I just couldn’t do it. Maybe next year.” Failure and recovery is an inherent part of any worthwhile process, so be realistic about that and don’t let slip-ups completely derail you. “Fail better.” The other difference is in setting small, specific goals instead of grand, sweeping changes. Abstractions such as “lose weight” or “stop smoking” are doomed without a plan in place that provides incremental and achievable daily steps. Ultimately, those small steps will yield the desired result.

Thus, the list below comprises a manageable, realistic, yet worthy set of goals that are universally beneficial. Even better, methods to accomplish each individual goal are also given, taking all of the guesswork out of making 2014 a healthy, happy year!

1. Eat a healthier diet, full of fresh vegetables and fruit: Join One Straw Farm CSA (even if it isn’t a stated goal, you’ll likely drop some pounds in the bargain).

The available bounty ranges from onions, peppers, lettuces, chard, kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. to herbs—rosemary, oregano, thyme, chives, cilantro, parsley, etc.—and fruit, such as raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, and gorgeous varieties of heirloom tomatoes. . . Starting in June and running through November, on a set day of the week, “shareholders” get 8 pieces of 3–6 items, primarily vegetables . . . for about $24 per week.

2. Read more: Spend 20 minutes reading with your kids before bedtime (as well as curl up with your own reading material before lights-out). The benefits are varied and far-reaching . . . and what better way to close out the day?

[A study shows] that math and reading ability at age 7 years are linked with socioeconomic status (SES) in adulthood. Interestingly, although math and reading ability was also significantly associated with intelligence scores, academic motivation, and education duration, the association with later SES was independent of the family’s SES during childhood. Moreover, the researchers were not expecting to find that specifically math and reading ability were more important than general intelligence in determining SES. In other words, what we’re born with and what we’re born into may not be as important as what we learn in second grade. [The] findings emphasize the importance of learned skills. What this boils down to is really good news for students—the return on improving these skills at all levels is huge, from remedial to the most gifted. “Math and reading are two of the most intervention-friendly topics,” [researchers] say. “Practice improves nearly all children.”

3. Hone math skills: Spend 15 minutes playing math games with the kids before bedtime (like the TNCS Facebook page for games you can play at home to dovetail with Ms. Roberts’s work in class). You may be surprised at how these simple exercises improve your own day-to-day efficiency and obviate that smartphone calculator!

STEM is all over the media, and with good reason. STEM subjects are inherently investigative in nature, cultivating self-guided exploration and producing a greater understanding of the physical world. Ms. Roberts says, “STEM is important for everyday life; for example, we use math at the grocery store and at the bank. And science explains how the world works.” Another appeal of early STEM learning is the downstream payoff. Recently, NPR did a Planet Money story about what job fields yield the highest incomes. In “The Most (And Least) Lucrative College Majors, In 1 Graph,” STEM came out almost scarily far ahead (that discrepancy is another story). The focus of other media coverage is the nation’s big move to catch up to other developed countries, whom the United States currently lags far behind in depth and breadth of STEM education.

4. Get more sleep: Impose a consistent bedtime (for kids’ and parents’ improved overall health).

“Sleep is no less important than food, drink, or safety in the lives of children.” And yet, with our busy lives and comings and goings, we can inadvertently contribute to sleep deprivation in our kids. “With parents working long hours, schedules packed with school, after-school activities, and other lifestyle factors, naps are missed, bedtimes are pushed back, mornings start earlier and nights may be anything but peaceful. Missing naps or going to bed a little late may not seem like a big deal, but it is. It all adds up, with consequences that may last a lifetime.”

5. Be more altruistic: Donate to local and international charities through TNCS’s food, clothing, and dime drives.

Howsoever you decide to share your wealth, remember that you will actually derive personal benefit from your selflessness—a beautiful paradox! Being altruistic is a  recognized happiness inducer!

6. Be more environmentally conscious: Join Clean Currents (bonus—you’ll actually save money on your power bill).

The most obvious benefit to wind energy is its environmental friendliness. “Windustry” ameliorates climate change by not only providing a non-polluting source of energy but also by displacing the greenhouse gas emissions that have already polluted the atmosphere from conventional power. But there are other tremendous advantages, too. By reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, for instance, clean energy also makes us less vulnerable as a nation to the vagaries of the international oil market . . . and to the associated security risks. Moreover, ever-renewable wind is a cash cow for farmers. Wind farming almost effortlessly generates considerable income without taking up land needed for crops as well as creating jobs and boosting the economy.

7. Learn a foreign language: Practice Words of the Week with the kids, and read the monthly classroom newsletters. Words of the Week are posted each Monday on both The New Century School website (during active school semesters) and on TNCS’s Facebook page (with pronunciations). Stay tuned for a blog post this month dedicated to other ways you can learn Mandarin and Spanish along with your kids at home!

8. Get more exercise: Take a class at Sanctuary Bodyworks while the kids are downstairs at The Lingo Leap. People who exercise are not only in better physical shape, they are also more cognitively and emotionally fit.

Exercise dramatically enhances circulation to the brain and encourages synaptic growth, thereby priming the brain for improved function—providing the “spark,” in other words. Improvements in function include both mental health as well as cognitive ability.

9. Make mornings less stressful:  Sign up the kids for the Garden Tuck Shop lunch program. As if you don’t have enough to do in the mornings—why not let somebody else provide your child with a wholesome, nutrition-packed homemade hot lunch? Even better many ingredients come from TNCS’s on-premise greenhouse, and all others are locally sourced.

You grow in the same environment as your food, so you have a divine connection. Your children and your plants are growing under the same sun and being touched by the same wind, seeing the same clouds and the same moon. The plants growing in your environment have withstood those particular elements. They are perfectly engineered by nature to be exactly what you physically need, right now.

10. Volunteer!: Complete your volunteer hours. Another way to connect with your community is to give something back to it.

Volunteering at TNCS is not a burden; it’s a pleasure—no, an opportunity, a gift even. It’s a chance to be deeply involved in your children’s day-to-day school lives, to connect with them on their turf, and to see and experience what’s going on in their lives from their points of view, all while providing a service to the school. There’s nothing so reassuring in parenting than to get proof that your child is happy and flourishing even when you aren’t there.

So go ahead—pick one (or several) and reap the fruits of your labor. Just don’t get discouraged by bumps in the road. We’ve got all year!

Volunteerism at TNCS

The great American education reformist Horace Mann long ago observed, “Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” Mann fought for such ideals as higher wages for teachers, access to education for all creeds and classes, and abolishing corporal punishment in schools. He also believed in helping others for the sake of doing so rather than for external reward—volunteerism, in other words.

Volunteering is also a central value held by The New Century School, insofar as it builds and strengthens our thriving community. For the good of all parties, TNCS has made volunteering a contractual obligation for the 2013–2014 school year. Says Head of School Alicia Danyali:

I feel strongly that volunteering is a huge component of any successful organization. At TNCS, parent involvement and support is crucial. Parents and teachers are partners in the school and in their children’s individual achievements. Making parent involvement mandatory sets an example to students that we are a true community. No matter what little time parents have available in their busy lives, they can contribute in some way with the volunteer opportunities the school provides. Whether cataloging books in the library, laying down mulch in the playground, or laminating classroom materials from home, everyone is contributing to the school in some way. It gives a sense of belonging and involvement that you can’t get waiting for others to step up. Julie Baldi and Tracy Browning have done an amazing job organizing the committees this year. That is just another example of how thankful I am for parent volunteering.
TNCS Parent Liaison Julie Baldi heads up the Volunteer Committee organizing.

TNCS Parent Liaison Julie Baldi heads up the Volunteer Committee organizing.

As Ms. Danyali notes, not only is volunteering mandatory this year, but the enterprise has been managed with an efficiency that make fulfilling the obligation a snap. This is thanks to the dedication of Ms. Baldi, the main contact overseeing Volunteer Committees; Ms. Browning, another parent coordinator; Emily Feinberg, the on-staff administrator; and, of course, all of the volunteers themselves. Ms. Baldi can be reached with any questions at parentliaison.newcentury@gmail.com. She says she was asked to be the Volunteer Committee Coordinator after putting in so much volunteer time herself last year in the school library and seeing its importance firsthand.

And, because TNCS recognizes just how stretched many families are, the volunteer obligation is hardly onerous at only 8 hours. Per family. Per year! Also, the hours do not have to be completed by an actual parent, but by anyone affiliated with a particular student, such as aunts, uncles, grandparents, caregivers, etc. Best of all? Volunteering doesn’t necessarily involve blood, sweat, and tears (although if that’s what your area of expertise involves, it’s welcome!). The Committee Coordinators came up with a list of areas covering a broad range of ways to help out. There’s truly something for everyone. Moreover, notes Ms. Baldi, “we made every effort to make off-school hours available for those who can’t sacrifice work hours to volunteer for the school.”  Volunteering at TNCS is not a burden; it’s a pleasure—no, an opportunity, a gift even. It’s a chance to be deeply involved in your children’s day-to-day school lives, to connect with them on their turf, and to see and experience what’s going on in their lives from their points of view, all while providing a service to the school. There’s nothing so reassuring in parenting than to get proof that your child is happy and flourishing even when you aren’t there.

Ms. Danyali agrees. “One of my positions at my last school was community service coordinator for the entire elementary school,” she says. “It opened my eyes to how much people want to be involved with their children ongoing, no matter their background, interests, job constraints, etc.” This accords with Ms. Baldi’s experience so far as well. She says, “we have found that in asking people their specialties, they volunteer not just their time but their experience and expertise. They are bringing a lot to the table. In saying, ‘I would like to show kids this,’ they are providing extra learning in areas we haven’t even thought of.” Indeed, TNCS students have learned about a variety of cultures from natives of those cultures, about what it’s like to work for the Peace Corps, and even how to perform an Indian dance—all from parents!

This parent provided much-needed help before a school Open House by cleaning up the sidewalk and giving the front of the school a general sprucing up! Thanks Dad!

This parent provided much-needed help before a school Open House by cleaning up the sidewalk and giving the front of the school a general sprucing up! Thanks Dad!

Here are some of the many, many ways you can provide a service:

  • Outreach/Admissions: volunteer during open house events, serve as a reference by being available by email and phone to prospective families, offer school tours, develop and/or edit promotional materials, or help with open house preparations.
  • All School Community Events: help out at potlucks, school concerts, class breakfast events, picnics, etc.
  • Classroom Volunteering: prepare classroom materials for teachers, organizing classroom activities, read to the class, etc.
  • General Maintenance and Repair: repair or put together furniture, fix classroom items, and general repairs
  • Greenhouse and Landscaping (with Emma): plant trees, maintain front of school greenery, and greenhouse maintenance.
  • School Library: catalogue books, maintain collection, serve as visiting librarian for the elementary and primary classes.
  • Athletics After School or Recess Time: organize group activities by sport and age division.
  • Emergency Response Brigade: remove snow, prepare sand bags, etc. (Those living near the school would be ideal candidates.)
  • Legal Help: provide legal assistance for various needs (for those with legal backgrounds).
  • Other: come up with your own idea, such as perform music, lead an art project, make a presentation, teach a dance—offer any activity in which you have a specialty.

Feeling the volunteer spirit? Click here for the Parent Volunteer Committee Sign-up form! You will be so glad you did. Ms. Baldi believes that the importance of volunteering is in “keeping a sense of community in the school. This community, after all, is an extension of your family.”

Already completed some volunteer hours? Don’t forget to log them (and avoid a penalty) by clicking here! Ms. Feinberg reports that about 34% of TNCS families have already begun or completed their volunteer hours only 3 months into the school year!

“The school gives a lot,” says Ms. Baldi. “We should give a little, too.”

What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.
–Aristotle (384–322 BC)