Alexis Watson, Director of Student Support at TNCS: Building a Unified School Community

At the heart of every school lies its community—its students, educators, and families coming together for learning, growth, and collaboration. This is nowhere more true than at The New Century School, where leadership with Head of School Erika Johnson at the helm makes community-building a priority. One very important partner in this worthy endeavor is Director of Student Support Alexis Watson, whose energy and enthusiasm during the last school year may pale only in comparison to that of this year. Suffice to say, she has a lot in store!

Special Events that Bring Us Together

“It was wonderful,” began Ms. Watson, when asked about the International Peace Day assembly “seeing all the students from preschool right up to 8th grade coming together. My older students, especially the 8th-graders, were right there, supporting the younger ones. They had pinwheels, pom-poms, and posters; everyone was singing along. It felt like a festival. The atmosphere was electric, and I believe everyone truly enjoyed themselves.”

This year’s assembly theme, she explained, was “global peace.” With students representing a multitude of countries and backgrounds, it was essential to Ms. Watson that everyone felt seen and heard. “We wanted to represent different countries, ethnicities, and backgrounds,” she said. “The students could wear white or attire that held cultural significance. We saw garb from Africa, robes from China, and many other beautiful outfits.”

With the world reshaping after the pandemic, there’s a sense of renewal and nostalgia at TNCS. Ms. Watson shared, “I received feedback from various quarters—the executives, students, families—all expressing a deep desire to revive the close-knit community feel we cherished pre-pandemic.”

Taking strides towards this mission, the school recently hosted their first “Welcome Back Potluck” in years. “Getting back to such traditions and simultaneously creating new ones is my primary focus this year,” Ms. Watson elaborated. “With some families moving on and new ones joining, there’s a sense of forging a fresh space, of nurturing a renewed sense of community.”

The spirit of community extends beyond the school’s boundaries. From outings to the National Aquarium and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, to a much-anticipated trip for apple-picking at Weber’s Cider Mill Farm, there’s an abundance of activities in store for students and their families.

“We haven’t been to the zoo as a TNCS community before,” Ms. Watson shared, excitement evident in her tone. “These trips provide families an invaluable chance to be part of their student’s educational journey, fostering deeper connections.”

Building Community at TNCS: A Vision Realized

Ms. Watson further emphasized the importance of internal community-building. Older students at TNCS are playing pivotal roles in mentoring their younger counterparts. “We have our reading buddies system,” she elaborated, “where our 8th-graders head to Building South to engage with our K/1 students, especially the newcomers. This mutual learning is a cornerstone of what TNCS stands for.”

But community service holds an equally revered place. “I’m bringing it back,” she declared, determination in her voice. “Especially for our middle school students. It’s essential they have a meaningful middle school experience, and giving back to the community is a significant part of that.”

In the conversation with Ms. Watson, one thing became abundantly clear: at TNCS, community isn’t just a word; it’s a way of life. Whether through assemblies, potlucks, outings, or mentorship programs, the school is ever-evolving, driven by an unyielding spirit of togetherness and mutual growth.

From the very first day of school, the energy at TNCS has been palpable. “We’ve been rocking and rolling,” she said, “and getting to know our students and families has been truly rewarding.”

Compared to last year, her first year at TNCS, she feels a sense of readiness, reflecting on what she has learned during that “trial by fire”: “I outlined all the activities for the year during the summer, having observed areas that needed support and enhancement. I feel like I’m ahead of the game this year, not playing catch-up.”

The emphasis, however, is not just on planning but on building a culture that resonates with everyone. “Last year was about solidifying our cultural direction. This year, it’s about being present, being ready for whatever comes, and focusing on community.”

In just a few weeks, the effect on students is evident. New students, in particular, have shown remarkable growth in understanding the essence of TNCS’s community. “They really are rallying around the idea of being good people, embodying it wholeheartedly. This yearning to be good humans and citizens is creating a positive educational atmosphere and fostering a nurturing school environment,” she added.

But it’s not all about continuity; innovation is also in the air. Remember last year’s amazing Spring Festival? While the much-loved petting zoo, moon bounce, and cupcake truck are set to return, new additions are on the horizon. “After a trial-and-error year, I have a clearer sense of what works. I aim to enhance our events, ensuring success every time.”

This year, the mission is clear: it’s not just about fun, but about rekindling the close-knit community ties. “We’re all in this together, and that’s the heart of it,” she emphasized.

Community isn’t limited to students and families alone. An essential component is the staff. “I’m focused on fostering understanding and compassion among staff members. Building a community naturally leads to the cultivation of caring, understanding, and nurturing attributes,” said Ms. Watson. These attributes are not only beneficial for the community but also enhance academic performance.

Recognizing the importance of teacher well-being, efforts are underway to provide them with the support they need. “Last year, some of us felt the burnout early on. This year, I’ve been promoting self-care, ensuring teachers get the breaks they need, providing additional support in the form of chaperones and specialists, and even giving them days off.”

And it’s not just about formal support. Little gestures, like treating them to coffee, bagels, or donuts, make a difference. “It’s a way to acknowledge their hard work and let them know they’re seen and valued,” the leader added with a smile.

At the heart of this year’s endeavors is a singular focus: building community.

Advocacy for students remains a cornerstone. Ms. Boyd shared a heartwarming initiative by the students—a monthly school newsletter, the first of its kind at TNCS. “They interviewed me for the inaugural issue, and every month, a student will be in the spotlight,” she said, her excitement evident. “They even have a comic strip!”

With such initiatives and a dedicated leader at the helm, TNCS is not just a school; it’s a thriving community where every member—student, parent, or staff—feels valued, heard, and integral to its success.