Hear what our alumni had to say about NCCL at our 40th Anniversary Celebration.
Best School Year of Her life
Sending our kids to NCCL was one of the best decisions we ever made! The level of caring shown by the teachers, the wonderful sense of community, the way they educate the whole child … Priceless!
Thankful for NCCL
“I said it yesterday at the Thanksgiving Feast at the school, and I’ll say it again. I am so thankful that my granddaughter is at this school where they not only teach subject matter, but instill values such as inclusiveness, tolerance, civility, true discourse, and a concern for the world we live in. These are among the vales that define the United States. My only wish is that those who aspire to national office in this country had a similar formative educational experience.”
Well Prepared for High School
I just wanted to let you know how well Kate did at school this year. She earned straight A’s in honors classes and is ranked 1st. She had no trouble adjusting academically or socially. I know it is a concern of some parents – how their children will do when moving to a “traditional” school and just wanted to let you know that she did great. Thank you for preparing her so well for school.
I just wanted to let you know how well
When my kids attended NCCL, they LOVED Workshop Week! Who wouldn’t love making time to learn new skills like cooking, hiking, photography, and sewing? Whenever I see Molly curled up on the couch with her knitting needles and a big ball of yarn, I realize I have Marilyn Magnani and NCCL’s Workshop Week to thank for that. The most important lesson my kids took away from Workshop Week is that learning is fun! Middle school was a long time ago, but NCCL and Workshop Week have had a lasting impact on my children. My girls are constantly challenging themselves and embracing new experiences: political cartooning, Youth in Government, trying out for the school musical, etc. We are forever grateful for the progressive education our kids received at NCCL. <3
Restored Her Confidence
Thank you Sean and Marilyn! We are so proud and grateful to both of you for all that you do and all that you have done for our daughter. You must know that your efforts and abilities have literally set her in the right direction and restored her confidence and love for school as well as a sparkle to her eyes. We are so happy that she will have another year with you both to continue this growth. I could go on and on, but will spare you. What a difference a year makes! Thank you for believing in our girl!
He’s So Happy Being At School
Thank you so much for helping Patrick have a great year at NCCL! He’s so happy being at school now! I only wish I had started him at NCCL in his first school year!
I am pleased with the staff at NCCL. They are professional and creative. I like that they treat the children with respect, and hope that the students learn to also give respect in return. I would also like to commend the after-care staff. It is a tough job to take care of children who have been in school all day and are probably tired and hungry. They are always pleasant with the children and take the time to play and interact with them.
I enjoyed seeing Patrick learning and growing in this environment — thanks for helping to make it happen.
NCCL Helped Me To Become Self-Motivated
NCCL helped me to become self-motivated and gain many of the skills necessary to do well in school. Even though letter grades weren’t given at NCCL, teachers encouraged me to want to do my best on every project and test. In high school teachers expect you to do your best, but no teacher can make you study or turn in your homework. You have to want to do well in class.
–From Anita Gibson, written as a 10th grade honor student at Tatnall School. Anita had already received many accolades at Tatnall when she wrote this, including the Eighth Grade Speech Award, Math Award, Latin Award and being named to the Ninth Grade Honor Roll.
NCCL Helped Daughter Achieve a College Scholarship
Anna Clinch (NCCL graduate) received a scholarship last night, the criteria of which were: a planned college major in the arts, a love of learning, leadership by example, and determination in pursuing goals. I am proud of my daughter for having these qualities, and can honestly trace all of them back directly to her nine years at NCCL. Thank you!
Thanks For Changing My Son’s Life
To everyone at NCCL:
I really don’t have the words to thank you.
When my son was at other schools I spent many days going to pick him up at the nurse’s office because he was sick and had to go home. He complained about going to school EVERYDAY. It was especially hard on the first day of every school year. He had reports sent home more than not about negative behaviors. You get the picture.
After the first year at NCCL I noticed I did not once have to come and pick him up due to “illness”. He rarely complained about going to school—sometimes on Sunday nights he would whine but then again who doesn’t grumble a bit on Sunday about work on Monday. I knew things were going very well when on the first day of school of his second year there he told me to hurry up he did not want to be late for school! He practically ran me out the door. I also noticed that his negative behavior report file I had going was starting to collect dust. Finally this past year he was talking about “stuff” and mentioned how he loved to learn—I wonder where he got that from. You get the picture.
I am sure NCCL has changed the course of his life. I feel very positive about his future and he informed me he is going to be famous. When he is I will be sure to remind him where he got his real start.
I also need to tell you how grateful I was for everyone’s help when I was sick. The support and help I received from Bette, Susi, teachers and parents was a godsend, especially with no family close by. Whether it was a hug for me or a ride for my son—I can’t tell you how much it helped.
I don’t know what else to say except thank you from the bottom of my heart. NCCL is truly a wonderful school and I KNOW my son thinks so as well.
Finding This Community Of People And Teachers Was a Godsend
Hello. I just wanted to take a minute to write a note to everyone to tell of my gratitude to NCCL and its inhabitants!
I recently went through a horrific car accident and just made it back to the land of the living. The response and caring from the staff was so wonderful and calming, knowing as I lay dormant & healing that my son was safe with the kind of people that I could trust to provide him daily with life skills that go beyond “a day at school.”
I had cards, flowers and visits from staff and offers to drive my son home 30 miles when we had to start using a taxi service. Someone wonderful and way too busy even offered to come down sooo far to our house and play with my kids all evening! Kids went nuts! Yes mom Yes….PLEASE??!!! But I had to say no, it was too generous. Aftercare also worked with us, compassionate and caring.
Finding this community of people and teachers was a godsend for my son too, who struggled mightily in his prior years at school and in general. His teachers have driven his mind into all these wonderful new areas where he is finding a passion for learning all new things. Our lives have been changed up by this NCCL place!
Finding a school where learning to think and feel beyond the top layer of life is paramount to its goals is a hard thing to find; one sees too many who take life for granted and ignore its roots and more complex layers. The release from competition and the show of compassion and the applause for individuality set this school apart. I guess I wanted to say THANK U! but above all to reinforce to everyone how lucky we are to be here and have this NCCL place!
-Maria Lees (Zach & Zoe’s mom)
There Is Something About Taking Part In What You Are Studying That Makes Learning Possible
Ever wondered how those strange assignments that our children bring home from NCCL translate into later academic life? READ ON! The following is an excerpt from a paper written by NCCL graduate Nathan Brown in order to qualify for a job as a tutor at UC San Diego. Nathan was a senior majoring in physics, and now has a Ph.D.
Rules For The First Experiment
You will drop an egg off a bridge. It is about a thirty-foot drop onto pavement. The egg must not be damaged. You can use whatever materials are available to you, you can work alone or in groups and you have twenty-four hours to design and build something.
Rules For The Second Experiment
Adjust the decade resistance box so that the output of the bridge is as close as possible to zero volts. Turn the vertical gain of the scope to its most sensitive setting (0.01 volt) or until the stray 60Hz signal is about full scale. Now ground the case of the resistance decade box and run heavy “banana plug” wires between ground contacts of the various … (etc. for three pages)
I did the first experiment in sixth grade, in a course in which we had a contest to design and build things such as the lightest boat that could support a brick in water, or a missile-shaped projectile that would keep an egg safe. I remember riding my bike as fast as I could while holding a contraption that compared the wind resistance for different solid shapes made out of wood, and trying to make a boat out of putty (according to Archimedes it has to have a deep bottom, but everyone in the class had to figure that out on their own). I didn’t know at the time that I was learning more about physics and engineering than I would learn in four years of high school and (so far) three years of college.
I did the second experiment this quarter in Physics 120A. The labs were written with so much detail and explicit instructions that they can be completed with no real understanding of what’s going on. From the first experiment I learned a few things about physics. What I learned from the second experiment is what an incredible advantage I have over everyone who didn’t do the first experiment. I remember that I built a chicken wire box for the egg-drop experiment. The egg was suspended in the center with rubber bands. The first time it worked, but the rubber bands became so stretched so that the second time the egg hit the edge and cracked. A girl whom I had a crush on for several years built a beautiful parachute that didn’t open. Her egg smashed all over the pavement. For some reason I find it difficult to put into words how much I’ve learned from doing things like that and how little I’ve learned in the past seven years.
Beginning in ninth grade, emphasis was placed on learning from books and proving your knowledge with written tests without actually doing anything. It gradually escalated and now that’s all I do in school. I’m still not bored with learning materials from a text book and then applying it to similar situations on a test, but I’m wondering if it’s worth anything.
This doesn’t apply only to science. In the school I went to through eighth grade, besides spending a lot of time writing stories and researching, writing and editing our own newspaper, we used to write reports on one-word topics that were drawn out of hat. I remember drawing “London” for one topic and “paraffin” for my next. The reports could be of any length (as soon as you finished one you stuck your hand in the hat for another), in any style, from any point of view and they were not graded!
I don’t know if I am evaluating myself here or the school system. What was different about my education up through eighth grade is that I went to a small private school that was designed to be different. The Newark Center for Creative Learning (NCCL), which was founded by and directed by my mother, Ann Brown. In engineering courses (I don’t know what they called it then) we dropped eggs off bridges. In biology courses we went seining (dragging huge nets through the ocean at low tide), collecting sea horses, crabs, and whatever else showed up. In writing courses we published a newspaper and wrote stories and essays of our own choosing. In geography we got cold, dirty and soaking wet surveying a creek with twine and yardsticks, then made a scale model out of mud.
There is something about taking part in what you are studying that makes learning possible. Playing a role as a human, having to design something that will keep an egg safe when it hits the ground rather than just being told all of the theories and mathematical equations involved, is what learning is.
The Most Important Thing I Learned Was To Think For Myself
I wanted to thank you for the experience I had at NCCL. As I reflect back on my life, I realize what a positive impact NCCL had on me. I think the most important thing I learned was to think for myself, and for that I am grateful to Ann and the other teachers who helped me, Mary, Betsey, Jean (who taught sewing), Ray, and especially Marilynn who helped me explore my creativity.
–Carol Cogswell Fleck
At NCCL We Learned By Doing And I Loved School
My formal education began at NCCL … We called the eight teachers by their first names: they were our friends along with the parents, community members and friends who contributed varied and unusual expertise to our education. At NCCL we learned by doing and I loved school. Yes, we studied traditional subjects–English, math, science, history, foreign language; but we were taught in a non-traditional manner. In cooking we might study a traditional culture. In drama, we might rehearse our annual production–ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan to Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano.
As a result of the educational philosophy at NCCL, there was no stigma about who you were or expectations of what you had to be; each of us liked or at least accepted the other.
–Laura Gross, from her application to Hampshire College
I remember (with a great deal of detail) the 1977 NCCL graduation twenty years ago. The eight of us were awarded calligraphy poems that we had written (mine is hung in my den and I can recite it from memory). Immediately after graduation I remember Mary coming up and hugging each of us — with tears in her eyes.
I remember all the fun with candle making the last week of school. You actually left me alone with a gallon of liquid wax!! I you never did find out what we did with all that wax…and I guess you never will!
Until That Point, I Had Always Thought of Every Subject Separately
“…Van Gogh’s self-portrait was projected on one of the walls. He was young when he died, Marilynn said, but during his lifetime he was one of the most prolific artists in the world.
“Isn’t he the guy that cut off his ear?” asked someone.
“Yes he did.” replied Marilynn.
“Did he die when he cut off his ear?”
“Cutting off your ear won’t kill you,” Marilynn smiled, “but it will hurt a little bit.”
“How old was he when he died?” piped up someone else.
Marilynn didn’t know off-hand, so she walked over to the blackboard and chalked up the date of Van Gogh’s death. Beneath that she wrote the date of his birth. Until that point, I had always thought of every subject separately. Writing was writing, math was math, drawing was drawing. Drawing was not math. But as Marilynn subtracted Van Gogh’s birth date from his death date, things suddenly looked different. Math and drawing, I realized, were overlapping. Was that legal? Was that how it was supposed to work? Did different subjects touch each other? I was very confused.
…The long and short of it is, no one thing is isolated from every other thing…the first time I spotted the connection, I was too thrown off by the experience to notice how old Van Gogh actually was when he died.”
–Jeanne Braun, writing about Marilynn’s class on Impressionist art
Newark Center for Creative Learning Inspired My Success
Most kids learn to hate school by the time they are in second or third grade. School is not fun. It is not “cool”. School involves tests and waking up early. I grew up blissfully unaware of a world where school is dreaded and classes are simply another boring obligation. For nine years, what would have been kindergarten through eight grade, I attended Newark Center for Creative Learning (NCCL), a tiny ‘hippie school’ sitting in the middle of a quiet neighborhood. NCCL was different. Teachers were addressed by their first names. Students received no grades and rarely took tests. The school day did not follow a strict schedule. Desks were replaced by tables, couches, and gigantic floor pillows. The school’s unofficial motto was based on an ancient Chinese proverb: “Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.”
Although many people may be quick to criticize NCCL’s non-traditional ways, the nine years I spent there were probably the most useful and educational years of my life. The school lived by its motto. Students were never lectured or told to simply read and take notes. Instead, we explored, tried, and discussed. A science project to teach about physics involved building contraptions to hold eggs and then dropping the contraption, with an egg inside, off a bridge and on to the pavement below. The goal was to create a container to prevent the egg from breaking. We were given the assignment, but no other help. We were sent to discuss the merits of cushioning versus parachutes and discover how surface area to volume ratios and air resistance could be used to our advantage on our own. A lesson on the environment involved field trips to the local park, a Delaware Solid Waste Authority conference, and the local landfill. We learned about human’s impact on the environment while standing in freezing wind and staring at a pit of trash. When learning about literature, we were rarely lectured on the characteristics of a particular style of writing. We read, and then, instead of listening, we wrote: sestinas, sonnets, vignettes, essays, complaint letters, short stories, one act plays, and anything else we wanted to write.
The relaxed atmosphere and the fact that the schedule was merely a suggestion allowed subjects to blend together. Every student at NCCL completed a quilt project before graduating. We chose our own fabric, designed a small quilt, cut pieces, and sewed everything together. The quilts were both an art project and a geometry lesson. Spanish class often involved cooking. We whipped up recipes from Spain and Mexico and got a taste of the culture, practice speaking in Spanish as we puttered around the kitchen and a cooking lesson as well.
NCCL was a unique experience. By the time I entered high school, I had received much more than I would have with a “normal” education. As well as having a solid base in math, science, English, and art, I knew how to communicate with adults. I knew how to make lasagna, operate a sewing machine, and drop eggs from bridges without cracking them. I learned to be curious. I learned to love learning. I learned to ask questions, and to not stop asking questions until I understood what was happening. NCCL shaped me into an eccentric, determined teenager. Throughout high school, I did learn to hate school a bit. My alarm clock is the bane of my existence. I firmly believe that standardized tests are cruel and unusual punishment. Despite high school, the spirit and the unique perspective that NCCL gave me is still alive. Because of NCCL, I am able to communicate easily with both my peers and teachers. Because of NCCL, I am self- motivated and curious. Because of NCCL, I strive not to simply learn about, but to understand the world around me.
–Emily McClary’s application essay for Rochester Institute of Technology:
In response to the question, “What inspired you to do well?” at the Delaware Secretary of Education Scholars Dinner, Emily wrote:
My middle school teachers at the Newark Center for Creative Learning inspired my success. In addition to teaching math, science, and history, they showed me how to have a positive outlook on life. They taught me the importance of understanding subjects, not just memorizing facts. They showed me that for many problems, the traditional or obvious is not necessarily the best solution. My teachers encouraged me to think and work independently. Throughout my experience at NCCL, the teachers kept students motivated and genuinely excited about learning. Their excitement and effort has inspired me to do well.
NCCL Was The Place I First Learned To Be Myself
They say the past is idealized, memories are never accurate; they reflect like fun-house mirrors, skewed. It’s the major cause of nostalgia; it’s why people live in the past. Sometimes one has to force away from the past, for hazard of health and losing grip on living. I know that and take my memories with a grain of salt, however much of my adventuring childhood still remains with me as idyllic days.
The span of my life that is normally called first to fourth grade was not normal. I attended a creative center of learning where the curriculum was very loose, so loose that grades, and tests, and any sort of organized form of schooling did not exist. My memory suggests it was all play and no work, but reality reminds me that there were official sections of time for writing stories (which was still play to me); math lectures I do not recall yet somehow remain knowledgeable in areas of instruction. We had long focus-studies on topics such as dinosaurs, rocks and minerals, or Native Americans – those things that spark excitement into all curious children – diversified with countless other learning experiences including art, Spanish, Friday-morning assemblies of singing, and a school-friend named Carol who would bring us artifacts to go along with her stories and books. There was even the seasonal week which was just “play,” called Workshop Week in which one could choose any three offered workshops such as beading, mock trials, writing, or something fey and obscure but normal to participants, like making small gnomes and gnome necessities.
My years were spent in a small community surrounded by bright and fearless young thinkers, along with several kind, personable adult figures, whose surnames I rarely new and to whom I had no reservations in going for literally anything. It was a community in which one could bake cookies or cook waffles as one memory dictates, for a class consisting of peers and the year below or above. It was a society that I fondly look back on as the years in which I believed I was an alien, species name: Eb Jeb (which quickly turned into the many derivatives of of nicknames I still use as aliases today.) We fought evil, sometimes in the guise of characters from Brian Jacques’ Redwall series instead. Life was so amalgamated that my teachers began to unconsciously adopt my alien name. Life was so sprawling that we could run screaming on the grounds or play soccer, dodge ball, four-square, go tent caterpillar hunting, or simply just hop around singing the songs of the latest musical, my favorite being Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. And I still remember those Gilbert and Sullivan songs and the songs of the future musicals to come, still remember the adverse effects of tent caterpillars and pursue a love for science, and eventually I remembered how much I liked soccer, and started varsity to eventually become captain. My school was the place I first learned to be myself and to have the confidence to pursue research under strangers, debate issues I care for, and to write, despite my shyness.
To conservatives, the unconventional system of learning might have seemed helter-skelter, and I’m sure my parents, who tend to lean a little to the right in their moderate viewings it was a little more than strange. To this day, I’m not quite sure about the luck that landed me at the Newark Center for Creative Learning. However, without being there I have always felt I would have grown up a little duller in edge and in color. Skeptics of this method should know that NCCL still created a haven for education where children did learn despite appearances; instead of grades, knowledge was valued not chiefly but exclusively. I take in mind that memory is biased, but perhaps in some cases life in the past was idyllic. It doesn’t mean that things can’t still get better though; this is just the beginning of living.
–Julia Chen from her college application essay
Watching Boys Grow Up By Being Brave and Strong and Vocal and Artistic
Thanks for a great concert. The Group 4 boys did such an amazing job! How lucky we are to be at a school where boys can learn to become men by singing, because that’s what I felt like I was watching tonight—watching those boys grow up by being brave and strong and vocal and artistic ALL at the same time. Thank you for allowing that, encouraging that, believing in that enough for it to actually happen. I feel truly joyful that my son can grow up in that environment.
–Carla Geiersbach, on NCCL’s Music Program
“Change for the Better”
As part of the 2010 Group 4 picture book project Brooke Jefferson wrote about NCCL’s impact on her life. Her book is a moving testimonial to the things that make NCCL special. Read her book “Change for the Better.”
What does receiving an extraordinary education mean to you?
From Kaitlin Bonner’s AP Literature College Essay. Prompt: What does receiving an extraordinary education mean to you? Share a time in your educational life where you have had an extraordinary experience.
Some people might wonder if there is actually a time for an education in middle school between the hormones and crushes. Luckily for me, middle school was when I received my extraordinary education. Nestled in the campus of the University of Delaware there is a tiny private school with a hundred students and twelve teachers who know what an education truly involves. Unfortunately, middle school was another one of those experiences where I did not appreciate what I had until it was gone.
In ninth grade I was thrown into the world of ringing bells and uniforms, tests and school buses. I realized that I was introduced into the academic focus of education. Previously my school was more relaxed and focused on the students’ general development. The teachers did not have state tests for which to prepare students or specific curriculums to follow. This kind of environment is what allowed an extraordinary education system to flourish.
We could learn with nature or outside of the classroom, anything besides sitting at desks listening to lectures. We went on weeklong camping trips in the mountains or to the beach; we had a couple weeks a year taking five-day workshops on special classes like French cooking or hiking. We were fortunate enough to have such a small grade that the possibilities were endless. The world was my teacher—I wasn’t stuck inside for seven hours staring at a white board. Instead we would go outside and make sundials or play cooperatively with the first graders. This is extraordinary education at its finest.
Until high school I do not think I was ready for a formal education. As a child I was naturally excited to learn, but once I hit middle school I needed inspiration. I needed the space to discover learning and how to be excited about it. That’s what I got out of Newark Center for Creative Learning, the perfect preparation for high school and the world.
During freshman year, I realized how especially grateful I was that I took six sometimes painful hours of writing class every week. Unfortunately, sometimes the public school teachers ended up “teaching to the test.” Their class would learn what a writing prompt was just for standardized state test purposes. At NCCL, it took months to actually learn how to properly write and perfect a research paper, but my teachers took the time to show me the process.
Receiving an extraordinary education is a rare opportunity. It requires the perfect combination of excellent teachers, supportive peers, and a willing student to blossom. Regrettably, many students in the public American education system never get to experience the joy I learned that can come with education. I want to do what I can in this world to reduce those numbers. My extraordinary education has inspired to me to teach; maybe someday a student will think of me when she writes her college admission essay.
When kids can express themselves freely like this, they naturally become leaders
I am an 8th grader at NCCL School, where we have a strong sense of school community and are also expected to help out in the community around us. For example, we visit Phillips Park each month to pick up trash. We have a Backpacks activity, where we fill backpacks with necessities, toys and stuffed animals for foster children in New Jersey. These activities are worked into our curriculum along with larger service projects.
My favorite project was the Big Give, where we were each challenged to take $50 and use it for community service. My friend and I decided to make care packages for kids undergoing chemo or radiation therapy at AI duPont Hospital. Each package had a blanket, journal, chemo cap, toys and books. The journal was important because it might help these suffering kids to write down their thoughts and feelings.
To fund the Big Give, we organized bake and jewelry sales. We walked into local businesses to request donations, which took me out of my comfort zone. I was afraid people would not take this seriously, but when we explained the Big Give many responded with donations: tote bags, toys and books. We found it fulfilling that many other NCCL kids were inspired to help the Big Give with money and donations. I learned that everyone wants to help; you just have to take the first step and ask.
We started with only $50 but in the end by adding determination and many hours of work we accomplished two things. We made wonderful care packages for kids with cancer. We also got many others excited about making a difference, and hopefully inspired them to achieve the same.
NCCL School has multi-age classes where we are expected to be role models and leaders for younger students. Every week the oldest kids like me facilitate an All School Meeting where anyone can make an announcement or raise issues. NCCL has no letter grades, so there is almost no pressure on students to be the best, only to do our best. When kids can express themselves freely like this they naturally become leaders.
— Saryu Chennat, in her Scholarship Essay for Padua Academy (excerpted)
Grateful To Have Had a Place Like NCCL
I can’t express how grateful I am to have had a place like NCCL to send Hannah! She is a thriving, highly self-motivated sophomore at Wilmington Charter school. There is no doubt that NCCL had a part in nurturing that part of her.
NCCL An Innovator In Science Curriculum
I regret that I can’t come to this evening’s homeroom meeting to discuss the curriculum. But I wanted to write to say one thing: Don’t change things too much. I’ve been to several national meetings about the movement to change the science curriculum and find that I keep thinking of, and mentioning, NCCL as an innovator. A few years ago Ann Brown and I reviewed what NCCL alumni are doing now, and I was astounded that about 1/3 were in scientific or technical careers. This is a track record that the National Science Foundation would like to bottle up and sell nationally. And what’s remarkable is that NCCL is not explicitly a science-oriented school!
NCCL meets the spirit of the new state science standards more than just about any other school in the state that I know of. The standards focus on science as inquiry, not as rote memorization of facts.
Based both on my observations of my son and my conversations with others, I think that what makes it work is NCCL’s strong emphasis on projects and on research. There is a public school district in Madison, Wisconsin in which some teachers are proposing a radical revamping of their whole curriculum in which everything other than reading and ‘rithmetic would be focused on a whole series of projects. When I heard about this in a meeting, I realized that what some teachers in this school district want to do is not that far from what NCCL actually does.
Please feel free to share this letter with anyone.
Professor Harry Shipman, Ph.D., University of Delaware, father of an NCCL graduate