Pete Harter and Cindy Smart – the principals of Needham and Florida Mesa elementary schools, respectively – recently received thrilling news.
After three years of preparation, the International Baccalaureate Organization had finally authorized their schools to offer the Primary Years Programme.
“I’m very excited. It’s an honor to have IB authorization,” Smart said. “It took a lot of hard work on the part of teachers, students and parents – and the IB coordinator – but it’s work worth doing.”
Only 315 schools in the country offer the IB’s Primary Years Program.
“We’ve been working on this for years now, and we’re finally at the point where we’re about to join a very prestigious network of schools throughout the world,” said Jeb Holt, Needham’s IB coordinator. “But we’ve had to make sure we’re teaching at a much higher level, teaching conceptually with an international mindset.”
The organization’s pedagogic model places heavy emphasis on student inquiry.
Holt said that Needham’s teachers had to retrain themselves.
“It’s a huge change for us,” he said. “Before, teaching was like being on a stage: We told kids what they should know. But the IB uses a constructivist model, where the kids are the ones constructing all the meaning through inquiry.
“Within the IB, kids explicitly have to be taught ... research skills – forming a hypothesis, collecting data, comparison and analysis. I have three kids going to school here, and I am so excited that they are being taught how to think instead of being given information by a teacher,” Holt said.
Victor Figueroa, Durango School District 9-R’s assistant superintendent for student achievement, said IB authorization was a “huge achievement.”
Staff at both elementary schools described the process as onerous, requiring years of work.
Smart said Florida Mesa still has to meet state and district standards.
“We’ll still use the same curriculum as before, but how we deliver that curriculum is different,” she said. “The old way was that we would stand up and lecture kids, then help them with their lessons. This way, we teach them to ask the questions, how to think, how to structure their inquires.”
Jenny Imel, Florida Mesa’s IB coordinator, said, “Now we’re going to develop kids as thinkers, doers, globally minded citizens and problem-solvers rather than single-problem-solvers, where they can only do a math sheet.”