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Charter Oak and Trewyn K-8 work toward IB PYP authorization

trewyn bridge builders    feed the people
(L) Trewyn students build bridges from pasta and marshmallows. IB PYP creates "Inquirers" through collaborative projects. (R) This Charter Oak student's poster demonstrates "Caring" an IB learner profile attribute.
When students in two Trewyn K-8 4th-grade classrooms were discussing healthy choices, one class focused on food options and another on exercise, dance and movement. Unlike many schools, the different focus was not the choice of the teachers, but was guided by questions the students were asking. In the language of International Baccalaureate (IB), the students were being “Inquirers,” one of ten attributes in the IB learner profile, and says Trewyn IB coordinator, Stacy Krei , the foundation of the IB programme.
Trewyn K-8 and Charter Oak Primary School are in the final phase of the multi-year authorization process for the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP). The two schools submitted their applications on October 1. Following a three-day visit by an authorization committee next spring, final authorization may be granted in the summer of 2015.
Currently, over 400 schools in the U.S. offer the IB PYP. In Illinois, there are nine IB PYP schools, eight in Chicago and one in Springfield. District 150 offers the IB diploma, a two-year high school program, through Richwoods High School, and Mark Bills and Sterling Middle Schools are authorized IB middle schools (MYP - Middle Years Programmes).
Regardless of grade level, students in IB programmes are expected to master the same Common Core requirements as all District 150 students. The difference in IB schools lies in developing a specific approach to learning. Students in IB programmes strive to adhere to the IB learner profile by being Inquirers; Knowledgeable; Thinkers; Communicators; Principled; Open-Minded; Caring; Risk-Takers; Balanced, and Reflective.
IB programmes are not just different for students but for teachers as well. The IB PYP consists of six transdisciplinary themes: who we are, where we are in place and time; sharing the planet; how we express ourselves; how the world works; and how we organize ourselves. Within each theme the IB programme specifies strands of inquiry and topics to be covered. For example, How the World Works is defined as an inquiry into the natural world and its laws; the interaction between the physical and biological natural world and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles and the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and the environment. Through these strands, the theme teaches science, scientific principles, the physical world, biology and technology.
The six IB themes are woven into every subject area. The strategies to achieve this are devised by the teachers, working as collaborative unit planners. Both Krei and Charter Oak IB Coordinator Kathy Rodriguez contend that the opportunity for teachers to collaborate is one of the greatest strengths of the IB PYP. In addition, because the IB programme values all subject areas including art, music and physical education on an equal plane with more traditional academic topics, and because the programme requires a Spanish language component, collaborative unit planning teams consist of grade level teachers plus art, music, PE and a Spanish teacher. Teachers at IB schools have an extra time during the day, referred to as a Professional Learning Community, to meet as a group for the unit planning process. That time for reflection is a key to the success of a unit and personifies another IB learner profile attribute: reflective.
From a student’s point of view, IB PYP is more project-based and experiential. This week while learning about government, Charter Oak students held an election using authentic voting booths. Rather than vote for a Congressional representative or governor, however, they voted for their favorite candy, t-shirt design and song. “IB’s project focus, as opposed to sitting at a desk and listening to a teacher talking, is very appropriate for our students,” says Krei.
As Charter Oak and Trewyn await the final inspections before becoming authorized by IB, both schools are still working to achieve more immediate goals. For example, Charter Oak has an unusually diverse population, with students coming from over two dozen countries and speaking a wide array of languages at home. Lisa Sutton, the IB PYP media specialist, is gathering a special section of the school library with books written in the students’ native languages. At Trewyn, educating parents about the IB programme is a priority. Krei is hoping to form a core group of parents to meet monthly to begin giving parents background on the IB goals and methods.
The mission statements of both Charter Oak Primary School and Trewyn K-8 cite the development of life-long learners as a priority. Becoming an authorized IB PYP will make that goal a reality.