North Middle School this year decided to include all of its students in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program that previously required a special application process.
While some might see embracing a college-prep program for all students as a risky endeavor, the results so far are promising. Enrollment is up, students are more respectful to each other and seem to be embracing academic opportunities, and teacher collaboration has also increased.
“What’s good for kids in IB is good for all kids,” said North Principal Judy Hawkins. “All kids deserve that rigorous education.”
It’s a cultural shift for everyone in the school community, and misconceptions and myths about the IB program persist, said Megan Sheppard, program coordinator.
Students who were in the program before the expansion said they thought there was more respect in the school now, as everyone understands what IB means.
“The eighth-graders are having trouble buying into it,” said seventh-grade science teacher Angela Satee, since the program was always seen as something for just the “smart kids.”
Teachers must change that mindset, she said, and it will get easier.
In the school-within-a-school model, students were essentially IB students or regular students. Now, three “pathways” for the program at North — honors, standard and special education — allow staff to address the needs and abilities of every student, officials said. The community service component of IB has brought the school together, teachers said.
Honors students still need to apply, but students with strong skills in some subjects can take a hybrid of different levels.
“It’s much easier,” seventh-grade math and history teacher Timothy Eiles said, since all classes follow similar expectations.
Skills at the core of the IB program translate across the board and are easily adjustable to the particular needs of individual students, he said.
“It’s teaching the kids to be well-rounded learners,” said Lynn Seeley, special education teacher.
Satee said she has three distinct science classes, regular, mixed and honors. The key difference among the students is how much guiding she does. Honors students, for example, are expected to write lengthy and detailed lab reports. Other students may not be expected to work as independently, but they are expected to be able to evaluate and summarize the same labs.
The way IB programming is built, means students understand where they are, and what they need to do to improve, Seeley said.
The “guiding questions” at the core of every lesson are the same for every group, Eiles said.
“In a lot of ways, IB mirrors good practices.”
In 1996, North Middle School in Colorado Springs School District 11 was one of the first middle schools to offer the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program. An IB team assesses schools every year to ensure standards are followed.
Although expansion of the program was encouraged, the decision to expand the program schoolwide was internal, Hawkins said.
“It’s been quite a process,” she said.
Sixteen North teachers received additional IB-specific training specific to the program over the summer, Hawkins said.
The biggest change for teachers was an increase in up-front planning for more detailed lessons, they said, and training is ongoing.
Community outreach was another part of the expansion. Parents were involved throughout the planning stages, and North held three parent information meetings early in the school year to explain the program and to address questions or concerns.
Draft plans a few years ago suggested turning North into a K-8 IB-only school, with no neighborhood attendance area. Its neighborhood students would have attended Mann or Galileo middle schools.
However, those ideas were not pursued, and the school board fully supported expanding the IB program while maintaining North as a neighborhood school.
The shift to a schoolwide IB program is a draw, school officials said, and this year’s enrollment has increased slightly. About 700 students attend the school near downtown. About 385 students are from outside the North’s set attendance area, including 61 from other districts.
There have been growing pains, but North is on the right track, said Houi-Lun Coker, Chinese language and math teacher.
“Kids who go through IB are better prepared for college,” she said.
The preparation will also help in high school, North students said.
“It’s challenging and I like to have classes that are challenging,” said eighth-grader Max Popkin, 13.
Popkin and eighth-grader Annika Furman, 14, said they liked the different opportunities that are part of the IB program at North, such as Chinese. History day and the presentations, also earned high praise.
“You’re not learning useless material,” Max said. “You end up understanding the material more when you ask questions.”
The international aspect of IB is interesting, Annika said, because kids from all around the world are learning things in the same way, giving her a way to connect with them.
Another change at North this year was a shift toward block scheduling that eliminated bells. Although the issue was separate from expanding the IB program school-wide, it supports that move as well, Hawkins said.
“It gives the core teachers more flexibility,” she said, since lessons that may occasionally require more time may be accommodated.
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