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Education

APS schools win International Baccalaureate candidacy

8/21/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Pam Lifke

District implementing programs this school year

WEST AKRON — With their applications to become International Baccalaureate (IB) World School candidates approved, Akron Public Schools’ (APS) Case Elementary and Litchfield Middle schools will begin introducing new concepts and curriculum this school year.

The application approval is just the beginning. The schools in September will be assigned consultants from IB’s U.S. headquarters in Maryland, and the two- to three-year process of “authorization” will get underway, said Jen Victor, Case Elementary intervention specialist and primary years program (PYP) coordinator.

Case and Litchfield feed into Firestone High School, which has offered an IB diploma since 1996. While participants in Firestone’s IB program must apply for admission, the primary and middle years IB programs in the feeder schools are all-inclusive, said Victor and Sandy Cline, Litchfield’s instructional specialist and Middle Years Program (MYP) coordinator.

All IB-authorized schools are tied together through the learner profile, which the IB organization defines as the IB mission statement translated into a set of learning outcomes for the 21st century. Learner profile attributes include inquiring, thinking, communicating, being principled and open-minded, caring and taking risk.

Teachers at Case will begin developing theme units to be implemented later in the school year, Victor said. The PYP guidelines are for six themes per year. Victor said she hopes Case will be able to implement two theme units this school year and all six the following year.

The PYP encourages children to further explore facets of a theme that interest them, Victor said. Math and reading will be stand-alone subjects, but social studies, writing and science are incorporated into the transdisciplinary-themed units, she said.

“It’s exciting to see how [students’] attitudes about learning change when they have more control” about what they learn, she added.

The approach relies less on teacher lectures and more on independent student inquiry, Victor said.

“You won’t see a teacher standing in front of a class reading the social studies book,” she said.

The MYP at Litchfield will have eight core classes. Teachers will design inquiry-based lessons that encourage students to ask questions and dig deeper into their learning, Cline said. While all students will learn the same concepts, the format allows them to move at their own pace, she added.

This year, students in both schools will be introduced to a foreign language as part of the IB curriculum. Case students in first through fifth grades will have one 40- to 45-minute Spanish class each week, but the language lessons will be reinforced in regular classrooms, Victor said. Elementary classrooms frequently label objects such as doors and windows to build word recognition. Beginning this year, teachers will label the objects in both English and Spanish, Victor said. Spanish also will be carried through to each of the IB “theme” units introduced through the year, she said.

Students at Litchfield also will be introduced to foreign languages. Sixth-graders will be exposed to both Spanish and French in an introductory class, Cline said. In subsequent years, they will choose one or the other, she added.

Students at the two schools still will be required to take Ohio assessment tests. If the APS programs see the same type of results as other state schools implementing IB programs, the test scores could be expected to rise, Victor said.

The new learning style also should help close achievement gaps, Cline said.

“It changes the way we teach and it changes the way students learn,” she said.

Cline said she hoped implementation of the PYP and MYP would prepare students to be accepted into the Firestone IB program if they choose to apply. She said she sees the primary and middle years programs “opening the door” to not only the Firestone IB program, but also to its post-secondary and advanced placement programs, as well as its School for the Arts.

Staff and teachers at the two schools started investigating the possibility of bringing IB PYP and MYP to the schools about two years ago, Victor said. Applications were submitted in the spring, and the schools were granted candidacy in late spring and early summer. If implementation of the program proceeds as expected, the schools could be granted authorization in 2016. If some fine-tuning still is needed, the schools would be given an additional year to continue implementation of programs, Victor said.

In Northeast Ohio, there are authorized PYP schools in Shaker Heights, Oberlin and Stow, according to the Ohio Association of IB World Schools. There are 10 PYP candidate schools in Westlake, Cleveland Heights and Mansfield school districts. Oberlin City Schools has Northeast Ohio’s only authorized MYP schools. Schools in Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights school districts have candidate school status for the MYP, according to the association.

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