Source: Sherman Publications

Oxford Elementary becomes official IB school

by Lance Farrell

May 23, 2012

Oxford Elementary School was officially accredited as an International Baccalaureate (IB) School May 11.

The accreditation “marks the end of the journey of planning . . and begins the journey of transforming” the educational experience offered at OES, said Curriculum and Instruction Assistant Superintendent James Schwarz.

This long term investment, Schwarz reasoned, speaks to the seriousness with which the district is approaching the curriculum overhaul represented by IB.

“More money has probably been spent on (IB) than any other initiative in Oxford school history,” Schwarz said. The initial buy-in has cost about $57,000, which included training for teachers throughout the Oxford school district.

Schwarz emphasized the commitment to IB from the Board of Education down to the classroom level. In particular, the “staff at OES has done a tremendous amount of work and should be commended,” Schwarz said.

The two-year process to IB accreditation was led by OES Principal Jeff Brown. Brown is most pleased to see the support and “true collaboration” sparked among his teachers who are “now talking shop all the time.” The teachers work together on the IB curriculum, and now know that “we can make some great lesson and unit plans,” Brown said.

OES 4th grade teacher and IB coordinator Rachel Hart agrees with Brown about the great cohesion among teachers in the Oxford district. “Everybody has taken on the challenge” of building the IB curriculum, she said. “It’s not an easy task,” Hart admitted, but as one of her colleagues recently told her, “the juice is worth the squeeze.”

But beyond the benefit to faculty and staff, Hart finds the greatest boon from the IB curriculum is the “increased depth of what kids can talk about and understand.” According to Hart, students get a better understanding of the world and “learn to think more critically and deeply” with the IB curriculum. The trans-disciplinary and inquiry-based approach to IB enables students to “see the bigger picture and see how subjects are connected,” Hart said.

In the IB system, local teachers are responsible for creating their students’ curriculum. Because “we know our students,” Hart went on, teachers can create plans that meet all student needs. Furthermore, since the course work is inquiry based, student interest is tapped to motivate learning.

Students aren’t so much told answers as they are equipped to discover and discuss them, Schwarz added. This factor should provide students with much “more ownership of the information” they learn at school.

To be fair, misconceptions of the IB program are out there in the community, but those are largely borne out of inaccurate information, Principal Brown said. Some may think that the international-mindedness component of the IB curriculum means that the “focus is not on the United States, but completely the opposite” is the case, Brown clarified.

“Looking at other countries and places for the purpose of knowing why we do what we do (in the USA) brings about a much deeper understanding” than only expecting rote memorization of dates and facts from students, Brown said.

Feedback from parents with students at OES has been virtually “all positive,” Schwarz concluded, and coordinator Hart agreed. “Parents are very trusting” of the teachers at OES, Hart indicated, and any trepidation they may have after hearing abbreviated reports about the IB curriculum is quickly washed away when parents see the results in their students.

Hart points to a recent parent-teacher conference in which learning portfolios were shared with visiting parents.

Upon experiencing the benefits of the IB program firsthand, such as an ability to pose critical questions, or develop an international-mindedness, Hart said, the majority of parents approve of the curriculum change.

Brown concurs with Hart’s view of parental reception of the IB program. “In the two years we’ve been working on the transition, I’ve never had a single negative conversation” about the IB program, Brown said. Following up on Hart’s anecdote, he said that parents came up to him after the parent-teacher conference to tell him “that’s the most I’ve ever heard my child talk.”

Brown credits the inquiry-based approach for the student enthusiasm. Students learn via their own curiosity and initiative and thus are proud of their accomplishments and want to show their parents “how smart they are,”

Another sign that IB is having a positive benefit in student lives is evidenced by the “Action Wall” outside the school office doors. A central tenet of the IB curriculum is that students should learn for a purpose and to put that learning in action. One student, Brown mentioned, used her inquiries about the environment to successfully advocate for a school-wide switch away from styrofoam cups.

Schwarz is very excited about the district-wide transition to an IB school system, a process he expects to be completed by fall 2013.