At Colorado’s IB schools, whole-world perspective enriches the whole child
Some of Colorado’s top-performing schools also take the most global view of education. Authorized by The International Baccalaureate, Colorado’s “IB schools” include public and private elementary, middle and high schools, respectively, that develop the whole child while fostering a whole-world perspective through inquiry-based learning.
Headquartered in Geneva, the IB foundation counts 93 IB schools in Colorado and nearly 1,800 nationwide, with the intense authorization process sometimes taking multiple years and requiring re-authorization every five years.
“An IB programme encourages students to think critically, solve complex problems, drive their own learning and be more culturally aware and well-rounded through the development of a second language,” said Kristopher Schuh, assistant superintendent for St. Vrain Valley Schools. She added, “By exploring interpersonal values and ethical decision-making from both a local and global standpoint, students are more prepared for an increasingly globalized world.”
Four local IB schools are the private school Boulder Country Day School and the public schools Whittier International Elementary, in the Boulder Valley School District, and Sunset Middle School and Niwot High School in the St. Vrain Valley School District.
“We don’t teach students what to think, but how to think for themselves, how to question and how to seek the answers,” said Gwynn Reback, IB middle school programme coordinator at Boulder Country Day School. IB offerings extend from the primary years programme for elementary students, the middle years programme and for high schoolers, the career-related programme and diploma programme.
In practice, an IB programme “provides a curriculum framework while allowing Boulder Country Day School to maintain our school’s unique culture and character,” Reback said. Students study traditional core subjects alongside one or two world languages, art, physical and health education and design and technology. “We are rooted in our school and local communities and connected to our international community through global contexts,” Reback continued. “We intentionally make connections to encourage thinking about our place in the world and how that relates to what students are learning.”
Anthony Barela, principal at Sunset Middle School in Longmont, concurred, saying, “IB teaches students to think globally, act locally.” To motivate students to embrace an international perspective with a heart for community-centered advocacy, Reback said, “Teachers consistently emphasize and encourage students to adopt the habits of the IB Learner Profile, which challenges them to be inquirers, thinkers, communicators and risk-takers who are knowledgeable, principled, open-minded, caring, balanced and reflective.”
Thus, last year Sunset middle schoolers partnered with Niwot High School students to construct and fill a trailer-sized classroom, which was shipped to Sunset’s sister school in Uganda. Led by Sunset’s IB coordinator Alex Armstrong, students did the math to determine the area of the space and calculate, given the shape and weight of supplies, what could be included in the transportable classroom. Students regularly corresponded with their Ugandan peers and learned through friendship about life outside Boulder County.
“As part of our global minded-ness, we are also service-oriented,” Armstrong said. This is on display each year when students select their middle school research project, in which they identify a problem and generate viable resolutions. Students have presented on topics as varied as immigration stories, the impact of homelessness, food insecurity and the humane treatment of animals. “Our students find pride in service and finding solutions,” she said.
While some families attend IB public institutions simply as their neighborhood school, many seek out IB programmes. The elementary and middle school programmes emphasize lifelong learning skills, such as time management and organization, as well as critical thinking and an understanding international perspective, and the high school programmes are internationally recognized by colleges and businesses as nurturing empathetic, thoughtful and academically impressive global citizens.
Ultimately, “I am deeply inspired by the education we offer because students can’t help but love learning, and IB encourages us all to make a better world with our actions,” said Sarah Oswick, principal of Whittier International Elementary.
By Sarah Huber for Raised in the Rockies