IB implementation continues at Summit County elementary schools
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Editor’s note: This story is the last in a multipart series on the International Baccalaureate (IB) program in Summit School District. Today’s story focuses on the IB Primary Years Programme – an educational program for students ages 3-12, now in the process of being implemented in all of the district’s elementary schools.
SUMMIT COUNTY – On a sunny afternoon last week, Summit Cove Elementary students exercised their bodies, minds and souls as they jogged down the neighborhood streets surrounding their school. They ran along a one-mile loop, stopping every few hundred feet to read a fact about water use at home and around the world.
“Each year, 1.8 million kids die from waterborne diseases,” read one sign.
“One out of eight people lack access to clean drinking water,” another said.
“Irrigation uses 80 percent of the world’s water.”
The Summit Cove fifth-graders, who researched the information and made the signs, completed the loop twice – once on their own, once with their first-grade buddies, encouraging the younger students and discussing the facts and figures along the way. Following the run, they held a bake sale to raise money for clean drinking water in impoverished communities.
The fifth-graders came up with the idea for the “Running Water Fun Run” as part of an academic unit on water, during which they learned where water comes from, where it goes and where it doesn’t, both locally and globally. The unit included a field trip to the Roberts Tunnel, through which Denver Water diverts water from Dillon Reservoir to Front Range cities. They learned about the legal aspects of water, including the “First in time, first in right” principle of Western water law.
The Summit Cove Elementary nurse gave a presentation on her recent trip to Haiti, detailing the difficulties of finding safe drinking water there in the aftermath of the massive January earthquake. The students also heard from a representative of Water for People, a nonprofit that works on sanitation and water issues in communities around the world.
Having explored the political, health, environmental and social challenges of water, the students decided to take action, and Running Water was born. Through the event, the students hoped to educate themselves, their fellow students and their local community about the implications of water consumption.
“We thought it would be shocking for people to learn how much water they use every day,” said fifth-grader Loren Keen.
“Taking action” is phrase – and a phenomenon – that seems to pop up more and more in Summit School District’s six elementary schools these days. And though one might suspect that teachers are behind activities like Running Water, the action is very much the product of students’ imaginations. Such action is one of the major emphases of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP), now being implemented throughout all the local elementary schools.
Action can range from making healthy snack choices in the lunch room to checking tags on clothing to making sure garments don’t come from countries with widespread child labor to helping two peers talk out a conflict.
“In PYP, we’re hoping that, at the end of the unit, the students are able to take something they learned and apply it to real-life situations,” said Susie Quinn-Fortner, art teacher and PYP coordinator at Upper Blue Elementary. “I know of a little girl who, after doing a unit on space exploration, asked for a telescope for her birthday. It’s about going deeper and making it part of their lives so they remember it.”
The process doesn’t stop once students apply their learning. PYP encourages a continuous cycle of action, reflection and choice, through which students contemplate their action, draw conclusions about its effectiveness, choose a new course or continue on.
“Students are engaged in their own learning, and they have ownership of it. Reflection happens throughout the day, and the kids have a real sense of pride,” Quinn-Fortner said.
Taking action, and all the other aspects of PYP, are now very much a part of what goes on in Upper Blue and Summit Cove classrooms, now that they are both fully authorized IB World Schools. The two schools received their authorizations earlier this spring, thanks to extensive training and planning by the schools’ staff to implement IB methods and curriculum. The authorization certifies that the school is conducting the program to the standards of the IB organization, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
PYP encourages inquiry-based, interdisciplinary learning, character development, international-mindedness and application of knowledge. The character development component – emphasizing communication, curiosity, open-mindedness, caring and other attributes – is threaded throughout multidisciplinary “units of inquiry,” like Summit Cove’s exploration of water. Unlike the honors-style IB Diploma Programme at Summit High School, PYP covers all students in a given school.
“You cannot have PYP in any situation other than whole-school,” said Lou Marchesano, the district’s director of instruction.
Breckenridge and Dillon Valley elementaries received their IB authorizations in previous years. Frisco and Silverthorne elementaries are the final two schools in the implementation stage, as the district has phased the program in over time.
Adoption of PYP for Summit Cove and Upper Blue began about six years ago, when a group of teachers from each school attended an IB training to take an in-depth look at the program.
“We decided it was a great fit for our school, and we decided to move forward with implementation,” Quinn-Fortner said.
The schools began with the introduction of the “learner profile,” which encompasses the various character attributes students work to develop. Teachers attended trainings and developed PYP units of inquiry, based on the Colorado state content standards for each grade level. An IB representative periodically visited students and talked to teachers to make sure they were on track. Finally, this year, authorization teams visited the schools and scrutinized their programs, ultimately resulting in their respective authorizations.
“When we had the unveiling of the sign, the kids were jumping up and down and clapping,” Quinn-Fortner said.
Many parents are enthusiastic about the program.
“I would have to say I was skeptical at first,” said Julie Iskenderian, a mother and active volunteer with three children at Upper Blue. “I am completely converted. For my children, the units of inquiry are the most creative, engaging aspects of their education. The kids bring it home and keep talking about it.”
“I think it takes them to a deeper level of thinking,” said Jim Schlegel, a father of two Upper Blue students. “They’re thinking deeply about their learning, rather than just cramming their heads with facts.”
Parent Jessica Weld said she appreciates the global perspective PYP brings to the classroom.
“Jenna came home after learning something on child labor,” Weld said. “She said, ‘Mom, did you know this company uses child labor? Maybe we shouldn’t buy things from this company.’ That stimulated discussion in our family about growing up as a child in India versus China versus here. I think it’s phenomenal.”
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or email@example.com.
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