Next year may mark a milestone for Scandia Elementary.
If all goes as planned, in 2013/2014 the school will apply to become an International Baccalaureate World School.
After going through the consideration phase, the school was accepted as a candidate on Sept. 1, 2012.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968 as a non-profit educational foundation. The framework for the original IB program was Marie-Thérèse Maurette’s 1948 UNESCO handbook, “Is There a Way of Teaching for Peace?”
Now 3,510 IB World Schools in 144 countries offer one or more of the primary, middle, and pre-university programs.
The first IB schools were private international schools, but today about half are public.
The 18 IB primary schools in Minnesota include Lakes International Language Academy (LILA) in Forest Lake. Southwest Junior High in Forest Lake, home of many LILA alumni, is exploring the idea.
IB schools share a commitment to high-quality, challenging, international education. The Primary Years Programme, for students age 3 to 12, focuses on developing the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and in the world outside.
A year from now, Scandia Elementary will ask to become authorized, and an IB team will visit the school for evaluation. Only schools authorized by the IB Organization can offer an IB program. Candidate status does not guarantee authorization.
IB teachers strive to educate the whole person, not just intellectually but also emotionally and socially.
The six subject areas identified within the IB Primary Years Programme are language, mathematics, science, social studies, arts, and personal/social/physical education.
But instead of separating knowledge into categories, the program encourages learning across disciplines.
“We don‘t want to be in these silos anymore,” Scandia Principal Julie Greiman explained. “This will help us integrate social studies and science concepts” into the curriculum.
“It’s all interconnected: math, science, social studies, and we’re connected to a bigger world,” she said.
A significant feature of the Primary Years Programme is the six transdisciplinary themes: who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves, and sharing the planet.
The themes help teachers incorporate local and global issues into the curriculum and help students to go beyond the confines of learning within subject areas.
The new expectation is that students will delve into topics with rigor. “U.S. education has been criticized for being a mile wide and an inch thick. Here is not just breadth, but also depth,” Greiman said.
Learning to work with others to solve problems is part of the plan. Students will be expected to test an idea and then, if it doesn’t work, to keep trying.
The teacher’s role is still to dispense knowledge, Greiman said, but then to pass the task to the student: “Now I want you to go work.”
The IB program gives special emphasis to language acquisition and development. Starting next fall, for the 2013/2014 school year, Scandia will offer a foreign language to the kindergarten class.
To be an authorized IB primary school, Scandia Elementary must offer a foreign language in all grades, kindergarten through sixth.
In their final year, students undertake a collaborative, interdisciplinary inquiry process in which they identify, investigate and offer solutions to real-life issues or problems. This gives them an opportunity to demonstrate independence and responsibility for their own learning.
“It was probably a brainstorm of Superintendent Linda Madsen and myself,” Principal Greiman said. “Scandia is at the head of this because of my interest.”
Greiman said the IB model is a good fit at Scandia. “It dovetails academically, socially and emotionally,” she said. “We have bright, hard-working students here, and the vast majority of them won’t be staying in Scandia. The world isn’t centered around Forest Lake and Scandia.”
Greiman said she has not heard anything negative from local parents, just enthusiasm and questions.
Scandia could have chosen to become a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) school, as Lino Lakes Elementary has done. Greiman prefers the IB model, which she said also encompasses those areas.
Staff development is a big part of IB.
Professional development is provided to create internationally minded teachers who can engage the students.
Scandia staff have attended training in Minneapolis. Between November and January they visited three IB schools, including Highland Park and Global Academy.
Now they are working on integrating IB themes into the curriculum.
Each grade level writes six planners, one for each theme. The planners have a central idea, lines of inquiry, and key/related concepts.
Scandia staff spent the entire Jan. 22 teacher in-service day writing IB curriculum.
This spring an IB consultant will visit the school, and then more units will be written in the summer.
“The teachers do a lot of writing,” Greiman said. “It’s a lot of work. When you get done, you’re gonna know it really well.”
The IB teacher team at Scandia is coordinated by Gerry Seaburg, who came out of retirement part-time to help out. The teachers are Megan Phelps (kindergarten), Melinda Lutz and Fran Klaussen (grade 1), Kelly Duncan (grade 3), Katie Gross (grade 5), and Emily Stegmeier (grade 6).
Start-up costs are covered by East Metro Integration District (EMID).
EMID goals include reducing achievement gaps among subgroups and fostering voluntary integration among St. Paul Public Schools and nine suburban school districts, including District 831.
The district also used EMID funds to explore the STEM program at Lino Lakes Elementary, the Spanish immersion classes at Southwest Junior High, and the partial immersion Spanish programs at some elementary schools.
Once one of these programs is established, it needs district funding. So if Scandia Elementary is accepted by International Baccalaureate, the school board will have to sign on.