SWJH explores International Baccalaureate program

Principal Marc Peterson speaks to board


Mary Bailey
Community Editor

His students are competing with students from all over the world, Southwest Junior High Principal Marc Peterson said at the Dec. 5 School Board meeting.

For this and other reasons, staff at Southwest are pursuing International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme status. The school is currently in the consideration phase.

In the spring of 2014, the school will submit an application for candidacy. If it is approved, Southwest will move to candidate phase.

Southwest Junior High is the seventh-grade destination for many graduates of Lakes International Language Academy, an IB elementary charter school in Forest Lake.

In District 831, Scandia Elementary has passed through the consideration phase and earned candidacy status.

IB is an international education organization created in Geneva, Switzerland, in the 1960s.

The Middle Years Programme was developed in the 1990s. It emphasizes holistic learning, intercultural awareness and communication in the subject areas of language, mathematics, humanities, visual and performing arts, sciences, physical education and technology.

Teachers are being introduced to the program now, and Peterson plans to visit with parents in February and March. Students from Lino Lakes, Linwood and Wyoming elementary schools attend Southwest Junior High.

Peterson said it is important to listen to staff concerns, which takes time. When teachers ask whether they will have to change the whole curriculum, he answers: Just start with one unit.

Instead of beginning all at once, he said, the program is phased in, with the school applying for authorization at the end of the third year.

“It’s not a curriculum, it’s a framework,” he explained. A topic starts with a question, he said, such as “Are there types of bacteria that make you sick?” Students investigate the topic using scientific inquiry to draw conclusions.

Southwest has a part-time IB coordinator, former media specialist Linda Caddy, and an advisory committee.

Teachers have attended an orientation seminar and presentations by staff from other IB schools and visited an IB school in South St. Paul.

One teacher at Southwest, Peterson said, taught at an IB school in Uganda last year, and Assistant Principal Scott Geary has also worked in an IB school.

Peterson said the program offers increased rigor, a global context and a healthy amount of writing.

Students are required to take at least one arts and one technology course, and most start a second language in seventh grade. Currently the district does not offer secondary students a foreign language until eighth grade.

Another advantage, Peterson said, is that students undertake a personal project with a community service aspect. He also liked the fact that assessment standards are consistent around the world.

If the facilities bond passes next May, all seventh- and eighth-grade students will attend Century Junior High. School Board Member Kathy Bystrom asked how the IB program begun at Southwest would be integrated into the Century environment.

Peterson, calling that “a very good question,” responded that his task was to focus on his staff of 50. “We’ll see what the future brings,” he said.

Superintendent Linda Madsen said it is possible to run an IB program within a school instead of converting the entire school.

“If we wait for everything to be perfect and all in a line, we won’t do anything,” she said.

The program expense so far has been about $10,000.