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Global learning pondered for WAPS (04/03/2013)
By Chris Rogers

Winona's public schools could soon offer International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. The Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board is talking about the unique format for education as the district looks for ways to attract and retain more students.

For those who are not familiar with IB, here is a primer.

IB is a program for teaching and learning that focuses on critical thinking and "international-mindedness." It was developed in the 1960s in Switzerland to give the children of globe-trotting families a constant schooling structure from one continent to another. Now, public schools throughout the U.S. are turning to IB as an effective and attractive method of schooling. Sixty-one Minnesota schools have IB programs, most in the Twin Cities area.

WAPS is talking about starting IB programs at one elementary school and the high school. Those would be two separate programs; IB programs at the primary and high school level look very different.

At the elementary level, entire school buildings commit to an IB program and develop all new curricula. Fields of study are blended together so that students might learn about science and history during a lesson on combustion engines. Math is still taught as a separate subject.

The lessons that make all of that happen are either developed by faculty or purchased from the IB Organization (IBO), which administrates IB programs worldwide.

Staff members also work together to assess what individual students are learning or struggling with and how well their lessons are working. While such assessment is currently being done at WAPS, it is more intentional at an IB school, Curriculum Director Jenny Bushman said.

IB programs focus on "global awareness and educating the whole child," said Washington-Kosciusko Elementary School teacher Emily Cassellius. "It's a more holistic approach than you would see in a traditional elementary experience."

IB promotes "global awareness" through lessons that expose them to other cultures. IB schools are known for critically examining personal and cultural assumptions through a cross-cultural lens.

At the high school-level, IB programs function like Advanced Placement (AP) classes, where students can elect advanced courses in various subjects that, with good grades, will earn them college credits at most schools. High school IB programs also feature a diploma program that enterprising students can enter as a Junior. Diploma program students complete two years of difficult IB courses, a critical thinking project called the Theory of Knowledge, a community service project, and a 4,000-word essay.

The diploma program is rigorous, Winona Senior High School Principal Kelly Halverson advised the board. "It is a very dedicated, high-earning student that is an IB diploma student." Halverson estimated that at the high school currently there are perhaps 30 students who would be interested in an IB diploma program. "In my personal opinion, half of those would be able to get the diploma," she said.

Many students would take individual courses and not the diploma program, Halverson continued. As far as whether IB would compete with AP courses, Halverson said she sees them "working together," possibly even being taught together as one class.

An IB Career-Related Certificate (IBCC) is another program WAPS could implement. That program combines some IB academic work with career-oriented studies. WAPS Superintendent Scott Hannon said that Southeast Technical College has expressed interest in that program and might be willing to assist the district with funding.

There is also an IB program for grades six through 10, but recent board discussions did not examine that program.

The costs of IB

Getting the elementary and high-school IB programs authorized by the IBO would cost the district $23,000 to $31,500 for each program. After that, the district would pay a $10,400 annual fee for each program.

However, training staff and developing curricula are likely to be the greatest expenses. How much that will cost is still unclear.

"Staff development is the big unknown," Bushman said.

"With IB, your curriculum is all written by your staff," Cassellius said. "A lot of staff development funds would be needed to make it successful; so that teachers could take the time to write curricula, do the trainings, and make the school visits [to other IB schools] they need to."

"It's definitely a financial commitment," Halverson said.

In the state of Minnesota, whether IB programs are worth the expense appears unclear as well. Some schools have dropped existing IB programs or plans to implement one because of the expense, while others have thrived, staff reported to the board. A Highland Park school doubled its enrollment after becoming an IB school, according to Cassellius.

Decisions ahead

Attracting students from area charter and private schools is a priority for the board, as the district has seen slumping enrollment in recent years. That is the impetus for the board's look at IB, but board members have expressed reservations already.

"What worries me is that we're spending a significant amount of money on a small population of students," Ben Barrato said.

The board is scheduled to consider a more detailed IB proposal and cost estimate in July. The authorization process for IB programs takes just over three years, and starts each April. So the earliest WAPS could be home to an IB school is the 2016-2017 school year. 

 

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