The International Baccalaureate program, a curriculum model adopted by Napa’s Bel Aire and Mt. George elementary schools, is growing by leaps and bounds worldwide.
More than 300 new schools were authorized to offer IB programs in 2012, and more than one million students are attending nearly 3,500 IB World Schools across the globe, according to the International Baccalaureate foundation. As of 2012, the IB program was being offered in 144 countries, up from 132 in 2008.
Founded in 1968, the International Baccalaureate is a not-for-profit foundation that offers four educational programs for children ages 3 to 19.
It puts a strong emphasis on “inquiry” and encourages students to develop independence and take responsibility for their own learning. The curriculum is meant to incorporate local and global issues, and students also have the opportunity to learn a foreign language.
At Bel Aire, Mandarin Chinese is the “second language of the school,” and students attend Chinese class once a week. At Mt. George, students take Spanish.
As an example of the “in-depth learning” provided by the IB program, Bel Aire principal Janine Burt described how Bel Aire’s fourth grade students spent six weeks studying ecosystems during one school year. Their lessons included a field trip to study marine life at the Marin Headlands, presenting their findings to their peers and parents, and creating their own textbooks by using classroom iPads.
Burt said the IB program is only just starting to gain popularity in the U.S., but the program is “very prestigious worldwide.”
It’s not uncommon, she said, to receive a call from a parent who has lived or worked overseas and is looking for a local IB school.
“IB is that hot ticket that they want,” Burt said.
Making it official
Burt, who is in her third year at Bel Aire, implemented the International Baccalaureate program at both Bel Aire and Mt. George. Several years ago, Mt. George was being considered for closure due to low enrollment, and Burt — as principal at the time — searched for programs that could help distinguish the school and attract more students.
Mt. George, which is no longer struggling with low enrollment, received official authorization from the International Baccalaureate foundation in 2011. Later that year, the school changed its name to Mt. George International School.
Bel Aire is seeking authorization from the International Baccalaureate organization so that it may officially adopt the “IB Primary Years Programme,” which is aimed at preschool and elementary school-aged children.
A team from the IB foundation will be visiting the school in September or October to observe classes and review the curriculum, Burt said. The team also will talk with parents, students and teachers. Their findings will then be reviewed by a committee, who will determine whether or not to grant authorization.
If approved, Burt said it’s unlikely Bel Aire will undergo a name change, but the school may add the subtitle, “An IB World School.”
Last year, both Mt. George and Bel Aire exceeded the state’s goal on standardized tests and earned Academic Performance Index scores above 800, despite markedly different demographics. The state’s goal is for each school to reach 800 points on a scale that ranges from 200 to 1,000.
Mt. George earned an API score of 888. Only 2 percent of students are English-language learners at that school, and 11 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, according to the California Department of Education.
Bel Aire earned an API score last year of 806. Out of nearly 500 students, 40 percent are English-language learners and about 70 percent receive free- or reduced-price lunch, Burt said.
If Bel Aire can make adequate yearly progress on this year’s standardized tests, the school will be pulled out of Program Improvement — a designation the elementary school has been under since 2007 for failing to meet test standards.
Adequate yearly progress is a statewide accountability system set up by No Child Left Behind, which requires each state to ensure that all schools, districts and student subgroups make progress in math and English. Student subgroups include students who are socio-economically disadvantaged, English learners and students with disabilities.
If a single subgroup fails to make adequate yearly progress two years in a row, then the whole school is put in program improvement. Program improvement applies only to schools that receive Title 1 funds. To be eligible for Title 1, schools must have a large percentage of low-income students.
Burt said that making adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years “is going to be a challenge,” but she feels confident in her students’ abilities.
The IB program, she said, changes the way students think about learning and provides them with more confidence, determination, and resilience.
“It teaches them that, ‘If I work hard enough, I can learn anything,’” Burt said.