International Baccalaureate Program at Birmingham City Schools

Posted by Louie A Dell’Italia on 9/16/2013

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a non-profit educational foundation developed by a group of creative educators in Geneva, Switzerland. The program was started in 1968, but was not authorized to operate in the United States until 1971. There are currently 3,662 IB schools worldwide operating in 146 countries, and of those schools the US holds 1,462. The IB is an ambitious program developed to change the direction of education to focus more on the students rather than on a pre-set curriculum. The IB mission statement encapsulates the type of student the program intends to develop:

The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment. These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

Two and a half years ago Birmingham City Schools took the initiative to start the IB program at John Herbert Phillips Academy and Ramsay High School.

The IB program in place at John Herbert Phillips Academy and Ramsay High School is split into three levels: the Primary Years Program (PYP) for kindergarten to 5th Grade, the Middle Years Program (MYP) for 6th to 10th Grade and the Diploma Program (DP) for 11th and 12th Grade. Each of these programs is authorized separately by a committee from the IB education foundation. Currently, John Herbert Phillips Academy is awaiting to hear for the official authorization of their PYP. Since John Herbert Phillips Academy only houses kindergarten to 8th Grade the MYP is split between John Herbert Phillips Academy and Ramsay High School students. However, the DP consists solely of Ramsay High School students. 

Dr. Mark Sullivan, John the Herbert Phillips Academy Principal stated that he is excited about the program for the students and for the Birmingham City Schools education system. It is an innovative program that employs a new method of teaching that introduces students to different parts of the world and makes students want to learn. The IB program constructivist method utilizes interactive collaborative projects and student independent research to ultimately teach kids to respect themselves and others through intercultural exposure. Dr. Sullivan and IB program coordinator, Mrs. Vieshell Tatum hope that the program will show students that the world is a big place and there is a lot to experience outside of Alabama and the US. Hopefully, a better understanding of the world through IB will help students understand that individuals have an obligation to making the world a better place. 

This program is constructed so that the students guide their learning. They choose the topics that they want to research and are only graded on the development of their skills, which makes students more involved in their education and shows them that they their opinions are significant. Since the students guide their individual learning, it allows the teachers to tailor the program to the needs of the individual student. For example, in the IB mathematics course the students are required to construct a word wall. A word wall is a list of all the key terms that are identified within a chapter. The students are required to define each term and show an example. The IB program takes this a step further, now the students are required to complete the assignment in English and a foreign language of their choosing. This is where the students can choose the difficulty of the foreign language and find a language that they may become interested in learning. The students chose to complete their assignment in a variety of languages including Swahili, Japanese and Hindi. This exposure to different cultures makes a well-rounded student, which is important in the culturally diverse world we live in today.

At Ramsay High School, the French course under the IB program becomes a more interesting and fulfilling experience for the students.    The class is more oriented towards understanding a different culture rather than solely learning the language. The teacher is able to discuss with the students all of his travels in the French speaking countries and his experiences there. The students become more involved in the course and are able to hear first-hand what it would be like to travel the world.   Also, one of the discussion points of the class is to look at different currency from around the world. They examine the physical differences in the money, as well as discuss its relation to the US dollar and international exchange rate.      

The many advantages of the IB program offer a better education environment for the students and teachers. As Mr. Davis, the Technology teacher at John Herbert Phillips Academy says, the teachers become facilitators. Their main role is to facilitate the completion of the student projects, but it is the students that take the initiative and guide their own research, which allows them to find their niche in the classroom and pique their own interests. Also, this dynamic setup allows for the teachers to learn to step out of their comfort zone as an educator and experience something new. This happens frequently in the many collaborative projects through IB. Teachers are working together to make more multidisciplinary lesson plans and projects through IB to show students how to use their knowledge in the real world. For example, the students studying Shakespeare in their English class will work with their technology teacher to create a digital recording of a Shakespeare play or find another way to represent Shakespeare in a digital way. These connections make learning more engaging and fun, which will hopefully make these students want to become life-long learners. And, developing ambitious learners is one of the main objectives of Birmingham City Schools, which is definitely possible with the IB program. It is one of the many new initiatives that shows that Birmingham City Schools is capable of improving education to prepare students and teachers for the future.      

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