Elementary schools go international

WHITTIER – Whittier International Elementary School was one of two Minneapolis public elementary schools to join an elite international club in March.

Whittier and Elizabeth Hall International Elementary School in North Minneapolis were authorized to teach the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme, known for its rigorous academics and global perspective. They are two of only six elementary level IB programs in Minnesota and about 357 in the world.

Word from the International Baccalaureate Organization came after three years of teacher training and preparation.

“The last three years have been very fast-paced and energetic,” said Whittier Principal Amando Camacho.

The school also raised the bar for its students, who are now learning a curriculum that emphasizes both intellectual and moral development, he said.

Camacho said Whittier was one of the lowest-performing schools in the state three to four years ago. Now, it is making adequate yearly progress goals set by the state to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“The school needed a boost,” Camacho said, and IB was it.

The IB application process began about three years ago, when Whittier was awarded a federal magnet school grant to improve diversity.

IB Coordinator Melissa Anderson-Rossini said at that time, the school was about 98 percent students of color. About the same percentage of students were enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program, an indicator of the number of families at or near the poverty level.

Now, that number is closer to 78 percent, Camacho said.

Camacho said enrollment has increased from 280 students to 440 students in the last four years. He anticipates 500 students in fall 2007.

Anderson-Rossini said the IB program at Whittier will soon form part of a pathway Southwest students could follow throughout their careers in Minneapolis schools. Southwest High School offers IB as one of its small learning communities, and Anwatin Middle School is in the process of implementing the middle-years version of IB.

Associate Superintendent for Elementary Schools Von Sheppard said the IB has the reputation as a program that demands – and gets – results from students.

“This is what families are looking for,” Sheppard said.

He expected some families who fled public schools in Minneapolis will be drawn back by the promise of an IB pathway.

The IB program was developed in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1968 as a rigorous, standardized curriculum that could be transported all over the world for international students. Since then, it has expanded to nearly 2,000 schools in 125 countries.

The Primary Years Programme for elementary students was designed for 3- to 12-year-olds and debuted in 1997.

Anderson-Rossini said students explore the world around them in six themed “units of inquiry,” such as “Sharing the Planet” and “Where We Are in Place and Time.”

She said teachers strive to bring out the characteristics of an “internationally minded” person in their students. They encourage children to be curious, thoughtful and open to new experiences. “I personally believe they’re more engaged and they’re more motivated,” she said.