This morning I took the opportunity to meet with Garden Hills Principal Cheryl O’Leary, Unit 4 Magnet Grant Directory Cheryl Camacho and a couple other staff – together we walked the halls of Garden Hills, popped into a few classrooms and talked about the International Baccalaureate® (IB) program. Why Garden Hills? Because I felt that of the three Magnet Schools, the IB program is the one I felt most confused about (I mean, just the name “International Baccalaureate” tends towards obfuscation).
Yet after meeting with these folks, I am quite amazed on various different levels. So this post will be unashamedly subjective, but I do hope to throw enough objective material in here to grab your attention. 🙂
First and foremost, the open door perspective was made quite clear; O’Leary mentioned this several times, but also the welcoming nature of just walking into a classroom and talking to students about what they are learning, and seeing the IB concepts plastered on a wall for all to see conveyed a feeling of “just come and see.” So that is the first thing I leave you with – if you have questions, ask; if you are skeptical, go check it out. You may disagree, but I very much doubt you will be disappointed.
For those of you that have been reading here for a while, it will come as no surprise that I am a fan of Inquiry; I really really like the idea of planting the desire of learning in a child (or an adult, anyone really) any way possible, not depending on rote memory and an endless sea of repetitious ennui (see, I told you I was going to be subjective). In reading over the fascinating debate between Cheryl Camacho and Karen, I readily admit there are obviously pros and cons with various different approaches, no matter what school of thought you come from. And when I read the links that Karen has posted about Directed Instruction, I have to admit that there are some things I like about the theory. Some. But I view myself as being more practical – don’t tell me how DI or IB is supposed to work, show it to me. And at Garden Hills, I saw IB. No doubt, some kids do really well with DI. I mean, DI is the “traditional” method, right? And students are graduating high school and finding careers. That can’t happen if the current pedagogy is 100% bad.
Another amazing thing is the level of collaboration among staff at Garden Hills. Specifically in terms of curriculum, I am blown away by how much work went into shaping the curricular direction from Administration into a program that targets the IB principles. I had a chance to talk to a student (who happens to be good friends with my daughter) about a project on ants, which led to the “Inquiry Board” were she posted a question and is now researching the answer. That led to a bigger picture outside the classroom where students have build a large mural-like model of an ant colony, incorporating art and writing. And I was told music was also used to reinforce some of the material via songs (some kinda of red ant song? I should have asked for a serenade *grin*).
In another classroom, O’Leary asked a student about he was working on. He described the process of inquiry and how he wanted to learn about things he wanted to learn about. This child’s educational experience is worlds away from my own at his age. Is that bad or good? Who am I to judge? The child wants to learn and I don’t want to stand in the way of that. In the same classroom, they also have a sort of economy where children can “rent” desks and how some desks have a higher value than others, thus requiring more “rent”. In the past, they have also done a sort of Poverty Simulation where some children could not afford a desk and had to sit on the floor (I hope I am portraying that vignette correctly – I would hate to misrepresent what they actually did).
There is also a wonderful community element being built into the program. While they are only about 15 months (or so) into the implementation, they have done some things with the surrounding neighborhood and plan to do more. While “Resource Days” was not specifically mentioned, I know that is yet another collaborative opportunity that Sherri Williamson has been pushing to directly benefit the area.
All that is just starter material. Garden Hills has a cool partnership with the University whereby the University provides items for their International display case and talents/resources for after school activities/clubs. Their courtyard area has a nice amphitheater, display kiosks for ceramic art and serves as a mild track for those with assisted mobility.
I left Garden Hills really liking my experience this morning. It was just cool! But as I reflect, I still have some concerns. The reason I asked questions about community involvement is because that is an important element to me. Perhaps I misunderstood or simply forgot what O’Leary said, but it did not seem like there was a whole lot of intentional melding with the residents that live nearby (other than the occasional request for using the gym). One of the edicts of IB is community service – it was hard for me to see that.
Another concern is that of measuring progress. I fear this is a can of worms and goes back to the ongoing, interminable debate about pedagogy and educational theory (or even neuroscience, egads!). With the onset of Common Core and the near-future reality of making teacher salaries commensurate with student advancement, “measuring” is sure to gain more limelight in the years to come (I would think). Is IB a sustainable model? It almost seems to require passionate teachers. Which is awesome when you think about it (*grin*) – if we can require passionate teachers, that helps proactively weed out the bad apples. And based on my observations so far, we have a large number of very passionate and talented teachers! But how do we retain them, and acquire new ones?
I encourage you to check it out for yourself. Especially if you are cynical or skeptical. While I think there is a bit of awesomeness going on, I realize I am only getting a certain perspective and thus am rather curious what teachers think of all this. Parents? I appreciate Cheryl O’Leary’s attitude – parents make a choice to go the school, and Garden Hills offer a little something that is special and slightly different than other schools.
What do you think?