A group of Lake Forest Hills Elementary School first-grade teachers sat around a table Thursday to figure out what real-world lessons can be taught with a pile of trash. Teacher Dee Trevor was driving home one day when she spotted a couple Shell gas station marquee signs on the side of the road and thought she could put the items to use.
Her colleagues were now brainstorming how they could get pupils to convert the signs into flower beds, which is part of a new method of thinking being pushed at the school through the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme.
“We want to see what they can come up with to make these things an everyday part of life,” Trevor said. “We used to sit around and tell them what they’re going to do. Now we ask them questions and they tell us what ideas they think of.”
Lake Forest Hills is seeking IB authorization for the 2012-2013 school year, making it the only elementary school in the district with such a program. The educators there have spent two years building a curriculum where every student at the school is immersed in high-thinking learning with an international theme.
THERE ARE ABOUT 70 schools in Georgia that offer IB programs and certificates, which are designed to help students become critical thinkers and understand intercultural relationships.
In Richmond County, the Academy of Richmond County was the first school to adopt an IB program in 2001. Now Langford Middle School, a feeder school from Lake Forest, is also building an IB curriculum and will seek accreditation in the next few years. The goal is to create a chain of IB learning in the community that starts at Lake Forest and feeds to Langford and then ends at ARC, which allows students to earn college credit.
Although every school level has a different curriculum, a set of common themes and principles will follow the students from kindergarten to high school graduation.
IB education centers on 10 learner profiles that students strive to emulate in all grades: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective.
“As students mature and change, those characteristics take on a different meaning from when they’re introduced at the foundational level in elementary school,” ARC IB Dean Charlie Tudor said. “Their ideas of being a thinker change as they encounter different disciplines and different cultural groups.”
At the elementary level, instructors for each grade teach from six different units throughout the year, which focus on topics from “who we are” to “sharing the planet.”
IB schools must develop the IB curriculum while still following the school district’s Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, said Lake Forest IB Coordinator Wanda Marsh. The balance has not been difficult, she said, since the IB characteristics are mostly about making learning applicable to real-world situations.
“We’re teaching them to be better thinkers and life-long learners,” Marsh said. “The hope is they’ll become more international minded. If they meet someone from a different place, they’ll be more open-minded and accepting of it.”
AS PART OF the program, the students recently had an international day, where they tasted seaweed from Japan and talked about how different countries think of the tooth fairy.
All Lake Forest students are enrolled in the IB curriculum. At Langford, 176 of the total 663 students are enrolled in IB, although every student at the school will be in the program next year.
Langford Principal Vicki Reese said a select group of students who meet academic standards will participate in the IB diploma bound wing next year, which will assist them in applying for the IB program at ARC. About 90 percent of Langford students continue to ARC, so the relationship makes sense, Reese said.
About 250 of the total 1,350 students at ARC are in IB, and Tudor said students are selected based on academic standards and teacher recommendations.