The well-known and highly respected International Baccalaureate (IB) program is offered in 21 public and private high schools in Washington state.
But middle schools and even elementary schools can offer a younger version of the IB program, too, and a handful of Washington schools are starting to do so.
The most recent is Idlewild Elementary in the Clover Park School District south of Tacoma, the first IB elementary school in the greater Seattle area and the third in the state.
So what does an IB program look like for such young children?
While older students take a set of advanced IB courses and can earn college credit by passing a set of exams that are scored in Switzerland, the programs for younger kids focus as much or more on personal, emotional and social skills — all of which the IB foundation thinks are important if students are going to “to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world.”
Here are a few specifics:
- All students in elementary IB programs learn a second language. At Idlewild, students study Spanish starting in kindergarten.
- Teachers create multidisciplinary lessons around a half-dozen themes: Who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves, sharing the planet.
- Teachers teach as much as possible through those themes, said Idlewild Principal Jim Pfeiffer, minimizing the number of skills taught in isolation.
- Teachers encourage students to ask questions, rather than always telling them what they need to learn.
“It’s about teaching children to be able to think, solve problems and find solutions,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s all about developing those attitudes and attributes that make you successful no matter what you do in the future.”
Students strive to achieve the IB learner profile, which the organization summarizes in 10 words: Enquirer, knowledgeable, thinker, communicator, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-taker, balanced and reflective.
“IB is focused not just on knowing and doing,” Pfeiffer added, “but what kind of person you are.”
Idlewild started working on earning an IB accreditation about two and a half years ago, and has had all the required elements in place for about a year.
It is now part of an IB network that includes close to 4,000 elementary, middle and high schools in 148 counties.