By Renee Houston Zemanski
After six great years at Arnold Elementary, Geri Nash wasn’t quite sure she was ready for her son, Caleb, to descend into the chaotic, unchartered life of middle school.
Nash was tired of the overcrowded and unenthusiastic classrooms of her older children’s assigned middle school, so she began to explore options for Caleb. That’s when she heard about the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP) at Annapolis Middle School. She was intrigued.
An IB school has a more global approach to learning than a traditional school and expands lessons across the curriculum, according to IB teachers and administrators from the county.
As an example, when Jenna Lerro’s eighth grade Language Arts class at Annapolis Middle studied “The Diary of Anne Frank,” her IB students traveled to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and then created a historical fiction scrapbook from the perspective of a survivor. In Shauna Snidow’s eighth grade science class, when the students completed a lab on the physical change that takes place to form ice cream, they also learned about types of ice cream production in different areas of the world and then created containers to keep ice cream in a solid form for shipping.
“The purpose of an IB middle school is to make learning inviting, creative, enjoyable, and innovative,” says Mary Austin, district coordinator of the IB program for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “It’s a place where students can’t wait to go to every morning.”
International Baccalaureate is a worldwide, non-profit, educational foundation that was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968. It has programs at the primary, middle and high school levels and is designed to connect classroom learning to real world experiences. Each IB school must complete an authorization process (which can take up to three years), and the faculty must undergo training to teach the IB methodology.
The IB Middle Years Programme—which includes grades 6 through 10—uses the existing Anne Arundel County curriculum, but teaches it in the IB middle year’s format, concentrating on both international and local issues.
In the eighth grade Language Arts curriculum, all students read “The Treasure of Lemon Brown,” by Walter Dean Myers, which focuses on a homeless character. In Annapolis Middle’s IB program, Lerro collaborated with other teachers to create a unit on the issue of homelessness locally.
“We had students examine the issue not only in the local area, but also compare it to the larger global issue,” she explains. “Students met with community activists who work with homeless populations. Then they created clay pins, which they sold locally to raise money for the Lighthouse Shelter.”
The IB program promotes learning in a way that students don’t even realize they are learning, according to Snidow. Student achievement is measured differently, too, she says.
“Students are assessed on six criterion that focus on the whole student not just bits and pieces of a lab investigation,” Snidow explains. A grade might incorporate a student’s ability to work effectively with others, interpret data and apply it to real life problems, she says.