Make way, Advanced Placement (AP) and dual enrollment, there’s a new high school learning option coming to town.
It has taken five years of planning, training, curriculum creation and collaboration, but Coconino High School is now one step away from becoming an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School.
After its 80-page written application passed with no needed corrections earlier this month, overall approval seems likely. The final decision will be made in the spring, following a site visit by IB representatives in January.
Upon approval, CHS will become the first public IB World School in northern Arizona. Verde Valley School, a boarding school in Sedona, is the only other school in the region with an IB program. Two other Flagstaff Unified School District schools, Puente de Hozho Elementary School and Sinagua Middle School, are still completing their IB candidacies.
“We want to prove to anybody that is dubious that this can be done in northern Arizona,” CHS Principal Stacie Zanzucchi said. “It really can come to fruition, it just takes a team and a relentless pursuit.”
Starting in the 2020-21 school year, the school will offer eight IB classes as part of the IB Diploma Programme: English Language and Literature, Spanish, History of the Americas, Biology, Computer Science, Mathematics, Art and Theory of Knowledge.
All courses except Computer Science will last two years and be available to juniors and seniors on an opt-in basis. In the coming years, students will also have access to additional IB courses offered online.
According to the IB website, the Diploma Programme, an international recognition, is “ideal preparation for university.” The program claims to increase student confidence, independence, critical thinking, time management skills and global-mindedness, among other qualities.
Student eligibility for the program is determined by school; the only requirement for CHS students who want to participate is commitment.
“While we say it’s not solely an academic pursuit, students have to be very ambitious and willing to devote the time and commitment to achieving these high levels,” Zanzucchi said. “It’s a high bar, but by providing this high bar, we provide more opportunities for students beyond high school.”
Zanzucchi said the holistic, interdisciplinary nature of the IB curriculum was especially appealing to school officials.
Students can enroll for individual IB courses or pursue them all as a part of completing the IB Diploma, which fulfills graduation requirements at the 11th and 12th grade levels.
After visiting other schools that offer IB classes, IB Coordinator and AP World History teacher Chelsea Drey and Zanzucchi estimated that about 10% of all students taking IB courses at a given school are seeking the diploma.
As of course registration last year, Drey said there were about 30 CHS students interested in this option.
The Diploma Programme requires students to complete an extended essay on a subject they are studying, a Theory of Knowledge course on critical thinking, a service project and demonstrated proficiency in a second language.
CHS students will have to test in Spanish for now because a program in Diné is not currently established within IB, though school officials are working to advocate for it.
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Each IB course is dependent on assessments that are evaluated both internally and by external graders. These assessments are scored from 1 to 7; a total of 24 points is required for completion of the diploma.
Drey said these scores, much like AP exams, can count toward college credit, depending on the institution. But unlike AP exams, which are more content-based, IB assessments are written exams that allow students to pick specific questions to reflect the areas and themes where they feel most knowledgeable.
“The students are responsible for bringing the examples to the table,” Drey said.
Though school administrators were trained in IB practices four years ago, teachers who will be leading the courses were trained specifically in their subjects this summer, using a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation of Flagstaff and individual donations.
Drey said IB courses provide more flexibility for teachers, who can, for example, pick from a list of topics to teach during the two-year class. Because the student assessments are writing-intensive, this specialization will not hinder students’ chances of achieving high scores, Drey said.
Being an IB school will also provide teachers with online resources, putting them in contact with worldwide instructors of the same classes.
Teachers of younger students are also being trained in IB programs so that they will be able to better prepare them for the more rigorous courses.
An IB community
Ideally, if Puente, Sinagua and CHS all become IB schools, students could progress from kindergarten through 12th grade in the IB program, a characteristic that would be marked on their high school diplomas, making them more likely to be accepted to top-level universities.
The three schools began discussing this potential 3 years ago. Increased partnerships are expected as the elementary and middle schools continue to progress through their candidacy.
“There are areas where we can come together and start having collaborative conversations with middle school and elementary and high school teachers all around the same table,” Drey said. “It will be really neat to see what that brings about in the next couple of years.”
Though Puente and Sinagua started their candidacies just before CHS, Zanzucchi said their academic programs -- the IB Primary Years Programme and the Middle Years Programme -- are whole-school approaches, while CHS students can choose to participate in individual IB courses, the Diploma Programme or neither.
Though only one option for students, school officials are looking forward to the potential benefits this program can bring schoolwide.
“When we were exploring, we kept thinking, ‘This is how learning should be. This should not just be isolated to students in the IB,’” Zanzucchi said. “We really believe that it will reverberate into all our classes and the mindset of our school.”