Puente de Hozho Elementary School Principal Robert Kelty is excited about a new program the school hopes to offer to students next school year

Puente was recently named a candidate school for the International Baccalaureate program. Once the school is approved by IB to become an IB World School it will be one of three primary schools in the state of Arizona with that designation.

There are a total of 4,000 schools around the world who are part of the international teaching program. The program is available to schools who teach K through 12th grades. It also offers a high school diploma that prepares students for college in nearly any country in the world, Kelty said.

According the IB website, the program is a method of teaching, rather than a curriculum. The program wraps traditional subjects such as math, science, health, etc. in a framework of six themes. Those themes include “who we are,” “where we are in time and place,” “how we express ourselves,” “how the world works,” “how we organize ourselves,” and “sharing the planet.”

In the fifth grade, student in the IB’s Primary Year Program are required to do an exhibition project. The project is a collaborative research project on any real-life topic or problem that the students wish to study. The idea is for the students to identify, research and offer a real-world solution to the topic or problem.

It goes beyond and incorporates the school’s curriculum to help students learn to think critically, ask questions and be aware of what is happening the world around them and become better world citizens, Kelty said.

“It deepens the teaching for students,” he said. “It create a more thoughtful student.”

Kelty said Puente applied for the program last year and found out in July that it was named as a candidate school for the program. The school will have to go through another three to five years of training and evaluations by the IB program before it can be labeled an IB World School. Teachers and staff at Puente will start training to implement the program in March.

“It was really a no-brainer for our school,” he said. “We think of it as a natural progression of Puente.”

Puente is a dual language school, which is a big part of the IB program. IB students who graduate from IB’s Diploma Program in high school are required to be proficient in two languages.

Puente has a Navajo immersion language program and a Spanish-English bilingual program. Students learn to speak two languages, Spanish speakers learn English, English speakers learn Spanish and Navajo student learn their own language. Many Navajo students come to the school only speaking English, Kelty said. If Puente is accepted as an IB World School, it will be one of the first to have students that are bilingual in English and Navajo.

The IB philosophy also fits with Kelty’s profile. Kelty served for two years as a senior managing director of regional support and development for Teach for America, nearly four years as Coconino County Superintendent of Schools, was the co-founder of the Transformative Learning Center, was a teacher at Puente for nine years and named Arizona Teacher of the Year in 2008.

In order to start the process to become an IB school, a school has to conduct a feasibility study to determine if it is compatible with the IB system. The head of the school has to participate in a workshop about applying to the program. Determine how long it will take to bring the school into compatibility with the IB system and analysis the benefits and costs of the program to the school. The school also needs support from its governing board to enter the program.

If everything looks good, the school applies to the program. The IB program then analysis the application and determines if the school is a good candidate for the program. If it is, the school is labeled a candidate school and can start a trial run of the IB program. That trial run lasts between one to two years. During that time, teachers and staff are sent for training in the IB system and it is slowly rolled out in the classroom, Kelty said.

At the end of the candidacy period, the school is evaluated by a site visit from IB officials and is either granted or not granted status as an IB World School.

The process can be expensive. According to IB’s website, the application for the program is $4,000. The school will pay $9,500 each year that it is a candidate school and $8,520 per year once it becomes an IB World School. The schools are evaluated every five years to make sure they are still following the IB system.

Kelty said Flagstaff Unified School District is hoping to expand the program to Sinagua Middle School and Coconino High School. This would allow students who were interested in the program to earn an IB high school degree and a seal of bilingual education from the state of Arizona. It would also prepare them to enter practically any college or university in the world.

Coconino High School Principal Stacie Zanzucchi said she and the vice principal have already gone through some of the preliminary training for the IB program and are working on the application. They hope to submit the application to IB in June 2018 and be named a candidate school shortly after.

“It fits in really well with our language institute and our school’s philosophy of world citizens,” she said.

Coconino has the Puente de Hozho Language Institute that allows students who are interested in becoming bilingual in either Navajo or Spanish, Zanzucchi said. This gives students who started the process at Puente the chance to continue and receive the certification from the state.

It also gives students who did not attend Puente another way into the IB program, either through Sinauga or once they enter Coconino High, she said. Each level of the IB program, primary, middle and high school, are independent of each other. If a student does take the classes at Puente or Sinagua they can enter it at Coconino.

Both Kelty and Zanzucchi said if their school is not approved for the program that they plan to continue emphasizing bilingual education, critical thinking and the appreciation of other cultures in their students.

“It’s another option for our students. It’s a way for us to put our student’s passions first,” Kelty said. “It’s an excellent option for families that value diversity as well as education.”

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.