By Sammie Ann Wicks
It’s no surprise that anything employing the word baccalaureate and its built-in suggestion of academic excellence usually catches an admiring glance. But add “international” to that and our minds soar to what must be the Mt. Everest of academia.
Apparently surviving the thin air of educational high pursuit, Kyrene Middle School has planted its own flag of super-achievement in the form of the prestigious International Baccalaureate program, meaning that students promoted there can be recognized worldwide at any school they attend.
It is the only school in the Kyrene district to hold that distinction.
Incoming principal Scott Maxwell explained that KMS’s IB certification represents an offshoot of the 51-year-old international organization’s mission to maximize multidisciplinary student learning within a global context, which emphasizes cross-cultural influences.
That perspective, says Maxwell, fits the school’s regional identity perfectly. Maxwell, who takes his new job starting July 1 following former principal Julio Martinez, says achieving such prestigious recognition was no cakewalk.
“Getting this designation was a demanding two-year process that involved every aspect of what we do at the school,” says Maxwell, noting that the school will operate under the auspices of IB’s Middle Years Programme.
“Leading up to the final designation, IB personnel came onsite to visit classrooms, meet with parents and students, talk to teachers and take a look at our course offerings, to confirm we were ‘IB ready,’” Maxwell said.
“The actual certification also required a major reconfiguration of our curriculum.”
“In all my years in education, I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered a school and area that’s so unique,” Maxwell declared.
“We have kids from the Guadalupe neighborhoods, the African-American, Asian, and Native American communities, and others from fairly affluent areas, all learning together under the globally defined umbrella that IB provides.”
Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Maxwell grew up in Boston, studied in Beijing, taught in China and South Africa, and went on to earn a master’s degree in International Studies and Special Education from Middlebury Institute of International studies in Monterey, Calif.
His international background in education makes Maxwell particularly enthusiastic to oversee the implementation of the IB program at the school.
“I’m so glad we were able to bring Mandarin into our language offerings, which now also include American Sign Language and Spanish,” Maxwell says, adding the IB system’s international perspective makes it unique in the world of education.
“What I’ve been delighted to learn about IB is that it’s universal,” Maxwell notes.
“You can take it anywhere, in any local context, and succeed with it.”
Founded in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland, the program now operates in 3,460 schools across 143 countries at 1,370 public and private schools, and emphasizes creative and critical thinking as its educational core.
The organization’s Middle Years Programme was first offered in 1994, and by 1999 was operating in 51 countries.
Instituting the IB program at KMS is part of what Kyrene Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Jan Vesely calls a “redesign” of the district’s schools and curricula, aimed at enhancing enrollment. That new curricular perspective, Maxwell notes, is not narrowly conceptual, but encourages students to find real-world applications for their classroom discoveries.
“Students in the program must complete what we call ‘Service Learning’ projects,” he explains— projects that take them out of the school and into the community.
“Participants take the skills they’ve learned in the classroom and apply them to a project. So you might see kids helping clean up a neighborhood, raising money for a community need, or helping out at an area that needs work—things like that.” Even routine classroom skills, within the IB concept, Maxwell insists have a practical application.
“Consider something like note-taking: the IB curriculum has units on even that—you know, what’s the most effective way to do that—but the most important, the unique thing IB does is apply that lesson in a practical way. It teaches how to utilize the notes you’ve taken, such as writing a paper.”
The new principal declares the school’s success in achieving the IB certification lies squarely with the years-long work put in by the teachers and administrators involved.
“This program couldn’t have happened without the teachers and committed administrators like Kathie Cigich and Sheryl Houston, (who helped lay the program’s foundations.)
They were tireless. These people, with so many others, did all the heavy lifting, and I’m excited to follow their strong lead. Now our final step is bringing it into our classrooms and community.”