There are three schools in Ward 6 in the process of implementing International Baccalaureate (IB) – Eliot-Hine Middle School, Jefferson Middle School, and Eastern Senior High School.

There’s a lot to the story of why IB/IBMYP was pursued at these schools (Deal’s success, academic rigor, external (non-DCPS) accountability, languages, math), but in the end, the IB decisions at all of the schools were very loudly supported by the community (not sure about how the school educators themselves felt about these decisions).

In order to support the middle schools’ transition to IB, collaboration teams were formed comprised of principals and parents of the feeder elementary schools and destination middle schools. The collaboration teams have changed over time, but the goal remains to support the IB efforts in Ward 6 schools. Part of this effort involves giving families an opportunity to learn about IB, as well as how it is being implemented in the schools. This has played out via education nights in public venues and via living room chats in private homes.

I recently attended a living room chat (hosted by superparent Lillian) with Principal Young, of Eliot-Hine, for at parents of 4th graders. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as until that evening, I did not have a good sense of where Principal Young stood in terms of her support of IB, how she was managing the school, or how she felt about whatever it is that parents like me (prospective, without children currently enrolled in her school) brought to the community she is building.

I came out of the night completely impressed.

I arrived a little late, so I missed some of her prepared remarks, but in the end, I think it was in the Q/A where it became clear to me how the staff at Eliot-Hine are educating the children. Principal Young was light on buzz words, no vague answers. A lot of honesty and good descriptions of techniques.

She talked about differentiated learning (ok, one buzzword), but was clear that Eliot-Hine will not be ‘tracking’ (i.e., separating students into ‘smart kids’, ‘kids who need help’, etc). She talked about techniques she uses to integrate children across academic abilities, including integrating some of the children with intellectual disabilities into ‘mainstream’ classes (including art classes, recess, etc). BTW – Eliot-Hine has a large autism program.

I was excited to learn more about language offerings (Spanish and Mandarin) and the fact that students will take language classes every day (as it is part of IB). I thought this would be particularly important to students coming from Spanish immersion programs. The Spanish teacher sounds incredible, and it sounds like she receives a lot of support from Principal Young,

While I was disappointed that there has been no outreach (in either direction) between Eliot-Hine and my children’s school, Principal Young assured me that this is something on her agenda. I asked about how Eliot-Hine would help transition Montessori students (you know, kids who don’t do a lot of sitting down throughout the day), and while it was clear that their freedom would look different in her school, she made a very strong connection of the very important Montessori principle of ‘student choice’ and described how IB at Eliot-Hine supports this via stations (must follow up on this).

I am also intrigued by how the radio station came to be. Student driven, student organized, student run, with support from an expert. Music to my Montessori Mama ears. It’s the type of educational experience I value most – connected to the real world. Another detail that I found interesting was how the radio shows also served as opportunities for talking about culture and vernacular. The value of being respectful of the culture within which students are raised, while mindful of expectations across cultures, and how this experience serves as an opportunity for students to develop communication and listening skills. Important to note that I hadn’t made any of these connections on my own when I’d learned of the radio show. It’s a terrific selling point for the school and IB, but really needs to be more explicit to confused parents like me. 🙂

It was interesting to hear about how the school is managing behavior, including bullying. Suspensions are down by 82%, and the school has introduced varying interventions/support systems based on individual circumstances, focusing on incentives. Principal Young described the different types of bullying she sees (friend to friend, ‘making a name’) and how the dialogue around bullying is schoolwide (not just w/ offenders/victims).

She addressed tough questions around the likely changes to racial make up of the population, and the very real tensions that may arise (among students, but more interestingly, among parents). She focused on the need for educators to advocate for their schools and to also support communities and students in learning to advocate.

Principal Young talked about how she is coaching the staff to focus on… wait for it… Data! She supports innovation in the programs offered (ex: literacy nights), including productive extra-curricular opportunities (the radio station is both a school course and after school program).

**It was reassuring to learn that Eliot-Hine, Jefferson and Eastern are collaborating closely including around grant-writing, and programing. Parents in the chat offered ideas around how to bring the music programs at Eastern and Eliot-Hine together, and to support Eastern’s athletics, so that most talented MS students are not recruited to other high schools. This really does reinforce the importance of collaboration among the feeder lines. I really don’t understand why as a system, DCPS isn’t encouraging more of this. I have a sense that in this testing-crazed environment, it’s every school (and principal) out for themselves.

Finally, what I think I most appreciated, was what she shared as things parents should look for in a middle school:

– Students’ relationships with adults… Caring, don’t overreact, constantly looking for ways to communicate

– Extra curricular and co-curricular programs… Options to explore beyond the classroom – athletics, arts, filed trips

– Rigor around academic programs and how the middle school connects to high school. So students then have choices around high schools.

While I’ll miss the first open house – Thursday, November 29, 9-10:30 AM – I’ll definitely look forward to making the next one.

Principal Young also is open to unscheduled visits and encourages families to visit the school. Be mindful of (paced interim assessments) testing in December. Call in advance if your party is more than two. Ms Walker and Ms Lawrence can give tours.