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Q & A with the Coordinator of the IB Programme

One of our staff writers sat down to talk with Mrs. McKinney about the IB programme at East

Lauren Vanden Bosch, Staff Writer

Q: Are there any requirements for joining the IB DP (certain GPA, for example)?

A: Our IB Diploma Programme values open enrollment. Students are only required to complete our Declaration Form during their sophomore year. This form helps us ensure they are planning a pathway in which they can earn their EGRHS Diploma and IB Diploma.

Q: What percentage of students receive an IB Diploma nationwide/statewide?

A: 78% of students earn the Diploma during the May 2017 testing period. There are two testing cycles total–one in November and one in May.

Q: For what length of time has introducing IB to East been planned by the school administration? If it’s been planned for so long how come it was not widely advertised until very recently?

A: Central office started investigating in 2007-2008 how to partner with ISD or another school district. It was not a viable option to build a partnership and central office strongly believed in the value of the programme. Administration started researching how to implement it and attended the first training session in 2010 to determine if it was a good fit for our community. Administration liked the training and decided to broaden the research team to include high school teachers, a school board member, and a community member. This group provided feedback to the administration and the Board of Education. At this point, it was determined that the Diploma Programme matched the District’s strategic plan and mission statements.

It takes three years to complete IB’s candidacy and authorization process. During the second year of this process, informational sessions were offered publicly especially for the parents of the class of 2018 and 2019 because they were the first who could participate in the programme. There were also presentations to PTO, Academic Boosters, Superintendent Advisory Committee, and the Board of Education throughout the process. The Tuition Enrollment Program, which highlights IB, was also covered by the media.

Q: Why institute the IB Programme at East in the first place? Why not provide more opportunities for students and add on to our AP curriculum with AP art classes?

A: We have a strong selection of AP courses. IB offers something different than what a selection of AP classes can offer. That’s not to say one is better than the other. They are both rigorous offerings; however, IB offers a more balanced approach. IB’s curriculum is a selection of courses that creates an entire programme. It creates an opportunity to look from a holistic view including a more skills based approach as opposed to a content based approach. Offering these two different approaches allows us to serve two different types of students.

The IB curriculum requires researched based, best practice instructional strategies. The IB calls this Approaches to Teaching and Learning. The Approaches to Teaching focus on inquiry, collaboration, differentiation, informed assessment, conceptual understanding, and local and global context. This creates an opportunity for our students to feed their curiosity, dig into self-selected topics, learn to work with their peers, consider local and global issues, and gain a greater sense of the big picture. This approach allows our students to sharpen their research skills, thinking skills, social skills, self-management skills, and communication skills. All of these skills are frequently demanded in the postsecondary and workforce experiences stretching beyond the high school experience.

When thinking about this question more, I would compare it to us offering band, orchestra, and choir. We aren’t concerned about there being enough musicians. We have a strong music program overall because we offer these different choices–serving more students because we offer choices. This has been a part of our school community for so long we do not worry, in fact, we take pride in it.

Q: Who selected the IB classes that would be implemented at EGRHS and why were these selected?

A: A collaborative effort between administration and department heads/members was used to decide which courses we would offer. After IB authorized trainings, teachers would return and discuss which courses they felt would be a good fit for our school community.

For example, the English Department members went to two different IB course trainings to determine which course was the best fit for EGRHS. The department selected IB Language and Literature SL/HL because we offered AP Lang and Lit and they felt our English 5-6 and 7-8 courses were already similar in rigor. Because of the similarity, the department felt the transition to IB Language and Literature was a natural and beneficial transition.

Q: How did you select the teachers that would be trained to teach IB classes at EGRHS?

A: Actually we trained almost all the high school teachers except a few in a couple of content areas. We trained as many teachers as we possibly could.

To decide who would teach a course, administration polled teachers’ interest, considered their skill set, their number of preps to determine the best fit. In some situations, teachers were already teaching similar courses so it was a natural fit for the teacher.

Q: What skills do you hope your students gain from this experience? Why is IB a valuable experience?

A: We hope our IB students reflect the IB Learner Profile: Make principled decisions, demonstrate good communication skills, take risks that enhance their experiences, lead a balanced life, approach new and different perspectives with an open-mind, exercise critical thinking, etc. I also hope they gain collaborative skills, research skills, communication skills, and time management skills.

Q: Would you consider IB to be tougher or easier than AP?

A: They are both viewed as rigorous and college preparatory. IB requires more depth as opposed breadth.

Q: What is your favorite part of the IB Programme?

A: I appreciate how it addresses the whole child. The DP addresses all parts of the student’s life. It requires balance through the Creativity, Activity, and Service requirement. It challenges students to think outside of themselves and appreciate the differences within our school, community, state, nation, and world. It demands critical thinking skills as opposed to rote memorization. All of these aspects develop the whole child into an adult who will thoughtfully contribute to our world.

Q: What are some tangible ways that IB is different from other high school classes such as AP or regular classes? Can you give me specific examples? Have you sat in on IB classes and observed them personally?

A: Curriculum itself is different than any course we offer in the high school. Students who are certificating in a course or who are seeking the full diploma are being being graded by educators around the world as well as our EGRHS teachers. They complete different types of assessments–writing an assessment where they create their own big idea/question and compare it to an everyday event/fact/circumstance. In addition, there is a global perspective that can be seen in the IB Language and Literature, Film, and Music courses due to the required types of major works or films studied. In Music, students complete a Musical Links Investigation where they compare music from two different continents.

My role as a coordinator is not to evaluate teachers rather it is to support the teachers, students and parents in the programme. I have observed classes at other IB schools and consistently hear anecdotal evidence from our teachers, parents, and students about our courses. I also participated in numerous trainings all of which allows me the insight into our courses.

Q: Do you think the IB DP is for everyone? If not, what students would not fit well with the IB DP?

A: Unfortunately, the majority of stakeholders have perceived IB as an elitist program for only academically gifted students. We are working to help our school community understand the programme is not exclusive rather it is inclusive. We want our students to feel they can access the programme.

In fact, the whole country of Ecuador has adopted the IB curriculum. There are public school districts in our state, in our country and around the world where the whole district has implemented the entire IB Continuum (grades K-12). An example in our state is Bloomfield Hills Schools (a public K-12 district). Bloomfield Hills employs IB at each level and in all buildings. All students participate in IB.

The IB Learner Profile addresses all our learners. Our district believes in educating the whole child and IB values that concept as well. The IB also has a policy for inclusion, which requires we offer accommodations that allow students who have a learning disability or another challenge that impacts their education to have a level playing field.

When helping a family/student determine the best pathway, the IB Learner Profile is the first place we look to determine whether the programme is a good fit for the student. Then, we consider if they are curious, enjoy learning, possess good time management strategies, exercise good organizational skills, etc. Students should not take IB if they are just trying to earn college credit, earn a specific grade or prefer to just have a teacher tell them what to do. IB requires students to be truly engaged in their learning through independent development of research topics, project topics, oral presentation concepts, etc.

Q: You allow students in the IB DP to take 4 HL classes even though the official DP technically only allows 3 to promote balance. However, IB does allow you to take two classes in the same subject area, but East’s DP require every student to have one of each subject area. Why is that?

A: First, the IB does not encourage a pathway that excludes one of the six content areas. It’s IBs way to allow an exception similar to the State of Michigan’s personal curriculum. The IB is based upon a concurrency of learning where students are applying their learning from all subject areas to one another. However, this is simply a logistical decision currently at EGRHS. Because the programme is new and small, we cannot afford to teach a small class more than one time a day. Increasing the number of students certificating or pursuing the entire Diploma Programme will allow for more flexibility. Overall, we need to grow the programme to allow for more choices and flexibility within our programme.

Q: Why do we have just IB Film, Visual Arts, and Music? Since East has a strong theater program why didn’t we implement IB Theater as an IB elective course?

A: Prior to adopting IB, theatre as a course was not consistently run. Yes, outside of school, theatre is very strong program, but the course was not universally demanded by students prior to IB. On the other hand, Film studies, which is embedded into IB Film, was a popular course prior to the implementation of IB. Finally, Mrs. Steers is trained in both subjects and wrote curriculums for both subject, but due to logistical reasons, she cannot teach two courses that would need to be offered in the same hour.  

Q: Was the idea/decision to implement IB mainly endorsed/made by the school administration or did it also have the strong support and approval of the EGR community and EGR students and parents?

A: The decision was ultimately made by the BOE through a recommendation from the administration. The administration was grounded in years of research and input gathering from all stakeholders.

Q: What lead you and the administration to make this decision to phase out the English ⅞ and Honors Spanish ⅞ from the curriculum?  Does the school expect them to pay for these tests even though they are required to take these IB classes?

A: The teachers who were trained returned from training and recommended the L & L curriculum replace English 5-6, 7-8 because it would be rundent offering all four courses. It is not any more rigorous than when it was called English 5-6, 7-8. It is simply different in name and in instructional delivery and content. We thought it was valuable to our students to actually change the name of the course in the name of transparency and it creates value for the post-secondary.

No student is required to take the final IB external assessment just as no student is required to take an AP assessment. In IB the value is not in the score of a test, but in the exposure to the instructional strategies and the curriculum.

Students who are certificating in an IB course are required to pay a registration fee making the first course they register in more expensive. Any additional course they choose to test will be an identical fee as their IB Diploma Candidate peer.

Q: How did the school have money to fund IB in the first place?

A: The district utilized money from the sale of the cell tower behind the stadium to research and attend the initial IB authorized professional development.

Q: How is IB funded from year to year?

A: Now that IB is part of the day-to-day activity, it is funded through the general fund, which is the money we get from the State of Michigan. Similar to other programs within our district (literacy program), we write grants to our Foundation. The professional development is funded through our Title II federal monies similar to how we pay for our teachers in the elementary and middle schools to attend the Teachers College Reading and Writing Institutes. We also fund teachers to attend the Van Andel Institute.

Q: One of the rationales for the IB DP at East is that it will help students get into more selective colleges and guarantees more success longer term. Is there any evidence that IB is more successful than AP when it comes to long term success in jobs / careers and college admissions?

A: College admissions is not the leading factor when defining why EGRPS decided to implement the IB DP. The increased college admission piece is not the focus, rather, it validates our conclusion that the programme is an excellent pathway for our students.

What makes us believe in the IB curriculum and programme is how it values what EGRPS values: educating the whole child, building 21st century learning skills and learning, exposing student to the concurrency of learning, and developing a sense of international mindedness. The Diploma Programme enhances all the opportunities we are already offering our students by enriching their learning through providing another pathway choice for our students.

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