Updated November 4
The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School has implemented the International Baccalaureate (IB) program into its curriculum for junior and senior students to better prepare them for their future endeavors.
Juniors were the first to be introduced to the IB curriculum at the Charter School. The implementation of the IB program has been a process three years in the making. Peter Steedman, the Charter School’s director, said three evaluators came from the International Baccalaureate to interview teachers, students, and community members to give the school its final authorization and certification.
Steedman brought in the IB program to improve students’ preparation for college or career paths. IB is meant to be an addition to what the Charter School was already offering academically. Steedman said prevailing amounts of freedom and lax learning environments make high school seniors in general less prepared for college.
“It’s like asking the Red Sox to not attend spring training, and be ready to play the Yankees on opening day,” Steedman said. “That’s what we do to our seniors [nationwide]. We water down the curriculum, we don’t give them high expectations.”
According to the school’s IB coordinator, Hillary Smith, she and the other educators took courses and earned additional certifications. This was to prepare them for understanding the IB program’s philosophies and applying them to Charter School’s context. “It’s been really exciting to be a part of the rolling-out process with the Charter School,” Smith said. “I think it fits really well with our Island culture.”
“What I do like is that world language is given a place of quite a bit of importance. It’s considered a significant class, and everybody needs to take a language because it is important to be world-minded,” Spanish language teacher Victoria Dryfoos said. Dryfoos said what she teaches has not changed much, but she now has a global network of IB teachers with whom she can share teaching ideas.
The Charter School is offering two types of IB studies, the diploma program and the career program. The diploma program is designed for students who want to go to college. The career program is designed to help students prepare for their chosen vocation, such as culinary arts or farming. Steedman said only around 280 schools worldwide with IB programs offer the career pathway.
“I think it’s going good so far,” junior Matti-Lyn Floyd, who is on the diploma track, said. There is still a bit of an adjustment period for the students and the school. “It’s a little challenging, but I think it’s going to be great in future years.”
Although the diploma and career paths are different routes for students, the common denominators are rigorous academics and a course called the theory of knowledge. Theory of knowledge is a two-year epistemology course that teaches students how to think critically and explore topics from various subject angles.
“For me, it fits very well with who I am as a teacher and a thinker: always trying to understand the larger context for the questions that we have,” Jonah Maidoff, who teaches theory of knowledge, said.
“That’s really, namely, what sets apart the IB program,” Steedman said. “The theory of knowledge is the glue that holds it all together.”
Another part of the IB program is an extended essay on a topic of the student’s choosing. However, it needs to be narrowed down and focused, similarly to how college papers are. Steedman provided an example to illustrate it: rather than a paper generally on World War II, a student would write about how the resistance of women in Southern France led to saving Jewish citizens in the area, “almost like a mini-thesis.”
Students in the diploma program also have to do a service project called Creativity Action in Service. Students work with an organization and do a project that connects with the place they are with. Most of the students are still figuring out what they would like to do as their service project, and the school takes them on “experiences” to help them explore different possibilities. So far, the students have been to a hatchery in Katama with their science teacher to collect data on fish in the area.
Among the students, junior Cate Cosgrave is the only one who already has a project in motion. “I do mine at Grey Barn, and take soil from their farm and collect data from it,” Cate said. She will be using this data to track the carbon footprint of the farm.
Career-track IB students do not need to do this separate project, because working is implemented into their program. Junior Kent Healey is the only student who is on the career track. Kent’s family runs Mermaid Farm in Chilmark, and he plans to go into dairy farming after graduation. Part of his days are in school, while the other portion involves work at the farm.
Kent is taking an online course from the University of Edinburgh called “sustainable global food systems.” Although the coursework does not directly apply to dairy farming, it provides him with a broader perspective of how the Island fits into the global sustainable food system, according to Smith. “It’s been fun,” Healey said.
Students in the career track can also take courses or earn certifications based on their aspirations and interests, according to Steedman. For example, a student who wants to enter the culinary industry can earn ServSafe certification for food handling.
Steedman said some schools only allow students who meet a certain academic threshold to take IB courses. At the Charter School, it is an “IB for all students” model.
“I transferred back specifically for this program,” junior Graysen Kirk said. “I think it’s really exciting for those of us that are college-bound, or someone like Kent who’s vocationally bound, because this program is really rigorous. But, it really sends you on the right track. Not only for looking at college applications, but also to prepare you for real-world situations and make you a more right-minded citizen of not just this country but the world.”
At the end of their two years, the students will take an exam on the various subjects they studied.
“The Charter School has always attempted to maximize the passion of each student,” Steedman said. Although the IB is “not your golden ticket to Yale,” Steedman believes the two-year program will provide the students with the academic rigor, good habits, and international perspective to prepare them for the future.
Updated for clarification of Peter Steedman’s intentions of bringing in the IB program.