Midland goes global
Westside elementary school thriving with IB program

       When the phone rings nowadays at Midland Elementary, the voice answers with “Midland International.”
        No, the 115-year-old Westside school is not suddenly being operated fom another continent. It's still essentially the same neighborhood school that Anthony Bott, co-founder of Old Colorado City, helped start in 1889.
        The “International” identifies Midland as part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program - the only one in the district at the primary level (grades K-5).
       And if there seems to be a trace of pride when the voice says “Midland International,” it's not just because the name sounds important. It's because the school, once a victim of dropping enrollment and under consideration for closure, showed a major CSAP testing upsurge last year - its first in IB - and is now a District 11 “magnet school” attracting students from other schools and even other districts.
       Enrollment this year is up by 40 students, which is significant in a school of about 160 students.
        The out-of-district magnetism has financial value for District 11 because state per-pupil money follows students. So the 12 new out-of-district students this year at Midland means $66,000 for the district - nearly twice the school's $39,350 IB budget.
       While this result is “exciting” for the district, District 11 spokesperson Elaine Naleski preferred to focus on the scholarly aspects when asked to comment on Midland's IB.
       “It's an extremely successful program,” she told the Westside Pioneer. “When you look at the improvement in scores at Midland, it says two things: that it's working for all students; also, that you don't have to focus on CSAP tests (annual state- mandated standard tests) because IB is a well-rounded program that teaches the whole child, not just drilling for CSAP.”
       Yet amid the success and the praise, the staff members at Midland feel like they are still just getting started with IB. This year is the “first year with full implementation,” Principal Barbara Bishop noted.
       The school hasn't even been evaluated by IB regional leadership to make sure it's hitting on all cylinders. That process won't begin until March 3, when a consultant representing the U.S./Canada region of the International Baccaulareate Organization (IBO) is scheduled to be on site, according to Midland IB Coordinator Lara Buhl.
        The consultant will review the program, making suggestions as needed. A few weeks later, probably in May, an IBO “authorization team” will arrive to meet with school staff, parents and district staff and board members, she said.
        “They'll tell us by July if we're authorized or not,” said Bishop, who's been Midland's principal since 2001. “I fully expect we will be.”
       She gives much of the credit to Buhl, who came to Midland last year after teaching in a primary IB program at Academy International in District 20. “It's nice to have someone who knows what the program looks like,” Bishop said.
        “We're working hard,” Buhl said. “Teachers are taking training. We're doing all we can to make sure the program is the best we can provide to our students.”
       Considerable research went into setting up Midland's IB. Programs elsewhere were studied and visited. The more Bishop saw, the more she liked.
       “I told my husband if I ever got to be a principal, this is what I want to do,” she said. “I feel I'm meant to do this. It's been so exciting, with people coming on board, like Lara.”
       Amid her enthusiasm, Bishop tries to be realistic. “I can't attribute all the improvement (at the school) to IB.” She points out that the district has instituted other educational upgrades in recent years. But she believes IB is “at least half responsible. I certainly think it is a huge factor, and the teachers do, too.”
       The “international” monicker stems from IB's beginnings in the 1960s from a group of schools attempting to create a “common curriculum and a university entry credential for geographically mobile students,” as an IBO brochure states.
        When worldwide education specialists began realizing over the years that students in the program performed at consistently higher levels, the program began expanding and being used in standard schools in various countries.
        IBO developed its “Primary Years Programme” (as the organization spells it) just seven years ago.
        District 11 IB programs at the middle school and high school level exist at North Middle and Palmer High, respectively. Students from Midland who wish to stay in IB need to go to North.
       Functionally, IB takes up about 40 to 60 percent of the school day at Midland, with the remainder focusing on district- and state-required subject matter. However, the intent is not to keep IB separate from the basics. On the contrary, pointed out Midland fourth-grade teacher Kristin Kooyer, she looks for ways to tie other subjects in with IB goals.
        For instance, two current books being read by her students are “My Side of the Mountain” and “Sign of the Beaver,” which address issues of wilderness survival in pre-modern times. The lessons from these books can be linked in key ways with the present IB unit regarding natural resources and their influence on early Native Americans in Colorado, she said.
        The goal of IB, as its mission states, “is to develop citizens who are inquirers, thinkers, communicators, risk-takers, knowledgeable, principled, caring, open-minded, well-balanced, reflective.”
       There is a special emphasis on what is called the “inquiry approach to learning,” with the teacher serving as “more of a facilitator” to help students find answers to their questions, according to Bishop.
       IB guides educators by providing six general unit areas, with the idea that each of these will cover six weeks of the school year. Starting with the three words, “An inquiry into,” the six units are “Who we are... Where we are in time and place... How we express ourselves... How the world works... How we organize ourselves... (and) How we share the planet.”
        At each grade level, at any time in the year, a teacher at each grade level is working on one of these units. They are not bound to do them in any particular order. They meet with other teachers and with Buhl to sort out ideas and potential duplications or overlooked areas.
       A chart showing how the different classes are defining these units takes up a sizeable portion of one wall in Buhl's office. The thought and flexibility that goes into the planning effort can be seen in the many cross-outs and inserts that have accumulated on the chart during the school year.
       For instance, the Revolutionary War is a required study area for fifth grade, and initially did not have a clear place in the IB program. But now it's part of the “Who we are” unit.
       “That took us about two weeks of meetings to work out,” Buhl said.
       Midland is the first school at which Kooyer has taught. Now in her third year, she compared her first (non-IB) year with her IB experience by saying the unit structure of the program helps give her a “format to start from, and from that I can be creative (as a teacher). Before, I didn't feel I had a base.”
       From a teaching standpoint, she said, “I try to “encourage students to think on their own, and to come up with their own answers.”
       And what does she do if they start thinking that's too much like work? She said she talks with them about the IB definition of a citizen, so that they can see the personal benefits of extra effort - that IB is not just a school thing, but “creating kids who are appreciative of life and education.”

Westside Pioneer article