Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bringing IB Education to the Heights

Because I write this blog and am also the mother of 2 small children, I get a lot of questions about schools in the Heights. I try to give what information I can based on personal knowledge, although we have chosen Montessori for our kids and they do not go to a Heights school. Recently, I found this wonderful post by Heights area Realtor Cynthia Mullins. Here Cynthia talks about the progress and changes our Heights schools are seeing. While Harvard and Travis elementaries are highly regarded and sought after schools, it wasn't always that way. It took dedicated parents and a willing, hardworking administration to make those schools what they are today. With the support of parents and the community, we can see great things in our middle schools and highschool as well. It's already started!

By Cynthia Mullins
Boulevard Realty

What a difference a year makes!  The Houston Heights will hopefully soon be home to not one, but three, International Baccalaureate (IB) World Schools. Currently the neighborhood has one IB World School in Harvard Elementary.  In the spring, IB Candidate schools Hogg Middle School and Reagan High School will have their on-site authorization visit by an International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) delegation.  This team will spend a day at each school to evaluate and prepare an internal report on the candidate school’s capability to deliver the Middle Years Programme (MYP) in accordance with the IBO’s requirements.

Completion of this critical step will allow Harvard ES graduates, where all students receive the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP), to continue their IB learning in the MYP through 10th grade without leaving the Houston Heights.  Harvard ES Principal Kevin Beringer states, “I am excited for both schools and the students in this area to have access for additional IB programs.”  If you are not familiar with the IB philosophy, it is best summed up by the current IB Director General, Jeff Beard.  He states, “IB programmes are international, develop critical-thinking skills, require a second language, and emphasize cultural understanding in our principle that other people can be right as well. IB students undergo a unique experience that better positions them to tackle today’s global issues in a more creative way than has been done in the past."
The implementation of IB at Hogg MS and Reagan HS is exciting because students today face a much different world than those coming out of college when Bill Gates’ dream was to have a computer in every household.  The rate at which new information enters the world today is much too fast for students to keep pace.  On the last day I graduated from college, my professor told the class that everything we now knew would be obsolete in 5 years.  What????  Now he would probably say less than 18 months.   Students in the 21st century are faced with the challenge of learning about an interconnected world where knowledge is constantly developing. The IB Programme prepares children to be active participants in a lifelong journey of education through inquiry based learning.  This methodology is student centered vs. the traditional approach which is teacher centered.  Inquiry learning is focused on using and learning content as a means to develop information-processing and problem-solving skills. The teacher is a facilitator of learning and there is more emphasis on "how we come to know" and less on "what we know."  In the traditional approach, the teacher is focused on giving out information about "what we know." Students are the receivers of information, and teachers the dispenser.  Much of the assessment of the learner is focused on the importance of "one right answer." Traditional education is more concerned with preparation for the next grade level and in-school success than with helping a student acquire skills to learn throughout life.   What makes the IB Programme so challenging is the development of these skills and questioning in addition to mastery of content. 
No one is more excited about these developments than the principals at Hogg MS and Reagan HS, Dr. Mina Schnitta and Connie Berger, respectively.  They have been working closely together to become IB World Schools that support each other and complete the IB continuum from Pre-K at Harvard ES through high school at Reagan.  This past summer Hogg and Reagan went full force on finishing the work to complete their IB candidacy status.  Teachers and staff from both schools gathered at Reagan HS under the direction of IBO delegates to create a cohesive implementation across both schools.  Principals Berger and Schnitta want to make the transition from middle to high school as seamless and easy as possible for students.  This is challenging as the IB inquiry based learning environment is all encompassing.  In an IB atmosphere, not only is the method in which students learn different, but also ten IB learner profiles are woven through the fabric of their day.  All students strive to be inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective in every class every day.  For learners to internalize these characteristics and make them their own is no small task and doesn’t occur by happenstance.
If you haven’t been in Hogg MS since Dr. Schnitta became principal, you owe it to yourself to meet her and tour the school.  When you finish, you will know what a fire-cracker looks like in human form.  As she says, “I don’t play.  I expect 100% from each student every day and there are no excuses.  All children deserve rigor and they will rise to it if given the environment to do it.”  Since she started February 14, 2011, she has decreased disciplinary actions which require suspensions, expulsions or alternative placements to virtually zero.  I have witnessed first-hand how differently she handles rule breakers than past administrators.  She means serious business and the results of  her tactics can already be measured.  Her first full school year was 2011/2012.  She started her second year with an almost 20% increase in enrollment.  She has more than doubled the Gifted and Talented (GT) population in her short tenure.  This is nothing short of miraculous at a school where enrollment had steadily declined for years before her arrival.  Her impressive skills have not gone unnoticed by the IB delegation.  One of its members, who is very familiar with HISD and its middle schools, has visited the Hogg campus several times over the past few years.  He noticed a drastic change at Hogg MS since Dr. Schnitta’s entrance.  He believes Dr. Schnitta and its IB Coordinator, Clementine Arana, have turned Hogg around.  He believes Hogg is an entirely different school with a different attitude, a different climate, and a different way of educating young people than he has seen on previous visits.  That is a pretty powerful statement.  He is also impressed with the partnership between Hogg MS and Reagan HS.
This early photo of Reagan High School from RdlR Architects  (Rdlr.com), who designed the wonderful addition to the historic high school. The school was built in 1926.
Reagan HS is implementing IB MYP for all 9th and 10th grade students.  As an IB world school, students are required to learn a second language.  This facet is synergistic with Reagan’s Dual Language Program where students may choose to participate and receive instruction in both English and Spanish.  Students acquire bilingual skills in all academic disciplines (Science, Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies) and are therefore better prepared to participate in a global economy.  Reagan is the only HISD high school offering the Dual Language Program.  The same IB delegate feels Reagan has accomplished more in 6 months than some schools do in two years.  He has alerted the IBO that Reagan is a “school to watch”.  This is not surprising if you are familiar at all with Principal Berger.  She was HISD’s high school Principal of the Year last year.  In her 7 years at Reagan, she has increased enrollment 35%.  Last year, Reagan HS was included in the Washington Post High School Challenge, a list of 1,800 schools representing the top 9 percent in the nation when it comes to preparing graduates for college.
If all goes well, Principal Berger will consider implementing the Diploma Years Programme (DYP) for 11thand 12th graders, thus providing them an avenue to enter over 1,000 colleges in the US (and more abroad) with part of college already paid for and behind them.  Considering the escalating cost of a year of college, I’m willing to bet she will be pushed by the community to complete the IB cycle and join the ranks of Bellaire HS, Awty International School, The British School of Houston and Lamar HS.  This means the opportunity to place out of many core courses and their expenses at colleges such as Baylor, Rice, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, University of Houston, and University of Texas.  Or, if you prefer out of state:  Berkeley, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, and MIT to name a few.  More universities worldwide provide this opportunity also such as Cambridge and Oxford in the UK.  Each university has different requirements so visit www.ibo.org/recognition for detailed information on a particular university.
This after photo, also from RdlR, shows the modern addition to the school. The thoughtful renovation and addition to Reagan won the school a Greater Houston Preservation Alliance "Good Brick Award" for excellence in historic preservation in 2009.

This spring Hogg and Reagan will join together in coordinating an international festival promoting world cultures and global thinking.  Hopefully they will also be celebrating their new status as International Baccalaureate World Schools.  The PTOs of both schools are working diligently to improve how they are perceived by prospective families and neighborhood residents because each have made significant changes that they want everyone to know.  Principal Berger mentions, “Reagan is seeing less transfers out of our zone.  This is an indication that more families are choosing to stay in the neighborhood to complete their education.  It is no longer necessary to transfer out to get a good education.”  Each truly are “schools to watch.”
visit Cynthia's very informative Heights real estate blog at http://blogs.har.com/cynthiamullins

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