El Segundo Middle School Lands Official
International Baccalaureate Programme Certification
One of only three IB middle schools in Los Angeles County, only IB school in South Bay
El Segundo, CA – March 3, 2014 – Before the morning school bell rings at 8:06 a.m., El Segundo Middle School campus looks like most other middle schools – students huddle in groups, backpacks slung over shoulders amid the bustle of campus. But once the bell rings, what students experience inside the classroom is quite a different matter. That’s because ESMS recently joined an elite network of institutions attaining International Baccalaureate World School status due to ESMS’s implementation of the Middle Years Programme. The prestigious International Baccalaureate program, initially developed to provide the highest quality high school education for children of diplomats serving abroad, now spans grades K - 12 with a reach across 147 countries.
El Segundo Middle School’s nearly 800 students now join just two other public middle schools in Los Angeles County achieving this status, with ESMS the only such school in the South Bay. A process nearly five years in the making, ESMS received notification of their official authorization early this month, with commendations for their commitment to the IB program’s principles.
Among these principles is a focus on “whole child development” which requires students to hone their talents in a range of studies each year of the program. The school’s IB Coordinator, Mrs. Kim Stern, describes the benefits such a program offers. “Typically, students have to sacrifice some opportunity cost in their electives. They may have to choose Band over Spanish, or they may not receive any Arts or Foreign Language at all in middle school. However, these courses are really integral for whole brain development and to raise well-balanced students,” she offers.
The transformation to an International Baccalaureate curriculum posed significant challenges, including hiring additional foreign language and arts teachers – this in a climate where these programs are traditionally the first to be cut. In addition, over the past five years teachers focused the core of their efforts and professional development time restructuring their curriculum and collaboratively planning for student success. Stern describes the process. “All grade level teachers work together to develop common ‘authentic’ assessments, which means the teachers pose challenges students could face in the real world. Teachers work together developing 5 to 8 units of study focusing on concepts such as ‘change’ or ‘relationships’ as tools to create and foster deeper understanding.” This process, Stern notes, has helped teachers build creativity and innovation into their unit design and challenges students to think deeply not just about the content, but about its application in the world as well. A focus on examining multiple perspectives with an international bent is evident across each of the school’s eight subject areas.
8th grader Sequoia Sheriff expresses enthusiasm for the program. “It’s been really great,” she beams, “we can show our learning in diverse ways and we’re not just memorizing facts and regurgitating them on tests.” Sheriff, however, has the benefit of being one of a handful of ESMS students already familiar with IB, having matriculated from an IB Primary Years Programme. Other students faced a period of adjustment adapting to the new paradigm. 8th grade science teacher Megan DeLong explains, “Some students just take off when you allow them creativity and open-ended tasks. But others, and sometimes it’s the students who have always done well on traditional assessments, resist when asked to go as deep as possible and when the parameters are somewhat undefined.” DeLong firmly believes, however, IB lesson units better represent the challenges students will face in college, careers, and their personal lives as well.
The change process required a tremendous amount of dedication from the school’s staff in rewriting curriculum to meet program needs. Dr. Jack Plotkin, ESMS’s Principal, expressed his gratitude to the staff and community, but also admitted change has not been easy. “Any time you dig deep, question your program, and challenge traditional beliefs, you’re going to get some push back,” he notes. “But during this process, we’ve grown as a staff, learning together, while aspiring to provide the very best for our kids. Given the research, the extensive validation studies, and the potential of this staff, I am confident this program does just that for El Segundo students.”
Plotkin admitted the impetus to change can be difficult in already high-achieving schools. “At a 900 API it’s easy to sit back on cruise control. But the education we provide today, whether here, or South LA or anywhere, has to provide opportunities for innovation and creativity, to challenge our students to be successful in today’s world, and to provide relevance so their education is meaningful and they feel they can make a difference.”
The implementation of the program has caught the attention of local communities, as well as attracted some international attention. Currently, the school draws nearly 20% of its students from surrounding communities. Barry Thompson, a Westchester resident and parent of a current 7th grader, explains why he opted for his two sons to attend ESMS: “It’s just an excellent program overall. When you have an internationally recognized model and you put it in a wonderful community like El Segundo, you get the best of both worlds.” Thompson isn’t the only to feel that way. Last year, a contingent from the Malaysian Department of Education visited ESMS as a model of a school transforming its structure to the Middle Years Programme. The Malaysian government is currently undertaking a major challenge of implementing the International Baccalaureate Programme in schools across their country.
“We appreciate the recognition,” Plotkin noted. “It’s really a testament to the efforts of our staff and the support of our community. I’m really proud of what we’ve done here and look forward to seeing where this program will continue to take us.”