Seattle Public Schools

Inclusivity in the IB Program

Summary: The IB program is a series of courses developed for juniors and seniors that incorporate the best elements of college prep from numerous countries.

International Baccalaureate Program Making Strides in Inclusivity

On an early Monday morning, students at Chief Sealth International High School make their way to class – well before the official 8:45 a.m. start time. It’s 0 Period – a class taken before school – and students in the Chief Sealth’s International Baccalaureate (IB) Music class are in their seats ready to work. There are no instruments or singing; the teacher plays a video of a symphony as the students quickly take notes. Because in IB, it is all about understanding the process, not producing a product.

The IB program is a series of courses developed for juniors and seniors that incorporate the best elements of college prep from numerous countries. Students learn how to critically analyze, thoughtfully question, and carefully reach conclusions about cultures, languages, literature, mathematics, and the world.

As part of the district’s strategic plan, SPS is working to increase its efforts to expand access to advanced coursework for students of color who are furthest away from educational justice. Part of this work involves significantly expanding student access to IB in schools that have adopted this program. Ultimately, our mission is to help all students – especially our African American males – leave SPS prepared for college, a career, and community participation. Access to advanced coursework is one key step in that effort.

For students who shy away from advanced coursework, entering a program as rigorous as IB may sound daunting. But the IB coordinators at Chief Sealth International, Rainier Beach and Ingraham high schools have all developed strategies to not only attract students to the program, but also keep them coming back. The structure is opening doors to advanced coursework for students who would otherwise find them closed.

IB at Chief Sealth International High School

Allison Hays is in her 4th year as IB coordinator for Chief Sealth International. The fact that the school is an international high school is a win for a program designed around global thinking.

“[IB] encourages multilingualism, which plays well with our diverse community of students,” Hays said. “It also works well with our Spanish immersion program. It provides a lot of options for getting an international education.”

While COVID-19 has altered the future for a generation of students, Hays said the pandemic led to a boost in IB enrollment.

“Our numbers have been really high, and I have a lot more students who have chosen to participate in the program,” she said. “I think more students just want the stability and regularity of being at their community school and choosing to do the IB program over something like Running Start.”

Students have the option to choose from two pathways: IB Diploma or IB Career-Related program. Chief Sealth has 23 seniors and 60 juniors enrolled in IB Diploma.

A student works on a paper in a classroom

IB at Rainier Beach High School

Rainier Beach IB Coordinator Steven Miller knows the community well. He has spent 17 years teaching in the south end; the last six at Rainier Beach High School. The school created an additional pathway, the Medallion Program, for Rainier Beach students who want academic rigor but not the commitment to the full Diploma Program. The school also created a way for all students to take IB classes, regardless of their participation in the Diploma Program.

Currently, Rainier Beach students are required to take IB History and IB Language and Literature as a core class. Since Miller took over as coordinator, all students take IB for their sciences and next year will be moving into IB for all in math, making their four core subjects all IB courses. Even though the program was already established when he joined the staff, Miller has seen the affect the IB program has had on the school, especially for students of color.

“In 2010, Beach was down to like 300 students,” he said. “Without the same sort of rigorous offerings here, people were leaving and going to different schools, and so in 2011 they started the IB program.”

Miller said adding IB to the school gave students a competitive advantage for getting into different careers and college opportunities. For a school like Rainier Beach where the international population is high and strong community ties is central to their beliefs, IB was the best option.”

“It just fit better,” he said. “We might have 10 or 11 different languages spoken at home in one [class]room. IB’s mission and vision is around creating intercultural understanding.”

IB at Ingraham High school

In his 20th year at Ingraham High School, Guy Thomas had a front-row seat to witness the evolution of the IB program – from both a teacher and a parent perspective. He had two daughters go through the program.

“It wasn’t exactly easy for them at times; they struggled at times,” he said. “But when they got to college … There were no worries on my part. They were so well prepared, and they did really well. I was really pleased with that aspect as a parent and as the coordinator.”

Hays is also a believer in what the IB program has to offer and can see firsthand the benefits for students.

“It’s really focused on critical thinking and academic and personal skills. It’s teaching students how to learn. So, when they go on to college and career, they are set up better for success because they’ve been given this opportunity to not just kind of memorize a bunch of content, but to really dive into what … critical thinking looks like.”

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