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The Middle Years Programme identity

Taylor Eisenman, of the Record staff

Editor’s Note: As part of the Park Record’s continuing coverage of IB, this article is the first installment of a two-part series about MYP at Ecker Hill and Treasure Mountain middle schools.

It started with an underlying need for change.

About seven years ago, honors or advanced placement programs only existed in Park City’s elementary and high schools. "Our middle school was caught for a long time without an identity," says Jamie Duis, lead International Baccaalaurette coordinator for Treasure Mountain and Ecker Hill international middle schools.

In order to address the concern about educational rigor at the middle-school level, a committee was formed by the school district to examine IBO’s Middle Years Programme (MYP), as well as other honors programs, Bob O’Connor, Treasure Mountain principal, said.

After two years of studying various programs, Treasure Mountain began an MYP pilot. "MYP was getting a lot of recognition," Duis said, "that’s one of the reasons why we adopted it as our model."

There are 585 MYP programs in the world today. Of those, 345 are located in North America and the Caribbean. And the number of MYP programs keeps increasing. In October 2002, there were 283 MYP programs worldwide, and by October 2007, that number had worldwide jumped by 106.71 percent.

A challenging transition

Treasure Mountain’s MYP pilot consisted of about 60 students in a school-within-a-school program. "The idea was to make people aware of IB," Duis said.

Iris Durfee, eighth-grade English teacher at Treasure Mountain, was a part of the original IB committee. "We visited a school in Pennsylvania that had a school-within-a-school program," Durfee said. "I didn’t like it. School-within-a-school ends up separating privileged kids from less privileged kids."

While Durfee didn’t want to have anything to do with the pilot, she said she is now proud to be a part of a school-wide MYP program. "I was one of the first teachers trained," she said. "At first, people came into the program kicking and screaming, but now I think we’re doing OK."

"When we wanted to implement it for the whole school, it was like starting over," Duis said. This new school-wide approach expanded MYP from being taught in three subjects to being taught in all eight.

"The transition from being a school-within-a-school program to a whole-school IB program was a very difficult process," O’Connor said. "It was ingrained in people that IB was a school-within-a-school program."

One requirement for being a MYP-certified school is that each year at least eight teachers receive training. O’Connor said that about 60 to 70 percent of Treasure Mountain’s teachers have received at least level-one training for MYP.

"There was a lot of concern and anxiety among the teachers at first, especially because they had to have more training" said O’Connor. "But now I believe the staff has embraced the process."

Duis said that while feelings about IB with teachers seem to run the spectrum, she does agreed with O’Connor that more and more teachers are coming onboard with the program. "It’s nice because all the teachers can feel like they have a common mission," she said.

Integrating IB

For English teacher, Danielle Clarke, IB allows her more freedom to incorporate the arts into her curriculum. "It also forces me to think with an international perspective," she said.

One of the challenges that Clarke and Durfee tackled together was to bring an international perspective into last year’s civil war unit. "Now with IB, we had to figure out a way to make it more global," Durfee said.

"We decided to learn about international civil wars and refugees who leave their countries because of civil wars and come to the U.S. with nothing," she said. Students each chose a civil war novel to read, in order to compare and contrast it to the U.S Civil War.

Community service was also incorporated into the unit. Students either worked for an hour to raise money or spent an hour collecting money. From there, they could buy an item to donate to the International Rescue Committee or donate proceeds to HOPE Alliance.

The kids also visited an apartment complex where many Somalian refugees lived. Their goal was to try and make the place feel more like home by planting a vegetable garden and bring cooking appliances and food items the Somalians were used to having in their homeland.

This year, the teachers hope to expand the civil war unit even more by taking eighth-graders to a film about civil wars in Salt Lake City.

"Their worlds are so small when they’re 14," said Durfee. "But through studying current events and doing projects like these, we are trying to make the kids more globally aware, and I think the kids are starting to get it."

"IB is not a set curriculum, and it’s more that just hanging up flags from around the world it goes much deeper than that," Clarke said. "We focus on being able to discuss critically and connect ideas with real issues and across curriculum."

"I used to be bothered," Durfee said, "because I felt like the kids couldn’t really see a difference from when we weren’t an MYP school, but now I think it’s good because it means we’re making subtle changes in how we, as teachers, look at ideas."

The civil war unit did impact to at least one student. After the unit was complete, Durfee received an e-mail from a parent who wanted to say thank you because for the first time she thought her son was changed in how he saw the world.

"For a parent to say that," Durfee said. "You know IB is not just a title or just about prestige."

An IBO expert

While teachers like Durfee and Clarke were just recently introduced to MYP, sixth-grade science teacher at Ecker Hill, Elizabeth Hoburg, has spent her entire teaching career working with IBO programs.

Hoburg was first introduced to IBO in Switzerland, where she lived for eight years. When Hoburg’s son entered the first grade, she began working as a science teacher in a Primary Years Program-certified school. PYP is an IB program for grades kindergarten through sixth. Hoburg said she loved PYP because it allowed all children to reach their full potential.

When Hoburg and her family decided to move back to the U.S., one of the reasons they chose Park City was because Ecker Hill and Treasure Mountain were working toward becoming MYP certified.

"PYP and MYP weren’t officially connected until a few years ago," she said. "But, PYP children are evaluated according to the same learners skills as MYP." Which, according to Hoburg, are the same set of skills that the state of Utah’s curriculum works toward as goals.

"Middle-year children have very specific needs, and MYP is meant to address those needs," she said. "The philosophy is based on the developmental stage children are in."

"At this age, kids are making a transition from concrete to abstract thinking," she said. "and MYP helps them to develop that abstract thinking."

A major component to MYP is helping kids figure out how they learn, said Hoburg. How she conducted her solar system unit is a clear example. Students were given three sets of data on the sizes of planets. They got to choose which set worked best for them.

They also learned the distances between planets by going outside and taking a certain number of steps away from their "sun" for each planet 1,180 steps later, they were where Pluto should be. "The kids really get it then because they can barely see the sun," she said. "You can tell students that, but by actually doing it, you get that ‘ahh haa’ from them."

The children were also put into the role of teacher, and were told by Hoburg to use their creativity to create a product that teaches their classmates about a topic. "Their projects reflected their personalities, and how they like to learn," she said.

Another aspect of MYP is making connections across subjects. As part of this, Hoburg works with the language arts teacher to go over the written portion of students’ science tests to see how they answered and where they can improve.

"That’s the reflection piece of it. Teaching students how to reflect on their less successful areas." Hoburg said. "Community service is such a small part of it. It’s what you do on a daily basis to help children develop the learner characteristics."

In Saturday’s edition, IB detractors tell their side of the story, administrators discuss where future funds will come from, and the truth about student certificates is revealed.


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