Columbine, Dakota Ridge launch IB programs

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Critical thinking, applied knowledge at heart of approach

By Emile Hallez

Students at Dakota Ridge and Columbine high schools may soon be designing their own scientific experiments and performing community-service projects for college credit.


International Baccalaureate programs will be offered for the first time later this year at both schools, which recently gained approval after a rigorous three-year application process.

IB courses, which emphasize applied knowledge and critical thinking in a multitude of disciplines, are an alternative to traditional and advanced-placement classes.

Students, typically juniors and seniors, can earn about a year’s worth of college credit by opting into the program, taking IB classes in lieu of a normal course load.

“It gears kids very much toward college,” said Dakota Ridge IB coordinator and English teacher Beth Ward. “It’s a different type of thinking. … (Normally) students are given a set of skills and then they’re asked to do something with that — you might guide them through an experiment. Instead, you say to an IB kid, ‘You have all this information about enzymes, so what will you do with it? You need to create your own lab.’ ”

The IB program differs from advanced-placement courses by providing an immersive academic experience, one in which students study an array of subjects, Ward said.

“It’s that idea of a really well-rounded student,” she said. “Unlike AP, where you get to choose your focus, with IB you take every class at a higher level.”

The diploma program requires students to complete an “extended essay” of in-depth research, take a philosophical “theory of knowledge” course, and engage in “creativity, action, service” projects.

“In terms of preparing students beyond academics, it does a nice job with the thinking and the service piece,” Ward said. “(It’s like) private education in a public school.”

The “creativity, action, service” component, for example, might involve a single project that incorporates all three aspects, such as a student-organized benefit race. However, students can also design separate tasks that address the individual elements.

Historically, IB programs have had a daunting stigma, said Michelle DiManna, IB coordinator and instructional coach at Columbine, who emphasized that the school’s program is not necessarily reserved for savants.

“IB is no longer for the top 5 percent of the students. They want any student who wants to be in IB. … They don’t have to excel in every single course,” DiManna said. “I hear a lot of students say that if you’re in IB, then you don’t have a life. … That’s not true.”

But that’s not to say the program isn’t selective. IB applicants should be prepared for a demanding academic experience, Ward said, explaining that Dakota Ridge evaluates candidates subjectively. The most important factor, she noted, is dedication.

“I believe any student who wants to do this program can do this program,” she said. “I think it comes down to desire.

“They believe in self-selection,” she added of the IB program, noting that prospective students are asked to prepare by taking honors and advanced-placement courses during their freshman and sophomore years. “I really feel it’s important to let kids know this is really what you’re getting into.”

And just like their peers taking traditional high school courses, IB students can still fit into their schedules extracurricular activities such as music, athletics or student government.

In fact, the daily schedule for IB students is identical to that of the traditional program, Ward said.

At Columbine, students do not need to be in the comprehensive IB-diploma program to take IB courses, DiManna said. Offering the classes individually allows the school to provide extra options without making competition for its existing advance-placement course offerings.

Columbine currently has 17 students, who will be juniors in the fall, enrolled in the program, DiManna said, although the school has room for many more.

Because the program will be in its first year, parents may be hesitant to enroll their children, she explained, noting that may change once the program is under way.

“I think there’s a fear out there, (because) we’re not an established program,” she said. “A lot of parents would rather go in that direction than try something new.”

Three other Jeffco schools — Alameda, Standley Lake and Lakewood high schools — have existing IB programs.

In the initial year, 14 teachers at Columbine and 18 at Dakota Ridge will participate in the IB program in various capacities.

As part of the schools’ application process, teachers were individually trained in IB curricula and had to formulate syllabuses.

The IB program, which was founded in Switzerland in 1968, was established as a means to provide students with an internationally standardized education.

The diploma requires 24 credits and six subject tests, three of which for high-level courses and three for standard level.

Aside from added academic rigor, students benefit from the IB program through additional cultural experiences, DiManna said.

“Too often our students are just not exposed to what’s going on throughout the world,” she said, comparing the educational experiences of European students, for whom visiting neighboring counties may require only a short drive. “In Colorado, in a day trip, you go to Nebraska. The culture isn’t different. The language isn’t different.”

In an increasingly competitive global job market, such experiences could prove valuable in the real world, she said.

“That’s the future. … Students will be competing for jobs with people throughout the world,” she said. “The IB program is a whole program. It’s for a well-rounded student.”


Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.