The month of March brought official news that Mount Daniel and Thomas Jefferson Elementary have been authorized to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) to all students in our school community. After several years of striving to attain this goal, we can all take pride in the many commendations reported by authorization teams that visited each school during the past December.
Incorporating the PYP into our own solid FCCPS foundation, it’s as if staff members at each school have completed a construction project that meets the highest standards of inspection. And while we feel a sense of accomplishment at having reached this milestone, we recognize our responsibilities as educators and are not about to sit back and relax. Being authorized as PYP schools means that staff members at Mount Daniel and TJ are committed to continuous improvement. What does this mean for parents and children?
Since the ten traits of the IB learner profile represent the essence of the PYP, you will continue to see signs of the learner profile being integrated into our school cultures. While there are no guarantees for perfect behavior, the traits promoted by the learner profile offer a common language of ideals for our community of learners. Characters in literature as well as extraordinary citizens are explored through these attributes. In class meetings and discussions, morning announcements and on the playground, reminders of what it means to be caring or open-minded can be heard. Students assess themselves on being inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective. Look for these assessments to be sent home at the end of each semester, giving you an opportunity to further reflect as a family. As your children advance to Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School and George Mason High School, growth in demonstrating the attributes of the learner profile will remain a constant.
The inquiry approach to teaching and learning continues to be an emphasis. As an integral part of the PYP, expressing a sense of wonder and curiosity is modeled and nurtured in our children. The inquiry process, so rich in depth and meaning, will be further developed so that students keep learning how to ask “big” questions. This best teaching practice for engaging your children to become lifelong learners is fostered in PYP planning sessions and celebrated whenever inquiry is sparked and kindled.
There are signs of continuous improvement in the written, taught and assessed curriculum as well. The knowledge that we teach at Mount Daniel and TJ is based on the Virginia Standards of Learning. Our approach and practices are guided by what research tells us about how children learn best. In regularly scheduled PYP collaboration sessions, teachers reflect on student learning experiences that proved successful while analyzing and improving those that fell short. Through this process of refinement, the six units of inquiry at each grade level are in a constant state of renewal. Be sure to check out the units that make up each school’s Program of Inquiry, displayed in the corridors of TJ and Mount Daniel.
Student portfolios are maintained and available for viewing as part of the PYP. When student work is added after each unit, teachers and students are encouraged to take a moment to reflect on both student strengths and areas that would benefit from additional attention. These records follow students when they transition from Mount Daniel to TJ, enabling them to feel responsible for their learning and view their own improvement throughout the year and across grade levels.
Student initiated action as a result of learning is yet another indication that Mount Daniel and TJ have become PYP schools. Creating and illustrating a book about the learner profile, composing a song and writing a play about dolphins, writing letters to the School Board about the coming construction project at TJ and raising awareness about recycling are just a few examples of actions taken by children as a result of their explorations in the classroom. In the years to come, look for even more student initiated action as children move through the program from Pre-K to fifth grade.
Striving towards common ideals, guiding our children to ask important questions, reflecting on and improving the curriculum, collecting evidence of achievement over time and promoting student initiated action as a result of learning are examples of how Mount Daniel and TJ met the necessary standards in becoming authorized to offer the Primary Years Programme. For parents and children, this means that the best is yet to come as we move forward and continuously look for ways to improve as a community of learners!