Falls Church City Public Schools have become one of only nine school divisions in the United States that offer International Baccalaureate (IB) learning all the way from preschool through high school graduation.
Falls Church’s Public School System (FCCPS) was one of the first to begin utilizing the IB Programme after it was originally founded in 1968 in Switzerland to provide education through standardized courses and assessments to students with families who were international workers all over the world with their Diploma Programme.
The FCCPS originally started with the Diploma Programme (DP) for 11th and 12th graders, then went on to add the Middle Years Programme (MYP) for 6th—10th graders in 2016 and the Primary Years Programme for preschoolers through 5th graders a few years before MYP.
FCCPS was the first school system in Virginia to add IB to the curriculum and now is one of only a few school divisions in the U.S. to offer the curriculum from preschool through 12th grade.
One thing that makes IB unique is the fact that it is offered to all students, regardless of where they are academically. Other programs like AP classes involve expensive exams and are only offered to certain students.
“The IB program is international, so the subjects, the requirements, the objectives that students learn are all the same whether you’re in Falls Church or overseas,” said Rory Dippold, Acting IB MYP Coordinator. “In Falls Church we do have a lot of international students so we’ve had a lot of transfers come from schools overseas who have integrated into MYP or DP.”
The IB learner profile consists of creating students who are inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective. These skill sets are valuable to students as they progress through school and into the “real world” after graduating regardless of if they choose to enter the workforce, go to college, go to trade school or join the military.
Students showcase these traits and learning skills in a variety of different projects that take place in 5th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades, from community projects to research papers.
While online learning isn’t ideal for most, educators felt confident that they and their students were more prepared than most for the transition due to the skills being taught through IB.
“I do think that us having the continuum of the IB practices and principles that we focus on really helped us in a virtual setting because a lot of those common themes that we would be trying to teach our students came through consistently whether we’re online or in person,” said Julie Macrina, Director of PK—12 Curriculum and Instruction.
“Our classes don’t involve just sitting and getting lectured,” added Dan Coast, IB Coordinator. “Inquiry-based learning takes over and often that happens in small, collaborative groups. With distance learning we were still able to have that approach with breakout rooms on our online platforms.”
The program has now also been extended all the way down to the Pre-K level, with the school working on receiving its authorization and training teachers this year.
The most recent addition was the MYP program in 2016. “I think MYP has brought a lot of consistency across the board— using the same rubrics, using the same kind of language which has really strengthened our programs at the secondary schools,” said Dippold. “I think it’s really helped support the DP program as well— building consistency and having strong assessment practices.”
The newly rebuilt Meridian High School was also constructed with IB in mind. During the reauthorization process, the school must showcase its collaborative learning spaces, which the old building lacked outside of the library and cafeteria when lunch wasn’t being served.
The new school includes a vivarium with fish and plants, outdoor study spaces, the “learning stairs” and more.
Additionally, new sustainability aspects were added to the building which the school hopes can be a part of the Career-related Programme (CP) aspect of IB, which they hope to add to their curriculum in the near future.
Once students reach 11th grade, they have the option to pursue the IB Diploma Programme. IB Diploma candidates find out in July after they have graduated whether or not they have received the diploma.
After their first semester of college, Coast invites the students back to receive their diplomas and have a panel discussing the program.
“In the panel discussion, we discuss why they took IB and how it prepared them for college,” says Coast. “I also have a question I ask every year, which is to rank your most academically stressful time of your life from the junior year of the IB diploma, senior year of the IB diploma and first semester of college. 99 percent of our students say the exact same thing— that the IB DP prepared them for the rigors of that first semester of college and they feel extremely well prepared compared to many of their colleagues in a freshman classroom who did not attend an IB school. That’s always been my testimonial at the strength of this program.”
Following the positive feedback over many years, leadership in the schools and city as a whole took note. FCCPS is now well into its mission to provide “IB for all” and if the preschools are authorized this year, that mission will be on its way to being accomplished.