It’s Official! Proud to be IB!

I am writing today to share some very exciting news! On May 14th we learned that St. Matthias School has been accredited as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School and is authorized to offer the Middle Years Programme in our junior high (6th, 7th, & 8th grades).  This makes St. Matthias the first Catholic elementary school in the state of Illinois to offer an IB Programme and the seventh in the nation!  We surprised our students after Mass today with this great news and a celebration in the garden.

The authorization letter from the IB’s director general in Geneva, Switzerland came four months earlier than we had hoped. In mid-April a team of three professional educators from IB North America Division visited our school spending three days reviewing our resources and curriculum, observing our classes, and interviewing our teachers, administrators, students, parents and school board. This was the final step in a three year long process of extensive preparation, teacher training and implementation of the IB Middle Years Programme.

The Middle Years Programme has transformed our Junior High.  Our teachers are planning collaboratively across disciplines and challenging our students to think deeply and critically about real issues. Our students have become more self-aware, understanding themselves as learners, and have developed strong leadership and communication skills.  IB authorization is a monumental accomplishment which will ensure that our educational program continues to strengthen and fully prepares our students for personal, academic, and professional success.

At the heart of our success are seven teachers: Ms. DiMuzio, Mr. Stanley, Mrs. Michalak, Mrs. Koukari, Mrs. Downey, Sra. Morales, and Ms. Sagert.  These teachers have worked tirelessly writing IB units and assessments, critiquing one another’s work and drafting policies.  We’ve spent dozens of Saturday mornings together developing our curriculum and I’ve been beyond impressed with their consistently positive and collegial spirit.  These individuals are exceptionally intelligent and masterful teachers who are never satisfied and forever devoted to continued professional growth.  More than anything, they care deeply for their students, supporting their development, cultivating their confidence, and taking pride in their accomplishments.

We also could not have done this without the support of our administration – Fr. John, Mr. Dufault, and Mrs. Klich – and our School Board.  They have trusted and supported us through the entire process, helping us to creatively fund the program and offering us the resources and training we needed.  All of us have been fortunate to attend excellent trainings hosted by the IB Organization which have allowed us to drastically improve our instruction and connect with a network of other IB teachers and administrators.

We cannot forget to thank our students.  The sixth through eighth grade students have been our pioneers.  They have adjusted to new academic expectations and a new grading system.  They have learned to stop asking their teachers, “What do I need to know?” and instead ask, “Why does this matter?” They have learned to work together and they have learned about themselves.  We are so, so proud of their progress and hard work.

So, now that we are authorized, what’s next?  The IB teachers and I will continue to collaborate to develop and improve IB instruction in grades six through eight.  We also have the goal of becoming authorized to offer the Primary Years Programme (PYP) in grades preschool through five within the next three years.  Teachers in the lower grades will begin to attend IB trainings as early as this summer to prepare for this transition.

We welcome you to share in our pride and spread the good news about our IB authorization.

7th Grade IB Students – Dancing with Class!

“The arts enable us to have an experience we can have from no other source, and through such an experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.”

Eisner, E. 2002. The Arts and the Creation of Mind, from The Arts Subject Guide, International Bacclaureate Programme, 2008.

We are thrilled to announce that our school has been awarded a $4250 grant from the Westerman Foundation to support the performing arts through our IB Programme.  Last summer, we applied for a grant to fund a performing arts partnership with two local arts organizations to increase our students’ exposure and support artistic development in dance and musical performance. We recently received the news that this pilot program for our 7th grade class was fully funded by the Westerman Foundation to be implemented this winter and spring.

Beginning in January, our 7th grade students will participate in a multi­-cultural dance residency with Dancing with Class, Chicagoland’s leading provider of youth dance programs. A Dancing with Class instructor will lead an hour-­long class on Friday afternoons during which students will study various cultural dance styles, perform choreographed sequences reflecting each dance style, and finally work in groups to develop a dance “story” with a meaningful beginning, middle, and end. The program will culminate with the students’ performance in the annual Catholic School Dance Competition on March 13th at Gordon Tech High School alongside students from other schools.

Following spring break, students will begin a session led by professional musicians and voice instructors from Musical Chairs Studio, a neighborhood music education provider.  During this session the students will be arranging and choreographing a vocal performance, in the style of a glee club.  Students will participate in both large group and small ensembles singing multi-part songs. Students will perform high energy pieces from well known music selections. The session will culminate in a performance at Global Fest as well as potentially other venues in the area.

The IB Programme considers the arts an essential component of education and requires that students are given adequate exposure, time, and instruction in visual and performing arts.  This grant will allow our 7th grade students to double the instructional time they receive in the performing arts and develop new skills through the arts.  We hope that through these classes the students may discover talent and passion for art forms which they had previously not experienced.

I’ll post some pictures soon of our students dancing!

The IB Experience

Take a few minutes to hear directly from our students about their experience in the IB Middle Years Programme.  We are so proud of our articulate, thoughtful students and the challenging, engaging, and supportive instructional environment our teachers have established.

A New Year & New Space

Our IB students are off to a fantastic start to a new school year!  We welcomed our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders on the first day of school with an activity in the garden to remind them that they are IB students and how that can define the ways in which they learn and interact as well as the goals they set for themselves.

A year earlier we gathered in the same space to introduce our students to the IB Program and the Learner Profile, the characteristics all IB students are striving to embody.  This year, we were impressed with how their understanding of these traits has grown.  Groups of students defined what it means to be inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective, and then presented their ideas to their classmates.  Our students analyzed which Learner Profile trait is a personal strength and which trait they would like to focus on improving this year.  Students set goals for improvement in their chosen area.  Here are some examples of goals our students have set this year:

“This year I would like to focus on being a communicator.  I will ask more questions in class.  I will try to improve my Spanish to help me during class.  I will tell people my opinions and listen to others’ opinions.  I will ask my family to help me improve my Tagalog.”


“This year I would like to focus on being a thinker.  I will think before I speak and think about the consequences of my actions.  I will think about my responsibilities.  I will consider all possibilities.”

“This year I would like to focus on being an open-minded person.  I will listen to and consider other people’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions.  I will remember that their input can also be the solutions to problems.  I will put myself in other people’s shoes in these situations which may help ease me into becoming an open-minded person.”

“This year I would like to focus on being balanced.  I will limit my after school clubs and eat three healthy meals a day.  I will focus on school and take 30 minutes per day for studying.”

Our students have also settled into their new classroom spaces at the St. Matthias Upper Grade Center, just down the block at the Dank Haus German Cultural Center.  Our IB students have handled traveling to and from the campuses with responsibility and maturity.  Having a space of their own has elevated expectations and we have all been impressed with the productivity and focus of our students.  Here’s a peak inside their new classrooms!

Top Ten Accomplishments

As we wrap up our first year of candidacy for the IB Middle Years Programme, I’d like to share our Top Ten Accomplishments.

1.  A New Mission Statement -  Our Education Committee worked for many, many hours, collaborating with teachers and the School Board to update our mission statement to reflect the philosophy of St. Matthias and the IB Program.  Special thanks to committee members Paula Connolly, Sharon Waller, Michelle McSorely, Karyn McGovern, Michelle Lia and Meg Daday.  We are proud to share our mission.

St. Matthias School, a partnership of families and teachers, develops students who think critically, value diversity, and act with a compassionate worldview. Guided by our Catholic faith, we respect and respond to each child’s needs through interdisciplinary instruction that challenges our students to apply their learning beyond the classroom.

2.  Block Scheduling – The increase of class periods from 45 minutes to 90 minutes this school year was a great success.  Students had the time to delve into research and teachers were able to support the students’ application of the concepts.  Students also transitioned from completing daily homework assignments to learning how to manage their time and divvy their workload over multiple days to meet deadlines –a skill essential to success in high school and beyond!

3.  Raised Expectations in Specials Classes – Our Junior High students were analyzing videos of their performance and responding in an essay form in PE and participating in extended oral exams in Spanish.  Our 7th graders learned the basics of coding in Technology class with the help of parent Truls Henriksen and made a statement on social issues through their artwork. Well done to our teachers and kids!

4.  International Connections – Our teachers made purposeful connections between their instruction and the larger world including researching natural disasters and number systems around the world.

5.  Students’ Personal Growth – Students reflected upon the IB Learner Profile throughout the year and looked for opportunities to further develop as inquirers, thinkers, communicators, and risk-takers and to be principled, balanced, knowledgeable and compassionate at school and at home.

6.  Attended 11 Weekend IB Conferences – Our teachers and administrators participated in three-day IB conferences across the country this past school year with a few more scheduled for this summer. We’ve visited Detroit, Cleveland, Austin, Portland, St. Pete’s Beach, Atlanta, Lake Tahoe, Chapel Hill, New Orleans, and Phoenix!

7.  53 Hours of Unit Writing – That’s right, our teachers spent over 53 hours together, collaboratively designing and revising IB units.  And 15 of those hours were on Saturdays!

8.  Increase in Terra Nova Scores – Our 7th grade class increased by 3 percentage points in their total score on the Terra Nova as compared to last year and our 6th grade class increased by 7 percentage points!  Since the 8th grade class does not take the Terra Nova we don’t have data available to compare their performance to last school year.  We are proud of this rate of growth and confident that it will continue to increase with continued implementation of IB.

9.  Positive Consultancy Report – Our IB consultant came to our school in March for a two-day visit to provide feedback on our progress in implementing IB.  He was thoroughly impressed with the quality of instruction in our classrooms, the motivation of our teaching staff, and the articulate nature of our students.  He provided advice for further readiness for authorization which included securing more funding and resources to support the program.  Which leads me to #10…

10.  Identified Needs – We have identified specific books, equipment, and resources needed to support our IB Program including books in Spanish, additional resources for PE and Art, and global literature to support the content areas.  You can help!  Please visit our St. Matthias Amazon Wish List and make a purchase for our program!

Art and the Environment

It’s been so exciting to see IB MYP units in action in our classrooms.  I’d like to use this blog as an opportunity to allow to highlight our Junior High students’ experiences.

Our 8th graders have been working on a unit on installation art, grappling with the unit questions, “How does the environment affect art? And how does art affect the environment?”  Students were introduced to the work of installation artist Mark Jenkins and tasked with creating their own tape sculptures to install on our school campus.  Together, in teams of 5-6, students have chosen a space inside or outside of the building, and sketched their idea for a tape sculpture which will represent movement and elicit human reactions when encountered.


For the past few weeks the students have been mastering the art of sculpting using saran wrap, clear packing tape, and the human form to make castings.  The students eagerly explained their visions to me.  When I asked one student why she was stringing small fish and other sea life within the torso of their sculpture, she explained that her group had chosen to place their sculpture near the preschool rooms and were creating an aquarium illusion which would intrigue the small children.

Keep your eye out for these great pieces of art which will be installed over the course of the next few weeks.

Many thanks to Mrs. Gina Downey and our 8th graders for sharing their impressive work.


The Road to Authorization

I recently received a question about the application process for becoming an IB school and thought it would be helpful to write more about the timeline for authorization and where we are in the process.

St. Matthias is currently a candidate school for the Middle Years Programme.  During this phase we are preparing our curriculum for authorization and implementing the program on a trial basis.  It is a busy year, of critically analyzing and revising our Junior High program so that the teaching and learning reflects the IB philosophy, and structures and resources are in place to support the program.

Our current work includes:

  1. Unit Design – The teachers are creating IB units in every subject area in 6th – 8th grade.  There are many components to creating an IB unit but most essential is collaboration.  The teachers are working together to develop and improve one another’s units.  We meet weekly to evaluate units that are in process, providing one another feedback on the significant concept of the unit (What is it that we want students to remember 10 years from now as a result of this unit?), the learning experiences (Will the progression of learning experiences in the unit lead the students to where we want them to be?), the assessments (How are we using feedback and measuring student growth?  After examining student work, did the assessment measure what we intended to measure and how can it be improved?) This work happens during weekly meetings, but also in the evenings and on weekends.  In fact, we just finished a three-hour unit writing meeting – on a Saturday!  Aren’t our teachers amazing?!
  2. Mission Statement Revision – Our Education Committee, a subcommittee of our School Board, comprised of parents, teachers, and other community educators, is currently drafting a revised mission statement for our school, reflecting the IB philosophy.  This month we are soliciting feedback from teachers, board members, and community members with the goal of presenting a new mission statement to the School Board for approval in March.

Our work in preparing our IB Program will continue through next school year and include developing policies congruent with the program, creating a service learning program for our students, developing a grading and reporting system to correspond with the needs of IB, and continued curriculum development.

Important dates in the future:

October 2013:  Our written application for authorization will be submitted to the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO)

February – May 2014 – After our application is accepted, a team of officials from the IBO will conduct a three-day verification visit to ensure that we have taken all of the necessary steps to become an IB World School.

June – August 2014 – We will be notified if we are accepted as an authorized IB Middle Years Programme.

LUC is going global, too!

Yesterday, Sheila Klich and I spent the day meeting with the faculty from Loyola University of Chicago’s School of Education as well as a selection of other administrators from Chicago elementary schools.  Loyola has redesigned their teacher preparation program, literally moving their classrooms into ours.  While most undergraduate education programs have students taking a variety of foundational and methods classes, slowly introducing them to school settings with short field experiences, and finally a few months of student teaching during their senior year, Loyola will be taking the opposite approach.  Beginning fall of 2013, Loyola education students will start their freshman year on-site at elementary schools, with their professors along with them.  The purpose of their program is for these future teachers to develop knowledge and skills in a real school setting by engaging with experienced teachers.

Loyola has invited elementary schools to become partner sites, based upon the experiences they can offer the students.  St. Matthias has been invited because of our approach to inclusive and differentiated instruction and because we will offer the IB Middle Years Program.  The faculty at Loyola places so much value on the IB approach to teaching and learning that they will have all of their teacher candidates spend a few months in an IB school, co-planning and teaching an IB unit.  In fact, Loyola will be the first university in the United States whose School of Education graduates will have IB certification.

Having Loyola faculty and students on-site at our school will undoubtedly benefit our teachers and students.  Loyola and St. Matthias faculty will be working together to ensure that our curriculum and instruction reflects what current educational research has proven to be best practice.  Loyola faculty will provide our teachers with training, guidance and advice.  Additionally, what all teachers know to be true is that, “to teach is to learn twice.”  The opportunity for our teachers to mentor the undergraduates will strengthen their own practice through reflection – true to the spirit of IB!  Lastly, having an additional committed and energetic student teacher, or two, in many of our classrooms will allow our students to receive more individual attention and small group learning opportunities.

I am inspired by the vision of Loyola to re-imagine teacher education in an effort to develop teachers who will persevere and succeed in our city’s schools. We are honored and excited to work together!

Values 4 Life

If you’ve been a part of St. Matthias for a few years, you remember our tagline – values4life.  Though we’ve since changed our website address, helping our students to develop values that will support their happiness and success in life remains central to our mission.  The IB Program shares the focus of the development of whole person, making this program a natural fit in our school community.

So think about your child/ren 10 years down the road…what type of person would you like them to be?  What values and skills do you think are important for success and happiness in their personal and professional lives?  A few weeks ago, when I met with some St. Matthias parents to talk about the IB Program, we opened with this question.  Parents shared some of the following ideas:  They wanted their children to make an impact on the world….to understand what their talents and skills are and to use them for good.  They wanted their children to be balanced and understand how to manage multiple responsibilities and demands while also making time for themselves and their families.  They wanted their children to be curious and creative, to be able to work with others in groups, and to have a strong foundation in math, science, and technology.  And they wanted their children to be compassionate and caring.

We are your partners in modeling and teaching these values to your children, and the IB Program can help us to do this.  We have been working with our students on developing the 10 attributes of the IB Learner Profile and we’ll keep you updated on the progress.

IB Learners strive to be: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective.

Why IB?

St. Matthias has decided to adopt the IB MYP (International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme) in grades 6 – 8 and is just setting off on the process of redesigning our instruction, systems, structures, language, and policies to align with this ambitious program.  I attended my first IB training just nine months ago, and what I have learned about this program since has led me to more questioning and critical analysis of the educational experience than ever before in my career.

What the teachers and I have realized quickly about this program, is that it is more about the process of becoming IB, than being IB.  We are stretching our professional abilities, our assumptions, our traditions, in an effort to create an educational experience which truly responds to the students in front of us – respectful of the people they are and preparing them for who they will need to be.  IB is about this process – of understanding how we learn and who we are.  This blog is a vehicle for me to document and deepen my own learning through this experience.  I hope you will check in frequently and that we can learn together.

Hungry for some food for thought?  Check out this animate, “Changing Education Paradigms” by Sir Ken Robinson.  Our IB consultant, Doug Parker, visited from Ontario today to lead a workshop on implementing IB MYP.  This video started our session in a thought-provoking way.  I believe IB can be a lever to shift the paradigm.  What do you think?