Grand Canyon gains PYP approval

Authorization visit for Middle Years set for Monday, Tuesday

Grand Canyon School has been authorized as a Primary Years Programme World School by the International Baccalaureate Organization, joining more than 100 PYP-approved schools nationwide and becoming the first in Arizona.

Though the determination follows a two-day authorization visit in October, Principal Bob Kelso said it actually represents three years of work on the part of teachers and administration and includes a parallel process at the middle and lower high school level for the Middle Years Programme. The authorization visit is scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday and a determination is expected this summer.

Grand Canyon Superintendent Sheila Breen had the original vision for IB here.

"The vision came when I first came to the district and saw that we needed to work on many issues at the same time," she said.

Those issues included school climate, the need for a written curriculum aligned with state standards, assessment and accountability.

"IB provides a framework for doing all of these things and includes an international focus that acknowledges the nature of where we live and the people who visit Grand Canyon," she said

"It's her vision that we're here now. She was clearly the driving force behind adopting IB programming," Kelso said.

The first step toward implementation was in March of 2004 when virtually the entire teaching staff attended a two-day introduction to IB in Salt Lake City. Afterward, they expressed a willingness to further explore PYP for grades K-five and MYP for grades six-12. However, they spoke against the Diploma Programme, offered by many U.S. schools as an advanced track for honor students, as the sole instructional track for juniors and seniors.

"For the immediate future, I don't see the Diploma Programme happening here any time soon. It's not for every student," Kelso said. "PYP and MYP can apply to everybody. They aren't designed as a school within a school."

The focus of PYP and MYP is in how the material is taught. At both levels, IB presents structures for best educational practices that bring context to all learning with an emphasis on developing "internationally-minded, independent learners."

In PYP, learning is organized around six themes ­ who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves and sharing the planet.

In MYP, students explore five areas of interaction ­ approaches to learning, community and service, environment, homo faber (the creativity of man) and health and social education.

Both programs support the same learner profile listing characteristics that students should strive for ­ inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded and caring ­ illustrated throughout the elementary and middle schools as a hiker.

Both programs also rely on visual reminders like the hiker to promote the IB culture and keep students and teachers focused on these concepts.

"At the heart of it, the programs are reaching for the same goal, and that's to build these really well-rounded students that have these positive character traits that include being good learners and taking responsibility for their own learning," said PYP Coordinator Deb Goepfrich. "All the things you see on our little hiker are consistent throughout PYP and MYP."

Over the past three years every teacher has attended at least a basic level of IB training. Teachers were also compensated with incentive pay for Friday and Saturday work sessions if they met specific goals for curriculum development. The district also has a PYP instructor on staff ­ elementary teacher Kathlin Goodrich who was sent to training for that purpose.

Teachers have also visited PYP schools, with outings to sites in Indio, Calif., and Las Vegas helping them to move the program forward.

"We made two site visits. It gave us a real feel of what it actually looks like, to be a PYP school," Kelso said. "One of the toughest things for our teachers was to see what it would all look like in a real school. It was helpful to see how these schools had organized themselves."

One of the selling points of IB was that it would provide a framework for curriculum alignment ­ something the district had to address whether they adopted the program or not. With that process came a new level of communication among teachers.

"Easily the biggest impact is the collaboration that the teachers have had, working together," Kelso said. "We have the shared vocabulary of the learner profile and the IB attitudes. It's been huge for the time teachers spend talking and working together."

The final part of bringing the program together this year was the hiring of Goepfrich, who started in August as PYP coordinator. Her first major task was readying grades K-five for the site visit.

"We really made a lot of strides from August until our site visit in October," Kelso said. "The visitors were very impressed with the progress we'd made since we submitted Application B, which was submitted in June of 06. They remarked how much better things looked since that point."

Three outcomes were possible after the October visit ­ PYP authorization, the promise of authorization if certain corrections were made and refusal.

Goepfrich said that while they had prepared themselves for the middle option, they were not surprised to hear they had been approved on their first try.

"I've seen the teachers do a lot of hard work here and I've seen them be really committed to the program," she said. "We were coming at it, IB has a lot of big ideas and qualifications they want us to meet. A lot of us thought, when they came in October, we were definitely scrambling. But at the same time it doesn't surprise me because teacher have put so much work into it."

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