Students in all grades at St. Matthias School will have the benefit of certified International Baccalaureate programs starting next year.
The school, located at 4910 N. Claremont Ave., announced on May 13, two months into doing school-from-home, that its application for the certification had been approved for the Primary Years Programme, which covers preschool to fifth grade. It joins the middle school program, which was first certified in 2014 and was recertified last year.
It is the first Catholic elementary school in Illinois to offer IB education at all grades.
The move has been applauded by parents, including Craig Amick, a member of the school board who has a fourth grader and a graduate who is now in high school.
“To me, IB has proven to be a style of learning or a methodology that just works for my kids,” Amick said. “They seem to be more mature. They seem to be able to solve problems on their own, and they’re really well adjusted. That’s not just my kids — it’s their classmates, too.”
The IB program was one reason the Amick family chose St. Matthias when they moved to Chicago from out of state when his daughter, Madeleine, was going into fifth grade.
She had one year of “regular school” before starting the IB Middle Years Programme, but even during that year, teachers were preparing students to make the switch, Amick said.
The International Baccalaureate framework emphasizes inquiry-based education, using multidisciplinary units and projects to teach concepts.
“It’s not a curriculum,” said Katie Carden, St. Matthias’ principal. “It’s a framework for education.”
The IB Primary Years Programme organizes content into six themes that weave through the primary years grades. Those themes are: 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.
Teachers developed the curriculum over the past several years.
“They have to take the standards from the Office of Catholic Schools and the state of Illinois and the Common Core and weave these into the units of inquiry,” Carden said. “Those major six themes get really fed into everything we do.”
St. Matthias became a candidate school for the Primary Years Programme in 2018, and its application was completed a year ago. Teachers, however, have been incorporating IB-style teaching into all grades for several years.
Amick said his son, Ryne, now a fourth grader, has benefited greatly.
“Because you’re able to incorporate some of the IB traits into just general learning, you’re able to do a lot of project-based and group-based work that, at least in my son’s case, got him up to speed much faster,” Amick said. “To me, the inquiry-based part of it really fits well for the young kids. They like to see and touch and feel and such.”
Nicole Pacholski, St. Matthias’ assistant principal and IB coordinator for the Primary Years Programme, said the teachers spent time deconstructing the curriculum to figure out what skills and concepts were actually taught when.
“We looked at what is everybody supposed to teach and what is everybody actually teaching,” Pacholski said. “We had to really realign the curriculum.”
Then they worked on coming up with project-based units that would incorporate several curriculum areas and allow students’ curiosity to help drive their learning.
“It’s about giving them ways to ask and research and look for answers,” Pacholski said.
That means students have to be able to come up with their own questions that they want to answer, but teachers have to be able to direct those questions to apply to the units they are working on and the concepts they are supposed to be learning.
“You have to be able to wrangle 20 kids and what they want to learn,” Pacholski said.
It hasn’t been easy to transition to e-learning, but teachers are doing their best, she said. They might, for example, demonstrate an experiment during a videoconference, but then offer instructions for families to replicate it at home.
In some ways, it may have been easier for the middle school students to move to at-home learning, since they can work more independently and have an easier time working remotely with classmates, Carden said. Independent and group projects — rather than teacher lectures — are a hallmark of IB learning.
The program also has a strong emphasis on understanding the whole world, Carden said.
“The international-mindedness is a huge part of it,” she said.
That has attracted a more diverse school population, Carden said, and an improved school climate.
“We don’t have kids putting down other kids,” she said. “It’s like a slice of heaven.”
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On May 9, the day before Mother’s Day, Our Lady of Guadalupe School, 9050 S. Burley Ave., gave away 600 hot meals to their families and neighbors to relieve parents from the burden of cooking on the holiday.