Implementing the IB Diploma Programme in a “Rural” School: A view from Prince Edward Island, Canada
By Lori Ronahan, Diploma coordinator at Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown, Nova Scotia
I must admit that I chuckled when I was asked to write an article about implementing the Diploma Programme in a rural school. After all, Charlottetown, with a population of approximately 60,000 people is the capital of Prince Edward Island (PEI). Even though we are the smallest province in Canada, we have much of the infrastructure that you find in bigger cities—an airport, shopping malls, a hospital, a university, and a college. But then I had a thought—rural schools don’t need to be defined by geographic location. Rural schools could be defined as those with a smaller pool of potential IB students, or those where tradition is comfortable and change is not, or those where the concept of ‘international’ is relatively new.
The journey to implementation has been interesting. For anyone recently authorized, the application forms, the site visit, and the wait for good news are familiar. It is a lot of work and is common for all newer IB World Schools. What made the process different for our rural school was the philosophical and logistical impact of change.
Our Department of Education and the Eastern School District were instrumental in bringing the programme to PEI and have been fully supportive. Key administrative stakeholders were sent for training. The IB offered level 1 training in Charlottetown, which allowed all of our interested staff to participate. This was a great introduction to the IB, which was foreign to most of the staff, and provided our school with a pool of potential IB teachers.
Full staff meetings were held and brought to light both excitement and anxieties about change. Will the IB programme take the best students out of the provincial stream? Will running the IB with smaller classes mean that other class sizes become larger? Can students and teachers deal with increased expectations? We can only offer a small menu of courses. Will our students be able to find success given the limited options?
When parents and students were invited to attend information sessions, interest was high, but different questions and concerns came to light. Is your staff really ready to provide this education to our children? Are the students going to be guinea pigs since it is new? Will my child be successful? Why is the IB more valuable than the provincial curriculum? The exams are worth how much? What about scholarships and university recognition? Will my child have time to complete CAS in addition to his/her academic workload? Our international population was excited to have a globally recognized education program, but worried about the level of English proficiency needed to succeed. Until we become established with a pool of graduates to reassure incoming classes, I expect to be asked these questions regularly. I am sure that you have heard these types of questions yourself.
Even now, with September upon us, our IB teachers have concerns. They worry about assessment of student work, predicted grades, delivery of the curriculum, making sure students are successful, supervising extended essays, accountability, and more, because it is all new.
So how do you move forward in the face of so many questions about change? You need support.
We have been fortunate that friends in Nova Scotia have invited our teachers into their IB classes, answered questions, and provided guidance on several occasions. The online curriculum centre (occ) is a wealth of support for any IB teacher—new or experienced. The development of online IB courses is exciting and opens up collaborative possibilities between students in different parts of the world, bringing international experiences to those who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
We are moving ahead—our first IB class started in September 2008. We are still dealing with challenges because change is both exciting and daunting but we have a firm belief that the IB programme will benefit our students.
There is an old African proverb that states “it takes a whole village to raise a child.” In the IB world, it takes the whole global community to create an IB World School. Support from the IB organization, local governments, boards of education, parents, students, teachers in your school, teachers in your region, teachers on the occ, and people in the community where you live is all you need. You don’t have to go far to find support in the face of change, so it doesn’t matter how ‘rural’ you are.