In the Classroom

Washington Township first in Indiana to offer IB in all grades

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Helene Achgill, department chair for the information center at North Central High School, speaks during a presentation by IB regional director for the Americas Drew Deutsch on Tuesday afternoon.

Washington Township administrators gathered last week to prepare for a first day of school they’d never had before — one in which the district would be offering an International Baccalaureate education to every student in every school.

On Monday, the district became the only district in Indiana — and just the sixth district in the world — with IB classes for all grades, from fresh-faced kindergarteners to high school seniors. IB aims to prepare kids for a global world by teaching them to think critically, use research, ask probing questions and get involved in their communities.

Over the past decade, the district has seen dramatic growth in poor families and students learning English as a second language, especially foreign students. IB is one strategy for adapting instruction to that new reality,  Superintendent Nikki Woodson said. Not to change would be “educational malpractice,” she said.

“Obviously the way we taught 20 years ago can’t be the way we teach today,” Woodson said.

To get ready, the district’s principals, administrators and department heads and others — a few dozen in all — gathered last week at Maggiano’s restaurant.

Drew Deutsch, the Maryland-based regional director of the Americas for the International Baccalaureate, urged them to spend some time telling the district’s “IB story” to students, parents and others in the community who might not be completely sure what the big deal is.

“When schools bring in IB, we see a revitalization and energizing of the instructional team as well as broader parent and student community,” Deutsch said. “Teachers embrace the ideals — inquiry based learning, critical thinking, making the world a better place and second language learning.”

Bringing IB to Washington Township

IB is a nonprofit group that was created in 1968 by educators at the International School of Geneva, Switzerland. The original idea was to serve students in international schools who wanted to prepare for college, according to its website. The curriculum does not tell teachers what content to teach. Instead, it sets high expectations for students to come up with their own ideas and do independent work. IB learning also encourages students to have “international mindedness” — they study culture and national identity. For example, IB students must learn a second language.

Around the world, IB works with almost 3,800 schools in 144 countries, Deutsch said. Its program is divided into four parts, which can be offered individually or as a “continuum,” which is what will happen in Washington Township.

The most well-known program is the Diploma Program for juniors and seniors, which North Central High School has had in place since 1988.

But starting this year, students in every grade have the opportunity to learn the IB way. From kindergarten to fifth grade, all Washington Township schools will follow a curriculum based on IB’s Primary Years Program. Curriculum for sixth-graders through high school sophomores will track the group’s Middle Years Program.

High school juniors and seniors will have to apply if they want to take IB classes under IB’s final stage, the Diploma Program. For those students, completing IB classes and passing a series of tests can earn them college credits in much the same way students do in Advanced Placement classes. However, IB is infused into existing honors classes at North Central, so students seeking a diploma will be in class with other honors students who are not. They just have a few extra classes and classwork components to complete.

Woodson said the district decided to the K-12 IB plan as a way to transform teaching and learning.

Washington Township schools have long been well regarded in Indianapolis, with suburban-like strong test scores and a slew of accomplished alumni, including former Gov. Mitch Daniels and astronaut David Wolf.

But over the past decade, a demographic shift has brought new challenges. The percentage of students from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch jumped from 40 percent in 2005 to 60 percent last school year. The percentage of students learning English as a second language also nearly doubled to 15 percent, including an influx of foreign students at some schools. The district is 65 percent minority today, up from 57 percent in 2005.

Woodson said at first the district considered more of a magnet school approach for integrating IB. But she hopes going all-in will benefit more students.

“If this is good teaching and learning for one child, why isn’t that good for every child in our school district?” Woodson said.

The program isn’t cheap, so the Washington Township Schools Foundation took up fundraising to help make it happen. So far, $900,000 has been raised toward a $1 million goal to support IB. The money pays for classroom world language resources, application and authorization fees, and curriculum writing.

When you single out the costs of IB, Woodson said, it adds about $32 per child per year in spending. That cost was significant but “not an insurmountable amount,” Woodson said the district leaders decided.

Adjusting to a new framework

Assistant Superintendent Jon Milleman said the district needs to find its “elevator speech” in order to better explain and promote IB in the district.

Although it’s been around for more than 40 years, not every family is familiar with IB. Ashley Monroe, the science department chair at Westlane Middle School, described IB as “a lens to teach kids through.”

Helene Achgill, head librarian at North Central High School, said it was the “overarching philosophy of what we’re trying to do in the classroom.”

There’s a bit of a learning curve for teachers and students. The district will continue to provide training for teachers, redirecting money from traditional training programs to support learning about IB for teachers, Woodson said.

“Veteran teachers give best comments,” Woodson said of the feedback on the training. “They’ve seen a lot of change in education, so to see that group of teachers lit on fire about what we’re doing with IB is very exciting to me. It’s not easy work, but when you put in work like that and you see the payoff (with students), it’s very rewarding.”

Since the Diploma Program began more than 20 years ago, 323 North Central High School students have earned IB diplomas.

“In many ways, we feel the rest of the education community is catching up to what we’ve been doing for decades,” Deutsch said. “It’s a testament to the fact that it’s global school framework that goes around the world and takes best practices from multiple education systems and sets the bar for students around the world.”

Noticing differences with IB learning

Already, Woodson said the district has seen an uptick in its enrollment: at least 1,100 more students in five years. While she said she can’t tie that exclusively to IB, Woodson said it does show that the district is making positive changes that the community is responding to.

And eventually, Deutsch assured the administrators during last week’s training, they’d be able to see differences in their classrooms.

“When you go into (an IB) elementary school that has really embraced (it), you just know it’s working,” Deutsch said. “You go to observe a class taking place, seeing six-year-olds leading instruction, leading one another, and seeing inquiry-based learning in living color.”

While taking questions after his presentation, Deutsch joked with the administrators about another aspect of IB learning that could likely become apparent to students and teachers: problem-solving and critical thinking.

“What do you do when you have a ninth-grader show up reading at a sixth grade reading level, and how do you prepare them to take one or two diploma courses or the full (IB) diploma?” Deutsch asked, restating a question from the audience.

Deutsch responded by playing the part of an IB teacher and expecting the group to think through the problem.

“In an IB way, I’m not going to give you the answer,” he said.

After a few laughs, Deutsch offered some suggestions. Among the ideas: collaborate with other teachers, seek help in the wider IB community, look at solutions from other IB schools.

It was hard to miss the intention of Deutsch’s words: this training wasn’t a beginning or an end, just part of a journey for Washington Township. But as the new school year begins, they’ll have the tools to manage the wide-ranging changes.

the best

Indy counselors share secrets to get middle schoolers on track for college scholarships

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkebat
Students at Northwest Middle School

Indiana makes a promise to students from low-income families: maintain a 2.5 GPA and fulfill basic steps throughout high school, and the state will foot the bill for up to four years of college tuition.

But there’s a catch: For students to qualify for the aid, they must sign up for 21st Century Scholarships by the end of eighth grade, before many students even begin considering how to pay tuition. It falls on school counselors to let families know about the program, help them apply — and follow up relentlessly.

So it was a feat when counselors at Northwest Middle School in Indianapolis Public Schools were able to get nearly 100 percent of eligible students to register for the scholarships in 2017, the latest year with state data. That’s nearly double the signup rate across Marion County.

Now, the city is hoping that other educators can learn from Northwest and other successful schools. In May, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration launched Indy Achieves, a campaign to help more residents go to college or other post-high school training. One piece of the initiative is a coordinated effort to boost participation in 21st Century Scholars that includes a newly released toolkit for other guidance counselors.

The toolkit explains how educators can track which students have enrolled in the program, and it includes sample recruitment plans and letters to parents. It also offers practical tips, such as giving parents the paper worksheet instead of asking them to apply online and sending the form home with other permission slips. Finally, Indy Achieves offers administrative assistance submitting applications.

“I’m here today in no small measure because you all have this process figured out,” said Hogsett in a ceremony Monday.

At Northwest, the campaign to get students money for college had two prongs. First, it depended on getting students, teachers, and even counselors excited about the scholarships, staff say. Classes competed against each other to see who could get the most students signed up, with the promise of a pizza party for the winning class.

Last year, they upped the ante by offering ice cream and candy bars to students when they brought in their applications. When students saw others getting the rewards, it was a reminder to bring in their own forms, said counselor Vernita Robinson.

It was also important that teachers were enthusiastic about the effort, say the counselors who led the initiative. Even the counselors developed a spirit of competition as they tried to sign up as many students as possible.

“You just have to make it fun for the kids, and you have to make it fun for yourself,” said counselor Theresa Morning.  “I don’t know if we really changed any of our methods last year except for, we made a point to make sure last year that we had every child signed up.”

That dedication to getting students signed up is the second reason why educators at Northwest believe they were so successful. Beginning in September, they told parents about the scholarships, and for months afterward, they used a spreadsheet to track which students had applied. They sent home official letters telling families about the program. And as the year progressed, they called families to follow up.

“I think the key is to not stop at a handful of applicants,” said counselor Nicole Reid. “Just keep going until you have everyone on your roster that’s in eighth grade enrolled.”

All three counselors have left the school for other Indianapolis Public Schools campuses this year, following a districtwide high school reconfiguration that ultimately led Northwest to convert from a school serving grades seven through 12 to a dedicated middle school.

Indianapolis Public Schools interim superintendent Aleesia Johnson challenged the new students at the school to continue the success. “You all have to now carry on that legacy,” she said.

“We are all as a city committed to our students and our young people being able to go on and be successful,” Johnson said. “You do your part, and we commit to do ours.”

This Air Force veteran switched to teaching, but his military mindset still comes in handy

PHOTO: Ariel Skelley | Getty Images

Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in the series here.

Daniel Ganoza spent years in the U.S. Air Force before becoming a science teacher at Woodland Park High School west of Colorado Springs. Despite the career switch, he found the military mindset useful in the classroom.

“In the Air Force everyone is valuable to the mission,” he said. “You have no choice in training them the best you can. The mission depends on it and your reputation as a leader depends on your folks knowing their job.”

Ganoza, who won the 2018 Secondary Excellence in Teaching award from the Colorado Association of Science Teachers, talked about how the military mentality motivates students, why environmental science is so important for the current generation, and how vaping and marijuana are affecting his school.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Was there a moment when you decided to become a teacher?

PHOTO: Daniel Ganoza
Daniel Ganoza, right, flying with Iraqi troops on a C-130 aircraft, during his Air Force career.

I had selfish reasons for wanting to be a teacher. When I was in the Air Force I had been away from home so much. My oldest two daughters were born and graduated high school while I was still in the military and I’m afraid I missed much of their growing up.

But my youngest child, my son, was starting high school as I was set to leave the military. What a better way for me to try to connect with my son than to be a teacher at his school, to have him and his friends in class, and to coach their sports teams? And it worked. For my first four years of teaching my son was a student in my school. He graduated last year.

How has your experience in the Air Force shaped your approach to teaching?

Everyone in the Air Force was necessary to complete the mission and that is the same mindset I try to bring to the classroom. In the military, every person had value and their success influenced your success. If they failed, it made things harder on the whole organization.

Unfortunately, some kids fail my class and some kids drop out of school. But if I treat my students as if they are one of my troops in the military — if they feel like they are important to me and that I need them to do well, if they feel like my success depends on their success, if they feel like there is something unique and special about them that makes them valuable to me — then maybe for some kids that’s the difference it takes.

How do you get to know your students?

PHOTO: Daniel Ganoza
Teacher Daniel Ganoza, first row on left, with his students during their annual trip to Arches National Park.

We all get to know our students in the classroom. But those students I know the most are those students I see outside of the classroom. Whether it be weekend field trips or optional Saturday trainings or even the high school soccer and basketball teams I coach, those kids are the ones I get to know the best.

I suppose we all put in our time during the duty day, but when kids see you outside of those prescribed hours, when kids know you don’t have to be there, they appreciate that and let their guard down a little.

Tell us about a favorite lesson to teach. Where did the idea come from?

Not so much a favorite lesson, but my favorite course to teach is environmental science. To be honest, I don’t think I thought about environmental issues during my most of my life. But now that I teach it, the subject is everywhere.

There are some really life-altering environmental decisions that the generation of kids I teach is going to have to make someday (thanks to my generation and past generations). Without being too much of an alarmist, I need to make them aware. This is about as deep into math as I get. Scientists say the earth has enough resources for 10 billion to 12 billion people, and we are at around 7.5 billion now. We are adding 1 million people to our planet every five days.

We reach capacity when kids in this generation are in their prime. I don’t know the answer, but these kids are going to have to figure it out. I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist — that has had negative connotations most of my life. But I do find this topic fascinating, I appreciate the work that environmental scientists do, and I’m nervous about potential environmental outcomes if we as a people are not careful.

What object would you be helpless without during the school day?

Someone told me once, “Be like a duck — calm above the water while paddling frantically below.” I pretend that nothing rattles me or makes me feel helpless, although secretly there are many things that would — missing my notes for the day, my overhead projector, my thumb drive with my lesson plans, my student aides who help me in so many ways, and a functioning printer and copier. Oh yeah, and Coke Zero Vanilla.

What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your class?

Vaping. Our school is waging a war against vaping. The kids just don’t seem to understand how bad it is for you. It is so easy for them to get it in the community and then they bring it to school and some of them get caught and it just doesn’t register that vaping is bad.

Also marijuana. I have a few kids in class that reek of marijuana — because their parents smoke it legally in their homes or illegally in their cars. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that these students are not smoking it, but if they’re surrounded by marijuana fumes at home, it can’t be good. And their grades and motivation usually reflect it.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.

A few years ago I was a member of our school’s attendance committee. If a student has 13 or more absences in a class in a semester they automatically fail that class (regardless of their grade) unless they submit an appeal to the attendance committee. Unless there is something medical going on, appeals are almost always rejected.

In one case, a young lady gave an appeal — she was a senior and needed the credits to graduate, but had been absent a considerable amount of time. Although there was nothing extraordinary about her story, we showed a little grace and we allowed her to graduate. I’m not sure why, it just felt right.

Recently, I ran into her in our little town where she was working at a Sonic restaurant. She remembered that I was part of the decision to allow her to graduate. She was very grateful and seemed excited to see me. She told me that she got pregnant toward the end of her senior year, but didn’t know it until after graduation. She is married now, her baby is healthy, and she is working hard to try to make ends meet. She’ll be fine, but she has a tough road in front of her.

I scare myself thinking now how much harder I would have made this young woman’s life if I would have followed our norms and denied her the credits she needed to graduate. Sometimes grace has a way of humbling you and reminding you that one of the best attributes you can have is kindness.

What part of your job is most difficult?

Some of the kids I teach have impossible home life situations. That’s the most difficult part of being a teacher — when something happens to a great kid that makes them jump into survival mode and justifies them putting academics as the lowest priority, and you are powerless to help. I don’t like being in that spot because I feel I should do something to help. I try, but often it’s just not enough, and then I feel like I’ve failed them.

What was your biggest misconception that you initially brought to teaching?

Before teaching I thought that every kid should be on a college-bound track. I brought that into my first year of teaching. But now I understand that some kids will go to college and some kids won’t, and there is nothing wrong with that. Although college is a fine path to take, going to a trade school or joining the military right out of high school might be the right choice for some.

What are you reading for enjoyment?

Right now, I’m reading “Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence” by Bill O’Reilly.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about teaching?

Kids just want someone to think they are important and care for them. I have to believe that because I’m short, stocky, bald, and slur my words when I talk. But I’ve done well for myself with these students because they see me as someone who cares about them and wants them to do well.

Sometimes, all it takes is for just one person to believe in you and you can do anything — you can do the impossible. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been that one person for any of my students, but I strive to be.