Eight Years with IB and Counting

The International Baccalaureate at Notre Dame turns 8 years old this year. We look back at those eight years and look forward to many more with arguably one of the world's most innovative curriculums.

As the International Baccalaureate program at Notre Dame finishes up its eighth year on campus, it is important to note that the curriculum and its teachers have not simply rested on the program’s lofty laurels. And it’s just as important to note in fundamental terms just how much the program has changed elementary and secondary education both worldwide and on Giddings Road.

In a recent article published by the International Baccalaureate organization, the authors discussed the changing landscape of education today. “The average teacher in the 1950s would scarcely recognize education. The Internet has transformed students’ ability to research, collaborate, work and test. The number of Chinese graduates will soon surpass that of the USA and didactic models are being challenged and, in many places, supplanted—a process in which the IB has played an ever-growing role.

“The IB’s agenda has evolved over time, but the idea of expanding opportunity to as many students as possible remains. As IB Director General Jeffrey Beard puts it, the organization’s remit is to ‘reach out to anyone who doesn’t have access to an IB education.’”

Profound changes
In the mid-2000s, Notre Dame’s student and parent body could have scarcely imagined the profound changes that would soon come to this school in Pontiac. 

In the summer of 2007, the official announcement came from Notre Dame: 

“Beginning in the fall of 2008, Notre Dame Preparatory School will be offering the Diploma Programme, a rigorously academic two-year program for high school juniors and seniors which leads to the internationally recognized International Baccalaureate diploma. Notre Dame Preparatory School is the only Catholic high school in Michigan to offer this challenging program known for its demanding curriculum and global perspective.”

That announcement was followed two years later by another noting the school’s authorization to offer IB’s Middle Years program for its sixth- through tenth-grade students and then in 2010, authorization to offer the IB-PYP program to students in the lower division, making the school the only one in Michigan offering all three levels of IB.

Fast and forward
Fast-forward to 2015. NDPMA still remains the only school in the state with all three IB levels, but much has happened on the Notre Dame campus since 2007. This past April 16, thirty-seven International Baccalaureate Diploma Program candidates were celebrated in a ceremony held in Notre Dame’s media center. The event marked the continuing growth at the school of a program that today works with 3,946 schools in 147 countries to offer and develop its challenging programs to approximately 1,235,000 students ranging in age from 3 to 19. 

According to IB-DP coordinator Kim Anderson, the April 16 ceremony was a special way to recognize the hard work, dedication and talent of the seniors who are heading into the IB examination period next month and also the NDP juniors in the program who will follow in their footsteps.

Notre Dame administrators say that 98 NDP students have received IB’s official diploma since 2010 when the school’s first IB students became eligible. Last year, 18 Notre Dame students earned the IB diploma. The current 37 DP candidates find out in June whether they also receive the highly sought after diploma.

Ryan Roose, a senior and one of the DP candidates, said the IB program has had a profound effect on him as a student and person. “IB has opened my mind to a lot of possibilities and a new style of thinking that previously I was not exposed to,” he said. “It has allowed me to apply my own skills and talents to real world situations and find a path in life where I can make a real difference in the lives of other people.”

Making a real difference in the lives of NDPMA students and the people they come in contact with has always been the central tenet of the Marist Fathers and Brothers, the religious order sponsoring the school. Gaining access to the world’s most innovative school curriculums just seemed natural to the Marists. 

Best education you can get
“We provide the best education you can get—Catholic and internationally speaking—at Notre Dame,” said Fr. Leon Olszamowski, the head of school and founder of NDPMA. “That’s why we went with the IB curriculum. We are not preparing kids to live in our world—we are preparing kids to live in their world, 20 or 30 years from now, when they are prosperous and productive people. When they are CEOs and leaders, we want them to be good CEOs and leaders and we want them to live in the world and not get swallowed up by it. Ultimately, we want to continue to provide to our kids the education they need to be successful in this world and the next.”

Brenda Kambakhsh, Notre Dame’s IB-MYP coordinator, says since the school implemented the Middle-Years curriculum in 2009, there have been a number of significant changes to the program.

“This year we began official implementation of a new and improved Middle Years Program framework, known as ‘MYP–the Next Chapter,’” she said. “This new framework aligns more closely with our other two programs (PYP and DP), and provides a clear continuum as students move through all three programs.” 

While always a concept-based curriculum, the new MYP framework is more implicitly designed around concepts and inquiry. Key and related concepts are purposefully chosen by teachers within subject areas, but also transcending the subjects, providing academic challenge, sustained inquiry and strong interdisciplinary connections. 

Kambakhsh said that another MYP enhanced element, which blends well with the Christian service mission at Notre Dame, is connecting inquiry to responsible action within one’s community. “We are working with campus ministry on mindfully teaching the understanding of service across the subject areas, creating opportunities for students to explore action and service as a purposeful, lifelong endeavor, and not as a stand alone activity,” she said. 

Kambakhsh said that the newer MYP also has an enhanced focus for helping students create their toolbox of learning skills called Approaches to Learning. These include critical and creative thinking skills, communication, social skills such as collaboration; self-management skills, which include time management, organizational and affective skills; and research skills that include information literacy and media literacy.

Kambakhsh noted that support from the IB organization also has improved since Notre Dame first signed on. 

“The IB Schools of Michigan (IBSOM) is working with Oakland University to host the first official IB workshops locally through our regional organization this June,” she said. “As a member of the IBSOM Board (Kambakhsh serves as vice president of MYP), I am delighted that our region is receiving more support from IB Americas, both with workshops and with collaboration on orientation sessions for interested schools at our fall symposium.” 

Support from IB for the lower division is also of critical importance to Paul Frank, assistant principal and IB-PYP coordinator. 

“The IB organization provides many opportunities for training and has support options to answer questions,” Frank said. “I have to say also that our own administration is very supportive and makes sure that all teachers are able to get the professional development needed to successfully teach to the PYP curriculum standards. They also allow time for teachers to collaborate in order to support each other in their IB units.”

Frank said that since PYP was implemented at the lower division, he’s noticed that students are becoming much more exposed and immersed into an inquiry-based environment that teaches them to take advantage of their natural curiosity of the world, which he said is many times more suppressed in a traditional classroom. “Students take ownership of their learning with strategies that use key concepts as tools to unlock knowledge,” Frank said. “Our students at a very early age learn global perspectives that help them become caring, open-minded and well-adjusted students in the middle and upper divisions, first of all, and as productive and caring citizens ultimately.”

MYP coordinator Kambakhsh says that what she really appreciates about being involved with IB is what the students are getting from the program. “When I see the work being done in our classrooms by trained teachers utilizing the IB framework with all its new and important components, I know that our students are receiving the best education available today. This is what excites me the most about my position as an MYP coordinator.” 

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.