Northern Michigan districts use grant to offer international diploma program

An international baccalaureate isn't only something students can get at an East Coast boarding school--four small northern Michigan school districts have come together with the help of a grant to make the prestigious degree an option for their students.
An international-quality education is usually thought to be available only to the most elite and perhaps wealthiest families. That idea is turned on its head as four rural Michigan districts banded together to offer an international baccalaureate program to all their students, including the poorest.
 
Two years ago, the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District (TBAISD) was fortunate enough to become an educational system with the ability to offer vulnerable youth--from three to 19 years old--the access to and backing for an International Baccalaureate (IB) education.
 
The TBAISD has the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to thank for this opportunity, courtesy of a $3.3 million grant the foundation bestowed in 2013 for the IB programming.
 
Jason Jeffrey, TBAISD's assistant superintendent for general and career and technical education, expressed his pride in the successful securing of funds, saying each of the partnering buildings within the TBAISD will serve as a model for the development and implementation of the IB program.
 
"Their willingness to collaborate, explore and share ideas and practices will undoubtedly strengthen the outcome of their efforts," he said when the program was announced. "I am very proud of these districts who are committed to this partnership and invest in the opportunity that IB programs bring to the educational experience for our region's students."
 
The three-year grant has since been implemented for partnering districts within the TBAISD, giving them the ability to apply IB curriculums for primary, middle school and high school students. The participants include some facilities within Leland Public Schools, Kalkaska Public Schools, Elk Rapids Public Schools and some in Traverse City Area Public Schools.
 
No time wasted
 
These partnering public school districts met with IB consultants right after the grant was awarded. They did it to learn more about the implementation timeline, staff and professional development requirements, and process expectations required to complete the IB application process required to become authorized as IB World Schools.
 
At the time there were 22 authorized primary years program schools and 22 authorized middle years program schools in the state. Elk Rapids Cherryland Middle School completed a three-year IB implementation and achieved World School status in May 2013.
 
They began working on the implementation process of the shared services model of IB academics immediately and are now two academic years into the process that will continue through April of 2016. The model is both highly successful and rigorous for schools and students alike.
 
A prestigious opportunity
 
Ali Webb, director of Michigan programming at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, says students who graduate high school with the full IB diploma are generally recognized as having completed a very difficult and competitive program.
 
"It helps these graduates get into top-notch colleges and universities and often provides students with additional credits in these schools much like taking AP Honors classes."
 
Webb says the IB program is known internationally as an outstanding preparation for students to compete and succeed in the global world.
 
"It is generally found in very affluent school districts in Michigan. For rural children, particularly low income children, this program provides them with a globally-known and tested education system that will propel them to educational success in career or college."
 
What is it?
 
What is an International Baccalaureate Program?
 
The IB curriculums differ by ages and stages, but, according to The International Baccalaureate (IB) organization, the program was created to offer a continuum of international education designed to encourage both personal and academic achievement, and it is a chance for pupils to excel in both studies and personal development.
 
Jason Jeffrey describes IB as "A framework for learning where students develop deep thinking and other skills considering globalization and/or global points of view."
 
"Students are learning a lot about what it takes to be a well-rounded learner including their own learning preferences and also the importance of considering the needs of others," he says of the program's progression.  
 
Securing funding for the prestigious IB programming and curriculums has been no small feat for these relatively small school districts.
 
It's uncommon to have the world-renowned opportunity that these four districts have achieved and, according to Webb, they came together in rare fashion to propose the body of work to the Kellogg Foundation to compete for the funding dollars.
 
"Successfully receiving a grant from the foundation is an extremely competitive process. These districts worked very hard to shape their proposal into a successful grant and it is the only one of its kind in Michigan," Webb says. "It is unlikely we would support this kind of work in other districts."
 
What makes this program worthy of such a funding commitment? According to the TBAISD, it is an exciting body of work that brings a globally known curriculum to four rural Michigan school districts. It benefits all their students including pupils from limited resource households. These students, TBAISD says, will develop the personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world. The IB program provides a school experience with the promise of inspiring, challenging and engaging students in these rural counties that is second to none in any district anywhere in Michigan. It also covers eight schools across more than 2,000 square miles, making it the largest coordinated rural IB program in the country.
 
What are the results?

Feedback from parents, students and instructors has been phenomenal. "They are supportive and excited about the program and see it as a privilege for the opportunity to go deeper and participate more fully in their own learning. The students are more self-aware and a culture of inquiry is developing," Jeffrey says.
 
"The poverty and geography of northern lower Michigan contributes to conditions where students don't have many natural opportunities to be exposed to other perspectives," he says. "The IB framework gives our kids a chance to experience different points of view with their teachers and fellow students. 
 
"Having the opportunity to experience and consider things they would not normally be exposed to as students will be invaluable for them moving ahead as adults."

Kelle Barr is a veteran reporter from Southwest Michigan who enjoys baseball, unique art, and sipping Faygo through red licorice straws. Follow her on Twitter: @BarrKelle or email her here.
Signup for Email Alerts