The goal is to ask ‘why?’

Several schools in Maine are offering a rigorous program that takes an inquiry-based approach.

By Ann S. Kim

January 5, 2010

Portland Press Herald

In a recent biology class, Johnny Price and his classmates got some meal worms and an assignment: create a lab to investigate their behavior.  The question they would try to answer and the design of the experiment were left up to them.

It was the kind of approach that appealed to Price, a Kennebunk High School senior who is in the school’s first International Baccalaureate diploma class.

“If you’re someone who likes to question and ask why, then this is probably a good program for you,” said Price.

A small but growing number of Maine schools are adopting International Baccalaureate programs, which stress rigor, an inquiry-based approach and a more global perspective.

Kennebunk High was the first in Maine to offer the two-year diploma program.  Greely High in Cumberland began this school year.  The Middle School of the Kennebunks won authorization for the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program in June, becoming the first school in Maine to do so.

Founded in Geneva in 1968, International Baccalaureate was created as a curriculum for international students.  Now, programs are offered to about 775,000 students at 2,800 schools in 138 countries.

“It seemed to bring together everything in education I ever wanted to do,” said Susan Cressey, Kennebunk High’s International Baccalaureate diploma coordinator and the teacher of  a two-year English course.

Th program includes writing across the curriculum, teaching students to organize and research, and looking at the connections between disciplines.  So, for example, a music teacher may help the discussion of poetry in her class.

Eleven students, 4 percent of juniors and seniors, are now in Kennebunk High’s IB diploma program, Cressey said. Thirty-four percent are taking at least one International Baccalaureate class without pursuing the diploma.

While colleges look favorably on the programs, their influence on admissions decisions wasn’t the motivating factor, said David Galin, curriculum coordinator for School Administrative District 51, which includes Greely High.

“The benefit of IB is not that you will be accepted at a prestigious liberal arts school.  The advantage of IB is that you will be successful wherever you will be accepted,” Galin said.

The Middle Years Program encompasses the entire school.

“It is a philosophy and not a curriculum.  It’s not what you teach, it’s how you teach,” said Fred Myers, the program’s coordinator at the Middle School of the Kennebunks and a global studies teacher.

One of the guiding principles is the “learner profile,” 10 characteristics, ranging from principled to reflective to risk-taker to communicator.  It forms the basis of how the students learn, Myers said.  Teachers try to encourage those qualities, for example, by presenting awards to students who display them.

“IB gives them a vocabulary for not just what they’re learning but how they’re going about it,” said Assistant Principal Jean Beaulieu.

Andrew Dolloff, superintendent for RSU21, the district for the Kennebunks and Arundel, said there have been early discussions about adding the primary-years program, but it is difficult to start programs in the current economic climate.

An International Baccalaureate program is a big commitment.  Schools go through an application that can last two years, and a rigorous assessment. There are annual fees – about $9,000 for high school programs, and teachers and administrators must be trained.

In RSU21, donations from the Corning Corp. and the Somers Foundation secured by the Education Foundation of the Kennebunks helped offset use of the district’s professional development budget.