Our new Birchwood Elementary school is just a few weeks away from opening its doors to almost 300 preschool through fifth-grade students. Birchwood was built with innovative technological capabilities and intelligently designed learning spaces. As exciting as the new furniture and the beautiful facility is, what has me energized for the first day of school is the opportunity to develop a vision that represents both the values of the Birchwood community and Bellingham Public Schools.
Seven months ago, I was named planning principal for the new Birchwood. Part of my responsibility has been working with the school's community to develop a vision for the school. Upon investigating and reflecting upon proven school programs as well as looking at The Bellingham Promise, the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program makes great sense for the Birchwood community.
Bellingham Public Schools already has two accredited International Baccalaureate schools, and several other schools are engaged in feasibility studies surrounding International Baccalaureate and other fantastic programs such as Advancing Via Individual Determination. In fact, Bellingham is leading the state with implementing the International Baccalaureate program. Bellingham Public Schools' vision and mission is clearly outlined in The Bellingham Promise. It charges our schools to prepare our students for success in a rapidly globalizing world. This will be achieved by taking a whole-child approach to educating our students by providing a rigorous academic program, reinforcing critical character strengths and encouraging students to cultivate their passion for art, music and athletics. The alignment of the promise and the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program is stunningly tight.
The International Baccalaureate mission statement reads: "The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. ... These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right."
The International Baccalaureate program is an extremely rigorous program that uses a constructivist approach to learning. A key component of an International Baccalaureate education is teaching students how to learn. Through carefully crafted units of inquiry, our students will be taught how to interact with the variety of learning environments they will be encountering throughout their lives. Teachers will guide students through the inquiry into central ideas about the world. Students will be asking questions and researching answers to those questions.
International Baccalaureate also has an emphasis on character development. Birchwood's students will be taught about the International Baccalaureate's learner profile and students will be encouraged to exhibit the attitude and attributes outlined by the program.
A recurring theme of the International Baccalaureate program is the call to develop international mindedness in students. Providing students with an opportunity to be multi-lingual is called out both in The Bellingham Promise and the International Baccalaureate program. To that end, I'm proud and excited that Birchwood will be offering Spanish language instruction.
Implementing the International Baccalaureate program is not an easy task. It requires teachers to collaboratively plan detailed units of inquiry. The work can be extremely challenging and time consuming. As we explored the potential of bringing International Baccalaureate to Birchwood, it was clear that staff would need to be supportive of the program. We were able to survey the school district's teachers and identify teachers who wanted to be a part of an International Baccalaureate school. The staff was intentionally selected founded on the potential of Birchwood becoming an International Baccalaureate school. Our staff is enthusiastic about bringing the program to Birchwood and many of the teachers have already completed a two-day introductory training focused on implementing the International Baccalaureate program into the classroom.
In just a few weeks, Birchwood's doors will be serving the community once again. Our journey is just beginning and we will certainly face many challenges as we work to develop a shared vision for our school. Using The Bellingham Promise and the International Baccalaureate program as our foundation, I am confident that we will be the outstanding school that our students and the Birchwood community deserve.
Please join us for a grand opening ribbon-cutting event at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, at Birchwood Elementary School, 3200 Pinewood Ave., followed by tours of the new school, which is funded by a 2006 bond measure. The new school has many energy and sustainability features.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Whitten is principal at Birchwood Elementary. The original school was built in 1928, with an addition in 1950. The school was rebuilt on its original site after its condition had deteriorated to the point it was closed in fall 2011.