Our Elementary School’s journey to becoming an authorized IB PYP World School.
By Lauren Hopkins (PYP Coordinator, ES International School BCN), and Aisling Lawless (Elementary Principal, ES International School BCN)
ASC has always been synonymous on a world scale with excellence in athletic training. Together with ES International School, student-athletes can pursue high-performance sports training without compromising their academics. In 2017, the ESIS/ASC Board of Directors considered the question: how can we ensure we’re also providing the best quality education available for our youngest students? This was the beginning of our journey to becoming an IB World School for the Primary Years Program (PYP). Leaders from ESIS, in collaboration with leaders from ASC, discussed and debated what the future would hold for our Elementary School. The energy in the room during such meetings was one of innovation. Everyone had a growth mindset and sincere intentions to offer the best possible start for our youngest learners.
After researching different education systems from across the globe to find the one that would best serve our students, it was clear that we would pursue accreditation for the IB PYP program. An educational system of universal excellence, offering a dynamic learning environment focused on inquiry and agency, in an effort to create lifelong, international-minded learners – learners who value engaging with both local and global communities. Its philosophy is perhaps best summed up by the learner profile attributes, that encourage learners to become “inquirers, thinkers, communicators, risk-takers, knowledgeable, principled, caring, open-minded, balanced, and reflective.”
One doesn’t become an IB World School overnight; indeed, the organization told us right away that it would take at least three years, and that was only if everything were to go to plan! Teachers and school leaders immediately began attending IB professional development workshops, to gain a better sense of the philosophy, and to engage with the global IB community. Teachers began to grow out of old routines of teacher-led, subject-specific, textbook-following classrooms, shifting progressively towards designing our own transdisciplinary curriculum that aligned with the five essential elements of the PYP: concepts, skills, knowledge, attitudes, and action. With the implementation of these five elements, teachers aimed to help students construct their own understandings of the world and how their actions can shape both the communities they live in and others around the world. And, most notably, students started to shape teaching and learning – through developing their own questions that then informed planning for learning across all subject areas.
In the second year of the process, we welcomed an IB consultant during a two-day visit to the ESIS/ASC campus. She helped us assess whether we were ready to apply for authorization. The outcome of the visit was positive and gave us useful feedback so that we could continue working towards meeting all the requirements and standards of this challenging programme. After submitting our Application for Authorization in January 2020, we were confident that everything was in place to receive the IB visiting team: this final, most important authorization visit was scheduled for late April, 2020. However, before that could happen, in March the Covid-19 pandemic closed most schools on the planet, and we despaired that a canceled authorization visit could potentially delay our becoming an IB World School by another year. However, the IB is a dynamic and resourceful organization: they proposed that we complete the authorization visit virtually, much to our initial surprise! We met with the teaching team to discuss this unusual option. As a small school, we feel that one of our strengths lies in the sense of family we feel in our community, and we were hesitant that this might not come across as strongly through virtual observations. But then our first-grade teacher reminded us – how can we expect our learners to be risk-takers if we aren’t? And with that, the decision became clear – we would welcome the visiting team to our virtual community.
Over two days in April 2020, two members of the IB spoke virtually with representatives of our community – parents, students, teachers, and school leaders, and visited our classrooms, campus, and students’ and teachers’ homes via various online platforms to get a sense of ESIS Elementary and our implementation of the PYP program.
In July 2020, we received confirmation of our acceptance as an IB PYP World School. It has been a journey of growth, open-mindedness and determination, and one that has strengthened our community and ESIS/ASC family. Our classrooms now breathe a sense of intellectual freedom, where each learner is unique, and the driver of their own learning. The journey thus far has been immensely rewarding and in turn, challenging. It has transformed the whole ESIS and ASC community into lifelong learners. With a growth mindset at the core of what we do, we know that this is not the end of the journey; rather, this is only the beginning.
Lauren Hopkins, PYP Coordinator, ES International School BCN
Aisling Lawless, Elementary Principal, ES International School BCN