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IB Middle Years Programme: Fostering a Sense of Unity

By Philip Mantaring, Middle Years Programme coordinator, M.B. Lamar High School, Houston, Texas, USA

There is a saying here that “everything’s bigger in Texas,” and the typical first time visitor to our campus can see why.

Located in Houston, Texas, M.B. Lamar High School services over 3,000 students each year. Within this large population, diversity is the standard, not the exception. Our students originate from 50 different middle schools; represent many ethnicities, and hail from every neighbourhood in Houston—from homeless shelters to the wealthiest homes.

Like any urban high school, we face the challenge of meeting the individual needs of such a large and diverse group of students, while at the same time fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility. Therefore, it was only natural for Lamar to choose International Baccalaureate (IB) to meet those needs. 

M.B. Lamar began offering the IB Diploma Programme in 1982. While the Diploma Programme addressed many of our concerns, it also created some new ones. For many of the students and faculty, the term “IB” had become synonymous with “elite” students. This situation became ironic in that the International Baccalaureate ideals of respect for diversity and shared responsibility among all people were only being communicated to a select few.  To address this problem, Lamar turned once again to IB, this time in 2003 by bringing the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) to the whole campus.

The MYP has done much to foster the sense of academic unity that we were looking for. The MYP practices, such as interdisciplinary study, inquiry based instruction, and real world relevance helped to improve assessment scores in all disciplines, paving the way for M.B. Lamar High School to earn the Texas Education Agency’s “Recognized” campus designation.

Our Diploma also benefits from the MYP. The connections between the two programmes have not only smoothed the adjustment to Diploma-level work, they have served to encourage students to consider the IB diploma as something worth shooting for and capable of obtaining. Our results speak for themselves: we went from 38 diploma recipients in 2003 to 116 recipients in 2009—the most diploma recipients in the state of Texas.

To meet our particular needs we chose to implement MYP as a “whole school” programme, meaning every 9th and 10th grade student on our campus participates in the MYP. This choice presented us with many pressing issues. Size is always a concern.  In a given year, we will typically have over 1,400 MYP students taught by nearly 100 faculty members.

In addition to issues of population are academic issues. M.B. Lamar offers an incredible variety of courses including a business administration magnet program, as well as seven different language B offerings, all of which had to be incorporated into the MYP. Also, availability of resources has been a big concern.  Aspects of the programme, such as the personal project (about 650 were produced this year) often stretch our ability to provide students adequate resources.

We took a two-pronged approach to address these concerns: structural and cultural. We made the conscious decision to take the concept of “whole school” literally. All teachers, regardless of the subject area or grade level they teach, are trained in the MYP pedagogy. Even those teachers at the 11th and 12th grade who do not teach in our Diploma Programme are expected to use these best practices in their classrooms. In order to facilitate continual growth in the MYP and foster collaboration, teachers are provided time to meet in interdisciplinary groups and in their own subject area on a weekly basis. For incoming freshmen we offer our “Summer Academy”, a one month, non-credit course of study taught with MYP pedagogy that we use to both reinforce the skills they will need to succeed in high school and to introduce them to the MYP.

The second of the two approaches we took was a cultural one. It is impossible to overstate the role our school culture had in implementing the MYP at a whole school level. IB, the MYP, and the learner profile are embedded not just in the classroom but everywhere on campus—from the decorations in our hallways to the manner in which our professional development is conducted.

Our approach was certainly not without its detractors; this sort of drastic cultural shift forced everyone to decide whether IB could truly be a part of their value system and many good educators left us as a result. In the long term, such change was needed because the collaboration, integration, and communication that form such an important part of the MYP is best fostered when the school community shares the same goals.  IB is such an integral part of our entire school’s culture now—every teacher is an IB teacher and every student is an IB student—that we even have a saying for it “IB-long to Lamar High School”. As our principal once stated, “we are not a school with an IB programme, we are an IB World School.”