Ophir receives authorization for Primary Years Program
By Bay Stephens EBS LOCAL EDITOR
BIG SKY – On Saturday, June 1, Lone Peak High School will graduate its first class of students with full International Baccalaureate diplomas. Since its implementation two years ago, the program has been challenging yet rewarding for students, teachers and administrators at Big Sky School District. Ophir Elementary School also received full authorization for IB’s Primary Years Program on May 24.
Of the high school’s 16 graduating seniors this year, nine are pursuing full IB diplomas, but have to wait until July 3 when their exam scores are posted before they know whether they’ll receive the diploma.
For students who chose to pursue the IB Diploma Program, the most rigorous path to graduation at the school, the curriculum forced them to work hard and to surprise themselves with their accomplishments, in school and beyond.
If you ask Dawson Raden or Sam Johnson what they thought of the IB Diploma Program, both would say it was demanding, especially as student athletes.
“You have a lot of papers to write, a lot of homework, the tests are very difficult,” Johnson said. “So, it’s a very difficult program alone [even] if you’re not missing school for sports.”
As skiers, Johnson competed in downhill races throughout the winter and trained two afternoons each week, while Raden missed an average of three school days for each competitive freeride competition he traveled to. Rather than quitting their sport because of the pace of the Diploma Program, both student athletes had great years on the snow, podiuming in many of their respective competitions.
Johnson and Raden agreed that time management and communication were chief skills they developed over the past two years in the program.
“It was all about talking to your teachers before you left to get work ahead of time and then talking to them right when you got back to see what you needed to catch up on,” Raden said.
While Raden thought senior year would be more laid back, he was surprised by how well he balanced rigorous studies with his freeride competitions, ending up 12th in North America and 9th in the nation for his age group. For Johnson, he hadn’t thought he’d be able to write the in-depth, 4,000-word research paper that the Diploma Program requires.
“Then I ended with 3,999 words,” Johnson said. “I never would have thought in a million years that I would have done that. [IB] really pushes you to succeed and it kind of surprises you.”
The program also involved a learning process for teachers, such as Dr. Kate Eisele, who taught Diploma Program Biology.
“I’ve been challenged by [IB] professionally, but I think it has helped me to grow as a teacher because I had to keep working toward a very defined, long-term goal,” Eisele said. “I also would say it has elevated the pace of my teaching.”
Through the IB program, the senior class learned alongside their teachers, furnishing a special companionship.
“The students have been big supporters, and they know that I am always rooting for them,” Eisele said. “I feel that the biggest payoffs for students will come in the form of the intangible skills: self-motivation, time management, written communication and most of all, grit. They learned to stick with the program, even when it felt impossible and overwhelming.”
From what Sam Johnson’s mother Martha has heard while touring colleges with her son, the IB Diploma Program is a big positive mark with admissions offices.
“When the advisors heard that [Sam] was in the IB … they said, ‘Wow, those kids are so focused and dedicated and they transition to college so much easier than kids who have not done the IB program,” she said.
The Diploma Program isn’t the only path to graduating at BSSD, according to IB Program Coordinator Marlo Mitchem. The school also provides a midlevel path that mixes IB classes with traditional classes, as well as one that sticks to a mostly traditional curriculum, although all juniors and seniors have some exposure to IB. Only the Diploma Program is awarded the full IB diploma, but that doesn’t mean other students don’t find opportunities to excel.
“All students accomplish great things here at this school, not just the full diploma kids,” said BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman. “All of these kids gained valuable skills through [the IB program].”
On May 24, the school district received notice that its Primary Years Program, IB’s curriculum for elementary students that has a focus on developing a love for learning in young students, was authorized by IB. The district has worked the past 12 months to gain this formal authorization and was excited to hear commendations from the IB representatives that reviewed Ophir Elementary’s programing to ensure it met curriculum standards. Ophir is now the fourth elementary school in Montana to offer a Primary Years Program through IB.
“I want to publicly congratulate all the PYP team, students and parents for working hard to support this great achievement,” Shipman wrote in a newsletter from the school district.