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Featured School: Riverview High School, Sarasota, Florida, US

This article originally appeared in IB Global News, which provides an array of news and information about IB programmes, professional development and research.

Dr. Paul Gallagher, IB Coordinator and Assistant Principal at Riverview, discusses the start-up of the Open World Schools pilot. Riverview, one of four Open World Schools, is working with link school Booker High School (also in Sarasota) to provide nine students with access to the Diploma Programme online.

Why did Riverview High School decide to join the Open World Schools pilot?

Two reasons: As an IB school, we’re always looking to move forward. Whether it’s new subjects for students or the research and development aspect, we’re always on the lookout. And we had been talking the last couple of years about access and equity. So when the IB rolled out [Open World Schools] as part of the strategic plan, it made sense to get involved.

165519-VOL 1 ISSUE 4_selected-pages_Page_2How was the link school chosen?

We initially had approached another school that we knew was in the intent phase. Then we began looking at Booker, which was just not going that direction. The principal [Dr. Rachel Shelley] jumped at it.

How many IB students are at Riverview?

In the IB year 1 and 2, about 325; in a preparatory program for grades 9 and 10, about 400.

Did you have to add any technology to prepare to be an Open World School? If so, what was needed?

Technology wasn’t a challenge. But the aspects that do need to be considered are personnel hours and time. It takes additional time from my link coordinator’s schedule, and she deserves compensation, and the same for the coordinator at the link school. That all has to be put in the equation for the cost of resources or what comes off the [coordinator’s] plate. For me, it’s an additional thing but not that big. The technology will become more of a factor: If I have a school in another part of the US or the Americas, then we will have to devise ways of communicating with and supporting them. We’re fostering an educational philosophy. There has to be some sort of relationship. If we’re in close proximity, it’s easier to do: visiting the school, providing teacher mentors, bringing over kids studying the same courses to meet with them. IB is more than courses— it’s the interdisciplinary and philosophy spirit. How do we farm out the courses but not underestimate getting the rest of the package to people?

Are there plans to engage with the pilot students offline?

Yes. We anticipate, with year 2, more intense and regular ways of having the students over here—maybe special seminars and units. I want them to feel a real sense of community when they complete the programme. For instance, if we have a global service day, we’ll invite them to participate. Or if there’s an evening presentation on theory of knowledge or international mindedness, we’ll invite them to that.

What feedback have you gotten so far?

We have heard lots. Kids are elated that the standard of education was the type that makes them feel valued, worthwhile and intelligent. They felt totally invigorated by the fact that they could become global citizens, hooked into a classroom with kids far away, and learn about different situations. For example, a Tunisian student talking to a link student here couldn’t meet because of real-world events. [Opposition leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated outside his home in the country’s capital, Tunis, on 6 February.]

Concerning operational learning: Most of our kids have some sort of working knowledge of the IB programmes. These kids didn’t have it. That made the dive into the pool scarier. What we learned and Pamoja, provider of online IB courses, learned too is that we need to have a solid unit of orientation to IB for these kids. I envision having students teach the new students about it. The beauty of [the OWS pilot] is that it is asynchronous and not tied to a schedule. With no deadlines, there has to be some commitment as to when [the link students] do it. The school can probably set that up in their scheduling. Sometimes the technology takes longer timewise than a scheduled school class, so maybe it needs to be blocked to get that depth. And there really needs to be a special space in the school. The OWS course can’t be done in the media center or computer lab—it’s not as conducive to learning. We have to re-examine where the kids are working.

What benefits do you expect to see from being an Open World School?

An innate benefit happens any time a programme is doing something out of the box and creative—it adds something exciting to the programme. You should have seen 175 of our kids when the nine kids from Booker were introduced as risk-takers and pioneers. They stood up and cheered! They had a deeper awareness of maybe “I’m not super-special. People are doing stuff that’s more impressive.”

Read more inside IB Global News Vol. 1, Issue 4