Rachelle Bernadel is the IB’s University Relations Administrator at the IB Global Centre in Bethesda, MD, USA. She is also an IB graduate of Parkdale High School in Riverdale, Maryland.
As an avid track athlete I often think back to my beginnings as a runner in high school. I had “natural” talent and my passion for the sport was there, but it was unrefined, untrained with much potential for growth. Over time, with practice and positive reinforcing techniques, I graduated college breaking many of the personal records I started out with. In the same vein, my time within the IB program mirrored this experience. While taking courses in six disciplines, I struggled in some while excelling in others. But when given the opportunity to sharpen my distinct struggle points, it helped me flourish overall as a student.
I use these anecdotes as a reference point to an NPR podcast I recently heard entitled “Batman.” The reporters began their discussion with an experiment conducted by research psychologist Bob Rosenthal to test rats and performance in a maze. One group of rats was expected to be intelligent while the other categorized as “dumb.” The rats that were perceived as intelligent or having the ability to succeed in the maze, fared better than their counterparts. The reporters then related the conversation back to a man named Daniel Kish, affectionately called ‘Batman.’ He became blind when he was a toddler and developed the ability to navigate his world despite others’ subconscious expectations of what blind people could or could not do. Through Daniel’s story, the reporters emphasized the influence that expectations have on a person’s ability to physically manifest (or not) certain characteristics.
While listening to the podcast, I immediately reflected on my aforementioned experiences. The IB based on a constructivist model in that it is designed to allow any student to confront the perceived limits of their existing abilities and exceed beyond academia in terms of a grade. Skills that are developed or gained through the process can essentially be cultivated over the life span. Many students who would fit nicely into the IB program because they already are (or have the aspiration to be) high achievers, are often overlooked because of expectations of what they can handle. According to research, this is especially true for low-income, high poverty students– students who would benefit substantially from participation in the IB program.
So when the phrase “IB is not for every student” circulates through our communities, I think back to this experiment and my time as a runner. Every student has different start point, a different level of knowledge or skill they bring to the table. But if there are platforms for scaffolding to occur along the way, any student can be successful in the program. High expectations must be placed on all students and their ability to thrive. As educators we must push their pace because we cannot let the starting point dictate their finish line.