Programme of ExcellenceMar 15, 2021 ● By Allie Spletter
It’s no secret that Frisco has made a name for itself locally and nationally as it’s grown and evolved over the years. You name it, and we’ve got it right down to the incredible entertainment, unique and eclectic dining, multiple professional sports teams and an award-winning school district that remains one of the top reasons families choose Frisco as their home. In addition to being a premier attraction point for residents moving in, the Frisco Independent School District (FISD) has been and remains one of the fastest-growing public school districts in the nation as new students join the district every day from around Texas, the United States and from across the world. FISD’s award-winning reputation precedes itself in its academic excellence, programs of innovation, incredible extracurricular opportunities, as well as in its mission, which is to know every student by name and need. The district’s desire to see students excel personally, academically and emotionally has allowed district leaders to set in motion programs and ways in which students can do just that – excel.
Frisco ISD’s success is largely due to a student-opportunity model that has led the district through decades of unprecedented growth. Student success and potential are fostered through the creation of small, individualized learning environments that allow educators to focus on each student, their strengths, weaknesses and circumstances. Through careful planning and collaboration, FISD has allowed students to participate in new and unique learning programs throughout the years that have allowed students to flourish wholly. Schools and Programs of Choice offer academic opportunities and programs not available at traditional FISD campuses, which gives students and parents across the district a choice and allows more opportunities for students to ready themselves for the future. The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme consists of multiple academically challenging courses that are designed to broaden students’ educational experiences and challenge them to apply their knowledge and skills at the high school level. Two years after submitting its initial application, Frisco High School was authorized as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, which allows it to offer the IB Diploma Programme, an advanced learning option for students that occurs during their last two years of high school.
FISD’s Bright Academy is a candidate school for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme and is pursuing authorization as an IB World School. IB World Schools share a common philosophy — a commitment to improving the teaching and learning of a diverse and inclusive community of students by delivering challenging, high-quality programmes of international education that share a powerful vision. FISD Assistant Director of Communications Meghan Cone explains, “Official authorization to become an IB World School is a multi-year process. First, schools apply for candidacy. If accepted, there is a consultancy and verification period before the school is authorized. Frisco ISD initiated the process for both campuses during the 2017-18 school year. Bright [Academy] enrolled its first students as a School of Choice in the 2018-19 school year, and FHS welcomed its first IB cohort in 2019-20.”
Frisco ISD’s decision to offer the programme to students across the district was made with the help of district leadership and community stakeholders. Of the decision to bring IB to Frisco ISD, Dr. Angela Romney, managing director of academic programs shares, “As part of the District’s strategic planning process several years ago, parents, staff and community members engaged in dialogue about what additional learning opportunities were needed and that they wanted to see in Frisco ISD. The International Baccalaureate was brought forward as a program that would meet the needs of many of our students by providing an inquiry-based learning approach with a focus on international-mindedness. This resonated with our diverse school community and became a goal in our district strategic plan. We are happy that our plans have now come to fruition, and we can offer the IB opportunities to our students.” Frisco ISD students are blessed with incredible opportunities, forward-thinking and rigorous curriculums, and students being able to take advantage of the IB program only proves how in-tune the district is in working alongside stakeholders to bring more opportunities to students. “We value providing students and families with a wide variety of opportunities and choices,” Dr. Romney says. “The IB Programme provides students with an additional choice that aligns to our Future-Ready Learner Profile by preparing students with skills such as international mindedness and world language skills that will help them accomplish their college, career and life goals,” she concludes.
Dr. Romney says that while both Advanced Placement (AP) courses and IB allow students to complete rigorous coursework and potentially earn college credit, the Diploma Programme (DP) offers a set pathway of courses that includes world language requirements as well as service and extracurricular activities. “AP coursework is offered in numerous content areas and students can choose which subjects they want to take based on their interests. Both are great options to prepare students for future college learning,” Dr. Romney explains.
So, what exactly is the IB Diploma Programme? According to Jenna Gates, Frisco High School IB and AVID coordinator, the IB DP is an internationally known high school option for eleventh and twelfth grade students that includes rigorous courses for college preparation along with additional requirements outside of the classroom to demonstrate an application of learning.
“The FISD IB DP is open to high school students in any attendance zone and is housed at Frisco High School (FHS). Students outside of the FHS zone transfer as ninth graders to create their grade-level IB cohort and plan for their future IB requirements by taking preparatory advanced courses in ninth and tenth grade and by becoming a part of the FHS community,” Ms. Gates shares. She continues, “The IB courses cover all subject areas: English, math, science, social studies, world languages and the arts. One of the IB courses includes a unique Theory of Knowledge course where students explore ways of viewing the world and how knowledge is built in society. The experiences outside of the classroom involve creative, active and service projects along with the requirement to explore a student-created research question in-depth through an extended essay requirement. The IB DP option is certainly an advanced high school option where students go well beyond the standard high school graduation requirements.”
IB DP courses focus on helping students develop IB learner profile traits and include connections to Theory of Knowledge and international mindedness. The IB learner profile traits include thinker, principled, risk-taker, communicator, inquirers, caring, knowledgeable, open-minded, reflective and balanced. The courses also have more of an emphasis on making connections between subject areas and including writing and research skills in all subject areas.
Ms. Gates states that students who complete the IB DP are well prepared for any future university pathways due to the emphasis on writing, inquiry, research and communication skills. Similar to AP courses, there is the possibility of earning college credit depending on student performance and the specific guidelines for each university on awarding college credit. Also, students in the IB Programme can highlight their experiences on their college applications as a way to stand out among their peers.
The IB Programme is open enrollment, similar to AP courses, which means that there are no testing or grade requirements for participation, though students should consider their academic skills and motivation to be challenged by advanced courses when determining whether to apply. “The IB courses are all advanced courses, so a successful IB student would need to be academically motivated and able to manage multiple advanced courses in their high school schedule in the eleventh and twelfth grades,” Ms. Gates explains.
Of the IB Programme selection process, Ms. Gates shares that students participate in the admissions process in the eighth grade by parents submitting an interest form when available in November. “Admissions is open enrollment, so there are no barriers to participation. A lottery process starts in December where parents are then required to complete a commitment form to confirm a spot in the program, and a waitlist process leads to students being given the opportunity to join as spots become available. Once I receive the list of students for our new cohort, I communicate with students and parents to help update four-year high school plans and transition into Frisco HS as ninth graders,” Ms. Gates explains.
As with most, if not all of Frisco ISD’s curriculums, programs and pathways, graduates are future-ready and capable of achieving great things and making names for themselves in the world. Participation in the IB Programme can lead to a wide variety of opportunities for students in the future both domestically and internationally. “IB Alumni are often recognized by universities and work programs as graduates who are highly prepared for any future career pathway due to their strong academic and personal skills. IB graduates are sought after as leaders and well-rounded individuals who have had experiences in high school that prepare them to tackle future challenges in any career field,” Ms. Gates says of the post-high school advantages of participation in the IB Diploma Programme.
High school students grow, learn, adapt and excel through their participation in the programme and the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) has proven to be impactful at the elementary level in FISD as well. Currently in its authorization semester, Bright Academy is a candidate school for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme and pursuing authorization as an IB World School. IB Coordinator and Bright Assistant Principal Heather Street says the IB PYP focuses on inquiry-based instructional processes, designed with student input, through global concepts and perspectives across all content areas. “The goal being that with increased levels of engagement and learner input, the whole child is best prepared to be a global citizen capable of thinking, questioning and communicating new and unexpected ideas and solutions,” she says. While the IB Diploma Programme serves several high school students selected through an application process and focuses on IB learner profile traits, the PYP is geared towards the development of the learner as a whole child. “Students are taught why they should know something and how it connects to multiple subject areas,” Ms. Street adds. She continues, “For this to occur, the content is viewed as equally important to their social and emotional development. Students develop their ‘Approaches to Learning’ and their ‘Learner Profile Attributes’ through both specific and embedded instruction and socially responsible action projects. Unlike the DP program at Frisco High School which involves student cohort groups, all students K-5 participate in the IB PYP program at Bright Academy.”
A day in the life of an elementary student is, admittedly, quite different than that of a high school-aged student, and the Bright PYP students’ days don’t always look the same due to the transdisciplinary model. Ms. Street explains, “While the day may start and end at the same time and lunches and specials are a fixed time of the day, students benefit from choice as to their morning activity location from 7:15 to 7:45 and benefit from daily Physical Education in addition to their specials rotations which include the district’s only elementary Spanish classes. All classrooms at Bright Academy are self-contained, meaning that a class remains together for the majority of their instructional day versus switching for certain subject areas. This is because the curriculum allows for instruction that incorporates multiple disciplines. For example, reading and writing instruction may take place embedded within the science unit that may then incorporate math connections. As a result, when entering the room, it may be hard to determine what “subject” you are looking at. This allows for higher levels of application and understanding when making connections across contents.”
Much like the high school Diploma Programme, though, IB PYP students are future-ready and very much prepared for the transition to middle school given that the IB PYP programme focuses on the application of global concepts and the development of the whole child. “We feel that any student provided with an increased level of leadership and engagement opportunities while also being asked to reflect on their behaviors as thinkers, learners and communicators are prepared for any middle school setting, traditional or IB in nature,” Ms. Street concludes.
Though the Frisco ISD IB Programmes are still largely in their infancy, they are off the ground and running! Of feedback received and how the programmes are faring, Dr. Romney shares, “The IB Diploma Programme and Primary Years Programme have been well-received with students throughout the district deciding to move campuses to participate in these learning opportunities. We recently completed the final authorization for the Diploma Programme and were given a lot of positive feedback from the International Baccalaureate Organization regarding how we have structured the program, provided professional learning for our teachers and staff and prepared students for their IB coursework. We will be having our final authorization visit for Bright Academy in April. We are excited to see our first IB Diploma Programme cohort graduate in 2023 as we also continue to welcome new students into Bright Academy and the IB Diploma Programme.” While FISD does not currently have an IB Middle Years Program (MYP), Dr. Romney reports that the district is researching the MYP.
Selections for the IB Diploma Programme have been made for the coming school year, and students who were not initially selected were placed on a waitlist. The lottery process will continue until all available seats are filled and parents will receive an email notification if a spot becomes available throughout the spring semester. Students enrolled in the FHS IB Diploma Programme are guaranteed acceptance to the school in subsequent years. Students who move into FISD or students in the ninth or tenth grade who are interested in joining the IB Programme are encouraged to contact Ms. Gates via email at [email protected] to inquire about the possibility of joining an IB cohort.
Students who live within the Bright Academy attendance zone will automatically attend Bright as their home campus. Also, an annual lottery opens each spring allowing students across the district to apply to attend in a random lottery selection process. The availability is based on open spots within each grade level and families are notified of selection in late spring. The lottery for the IB Primary Years Programme runs from February 22 to March 16 and new Bright Academy families are notified beginning March 25 for the 2021-2022 school year.
Frisco, our big city with a small-town feel, continues to impress in so many facets, and Frisco ISD, its leaders, employees and stakeholders continue to develop and grow a district that truly allows students to thrive, excel and better themselves in more ways than ever before.
For more information on the IB Diploma Programme and the IB Primary Years Programme visit http://www.friscoisd.org.
Allie Spletter is a freelance writer who can be found roaming the aisles of Target, getting lost in a good book, or watching Hamilton…again.