Welcoming Schools Prepare for STEM and IB Programs 

Thousands of CPS students to benefit from specialized curriculum

June 04, 2013

Many of the students entering welcoming schools this fall will have access to STEM and IB programs that will provide opportunities to enrich their academic experience and provide them with specialized skills.


Of the dedicated welcoming schools, 10 will have new STEM programs and 6 will be given the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle-Years Program, further increasing Chicago's status as having more IB schools than any city in the world.


"IB is a student-driven framework that focuses on international mindedness and the development of cultural understanding among students," said Kyle Westbrook, Director of Magnet, Gifted and Talented Programs for CPS.


This academic approach infuses internationalism into a curriculum of eight core subjects, among them science, humanities, art, and world language.


"There's a huge emphasis on student reflection, and students are given a lot of choice in how they show their learning," said Mary Beth Cunat, principal of Wildwood Elementary, a wall-to-wall IB school within CPS. "The goal is to teach children that they can take ownership of their learning."


According to Cunat, IB provides a concrete rather than abstract approach to education.


"It's not just about task completion," she said. "It's about doing something with our learning. IB teaches students that what they learn can make a difference in their lives and in their communities, and eventually in the larger world. It teaches them the value of collaboration and being part of a global community."


Similar to those with IB programs, STEM schools have a balanced curriculum with an underlying academic focus, specifically on science, technology, engineering and math. Students who complete a STEM program have a strong foundation in mathematics and scientific reasoning, and are given the chance to develop advanced technology skills and an understanding of engineering principles.


"Our students are immersed in these subjects," said Maria McMannus, principal of STEM Magnet Academy. "They spend a good deal of time each week in our science, engineering and technology labs, and then they take what they've learned back to their other core subjects."


A common misconception about STEM schools is that students study math and science at the expense of subjects like reading, social science, and other humanities courses. In fact, the curriculum is fully integrated to create a balanced, high-quality education.


"Imagine a group of second graders reading a story about a country where people need to travel from one place to another in order to get water," said Principal McManus. "By reading the story, they learn about the country, its people, its culture, and its needs. Then they break into small groups to design a bridge that will allow those people to get water. That's just one of many examples of literacy influencing engineering and vice versa. This kind of collaboration is a big part of STEM."


The STEM and IB programs that will be offered in welcoming schools build specific competencies with an eye toward preparing students for success in CPS' early college or selective enrollment high schools. Successfully integrating these programs into the classroom is critical, thus principals who will be receiving STEM and IB programs in their welcoming schools met last month to learn about the benefits to their students and receive training on how best to implement these specialized curricula.


"Regardless of whether or not our students pursue careers in these fields, this kind of curriculum prepares them to become informed citizens of the world," said Gretchen Brinza, Engineering Specialist for STEM Magnet Academy. "There's no question that it is an excellent academic foundation for their futures."