New Back of the Yards High School Slated for IB Curriculum, will Host Neighborhood Library
By: Adriana Cardona – The Gate Newspaper
The uncertain future of the new high school in Back of the Yards seemed a bit less foggy after Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced the opening of the new high school in the fall of 2013—the first to also host a community library open to all neighborhood residents.
“The community library of the area will be at the Back of the Yards high school,” said Emanuel during the press conference. “The actual library in the high school will also be the community library, serving both functions simultaneously. We are going to make a single investment that serves both purposes.”
The Back of the Yards high school will also be the second neighborhood school, after Senn High School in Edgewater, to become an entirely International Baccalaureate (IB) school – an academically rigorous program originally designed for the children of diplomats.
The expansion of the IB program is part of a city effort to provide quality school options for all students in every neighborhood. For Back of the Yards, the decision was made after discussions with stakeholders in the community serving the neighborhood, explained a press statement.
The rigorous program that includes philosophy, foreign language and four years of math and science, is taught in more than 2,300 IB high schools worldwide and was first developed in Switzerland 44 years ago, according to a news report by WBEZ last March.
In an IB school, every freshman and sophomore student participates in what is called the Middle Years Program (MYP). At the completion of the sophomore year, students can proceed to either the full Diploma Programme, opt for an IB certificate where the students can take one or more IB classes, opt for an IB career related certificate or fulfill an IB core requirement.
Ultimately every student in the Back of the Yards high school will touch the IB programme in some way.
Many details, however, are still uncertain. When asked about the enrollment criteria for the new IB high school, Brizard explained that Back of the Yards students will get priority enrollment if they want to be part of a challenging curriculum.
“Most of our new programs for IB [are] neighborhood first open enrollment. The idea is that we will be focused on providing great options to neighborhood students,” he said. “So what we look very simply is for kids who really want to be part of this community who are willing to handle regular educational options for them.”
There was not a concrete answer as to how CPS will work with local elementary schools to ensure that the local students are actually prepared to enroll in this high school. However, Mayor Emanuel spoke highly of Chavez Elementary School’s multicultural efforts to send 12 of its 8th grade students to selective enrollment schools and 30 to the IB programs around the city.
“There are kids in this neighborhood academically ready,” said Emanuel. “The whole idea is to give our high school children and their parents [a] choice.”
Marco Camacho a teacher at Whittier Elementary School, who also taught at the Multicultural Arts School in Little Village, is concerned about the support that many of the local students and their families will get in order to succeed in an IB school.
“Are they going to have the support in place so that the students are successful?” asked Camacho. “In these particular communities— being Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards— you have students that are dealing with poverty and very limited resources.”
Many of the students are dealing with families that are forced to work 12 hours, Camacho explained, adding that some students are children of immigrants or immigrants themselves.
One concrete need that Camacho identified is a dual language support system for the students because according to him, the academic level in English will vary from community to community, from family to family and from generation to generation.
“If there are no strategies in place to even build community among the parents, get the parents invested and teach them about what does it mean to be in an IB program, or a college prep, or a neighborhood high school or a community high school, then I am concerned that the students will be potentially set up for failure.”
A supportive strategy, Camacho believes, will ensure that an IB-based curriculum is successful in a community like Back of the Yards.
Maureen Kelleher, a Back of the Yards resident and former educator, believes CPS’ support to feeder elementary schools is key for the IB program to succeed.
“In order for it to be successful there [needs] to be a lot of preparation. We know that our kids can do it but they need to be supported,” said Kelleher. “This means that I hope all the feeder elementary schools will be able to adopt IB early in middle years programs. I hope the board will support that work to make sure that our feeder schools are ready.”
Overall, Kelleher sees this as a great opportunity for the neighborhood.
“We know we have kids who can do it, we have kids going to Curie [High School] IB, kids from this neighborhood go to Yale, Princeton, Northwestern, University of Chicago— so this is a great way to extend the training that all our kids need for rigorous post secondary education,” she added.