Since it was established in 1997, International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme has helped students at more than 1,700 schools in 109 different countries become international thinkers.

Thanks to the schoolwide effort at Santa Monica’s own Will Rogers Learning Community, the local elementary school has completed the program’s very lengthy application phase and is now an official candidate school for the Primary Years Programme, or PYP, according to principal Ryan Bourke, meaning students and teachers are enjoying a new model of classroom learning that will instill scholars with the tools needed for future success.

“International Baccalaureate frameworks are traditionally associated with high schools — and yes the high school program is traditionally the diploma that’s recognized and that’s what people know about,” Bourke said, “but the work truly begins in kindergarten because that’s when we have kids arriving at our doorstep, loving life, excited to learn and full of natural curiosity.”

PYP is designed for children aged 3- to 12-years-old and its inquiry-led, transdisciplinary framework challenges students to think for themselves and take responsibility for their learning as they explore local and global issues and opportunities in real-life contexts, according to the program’s website.

“So rather than the traditional model of education where it’s sit down, be quiet and let’s listen to the teacher and learn what I say, we do the exact opposite,” Bourke said. “We encourage students to ask questions; we encourage them to make observations and develop ideas about the world.”

Bourke added one of the most important aspects and benefits of IB’s Primary Years Programme is the concept of learner agency.

“We want students to understand themselves as agents who can direct their education, who can make a difference in the world; who can make a difference in the world — even in a kindergarten classroom,” Bourke said, before discussing the program’s focus on global thinking and international mindedness.

“Another part of the program’s mission is they want children to be aware of different ways of thinking, living and the fact that more than one opinion can be right,” Bourke said. “So we also hope to instill the idea that it doesn’t have to be us versus them or black and white; we can come together and have that dissonance and conversation and learning, and at the end of the day, we know it’s okay to think differently because we’re different people.”

Bourke added he believes the school’s focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — will help students excel in the new inquiry-based curriculum.

“We are a STEM school and that’s all about asking questions and inquiry, so we’ve been doing this stuff for a long time and we are really well-positioned to move into this,” he said.

Will Rogers became a candidate school this year and it will remain so until it applies for authorization about a year from now, according to Bourke. Once the school applies for authorization, a team from IB will then visit to ensure the various PYP standards and practices are in place on-campus.

“They’re going to interview students, staff, parents and the community all just to see if the program is happening as they expect it to. They don’t expect perfection,” Bourke said. But the team does want to see that children are developing agency, taking what they learned and applying it to real-world scenarios. There are a lot of guidelines and organizing themes listed out in the program’s framework that govern what kids are learning, and IB wants to see those in action.

“We identify Santa Monica-Malibu as a 21st-century district and this is just another layer of that cake,” Bourke said. “We need to raise students who are prepared to enter a very complex and nuanced society and we need them to be thinkers. We cannot just have people who are automatons that receive information. We need students to be doing something with that information and that’s what IB does in an effort to create a more just and better world.”

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