In addition to providing academic and social stimulation and years of growth opportunities, a child’s education prepares them for future higher education and, eventually, a career. Different educational approaches work best for different families, but it’s the International Baccalaureate (IB) education that consistently sets a student apart, says Anique Seldon, director of admissions, marketing and communications at the British International School of Chicago, South Loop (BISC-SL).
“The IB education really is considered the gold standard to prepare students for higher education and career,” Seldon says. “From Ivy League to liberal arts colleges, deans of admissions all remark how much better prepared students are when they have an IB education. It really opens doors for students whether they are applying to college abroad or here in the U.S.”
Throughout their experiences at BISC-SL, students pre-primary through grade 12 learn the value of academic, creative and service-oriented pursuits — and how to create an effective balance that ultimately serves them well in higher education and life.
“We start everything we do with the IB curriculum,” Seldon explains. “We filter many aspects of the curriculum down to age 3 and provide gradual stepping stones for academic and social-emotional skills, and incorporate the components of creativity, action and service.”
Spiral approach to learning
Distinct from American educational methods, where students tackle modules of content considered age-appropriate for each grade level, the IB curriculum more closely aligns with the British approach.
“In the UK, we introduce a bit of everything from the Early Years and create a foundation upon which to build as teachers guide students to continually revisit concepts through a spiral approach,” Seldon says.
Whereas the American classroom teaches to the middle cluster of students — often to the detriment of learners who need either more challenge or more support — the IB approach focuses on individualized instruction. The overlay of the International Primary Curriculum adds a thematic approach to learning for the youngest students.
“This really helps kids see the bigger pictures and they learn skills and concepts that are integrated, not separate silos,” Seldon says.
With the example of fractions, Seldon describes the play-based approach that works well for 3-year-olds with tangible slices of fruit. By age 5, instruction advances to picture fractions, just at a time when kids graduate out of play-based learning. “By grade five, they’re working on calculations with fractions and decimals, and in middle years, they’ve moved on to algebraic fractions,” she says, adding that by continually spiraling back to a concept learned years earlier and reinforced throughout, students build confidence as they strengthen their problem-solving skills.
These stepping stones allow students to progress to the full IB, which is implemented in their junior and senior years of high school. “Students have exposure to biology, chemistry and physics in elementary school — collectively, we call it science — and by the time they are in high school, they have two hours of each science each week,” Seldon says.
Foreign language proficiency
With an early introduction to foreign language, 3-year-olds at BISC-SL engage with French and Spanish through games and songs. “By middle school, students choose French, Spanish, Mandarin or German, or can even pursue dual language if they are strong linguists, with all continuing language study through graduation,” Seldon says. “By the time they reach IB junior and senior years, they are reading, writing, listening and speaking at high levels of fluency. They demonstrate reading and listening comprehension by answering questions during presentations and, at the highest IB levels, they are studying literature in foreign languages as well,” she says.
From age 3, all students learn science, phonics and Math, plus physical education, dance, music and art. “They’re really doing a bit of everything from the earliest of ages, and they are mandatory to the high school level,” Seldon says. “They’re embedded so students can explore, take risks and find their passions. They are exploring and trying new things in a safe way and they always find something they really enjoy.”
At BISC-SL, IB students also engage in a class called “theory of knowledge,” where they learn philosophy, address biases and apply reason. “This is about acknowledging what we think and why we think this way. Students explore their awareness of cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic diversity,” Seldon says, adding that each student creates an extended essay on a topic of their own choice. “It could be in the area of music, science or sports and it’s a mini-thesis where students use the skills of research, data analysis, critical thinking and citing references in a supportive environment,” Seldon explains.
Balanced and reflective by design
The IB education’s well-rounded approach to learning builds students that know how to balance thought and creativity — key skills for problem-solving on a global scale. Through meaningful community service, students learn how their actions can impact others. “These are not tokenistic hours they do once a year because it looks good on a college application,” Seldon says. “It’s about being mindful and reflective of the opportunities, how you can make life better for others and how your own trajectory has changed because of the experience.”
From the beginning, students engage in creative pursuits that add value to their education because they provide opportunities for reflection.
“This could be orchestra, ensemble, youth theater, baking or sewing. Part of this is a reflective process so students know the value of a creative outlet that helps them de-stress. Through this experience, students find that when they are ready for college, that transition is easier. They can manage their workloads, think ahead and write reflectively.”
Learn more about the British International School of Chicago, South Loop at bischicagosl.org.