Designation could help students as they apply for college acceptance

A school within the Oregon Trail School District may soon have international ties. POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI Benjamin Collins, a sixth-grader at Oregon Trail Primary Academy, chose to attend the school for its high academic standards. He plans to attend Cambridge University, and, as indicated through the hat and wand, is keen on Dr. Who.

The 3-year-old Oregon Trail Primary Academy is a sponsored charter school, and also an International Baccalaureate (IB) school.

This means its students learn on a rigorous and standardized academic level found in 145 countries. In fact, when the students at the Oregon Trail Primary Academy count off during exercises in P.E. class, they do it in Mandarin. All 297 students at the academy are learning Mandarin, and that’s only one aspect of the school’s specific curriculum model.

The program started in Geneva in 1968 as a means to let diplomats and other world-traveling professionals provide their children with a continuity of education, no matter where they were stationed.

According to the International Baccalaureate website, the academy’s Primary Years Program is designed for students ages 3 to 12. It focuses on the development of “the whole child as an inquirer, both in the classroom and in the world outside.”

The academy’s own declared mission reads, “A rigorous education that is taught in an interdisciplinary fashion so that students see connection between the subjects they learn and the world around them.”

Such goals are good, but it’s not enough just to teach the curriculum. Based on performance, and only after being around for three years, an International Baccalaureate charter school must be evaluated and then accepted into the international program. The academy is in position for this designation.

“That’s the goal, to be recognized as an international school,” said Kasshawna Knoll, talent and gifted coordinator with the academy. “They do turn schools down, so it’s a big deal. If we get authorized, which I have no doubt we will, it will be pretty special.”

Along with the second-language education, another standard of IB schools is an emphasis on community involvement. Knoll said this goal brings out the philanthropist in many children.

“In our kindergarten and first and second grades, they are given models for behavior,” Knoll said. “In the upper grades, the students are taught to see a need and take action to fill it. One of our third-grade kids, for example, did a fundraiser to gather donated pajamas after hearing a radio commercial for the Sleep Country USA drive.

“He did it all on his own. Just three weeks ago, he dropped off a box of pajamas for the charity. That’s one of the things that we hold valuable is to give back to the community.”

Knoll said there is a waiting list for students hoping to enroll in the academy, based on a lottery. Further, she says graduates of the program are in a much better position for acceptance to prestigious universities.

“It’s considered the gold standard right now to have an IB diploma when applying to an Ivy League school,” she said.

A diploma? For primary school? Yes.

The IB program offers an examination-based diploma track for 11- and 12-year-olds. Such high standards set the school apart, but Knoll says the academy is anything but exclusive.

“It’s not as exclusive as a prep school,” she said. “But it has some of the exclusive elements that come with prep schools.”

To teach at the school, however, a certain level of exclusivity is required.

“I have a master’s in history from Purdue,” Knoll said. “I went international and taught at an IB school in Budapest, and really learned the value of the program.”

Knoll, who speaks Hungarian, said teachers hired at the academy have to undergo special IB curriculum training.

“Interestingly enough, all of our teachers speak another language,” she said. “We chose to teach Mandarin because a few of our teachers speak Mandarin.”

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