"From A. De La Llana, an aspiring principal who is pursuing a masters degree in school building leadership at an Ivy League school and has worked in public education in various cities in the U.S. for 10 years.
Reflection: International School of Indiana
"College and career readiness" are buzz words used frequently by politicians, principals, administrators, teachers, parents, and members of the community. I often wonder if we, myself included, actually know what it means to prepare students for the future. When I was a student, I used a manual typewriter to write papers and microfiche when reading research articles at the library. My very first email account was created when I was in college. At the time, I could not imagine that I would be living in a world a few years later where information was readily available through the use of a cell phone.
My point for using these examples is to illustrate the fact that we are preparing our students for a future that we know absolutely nothing about. The best that we can do is teach our children the skills that they need to not only cope with life's challenges, but to be leaders in their communities and chosen professions.
I have spent ten years in education, first as a public school teacher in Washington, DC and then as a teacher in public charter schools in Brooklyn, NY. Currently, I am a graduate student at an Ivy League school, whose mission is to transform possibilities for school improvement. My capstone project involves designing a high performing school and presenting it to a panel of judges comprised of members from the New York City Department of Education as well as community leaders.
I immediately set out on a journey to find the highest performing schools in the community. I researched schools of excellence in Indianapolis and discovered the International School of Indiana (ISI). Their mission statement was compelling: providing "an excellent multilingual, multicultural education through a distinctive, internationally acclaimed curriculum that prepares our students to contribute successfully to their communities."
The school's Director of Admissions, Ms. Harrison, extended a warm welcome to me as soon as I requested to take part in a school tour. To say that my visit to the school was life-changing is an understatement to the highest degree.
Upon learning that ISI students are taught to be inquirers, critical thinkers, communicators, risk takers, knowledgeable, principled, caring, open-minded, balanced, and reflective, I immediately burst into tears.
Here's why: I recognized at that moment that the best teaching that I had ever done was only enough to get my students to pass state exams. But were they able to think? To make difficult decisions? To lead their communities? I cannot say with confidence that I prepared them to do so.
I had the pleasure of observing a 10th grade Chemistry class. After three minutes, I knew that if I had the good fortune of having this teacher in high school, I would have not only excelled in this subject, I would have developed a love for it. Watching Mr. McQueen and his students was like watching a brilliant performance from the Symphony Orchestra: it was a masterpiece. Because I lack expertise in the content area, I cannot recreate the highlights of the lesson word-for-word and would not be able to do the lesson justice at all.
What I can explain is that he facilitated rich discussion about balancing equations and translating the words to symbol equations. He lit a fire in his students' hearts and minds and cultivated a beautiful curiosity about elements and their oxidation states. If they had incorrect answers, they were eager to get to the bottom of it. And get to the bottom of it, they did! Instead of giving them answers immediately, he asked them questions that allowed them to extend their thinking and come to the correct answer themselves. When I asked him how he was able to get his students to be so engaged, he simply said, "I love Chemistry."
It was evident that his passion for Chemistry spread to every single student. As a result, this 10th grade class is more than prepared for their first year of Chemistry at the university level.
I asked a student, Lauren, about what she considered her most valuable experience at ISI. She described her trip to Costa Rica earlier this year, where she stayed with a host family, attended classes everyday, and had the opportunity to explore a coffee field. She expressed that the experience taught her independence and how to interact with people from different cultures. I asked her what her greatest challenge was and how ISI helped her overcome it. Prior to this year, she attended a public school and thought that she wrote fairly well. However, when she came to ISI, she discovered that most of her writing only summarized the text and her teachers challenged her to evaluate and interpret the text. She felt that her teachers really helped her develop in this area, which will better prepare her for college.
I had the opportunity to eat lunch with three students, all of whom shared their hopes and dreams for the future. I was impressed with their maturity, confidence, self-discipline, work ethic, and independence. They already possessed study skills and habits of mind that would set them up for success in college.
"Getting the IB Diploma is a lot of work," one of them explained. "You can't fall behind. But it doesn't feel like work because you love doing it."
What resonates the most with me about my visit to ISI is how its staff truly prepares its students for college, career, and quite simply, life. When I think of the students I met today, I know that I have met future CEOs, attorneys, physicians, professors, politicians, authors, chemists, the list is endless.
ISI is in the position to unlock the potential of all of its students and the feeling of anticipation and possibility in the building is palpable. At the core of it all is relationships: relationships between students, between staff, between parents and the community. My visit to ISI has raised the bar of excellence, opened my eyes to what is possible, and has certainly lit a fire in me."
"If you look at the graduates who have gone through the school, how well they have done, the I.B., in and of itself has such a high standing. The I.B. stands apart and is perceived as a level of differentiation and complexity and difficulty, if you will, above and beyond those other evaluations which are used. This brings an additional element to what these kids can achieve by being able to be that more competitive in their placement at the best colleges. And so ISI has built a track record of academic excellence and a track record of having many of its students well placed in today’s world."
"We love ISI and are so proud to be a part! It's a family and
everyone does what they can. We feel so fortunate to be a member of
this family. While we all share a vision, it is our diversity and
unique opportunities which allow us to achieve it!"
"We take pride that the International School of Indiana is the only school of its type in the Midwest. Its presence and growth are a testament to visionary leaders intent on supporting Indiana’s participation in the global economy. It represents an unequaled educational asset helping Indiana attract and retain international employers and their families."
"The time I spent in the intimate learning environment fostered at the International School of Indiana has been integral in shaping the way I perceive and relate to the world. Through educational values that are ongoing, ISI instilled in me a confidence in my capacity to make meaningful connections with the individuals I meet, and real contributions to the diverse communities of which I am a part."
In November I was fortunate to attend the annual conference of the European Council of International
David Garner, Head of School, and ISI were featured in a recent article in the Huffington Post.
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