Tates Creek Middle earns International Baccalaureate status

Taking advantage of the hallway space, Tates Creek Middle School eighth-graders Sheayre Bowles, left and Luma Quovci, both 13, worked Wednesday on a differential reading exercise.
Taking advantage of the hallway space, Tates Creek Middle School eighth-graders Sheayre Bowles, left and Luma Quovci, both 13, worked Wednesday on a differential reading exercise.

Lexington's Tates Creek Middle School has been named an International Baccalaureate School, completing a five-year drive to become the first Kentucky middle school to win designation from the International Baccalaureate Programme based in Geneva, Switzerland.

School officials began the process in 2006, hoping to turn around their then-struggling school. They spent five years training teachers, selling the concept to the community, undergoing reviews by the IB organization and implementing IB teaching concepts in all classes.

The program is not a school within a school but covers all 700 students at Tates Creek Middle.

"The commitment that was required was huge," Principal Greg Quenon said Wednesday. "It was tough at times. I think some people probably doubted we could do it. But we had to make sure this wasn't just another thing that we're trying."

Officials got word from Switzerland a week ago that Tates Creek had been accepted by the international organization. The school celebrated Wednesday, and a banner proclaiming the new designation greeted students as they arrived for classes.

Under the program, Tates Creek Middle continues to teach the standard Kentucky core content but approaches it in a different way. Officials say the emphasis is on rigor, challenging students, interdisciplinary learning, foreign languages and providing students with an international outlook, with requirements for physical education and community service thrown in.

Fayette County Public Schools officials say the middle school effort also should dovetail nicely with the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at neighboring Tates Creek High School, which was approved in 2006. Only four other Kentucky high schools have an IB program: Sacred Heart Academy and Atherton in Louisville; Apollo in Owensboro; and Holmes in Covington.

The International Baccalaureate Programme began around 1968 as a private, non-profit foundation at the International School of Geneva. Originally, it was aimed at children of parents working in diplomatic services or for multinational corporations. Today, it serves all kinds of students. According to the organization's Web site, there are more than 860,000 IB students representing more than 3,000 schools in 139 countries.

Quenon began looking at the IB program soon after becoming principal at Tates Creek Middle in 2006.

"We contemplated different things we could do to put Tates Creek Middle back on the map," he said. "We felt we really had to have an identity. What was the school going to be about? Once we started looking at IB, it really made sense."

Marie Conger, a former French teacher and now the IB coordinator at Tates Creek Middle, says a major difference is cross-disciplinary learning.

For example, Conger says students in algebra class might learn math concepts, then be asked to use them in planning a trip to a foreign country, calculating expenses, fees and total cost. They also might have to calculate the cost of a bargain trip versus a high-end vacation. They might be asked to produce a Web page laying out the various options or publish a brochure describing the trip. Finally, the assignment might cross over into science by requiring students to study climatic data in the country to be visited and produce graphs of what the weather might be like.

"You take the basic algebra content and put it into a form that's pretty cool," Conger said. "It's about challenging the students, going deeper, not just looking at the surface facts. We're really trying to encourage thinking and inquiring in the kids."

The IB program also requires all students to study a second language every year. Every student gets physical education all year, every year, and all students are required to do community service. This year, for example, students helped raise money for an organization doing assistance work in Haiti.

It takes about 10 years for a middle school IB program to produce full results. But Quenon said he thinks the Tates Creek Middle program is paying off already.

Students' scores on statewide tests rose almost 10 percent last year, and officials expect more improvement when this year's scores come out next week.

Meanwhile, district officials are hoping that adjacent Tates Creek Elementary School might join the IB program some day, creating an "International Baccalaureate campus" for children from elementary through high school.