For two days in November, a delegation from the International Baccalaureate's (IB) North American headquarters toured Langston Hughes Middle School and South Lakes High School. Apparently they liked what they saw.
Because on April 3, administrators from both schools, as well as officials from Fairfax County, were on hand at Langston Hughes to celebrate the official accreditation of Langston Hughes as an IB Middle School. The two schools found out on Valentine's Day that they had been "fully authorized," but school officials waited until last week to celebrate their accomplishment.
"We are beaming," said Deborah Jackson, Langston Hughes principal. "This is a celebration of accomplishment."
The now "fully authorized" program, which has been up and running since the 1999-2000 school year, was on an initial probationary period. Last November's site visit was a crucial test for the immediate future of the IB program.
"This designation doesn't change the way we operate," said Cindi Dietz, a South Lakes English teacher and the school's IB liaison. "It does, however, validate all of the hard work we, and our students, have done in the last few years."
<b>DESPITE SOME INITIAL</b> hesitation about the benefits of the program from some parents, Langston Hughes PTA president Molly Quackenbush said the program has been a "phenomenal" success. "Personally, I like it because it benefits all children by raising the level of instruction throughout the school," Quackenbush said. "IB is not just for a select group students, it really raises the bar for everyone."
School Board member Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill) agreed. "The IB program is for every child," said Gibson, who is also a South Lakes parent. "The middle school years program will give this the foundation our kids need. It makes good readers great and turns non-readers into readers. We know they will succeed in high school and college."
The IB program, said Jackson, allows her school to stay on the "cutting edge" of learning. "We are going to continue to make a difference in the lives of our children," the principal said. "These years are uniquely special. I am in the middle and we have to look ahead and see where they are going."
The middle school IB curriculum, which technically covers grades seven through ten is based on the same basic interdisciplinary philosophy, officials for both schools said. Students in ninth and tenth grade can begin taking pre-IB classes, targeted especially to those students who wish to participate in the IB diploma program during their junior and senior years.
Dave Roylance, the director of the South Lakes IB program, said the addition of the middle school curriculum has been extremely helpful in developing and expanding the diploma program. "The academic expectations for students will be set higher and earlier," Roylance said. "The pieces of the philosophy will come with the kids when they transition between the two schools."
Rely Rodriguez, South Lakes principal, applauded Jackson and she said she looked forward to continuing the close partnership between the two neighboring schools. "We will see to it that this continues to flow without any bumps in the road," Rodriguez said.
For Rena Berlin, who was part of the school's first IB pilot team, Thursday's celebration marked the end of a long road that started in 1998 when she started investigating the process of starting an IB program at the two Reston schools.
A former teacher at Langston Hughes, Berlin is now the full-time IB liaison. Berlin said she and her colleagues learned a lot in the first year the pilot program was implemented. "The kids really helped us shape the curriculum and we really value their feedback," she said. "SOLs ask kids to memorize, IB, on the other had, asks kids to evaluate what they are learning and how they are learning. It is very holistic and it brings learning to another level."
While some teachers where skeptical at first, Berlin says the faculty has embraced the mission of IB. "We have teachers talking to teachers about curriculum and teaching," she said. "It's great."
<b>IN ADDITION</b>, the success of the program has spurred outside interest into the Reston schools. "I know Mrs. Jackson is beginning to receive applications from people who don't live in Reston."
Outside recognition is not something Quackenbush is used to hearing about her school. The PTA president says a lot of parents, many of whom have never set foot on the campus, have preconceived notions, based on rumors or misleading headlines, of what kind of a school Langston Hughes is. This is not the same school it was 10 or 15 years ago, she said. Having worked closely with the school, Quackenbush says she knows "what really goes on here with the high quality of staff and high level of education."
Del. Kenneth Plum (D-36) attended the celebration and agreed with the validation of the two Reston schools. "Congratulations Langston Hughes and South Lakes, it means you are among the best," he said. "You make us all proud."
"For a change," Quackenbush said, "it is just really satisfying to see a well-respected independent world organization tell us that we are doing things the right way."