Deborah Jackson knows that there are newer and shinier schools in Fairfax County. But for Jackson, there is no place that she would rather be than Langston Hughes Middle School. "Everybody wants to go to [Rachel] Carson because it is so beautiful," she said, referring to the 6-year-old middle school in neighboring Herndon.
Besides its new International Baccalaureate (IB) program and modified "block scheduling," Jackson knows there is one thing Hughes has to offer that many schools in Northern Virginia cannot: a truly diverse student body.
"For whatever reason, some people run from diversity," Jackson said. "For me, diversity is a good thing. I run towards it, I always have."
The principal says she relishes the social, ethnic, cultural, economic and academic diversity that has come to shape Hughes and which she says reflect Reston as its founders envisioned.
As a "model campus," Hughes also takes advantage of its diversity of thought to promote academic excellence, intellectual curiosity and social responsibility, Jackson said.
This year, for the first time, Hughes will officially celebrate and embrace its school's characteristic diversity when it hosts an "International Night" in November for its roughly 930 students and their families. Jackson said students at Hughes have an opportunity to grow and develop, not only as scholars but as people, because of the multi-cultural environment, not in spite of it. "The beauty of Langston Hughes Middle School is that it is diverse," she said. "Diversity is where development comes from. We want to develop the whole person, not just the student, here."
THERE ARE PLENTY of new things going on at Hughes, Jackson said. First and foremost, the upcoming 2003-2004 school year will mark Hughes' inaugural year as an IB school. Just as Jackson puts an emphasis on diversity, the IB program puts a similar emphasis on cross-cultural learning and international understanding.
The now fully accredited program, which has been up and running since the 1999-2000 school year, was on an initial mandatory probationary period. Administrators found out in February the international IB governing body had authorized Hughes as an official member school. The middle school IB curriculum, which technically covers grades seven through 10 is based on the same basic interdisciplinary philosophy as the existing IB program at neighboring South Lakes High School. 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.
The program, the principal said, promotes global citizenship, inter-cultural awareness and the development of higher learning skills. "The only way to meet the challenges is to raise the bar, IB does that," Jackson said. "We are on the cutting edge of education at Hughes, my goal is to take the staff and students over it."
Jackson is confident that the IB curriculum, and the introduction this year of honors classes in all of the school's core curriculum, will "raise the bar" for each and every student at Hughes.
WITH IB IN PLACE, Jackson said she and her staff can begin to open a new and exciting "chapter" at Hughes. "It's exciting because for the last couple of years, we have been looking at securing authorization," she said. "Now that we have that done, we can concentrate on implementing the program and raising our standards and expectations. Finally, we get to operate as an IB school. We are ready to begin."
With the introduction of IB curriculum, Jackson said she has seen a difference in the teachers, as well as the students. "With the IB philosophy, I saw more teachers talking with each other about the science of teaching than I have ever seen before."
To build on that, Hughes is implementing another new program this year called "Approaches to Learning," or ATL. Once a day, students will break-out in their small group ATLs to work on enrichment strategies and small group learning exercises. The teachers will use these exercises to better understand "how our kids learn," Jackson said.