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Terraset Seeks Global Perspective

School's officials are working to join an international and interdisciplinary program.

In an attempt to join other Reston schools that offer a specialized international education, Terraset Elementary School has applied to join a world-wide program that could change the way its students learn everything from history to physical education.

The school has petitioned Fairfax County Public Schools to implement at the school the Primary Years Program (PYP), which is part of the International Baccalaureate course of study developed for children of foreign service officers.

"It's truly a global program," said Ellen Cury, Terraset's principal. "There's something in it for everybody."

PYP schools use an interdisciplinary approach to learning by investigating subjects through the lens of different subjects. For example, students could learn about transportation by considering the broad issue from the perspectives of science, math, English and history.

"The whole idea is for the students to be able to take information they learn and transfer it to other areas of their lives," Cury said. "It's a different way of looking at the program of studies."

SHOULD the Fairfax County School Board approve Terraset's request to become a PYP school, it would join 162 PYP elementary schools, both public and private, in 53 countries. Three PYP schools are located in Virginia — in Arlington, Roanoke and Hampton. Two private schools in Washington, D.C. offer a PYP-focused curriculum.

Both Langston Hughes Middle School and South Lakes High School — the schools to which Terraset sends its students — also offer IB courses.

A key component of PYP is that it brings an international perspective to what and how the children learn basic material. One of the requirements of PYP is that all children must begin learning a foreign language by third grade.

This global flavor of PYP would particularly benefit Terraset because it is an especially diverse school, Cury said. Approximately one in five students at the school speak a dialect other than English as their primary language.

Terraset is also a school marked by economic disparity, with almost one in three students on free or reduced price lunch, according to federal education records. PYP would be implemented across the board, giving both affluent and economically-disadvantaged students access to a cutting-edge academic program, said Suzanne White, the school's PTA president.

"PYP would benefit all our kids, not just a few," she said.

IT WOULD take Terraset at least three years of using the PYP concept before becoming officially recognized by the International Baccalaureate Organization, a nonprofit organization that oversees the IB programs worldwide.

Cury said she would like to see PYP implemented by the 2005-2006 school year, but that hinges on approval by the School Board.

The sooner the program can be implemented, the better it would be for the students, White said. Because Terraset is the only elementary school in the South Lakes pyramid that does not offer a specialized program, parents in the Terraset district often send their children to other Reston schools, she said.

"Terraset is at a disadvantaged position," she said. "We've got nothing."

Also, White said, there is reciprocity between the elementary schools with specialized programs. When a student leaves one school with a specialized program, the student is most likely going to another school with another specialized program.

"For each student Terraset loses to Hunters Woods for the Arts and Science magnet program, we gain no one," she said. "This is not a just way to run a school system."

Carolyn Low, another member of Terraset's PRA, said she feels pressure for her two children to apply to a Gifted and Talented center, but wants them to remain at Terraset. Implementing PYP would give her, and other parents, an attractive reason to keep her children enrolled there.

"I want them to be able to stay at Terraset, but at the same time, I want them to be able to get the best possible education," Low said.