Joining the Ranks of IB Schools

Stephen Clarke, Ridley College

Stephen Clarke, Ridley College

Stephen Clarke, Deputy Headmaster, Ridley College  (a coed boarding school in St. Catharines, Ontario) spoke with us about Ridley‘s joining the ranks of IB schools.

Brian Fisher (BF): Ridley is 123 years old with years of history and tradition. Why the IB; why does it fit now?

Stephen Clarke (SC): Ridley is quite a bit different than other independent schools with Boarding options for students. Firstly, Boarding is our core business, and we run a full week programme to support it – with classes on Saturdays and co-curriculars on weekends. This differs from most Canadian Boarding schools that are moving away from weekend programming. Secondly, Boarding is not an educational concept that is well understood by Canadians. Therefore, our market for students is the entire planet. So, the IB is a great fit for us because it is a globally recognized curriculum brand that helps is in our efforts to recruit top students from around the world. And, the families of those students are looking for a complete programme of Academics, Athletics, Arts, Activities, and Service for their children. We give them that.

BF: What percentage of the student body do you expect to enroll in the IB diploma program? Are the students excited? Do they understand the challenges?

SC: We’ll see shifts in enrollment in stages. During our third year (Fall 2014), my guess is we’ll see a 50/50 split between IB Diploma students and Ontario Diploma students. If we also move forward and add in the Middle Years Programme (MYP), then I would expect the number of IB Diploma students to increase further.

Of course our students and parents are excited about this new programme, and it would be fair to say that some are a little nervous. We’ve done a terrific job of educating our families about the Diploma programme, but there is only so much we can talk about before actually living it. But, we’ve got an incredibly talented group of faculty that will provide infrastructure and support to our students, so I’m confident that we can work through any challenges.

BF: Talk about a specific instance, or two, where Ridley students will see and experience changes/differences?

SC: Frankly, there won’t be much change for our students at all. We already run such a full programme that the leap to IB will be minimal. However, there a couple of real benefits that will be different.

Firstly, all IB students take the TOK (Theory of Knowledge) course. In addition to teaching students about the major areas of human knowledge (math, sciences, history, the arts), students learn how knowledge is acquired in these areas, they learn about the various ways of knowing (senses, reason, emotion, etc.), and they learn about how they learn. The TOK course builds on the Philosophy courses that we already teach, essentially offering students a university level epistemology course.

Secondly, external/standardized evaluation will be new to most students and teachers. A significant amount of work that the students do is marked or graded internally, but alot of it is marked externally. This is especially true of the final exams. I know that our students can be successful in this programme and I am looking forward to witnessing that sense of pride that comes over the learner when they receive external validation of their ideas and efforts.

BF: How has the Ridley faculty prepared for teaching as member of the International Baccalaureate World School, Diploma Programme. Are they energized by the experience?

SC: Conceptually, we’ve been on this journey now since January of 2010. We’ve done alot of research, we’ve talked to colleagues at over 50 schools world-wide in order to get specific ideas about the merits of the programme as well as the challenges to implementation. Our Board of Governors, Faculty, and Parents were engaged in this process with us along the way as well. So, the basic message and ideas of the IB Diploma programme are now well entrenched at the school within the faculty.

In addition, we budgeted generously for teacher training and professional development, and we’ve been training individuals and groups of teachers since March 2011. It would be fair to say that – as a group – teachers are pretty keen to learn new things. Having access to new resources, meeting new colleagues from around the world, and giving them an opportunity to teach brand new courses was an easy way to energize the faculty.

BF: Leaving Ridley- heading off to University- how is an IB diploma student more effectively prepared for the future?

SC: They’ll know how to think, to communicate, to write a rigorous essay. And they’ll have a good idea of how they learn best, and what they’ll need as learners to be successful at the next level. Whatever that is.

It comes down to the range of courses they take and how they are taught. IB students come away with a solid grounding in arts, maths, sciences, first and second languages, and the social sciences. So, regardless of what area of study they choose to pursue in university, they will bring a wider, more worldly perspective to that than other students. It also means that they’ve had four full years of math and a second language. The twin focuses on numeracy and on languages are really what set the IB apart.

More importantly, the breadth of co-curricular participation is huge. Students cannot simply participate in sports or music or drama, etc. They must participate in a range of activities outside the classroom, and they are required to reflect (journal in real-time) on the impact it is having on them. As preparation for university (and life), the combination of rigour, risk-taking, and reflection is unbeatable.

I guess you could add in one other neat feature for students. That is the fact that Ridley students will earn two diplomas. The curricula that make up the IB courses can be “mapped” onto equivalent Ontario Diploma courses, meaning that we can grant Ontario equivalent credits for the IB courses that our students take. Therefore, Ridley IB Students not only earn the IB Diploma, but they also earn the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). This certainly broadens the range of schools and school programmes that they can apply to for admission.

BF: Thanks for the time and help.

SC: You’re welcome.

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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