Rockford High School

Nowadays, it seems most school-oriented news begins with the words “distance learning” or “budget deficit” but after a long application and authorization process, Rockford High School has some good news to share with the area.

RHS was just approved as an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, which means it will be offering world-class educational programming guided by IB. RHS principal Paul Menard said that staff are currently working hard to build curriculum, and are excited to complete the district’s “magnet school” cycle.

“That is probably one of the things that we are most excited about,” he said, “is that accessibility to magnet programs across the district. Most larger districts have a magnet site or a magnet lottery, where every Rockford student has access to three very different focuses in their elementary, middle and high school years.”

With Rockford Elementary’s niche of the arts and Rockford Middle’s focus on environmental sciences, implementing the IB program within RHS will help retain and pull promising young students while preparing them for the real world.

“With the onset of an IB program, there is definitely a focus on real, relevant and rigorous curriculum,” said Menard. “Not only are they going to be book smart, but we also want them to be great communicators and open-minded and independent thinkers and all of these other skills they will need in the workforce, no matter where they are going.”

Lucky for RHS, both Principal Menard and Superintendent Rhonda Dean are well-acquainted with the IB program. Newbies to Rockford Area Schools, Menard and Dean have seen how the program works for students outside of Rockford, and are very excited to get the wheels turning.

The IB program is broken down into multiple categories — the “alphabet soup of IB,” as Menard likes to call it — of which Rockford will be implementing three. The Middle Years Program (MYP) is for students age 11 to 16, whereas the Diploma Program (DP) is geared toward 16-19 year-olds. There also is a Career-related Program (CP) which provides flexible and technical courses for specific industries and vocations.

“That’s going to be our bread and butter,” said Superintendent Dean. “For us in Rockford, it’s really a two-pronged asset, because yes we are being approved for DP, but the CP program I think is what is really going to attract students ... It’s construction, it’s finance, it’s economics, it’s all of those career-related fields that due to the pandemic, we are finding out we are woefully in need of.”

IB training for teaching staff is intense and continuous — ”As it should be!” — and Dean is passionate about ensuring that this program will keep adapting and innovating after it is implemented.

“Things are changing so fast,” she said. “And if we are going to prepare our students to succeed in a global society, then we better stay up on our craft as educators and make sure that we are providing access to everything that is out there that can impact our student learners for the future.”

And so while a lot of changes are in store for Rockford High, there are also a few things that will stay the same or simply be updated and upgraded. When many schools across the country and state abandoned Home Ec and non-academic classes, RHS maintained the facilities. Dean said this has come in handy as the trades become more popular again, as the space for woodshop, construction, metalworking, kitchenette stations and even a business center still remain on campus.

“So not only is the pendulum swinging back, but we are already poised with the facilities to fill that need,” she said.

IB is set up to work for every ambitious student, whether that means they are Ivy League-bound or are looking forward to pursuing an apprenticeship. The test isn’t held on a single day in a single time slot on a single multiple-choice sheet of paper like many advanced programs do, and is oriented toward success on all levels.

“Our kids aren’t just competing against those in Wayzata or Eden Prairie,” said Superintendent Dean. “And not even those in California or New York. Our kids are competing against others in Singapore, in China … our kids are competing in a world that is becoming more and more intertwined.”

Jill Gordee — who was previously working as an RHS counselor and college/career advisor — will be spearheading the IB program at RHS, with Superintendent Dean and Principal Menard right there cheering her on.

“What most schools would do in 18-24 months to get ready for an authorization visit, and we did it in four,” said Gordee. “In a normal year, I would say it could get done, but in a pandemic it was something else, so we are very fortunate.”

She added, “Due to our schedule — we have the students asynchronous on Fridays -— literally every Friday since September, our high school staff has been involved in IB planning or IB professional development. So it has been a blessing in disguise for us being able to use that time.”

A handful of students have been working alongside RHS staff and Gordee since their middle school years to help develop the program, and soon will be able to reap the benefits of their hard work. Three of these students — Claire Shaikoski, Maggie Johnson, Joe Harkess — discussed their own reasoning behind pursuing IB, as each student has different goals, interests and ambitions.

“One thing that really drew me to IB was of course the rigor and the ability to get college credits,” said Shaikoski. “But another thing that I really liked was the global-minded attitudes of the curriculum and how it would prepare us for a more globalized society.”

Harkess, a self-proclaimed super math nerd, is personally excited to jump into the program’s in-depth calculus course.

“I am probably going to a four year university, if not more than that, and this will be more rigorous than a standard AP course or honors course,” he said. “And … I am not going to talk about our current global studies textbook.”

Johnson, however, needed a bit more convincing when she first heard about IB.

“To be honest with you, at first I was not excited for it at all because we wouldn’t be able to take AP classes or honors,” she said. Specifically, she was hoping to take high-level English and history courses. “But then I started looking at the courses that we are able to take now … I am really excited for the personal and professional skills class.”

Gordee and RHS staff are encouraging students to take courses that intrigues them, even if they do not want to pursue an IB diploma. The “a la carte” nature of the program is just another perk.

Learn more about the RHS IB program at bit.ly/2PZgHPL

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