O’Connell Elementary School to apply for IB accreditation

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Fri., Sep. 6, 2013
O'Connell fifth-grader Nadia Joseph smiles as her mother, Lisa Joseph, looks over her work.  Photos by Corey AmEnde.
O'Connell fifth-grader Nadia Joseph smiles as her mother, Lisa Joseph, looks over her work. Photos by Corey AmEnde.

Administrators at the Thomas S. O’Connell Elementary School on May Road said they plan to file their application for accreditation as an International Baccalaureate (IB) school on Oct. 1.

Getting to the point where the school can actually apply for IB accreditation is the result of a lot of hard work put in by school officials, teachers and students over the past year. “We have a little bit to go, and we’re going to get there, and I’m confident that our accreditation is going to come,” said Assistant Principal Dan Catlin.

Greg Fox, the principal at O’Connell Elementary School, said that some time next spring, representatives from the IB association will visit the school and conduct a thorough assessment of their IB curriculum. The IB association will let the school know if there are any adjustments that need to be made. If not, Fox said, “hopefully by next summer, we should hear whether we have met all the qualifications.”

The IB model puts an emphasis on global awareness, is built upon inquiry-based learning, focuses on concepts rather than specific topics and really puts the students in control of their education. “We’re trying to meet individual student needs, and we’re having students make decisions and really be a part of their own learning,” said Fox. 

The IB program works with more than 1.1 million students in 3,665 schools in 146 countries. Fox said there are just a handful of other IB elementary schools in the state, none of which are in East Hartford. 

O’Connell is in its second year as a candidate school for IB accreditation. Last year, the staff went through three days of IB training by IB staff. “It was challenging because we all didn’t know what we were doing or what IB was really about, and we all had to basically learn together and grow together as a team to get this far,” said Catlin. “I couldn’t be more proud of our staff for what we have accomplished in such a short time.”

The IB offers four programs to students ages 3 to 19. The O’Connell school is working under the Primary Years Program (PYP) model.  Guiding the PYP are six trans-disciplinary themes: who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves and sharing the planet.   

Within each theme is a unit of inquiry that is customized for each grade level. One of the unique aspects about the IB program is that the units of inquiry are written through a collaborative effort of all the teachers in the school. Each grade will spend approximately six to eight weeks on each unit before moving onto the next one, eventually completing all six by the end of the school year. There is time built into each school day for unit of inquiry study. 

In addition to the six trans-disciplinary themes, there are 10 principles making up what is called a learner profile. These are labeled inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective. “In the learner profile, a lot of these central ideas are going to easily translate into math, into language arts, so you’re really doing IB all day,” said Catlin.

Fox said the feedback from parents on the IB curriculum has been positive. “They’re telling us that their students are really interested and motivated to come to school,” said Fox.

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