Cool Schools: Clay International Academy working to become authorized IB school

Cool Schools: Clay International Academy working to become authorized IB school


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Gasps of excitement echo throughout Marcia O'Connel's classroom as she tells her students they're going to shoot marshmallows in today's class. 

Her students are learning about physics by creating craftstick catapults. 

“The potential energy will turn into kinetic energy when they pull back and launch," said O'Connel.

But as Clay International Academy's design teacher, O'Connel says her goal is to develop critical thinking skills within her kindergarten through eighth graders. 

“They design on paper what their project is going to look like," said O'Connel. "They discuss it with a partner, they construct it, they review it and see if it can be improved."

It's the first year this course is being offered but classes like this one are becoming more common at Clay. 

“This is an IB program," said O'Connel. 

The school is working to become the only one in Michiana with an International Baccalaurate primary and middle school program. 

IB teaches students to think critically and independently with a focus on global issues. It's offered in almost 5,000 schools in 150 countries. There are 42 schools in Indiana offering IB programs. 

“Worldwide people know what international baccalaureate is," said South Bend Community School Corporation Chief Academic Office Susan Devetski. "They respect that degree. It’s just really an opportunity to give your child a nice start.”

In 2018, Clay became an IB candidate school. 

The school's IB coordinator, Tracey Slattey, says they then immediately began training teachers, creating new courses, and renovating the building, which previously served only intermediate students. 

The changes cost the district $1.5 million. 

Slattery says the school is on track to become an authorized IB site next school year. 

“It’s just a really unique experience," said Slattery. "It just builds great, you know, great skills, great thinking skills, critical thinking, problem solving all those things."

If approved, SBCSC would become one of the only districts in the state with a K-12 IB program. IB is offered at John Adams High School. 

“We’re really excited," said Devetski. 

Under IB, teachers design their own lesson plans centered on six units that integrate traditional subjects. 

O'Connel says she enjoys the new way of learning. 

“It gives kids a chance to realize the world is much bigger than themselves," said O'Connel. 

Students like Aiden Soto-Smith do too saying the IB system hits their educational sweet spot. 

“You have to keep trying," said Soto-Smith. “If something doesn’t work, we never give up. We keep trying to make it work." 

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