Great controversy often surrounds what works in schools and there are many perceived “right” ways to educate the next generation. Recent research from some of the top universities in the United States, summarized in this Op-Ed from David Leonhardt of the New York Times, points decidedly, however, to one characteristic of high performing charter schools: they have high expectations for students, and provide significant support to help students meet those expectations.
Without overtly stating it as a goal, EAB has followed this “high expectations, high support” model in recent years. Most notably, in 2009 the school introduced the rigorous, highly-respected International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) to our students. Every year since, a significant percentage of students in grades 11 and 12 have chosen to join the IBDP, and, with the exception of the first year of testing, EAB scores for the comprehensive diploma program have been well above the world average. This year, 46% of the Senior class and an impressive 85% of the Juniors have chosen to enroll in the IBDP. What’s more, all students in grades 11 and 12 will take a two-year IB class in BSS (Brazilians only), English and Mathematics and therefore every student will experience the intensity and richness of the IB during their academic career at EAB.
In the last five years students in grades 6-10 have also seen an increase in expectations as we have aligned all classes to rigorous grade-level standards and further aligned those classes vertically to the IB program. In this way at the end of grade 10 all students are prepared to choose the IBDP if it is the best fit for their academic goals.
We realize that raised expectations may lead to unintended consequences like an initial decrease in performance, undue stress and higher levels of frustration. Therefore, as we have raised expectations, we also have increased our levels of support for all students. Through the EAB Assessment Policy we have created structures to guide students who have late work and designated time and space for that work to be completed. In a normal week teachers are available after school and during FLEX Study Hall, for a total of 250 minutes, to provide students with enrichment and reinforcement of the learning that happens in the classroom.
This year we have added three new teaching positions in the Upper School and hired excellent professionals to fill those positions. This has led to significantly smaller class sizes in most classes and this reality allows teachers to provide more time to each individual student in the classroom on a daily basis. We also have hired an additional part time learning specialist to further support students with designated learning needs.
At EAB we believe strongly that support for students goes beyond the classroom and have therefore developed and continue to improve an advisory program in both the Middle and High Schools called FLEX Groups. The purpose of these groups is to provide time for students and teachers to develop meaningful relationships, to allow students to practice metacognition and to focus on the social and emotional needs of the young men and women of our school.
Finally, and most importantly, every day at EAB we maintain a laser-like focus on who we are here to serve: our students. In both informal and formal ways the dedicated teachers of the Upper School spend their days talking about students, their learning, their happiness and well-being and how they are developing as students and as human beings. Each week a team called the Student Support Team (SST) meets to discuss students who may need added structures to support learning, who are struggling socially or emotionally, or who have experienced a significant disruption in their lives. The team then creates individualized plans to support those students.
At its core, EAB is a learning environment that is based on caring, thoughtful relationships between the members of its community. This is nowhere truer than in the relationships between students and their teachers. These relationships, more than any other factor, allow us to ask a lot of our students as learners and human beings and provide the structure of support that allows us to prepare them to lead happy, healthy, productive lives of purpose and meaning.