Wauwatosa Catholic maintains rigor since IB authorization

Learning 'never done,' say school leaders

Aug. 26, 2014

Students celebrated with cheers and screams when Principal Heidi Hernandez announced that Wauwatosa Catholic School received its authorization in June as an International Baccalaureate school, a worldwide program aimed at teaching kids how to be globally minded.

Wauwatosa Catholic, which educates K3 through eighth graders, is the first Catholic elementary school in the state to receive IB authorization. It will take part in IB's Primary Years Programme for students ages 3 through 12.

Now that its elementary school is authorized, Karen Scharrer-Erickson, IB coordinator at Wauwatosa Catholic, said she is already working on the middle school application.

"We're never done. We're working to keep that rigor," said Scharrer-Erickson.

School leaders positioned Wauwatosa Catholic to be an IB school ever since it formed from the merger between St. Pius X and St. Bernard in 2011. It currently enrolls about 220 students. It enrolled 170 in its first year.

IB educators conducted an initial evaluation of Wauwatosa Catholic in March and announced its authorization in June. IB representatives will re-evaluate the school every four years.

While most schools receive authorization in four to five years, Wauwatosa Catholic did it in three.

"The whole school is involved in the process," said Scharrer-Erickson.

IB curricula emphasizes key concepts and "learner profile words" such as "inquirer" and "open-minded" that shape every class lesson.

Lesson plans are like "working documents," said Sarah McElroy, fifth-grade teacher. This means they are subject to change based on current events or inquiries of students.

"(Being authorized) doesn't change how we're teaching. It's showing how we met the standard. It's validating," said McElroy.

Students as young as first grade may learn about homes around the world and be required to build a model home that is suited for a foreign climate as an assessment. It is not uncommon for kindergarteners to give oral presentations or for fifth graders to be encouraged to start volunteering in the community.

Megan Cerbins, first grade teacher, said the IB teaching style is not about acceleration. It's about depth.

"What I love about IB is that you can always go deeper," said Cerbins.

Parents play a key role in reinforcing IB's globalized lessons. Teachers often encourage parents to make class visits to educate students about their career or to provide specialized knowledge when applicable.

"It's all encompassing. It's just a way of life," said Dana Kelly, whose daughter is in first grade.

Lucas Romero, eighth grade, said his parents have grown accustomed to asking him "how does this situation relate to what you are learning at school?"

"They want us to think deeper, and that's what they want us to do in high school, so we already have a head start," said Romero. Students who attend an IB high school can take classes for college credit.

Wauwatosa Catholic tuition has not increased to accommodate its IB authorization, but it does cost the school an annual fee to maintain authorization. Scharrer-Erickson said if the school can afford it, it will submit an application for middle school authorization.


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