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Plant City school seeks two-letter cachet: IB

PLANT CITY

On any given day, students at Lincoln Elementary School can be found planting seeds for Jack's beanstalk, painting their own versions of Van Gogh masterpieces or playing drums in a circle.

A typical day? There's no such thing at Lincoln, where the magnet program in international studies aims to teach children that there's a big world out there beyond their own back yards.

"It puts a whole different perspective on maybe being appreciative of what you have, instead of focusing on what you want," said Mary Luysterburg, Hillsborough County's district resource teacher for magnet programs.

Lincoln is in the first phase of a three-year process to be certified as having an International Baccalaureate program, which brings with it prestige and enhanced teacher training, according to Cynthia Doyle, the IB program coordinator for the school.

Administered by the nonprofit International Baccalaureate Organization based in Switzerland, the IB elementary-level program features six themes, or one per grade.

Themes include "who we are," "how the world works" and "sharing the planet."

It's up to each school to decide how to incorporate the themes into the curriculum, and an IB school must still meet all state standards and complete state requirements like standardized testing.

Lincoln started implementing the IB curriculum this year.

There's also a foreign language component. At Lincoln, that means one hour of Spanish per week. The school would like to expand that but needs funding to do so, Doyle said.

Lincoln would be the second public elementary school to have an IB program in Hillsborough County. The other is at MacFarlane Park in Tampa.

The county has one IB middle school and three IB high schools.

Statewide, there are only 11 public IB elementary schools.

Like other magnet programs, the IB initiative is funded by a grant program meant to diversify schools.

Lincoln was built in 1920 as an elementary school and eventually became Plant City Negro High School in the '30s. It reverted to elementary grades in 1995.

Today, Lincoln Elementary has a nearly 75 percent minority student body. About 68 percent of students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.

The school received a C from the state in 2005 and 2006, but improved to an A last year.

Sandra Coyle, a spokeswoman for the International Baccalaureate Organization, based in Geneva, said the school would likely continue to improve under the IB program.

"We have a long history of doing that," Coyle said.

She said the group has never looked at how well IB schools perform on standardized tests but that students who complete the high school IB program have higher graduation rates.

A popular choice

MacFarlane Park has been an elementary school for only three years and has followed the IB program that whole time.

It is 56 percent minority, and 37.9 percent of its students come from low-income families.

The school's standardized test scores have gone up every year.

Parents say MacFarlane Park is almost like a private school, and many choose it over more prestigious South Tampa institutions.

MacFarlane Park had about 500 applications for 110 slots for first- through fifth-graders in the 2007-2008 school year, according to district magnet spokeswoman Terri Dodson-Caldevilla.

"That is a very popular program," she said.

So far, about 100 students have applied for 35 openings for next school year at Lincoln, excluding kindergarten, which has a separate application process.

At least two students who made the long trek from east Hillsborough to MacFarlane Park every day have already transferred to Lincoln, Doyle said.

A global trend

The IB program is growing worldwide at a rate of 17 percent per year, Coyle said. She attributes that to an increased desire for foreign language and global education in schools, plus a general trend toward education reform.

"It prepares (students) for life in this increasingly global society we have," Coyle said.

She and other proponents say educating kids about different cultures helps them be better, more productive citizens later.

"To be aware of kids on the other side of the world is to be able to help kids on the other side of the world," said Luysterburg, the county magnet program leader.

Jan Wesner can be reached at jwesner@sptimes.com or 661-2439. Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

>>FAST FACTS

Magnet school lottery

Admission to Lincoln Elementary and other magnet programs is by lottery. The next application period is
May 5-16, and another one begins
July 7. Call 272-4811 for more information or visit the school district's choice Web site at www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/choice.

Plant City school seeks two-letter cachet: IB 04/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 14, 2009 10:27am]
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