A strong focus on long-term projects and deep dives into lessons are hallmarks of IB programs.

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Academic success from grade school to high school often can be achieved using a talent for memorizing material. When many of us think back on high school, it brings back memories of late nights quizzing ourselves with hand-made notecards. But it’s become increasingly common for schools to shake up their curricula — and many are doing so with students’ long-term personal and professional futures in mind.

One example of this is International Baccalaureate schools. IB was born in Switzerland in 1968, but it’s now used in schools all over the world. IB programs place a strong focus on long-term projects, deep dives into lessons, and myriad opportunities for students to control and devise the course of their own education (with the guidance of teachers, of course).

An IB program prepares students for the future in these four important ways.

They learn to ask thoughtful questions.

Patricia Briggs, whose 5th– and 10th-grade sons are enrolled in Annie Wright Schools’ IB program, says the curriculum emphasizes the importance of asking questions and pursuing answers that do more than simply scratch the surface. In IB language, this is referred to as “learning to be an inquirer.”

In addition to being confident and persistent in their inquiries, Briggs says her sons have learned to keep asking questions even though they know the material because they’re taught that there are always more connections to be made.

“Being an inquirer means to think about the next step, what to do with the information you’ve learned, the consequences of what you choose to do with that information, how to follow through with it, and how to improve it or make a better design,” Briggs says. “It’s a continuum and that’s what I want them to follow throughout the rest of their lives.”

It promotes a holistic approach to learning.

In most traditional high school classrooms, subjects don’t overlap with one another or with students’ extracurricular activities. Emily Lynn, the IB Diploma Programme Coordinator at Annie Wright who also teaches English at its Upper School for Girls, explains that students are encouraged to find connections between the different IB subjects they’re studying and between school and the extracurriculars they’re pursuing.

Emily Lynn
Emily Lynn

Lynn says these connections are supported through IB Core, which includes a Theory of Knowledge class; a year-long research project called the extended essay; and a creativity, activity and service requirement.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for students to pursue something that’s maybe an academic interest for them in the extended essay,” Lynn says. “And they can pursue another non-academic interest like community service or an athletic interest. The Core provides a space for them to get to a meta level and reflect on how to question knowledge.”

Lynn points out that this type of interdisciplinary work serves students well in college — professors love it when students can pull between different subjects and talk holistically about a topic.

Students learn how they (and others) learn best

IB programs cultivate lifelong learners. Briggs says that her sons have learned about themselves and how they learn best — something that will serve them well when they’re in a college or professional setting. In addition to the self-awareness gained from their “learner profile,” Briggs says it’s also important for her sons to observe and understand that other people learn in different ways.

“There are different learner profiles, so people learn at different speeds and through different modes,” she says. “So in addition to self-awareness, it’s given them respect for others and how they learn.”

Students direct their learning trajectory.

IB programs provide students with a great deal of autonomy. “The opportunity is there in a lot of places for students to direct exactly what they’re doing and learning,” Lynn says. The program is undeniably rigorous and even can be overwhelming at times, but Lynn says one of its biggest assets is that there’s often room for students to claim ownership of their papers and projects and link them to areas of passion. This, of course, requires that students be intellectually curious, self-directed and motivated. By cultivating these qualities, students will emerge as more proactive individuals — and the ability to be proactive is one of the most sought-after skills in the workplace.

Founded in 1884, Annie Wright Schools serve students from age 3 through high school. Annie Wright Lower and Middle Schools offer coed programs in preschool through grade 8. Separate Upper Schools for boys and girls offer day and boarding options in grades 9-12.