Two years after Oak Park Elementary School District 97 looked to implement the International Baccalaureate program in its middle schools, Oak Park and River Forest High School is holding preliminary discussions about introducing the program there.

IB, as it’s referred to, is not a “program” in the general sense of the word, but an educational model and approach to teaching and learning. 

D97 has the program at its two middle schools after piloting it with selected students a year ago. The IB approach involves creating a rigorous learning environment for students and teachers, not only in core subjects but also physical education and personal growth. 

Getting students involved in civic engagement in their communities is another focus for IB, which is an international nonprofit educational organization founded in 1968. 

IB currently has more than 3,000 schools using its educational model. Along with D97, other area schools using IB include Trinity High School in River Forest.

OPRF began talking about IB a year ago and officials have done some site visits at Trinity and other suburban school districts, such as Homewood-Flossmoor, this school year.  

D97’s involvement with its students was a driving force behind OPRF’s consideration of the program, says Phil Prale, who oversees curriculum and instruction at the high school. 

But Prale admitted to having some reservations about IB’s fit with OPRF, a view shared by some other administrators at the high school.

“When I first looked at the schools and I was making the visits and looking at the research, there was an ounce of bias. I was looking for, really, an answer as to why this isn’t going to fit with us,” Prale said a recent D200 board meeting where the program was discussed. 

“But as I visited these other schools, that were some like us and some very different from us, I found out that they had made it work for them,” he added.  “I thought, if we wanted it — and that’s a big if — we would have to want to support it at all the levels.” 

D200 Supt. Steven Isoye, who initiated OPRF’s discussions to consider the program, also noted reservations. While a worthy program, Isoye said it’s one that needs to be modified for specific school districts. 

“Where we’ve landed is we’ve actually learned a lot more and that some of my thoughts about what it was were wrong,” he said. “So I kind of began to open a door of saying, you know this might be worth a conversation. 

“And I think what it comes down to is that there’s an investment to it; it takes time to be able to further research this and develop what a plan would look like that’s specific to Oak Park and River Forest High School, because what we learned is that it just doesn’t plop in. You can actually develop something that’s specific to the needs of your students.”

Prale noted that any implementation at the high school would not happen any time soon. There would be, likely, a year of conversation both at the school and community levels, Prale said. He added that if OPRF were to implement IB, it would entail preparing the school for D97’s students. 

IB would be centered on juniors and seniors, Prale said, noting that IB’s focus is on cohorts of students versus the entire student body. 

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