Meet Whitney B. Young Elementary School. The West End Louisville magnet is the first International Baccalaureate (IB) elementary school in Kentucky. Becoming an IB school is a big deal, and this JCPS school is making big gains and getting attention.
Young is a district-wide magnet program; part of the extensive system of choices in JCPS, and one that has proven worthy of commendation by the community and consideration by families looking for an engaging learning experience for their children.
In December of 2010, Young Elementary earned the IB designation. This label wasn’t just used to attract certain families or kids, but to provide an exceptional education to any who come through the door.
In this year’s accountability scores under new higher standards, the school met its state goal and is in the 67th percentile of elementary schools in the state. In fact, Young Elementary has the highest percentile rank of the 16 JCPS elementary schools with at least 90% Free and Reduced lunch in school year 2013-14.
I learned all of this during a visit to the school. During the years I have been on the school board, JCPS added the elementary and middle school IB options, so now offers the program from preschool through graduation. I wanted to learn more and spread the word. During this visit, I found a wonderful community of engaged students who were proud of their school and ready to take on the world.
Principal Mary Minyard credits the school’s success to giving students immediate feedback on their work daily. “We strive to be crystal clear with students on how to be academically successful,” she says. “Teachers and students grade classroom assignments immediately so that kids can see right away where they need to improve.” Minyard explains that kids are given time to improve their work and have it rescored. “Kids need to know what expectations are,” says the principal. “This also helps them learn study skills.”
JCPS Chief Academic Officer Dewey Hensley endorses the school’s focus on giving kids lots of individual feedback. He says “research has shown that this strategy is among the most productive to use in the classroom.” He adds that Minyard is a “fabulous leader who has put together an outstanding team to help kids.”
Young’s success also stems from its efforts to retain the IB designation, and that does not come easily. Founded in Geneva Switzerland, the IB Programme sets very high standards for a school to meet. It is designed to prepare 21st century students for an interconnected world in which knowledge is constantly developing. Young is one of 1,300 schools in 110 countries to offer an IB primary program.
Principal Minyard says, “IB is a journey; we continually make strides to improve student learning by seeking out best practices, professional development opportunities and advanced resources.”
While it is a district-wide magnet, there are no special requirements students must meet to attend Young – just fill out a simple, one-page application. “She does a beautiful job with her students,” said Barbara Dempsey, JCPS Director of Student Assignment. Minyard embraces the JCPS value of diversity in her student body, she added.
Here’s something else: the IB program is used in public, private and charter schools successfully. If you go to Young, you can know your child is exposed to the same high IB standards as those at the Albert Einstein Academy Charter School in San Diego, CA, and the private International School of London in the United Kingdom, for example, as well as many public schools. And, you will know that IB educators are watching what goes on at Young and all the IB schools in the world, as part of retaining their designation.
The academic standards and practices are what makes the difference in any school’s success, not the management structure.
Here’s what you will find at Young: French instruction throughout the elementary years, full-time art and music teachers with full access to Orff instruction and instruments, robotics, outdoor gardens, a beautiful library with an updated supply of reading materials, and cross-curricular learning with all teachers participating in lesson planning and teaching.
And there’s more: A recent study says that the combination of International Baccalaureate and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has an exponentially positive benefit.
“The IB’s inquiry-based learning model, its emphasis on developing critical analysis skills and the use of global themes… are all concepts reinforced by the CCSS. We anticipate that IB World Schools adopting the CCSS will have an advantage. The standards represent a shift in teaching from covering a wide breadth of content to a greater focus on depth of understanding and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning.” said Drew Deutsch, Director, IB Americas, in releasing a 2013 report assessing the CCSS and IB.
One other elementary in Kentucky has since achieved the IB status, as well — in Owensboro. JCPS already had a middle and high school programs at Highland Middle and Atherton High School, giving JCPS families IB options from pre-K through high school.
Toward the end of my tour, we visited with a 5th grade class in the library. They were eager to talk. When asked where they were going to middle school, hands shot up and each cited a different school. They all had plans. Minyard said she wasn’t surprised at their quick responses. “We work a lot on goal setting.”
When asked what they liked about Young, Ja’Mira Cardine said, “Teachers listen to us. They value our opinion.”
Hearing Ja’Mira’s comment, I remembered the emphasis that Principal Minyard put on lots of student interaction. Listening and giving feedback makes a difference. It has made students feel confident and valued.
Whitney B. Young Elementary is but one excellent school option in the JCPS system – including my school board District 3, of course – but it is one that should be better known by families and the community.
When I visited, it was an easy 20-minute drive from my northeast Louisville home to the school just off the Watterson at 36th and Muhammad Ali Blvd. Transportation is provided from anywhere in the county.
Young is holding open houses until the elementary magnet registration deadline. If you or someone you know would like to visit, contact Cabrina Bosco at firstname.lastname@example.org, or attend the Jan 6 Open House from 9:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Whitney B. Young led a distinguished life marked by his work for civil rights. He rose to the presidency of the National Urban League. He was born in Shelby County, KY, and graduated from Kentucky State University. This portrait in pastels was created by another outstanding Kentuckian, Dr. Bernard Minnis, recently retired from JCPS, who worked tirelessly for educational equity. An article was written about him in the summer 2014 issue of Bellarmine Magazine where he teaches. Read more here: