Students Gain Lifelong Skills in Nation’s Largest IB Network
DISTRICT | September 28, 2018
Students Gain Lifelong Skills in Nation’s Largest IB Network

Walk into any classroom at Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood and you will find students working in groups or pairs. Each room is full of focused chatter among students as they work through their lessons.

At Senn, one of the 56 International Baccalaureate schools in CPS that make up the nation’s largest network of IB schools, students are expected to work in teams to push their collective learning.

“A big focus of IB is to make sure students are engaged, exploring and taking their learning into their own hands,” said Principal Mary Beck. “So when we walk into a classroom, we expect to see kids standing up, working together and investigating together.”

What makes IB at Senn and so many CPS schools unique is that this innovative, challenging curriculum isn’t just reserved for the most gifted students. All freshman and sophomores at Senn are enrolled in the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP), which instills in them the knowledge and understanding to actively participate in a changing global world.


In a geometry class at Senn this fall, students were learning how to sketch angle pairs. The teacher asked them to look at the ray and decide which angle was bigger. Paired with a desk partner, they turned to quietly discuss before raising their hands. Communicating with peers while in the class is a welcoming practice, educators said.

In the freshman chemistry class taught by Marina Carvalho, students worked in small groups measuring mass and weight.

“I encourage my students to be curious about the world,” Carvalho said. “I want them to always question why things happen the way they do.”

Exposing all freshmen and sophomores to MYP creates an inclusive learning environment that encourages school unity, said MYP coordinator and Director of Admissions David Gregg.

A significant element of the MYP is pushing students to become risk takers who are not afraid to fail, said Gregg.

“We’re teaching teachers and students that mistakes are rich learning opportunities,” he said, adding that reflection is key to learning from your mistakes.

Carvalho practices this lifelong skill with her students.

“You can always look at your mistakes as something that’s making you a better person,” she said.

Students who would like to continue on the IB track, after MYP, submit an application to be a part of the Diploma Programme Prep and the IB Diploma Programme, one of the most rigorous college preparatory programs in the world. This is geared toward high performing 11th and 12th grade students.


At CPS, we have made significant investments in IB because it has proven to strengthen outcomes for our students.

CPS students participating in IB programmes have a 97.5 percent graduation rate and an 88.3 percent college enrollment rate. The rate for students returning to college their second year is 82.9 percent, which exceeds state and national averages.

And as IB expands throughout the district, students are performing better. The success rate on IB exams —  scores of “4” or above, triggering college credit — has increased from 45.9 percent in 2010 to 54.6 percent in 2017.

This past spring we announced, along with Mayor Emanuel, a plan to bring IB to an additional 1,800 students at four elementary schools and one neighborhood high school next year.

And in September, we launched a new process that will allow school leaders and their communities to submit proposals to add additional IB programs and other high-quality academic resources to their schools.

During the application process, we will work with interested schools to help them develop and submit successful proposals. Letters of Intent will be due in late October, and CPS will review all proposals and announce the successful applications in the spring of 2019.

This application process will empower school communities throughout the district to add IB, STEM, and other high-quality programs, along with an expansion of dual-credit programs and investments in vocational training opportunities.

By expanding access to IB and other research-backed academic programming, we are working to accelerate the incredible progress Chicago schools have made and better prepare more district students to meet their vast potential. The success of IB has helped propel Chicago students to new levels of success.