Stapp Inspires Teacher Highlight- An Agent of Change

Welcome back to Stapp Inspires Teacher Highlight! This month we are proud to introduce you to Alex Armstrong, International Baccalaureate Coordinator for Sunset Middle School.

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Alex has been a part of St. Vrain Valley Schools for the last 17 years. She started at Prairie Ridge Elementary School and has been at Sunset Middle School for the last 13 years. We decided that a coffee house would be a fantastic place to meet and talk about Alex’s role as the school’s IB Coordinator.

I had heard of the International Baccalaureate (or IB) program before, but didn’t know much else about it. It is a rigorous academic program that focuses on preparing students to be agents of change. Helping students see themselves in this light begins with the Primary Years Programme (PYP). Each of the subsequent programs build on the foundation that students need to be both active and serving in the community. In the PYP, students have the opportunity to present a capstone project. The Middle Years Programme continues on that foundation with Community Projects as well as preparing students for high school. When a student enters the Diploma Programme in high school, the idea of being  strong, active global citizens is firmly established. The Diploma Programme also requires students to submit an Extended Essay project. This helps ensure that students who graduate from the Diploma Programme are college ready. St. Vrain Valley Schools is fortunate to be able to offer the IB program between kindergarten and twelfth grade. Alpine and Central Elementary are the IB elementary schools in the district with Sunset Middle School and Niwot High School rounding out the program.

Part of the IB program is to develop the 10 attributes of the Learner profile. This is applied to every student in an IB program, no matter where they may be going to school. Alex explains that every subject is balanced and interconnected and the projects are supported by the academics. This allows students to see how what they are learning in math, science or language arts is connected to each other and to the real world. By taking this approach students are given the opportunity to see how they can make real-world impacts on their community.

This is what drives Alex, to encourage her students and team of teachers (she still teaches part time in addition to being the IB coordinator) to figure out how they can make a positive impact on the world around them. She told me that the coolest part of her job was watching her student’s growth and the gains in confidence. She loves talking to her students about what their plans are and how they are going to execute them. She is the calm, quiet cheerleader in the back inspiring her students to push themselves beyond what they thought that they could do.

She is dedicated to the teachers who are journeying along side her. She helps coach her fellow teachers in what the IB program is, how to write unit plans that make the lessons relevant to the students, and what they are learning in other classes. Alex never hesitates to praise her co-workers saying, “They are the most incredible group of teachers. Everything they do is for the students. We come up with really innovative ideas on how to make learning relevant to the students.”  Alex is trying to get her students more tied into the community and make the classroom more real for her students. She wants her students to leave knowing how to inquire about the world around them.

I had one question for Alex I had meant to ask in the beginning. I knew in high school being a part of IB was an option. I asked if that was the case for middle school as well. She said that in middle and elementary schools it was “wall-to-wall”, meaning everyone was a part of the IB program if they attended the school. As with any school in the district, they accommodate all students. Alex spoke of a student with an IEP who was shy and quiet. During this student’s eighth grade research night, they were able to share, and answer questions about their project proudly and confidently. Alex said watching this student’s growth was an encouragement to the entire staff. She hoped that she had been able to make a positive impact on this student and that they continued to push themselves when they went to high school.

As our time wrapped up, I asked Alex a question. If she could tell her eighth grade students one last thing before they went to high school, what would it be. She laughed and said I should have sent that question over before we met. She reflects on the question and answers, “You each can change the world.”

Alex, thank you so much for all the effort you are pouring into each student who enters Sunset Middle School. Thank you for encouraging your students that they can change the world at a young age, they don’t need to wait until they are grown. We wish you the best!

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