There has been a lot of buzz in Leamington about the new International Baccalaureate (IB) program set to launch in September, 2019. There have been many questions about what IB actually is, and how a UMEI education compares to an IB education. As a school dedicated to nurturing faith, academics, and leadership, we too are interested in this program which strives to “develop internationally minded people who…help to create a better and more peaceful world.” We asked a graduate from an IB program to tour UMEI and provide some feedback as to the similarities and differences of the schools. After experiencing about an hour in our school, she helped us identify some key areas that we wanted to share with you.
What are the common threads?
Both education styles (IB & UMEI) aim to graduate people who care about the world. They both value curiosity, exploring understanding, critical and creative thinking, collaboration, effective communication, integrity and honesty, open-mindedness, empathy and compassion, taking risks, and being self reflective. As such, both classroom styles value inquiry-based learning, high academic standards, and creative classroom assignments. Both schools create an environment ripe for rigorous discussion and debate, hands-on applications of learning, and enrichment of subject-specific content. One graduate of UMEI, studying Biomedical Science at the University of Waterloo, is quoted as saying “I found I was just as prepared as IB students [in my classes].”
Who are the teachers?
Teachers in the IB program must attend special professional development courses to be authorized to teach in an IB school. They are teachers that are hired by the GECDSB who choose to receive the required designation.
Teachers at UMEI are committed to Christian education and to nurturing your child’s faith and formation as a whole person. They all hold a Bachelor of Education in their respective areas of specialty and are committed to preparing students for both university and college. They get to know your child as an individual, not just as a student in their classroom and help personalize the classroom experience.
What is the curriculum? What is the classroom like?
IB includes 3 core elements – Extended Essay, CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) and Theory of Knowledge. These elements are offered in Grade 11 & 12 only. Before this time, Math, English, French and Science will be taught to IB prep students in an accelerated learning classroom. All other classes will be normal classes. As indicated by our expert, “IB is very rigorous but also very structured. There is not a lot of room for curricular flexibility and there are many very particular hoops to jump through. It will help students prepare for university and gives depth to the topics for those who enjoy learning at a high academic level.” Graduates will earn an Ontario Secondary School Diploma and an IB Diploma.
UMEI teaches the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum in a small classroom environment. Teachers create a dynamic and engaging environment that is tailored to the particular students in each class. As our guest observed, “there is great flexibility and creativity in the UMEI curriculum which is very beneficial in preparing students for a world that values creativity and thinking outside the box. The learning at UMEI is more student-centred and collaborative.” Teachers at UMEI develop relationships over the four years that far surpass the subject-specific learning. Teachers help students discover who they are and who they want to be, and help them explore how education and community involvement prepare them to be that person. UMEI creates a holistic experience that influences faith, academics and leadership while providing one-on-one attention and support.
What is the social environment like? What are the opportunities for leadership?
IB programs are set up within existing secondary schools. As such, the social environment is similar to that of the secondary school in which it exists. The IB classes bring together more like-minded, similarly-focused students and relationships develop from the closeness of the program. Leadership, athletic, and extracurricular opportunities are the same as what is offered in the high school. The larger student body lends itself to diverse opportunities.
UMEI offers a small community environment where all grades integrate on a regular basis. Many option classes are offered to more than one grade, and daily chapels bring the whole school together. The student body actively ensures students feel welcome and part of the community. Student Parliament plans monthly parties for the entire school, and all students have opportunity to participate in athletic teams. There are a variety of clubs and service opportunities available to all students. Leadership opportunities are pervasive throughout the school; whether it is in class, on teams or in a club. The environment is inclusive, energetic, and values individuality. As one transfer student states, “At my old school, I had to try so hard to fit in. At UMEI, I can be myself!”
Why does being a Christian school matter?
The biggest difference between IB and UMEI is this – whereas IB offers a strong values-based education, UMEI is a Christian high school, anchored in an Anabaptist tradition. This means there are a number of important differences. Students at UMEI take courses in Religious Studies and learn about what it means to be a follower of Christ in the modern world. They learn to critically look at the Bible and their faith, and are challenged to discover what it means to actively live out their faith. UMEI has daily chapels that inspire and embolden our students to learn more about Jesus and how living a life of faith makes a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. Christian holidays are celebrated and emphasized, with special chapels for Thanksgiving, Remembrance Day, Advent, Christmas and Easter. Guest speakers from local churches and around the world speak about their faith stories and offer varying perspectives. When students experience personal joys or hardships, the community comes together in prayer and support. Because of the emphasis on Christ-centred living, social justice and building community, UMEI offers an environment that, together with strong academics, offers so much more.