IB designation changing image of Hartsfield

Leon County School Superintendant Rocky Hanna, center, was in attendance with Joe Williams, Ph.D., and school board member Rosanne Wood.

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Just a few minutes past the start time for an “IB announcement fiesta,” Chelsea Barnes stepped to the microphone and delivered a greeting in Spanish.

Latino music played in the background, as attendees settled into their seats inside the media room at Hartsfield Elementary School.

“It feels good,” Barnes, a fourth-grader, said just before pulling off her assignment and settling into the audience.  “I’ve got to learn more (Spanish).”

The Hispanic theme was intentional, as Spanish is a second language that students at Hartsfields School are learning.

“It’s been fun for them,” said Fayon Jones, coordinator of the International Baccalaureate Programme. “It’s been a learning curve because they haven’t been exposed, but we are promoting bilingualism.”

 Spanish is part of the Primary Years Programme curriculum that the school recently received from the International Baccalaureate Organization. The entire PYP curriculum allows students to build conceptual understanding, according to the IB Organization. The Programme is for students 3 to 12 years old. 

Hartsfield becomes the first elementary school in the Leon County district to receive an IB designation. The school also becomes part of a pipeline that includes Fariview Middle School and Rickards High School.

Some parents of the school’s 325 students are still grasping an understanding of the IB Programme, Jones said.  Meanwhile, students are being taught that they have a place anywhere in the world beyond Tallahassee or the state. 

 “This is a game changer for the adults involved, the families involved, the kids involved,” said former principal Rhonda Blackwell-Flanagan, Ph.D. “They aspire for more. We believe we can fly and they do it despite the stereotypes.”

As part of development process, students are reminded that they have to focus on 10 different learning attributes,” Jones said. The reminders are posted on placards around the campus with words such as “risk takers” and “inquirers.” 

“We want them to build characteristics that are going to help them be confident in their learning and take ownership for their learning,” Jones said. “We just want to teach them to grow as people. Elementary school is a time to thrive, play and learn but we also want to teach them research skills, community skills, social skills, self-management skills and thinking skills at a very early age.”

Hartsfield is a D rated school with students from households that face economic challenges, making it a Title 1 school. With that comes some stereotypes that acting principal John Olson said the IB Programme should change.

“It raises our profile because we can extend our students all over the city,” Olson said. “They can go to Fairview and Rickards and earn their IB diploma.”

Blackwell-Flanagan, who is now an assistant principal at Godby High School, was first to apply for IB candidacy in 2019. Hartsfield was approved a year later and received full IB authorization last November.

She seemingly had no doubt that the school would obtain IB status.

“Just because our students come from lower income families does not mean that we should subscribe to a lower level of education,” Blackwell-Flanagan said. “We saw this as the prize. It was the trophy that we held in our hands while we ran the race.”

The process was slowed by COVID-19, but Blackwell-Flanagan said she stayed the course because of the potential of the staff and support from stakeholders that include the South City Foundation.

 “We wanted something different than other schools; something better than what we had. I always knew that we could do more with our students,” Blackwell-Flanagan said. “It was the soil that this was planted in. It was endless possibilities and hope.”

 The event was attended by South City Foundation board members, Leon County Superintendent of Schools Rocky Hannah, and District 2 school board member Rosanne Wood. Joe Williams, Ph.D., Rickards IB coordinator, was also in attendance.

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