Administrators within Westerville City Schools are looking at implementing an International Baccalaureate program at the elementary and middle school levels.

Administrators within Westerville City Schools are looking at implementing an International Baccalaureate program at the elementary and middle school levels.

The program has existed at Westerville South High School since 2004, offering a two-year diploma program that focuses on language, a second language, individuals and societies, experimental sciences, mathematics and computer science, and the arts.

The International Baccalaureate Organization's degree program emphasizes critical thinking, intercultural understanding and exposure to diverse points of view.

At the elementary and middle school levels, students in the International Baccalaureate program would continue to focus on state curriculum standards, but instruction in those areas would be framed in a way that would encourage global awareness and critical thinking, Blendon Middle School principal Kendall Harris told the board of education during a Dec. 13 presentation about the program.

Schools would continue to focus on the current curriculum and to use their existing curriculum materials, said David Baker, executive director of academic affairs for kindergarten through eighth grade.

The change largely would be in the way material is taught rather than in the material itself, Baker said.

"It's how we present that material; it's how kids look at that content," he said.

Unlike the diploma program at Westerville South High School, where students have to apply to participate, all students at an elementary or middle school with an International Baccalaureate program would be part of the program, Harris said.

If the school board chooses to proceed with implementing the program, Blendon Middle School would pilot the program at the middle school level, and Emerson Magnet School would pilot the program at the elementary school level.

Emerson Magnet School principal Vicki Jarrell said the International Baccalaureate program would be instrumental in helping Westerville students compete at a global level.

"The first question you might ask yourself when thinking about international education is: Why?" Jarrell told the board. "The United States is slowly losing its position as a world economic leader."

When looking at international rankings for in global competiveness, Jarrell said the United States has been gradually sliding from the No. 1 slot it held in 2008.

Out of 139 countries, Jarrell said, the United States ranks No. 26 overall for its education system.

"Ohio is well aware of this need, and they're responding to it," Jarrell said.

The Ohio Department of Education, using a private grant, has formed an International Educational Advisory Committee to look at international education opportunities and methods. Other Ohio schools, including those in Oberlin and Bexley, have created primary and middle school International Baccalaureate programs, Jarrell said.

Worthington and Upper Arlington schools are in the process of applying to participate in the program, Jarrell said, and Dublin is considering it, as well.

Members of the Westerville school board were open to the idea of elementary and middle school International Baccalaureate programs, but expressed concerns about the added costs the program would bring to the district.

"We want to make sure we're not adding in something we have not budgeted for," board President Kristi Robbins said.

Board member Kevin Hoffman said the district has seen value in the International Baccalaureate program at the high school level, but the board should be sure that it's not favoring the elementary and middle school IB program while foregoing other district priorities.

"I don't doubt that this is a great program. The internationalization concept is very important," Hoffman said. "Are there other curriculum priorities we should be looking at the same time?"

Superintendent Dan Good said the district is looking into costs and how the program would affect other district priorities. He said the administration will present more information to the board in the near future.

"We did due diligence," Good said.