5 Questions for Katryna Jacober, Speas Global Elementary School

By: Andrew Campanella

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Katryna Jacober, instructional facilitator at Speas Global Elementary School, explains how the school’s International Baccalaureate program has kids asking questions… and even changing the cafeteria trays.


Read more: A magnet school transformation draws new students


Andrew Campanella: Tell me more about Speas Global Elementary School’s journey to becoming an International Baccalaureate (IB) school and what IB includes.  

Katryna Jacober, instructional facilitator and IB coordinator: The school originally started as a Global Schools Network school. That program was a really great foundation for IB and the teachers got a lot of professional development through it. The Global Schools Network changed names to Participate Learning about the same time that we were taking on IB. Now that has taken a back burner to what we’re doing with IB. IB has the character development piece. There are ten attributes to an internationally-minded person: being a good communicator, caring, an inquirer, a risk-taker, a thinker, knowledgeable, open minded, balanced, principled, and reflective. We work on those things with our kids through all of the lessons every day to help them become the kind of people that we want to send out into the world. That’s the character development piece. Then, all of our kids receive Spanish during their specials’ rotation. Parents also have a choice to put their children into a Spanish immersion classroom, and that means that in kindergarten they’re fully immersed into Spanish language.

Andrew: What are some of the fruits you’ve seen of the IB program?

Katryna: Each grade level has a unit of inquiry studied within the IB theme, “Sharing the Planet.” Second grade’s central idea is “living things go through the process of change.” As part of the inquiry process, students study butterflies and watch their life cycle and we encourage students to ask and research their own questions. Last year, we had a group of second graders who were really curious about what happens when something happens to stop a life cycle. This led to questions about pollution and trash in our environment and eventually to why our cafeteria uses polystyrene trays. This question started a movement at our school. Students began bringing their own silverware and metal straws so they didn’t need the school’s plasticware and plastic straws. Things really got moving and this action actually got our trays in the cafeteria changed to recyclable trays. With the help of our learning community, we started composting the last month of school in our cafeteria and we are continuing that effort this school year. This is now spreading to other schools in our district too — all because of our students engaging in our IB curriculum and inspiring our entire learning community. 

Andrew:  What are some activities that your school participates in to help spark student happiness and teacher happiness?

Katryna: We participate in a lot of our community events, like the Hispanic League does a fiesta every year. Our Spanish immersion classes always perform at the fiesta at the children’s stage and that’s one of the really fun events. Because it’s so early in the year, it’s community building, especially for the kids who’ve all been remixed and are with new friends in a new class. Also, in our town in Winston-Salem, we have International Village and they invite us to do this parade of flags to kick off the event, which is really neat. Two kids carry a little banner-sized flag and they march around the inside of the area where they have the booths and things set up for the International Village. We purposely look for those sorts of things that we can participate in as a school and celebrate our international mindedness.

We host every year an international festival at our school and each grade level has a continent and each teacher takes a country. So, in math if students are doing distances, instead of just doing the distance between Winston-Salem and Washington, D.C., they might do that as a distance comparison between some places in Europe, Berlin and London. Each teacher will have their country and they’ll have a booth with a craft. It’s very much a food, flag, and famous people sort of event. The community loves it. There are performances on two different stages and we’ve been doing it now for six years and it’s the biggest event that we do as a service to our community and a celebration of our magnet theme and school vision. 

Andrew: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your school?

 Katryna: I want to add that the leadership at our school complements what we do here really, really well. The leadership has taken us to the places that we’ve been able to go. When Mr. Ash came, the school was around 380 kids and now our enrollment is up to more than 750 kids. He’s done his job to diversify this school and to grow this school, and test scores have gone up as well. He could quote those test scores better than I could, but the real difference is in how it is just a happier place. From what I hear from teachers who have been here a long time and just from the people who keep choosing to come here and stay here, it’s a great place to be.

Andrew: How do students and staff celebrate National School Choice Week?

Katryna: Our guidance counselor takes the lead on that. She sends out those papers that you send that say ‘I love my school because…’ The teachers get the kids to brainstorm and fill those out. She pulls those together and then there are displays that they put up in the hallway. Then she gives scarves out. We’re big on social media too. That’s another side of how we are recruiting people to come to our school. We’ll tweet out the ‘I love my school because…’ papers, especially the ones that are sweet or very focused on our theme and talk about IB. 


Andrew Campanella is president of National School Choice Week. 


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