A magnet school transformation draws new students

By: Savanna Buckner

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In North Carolina, Speas Global Elementary School has adopted an International Baccalaureate program and a dual language program to breathe new life into the neighborhood. 



Buenos días,” sings Miss Cardona, sitting with her guitar in front of a group of lively kindergartners at Speas Global Elementary School. At first, only one or two children respond. But a few moments later, all the children are singing back to her in Spanish.

Instructional facilitator Katryna Jacober, watching it happen, describes, “I’m watching this class go from knowing absolutely nothing and having no clue what’s going on to really speaking, parroting back Spanish to her.”

The small-scale transformation in the classroom is part of a larger transformation happening at Speas.

Several years ago, the public school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina struggled to attract the families in its neighborhood. To respond to the community’s interests, it decided to revamp its curriculum and become a magnet school.  

Speas gradually became an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School with a dual-language immersion program and more than twenty countries represented by staff members. Now, the IB and language magnet is drawing new families and boosting test scores at the school.

It was definitely a purposeful program that was brought in to help attract parents. The parents we have started attracting live right near the school. – Katryna Jacober

“We have Wake Forest University just down the road and a lot of the professors’ children are coming to our school also,” says Jacober. “By having an attractive curriculum, it has drawn in families that wouldn’t consider us if we were a traditional school that taught the traditional ways.”

Speas’ burgeoning connection with Wake Forest University has already led to some powerful learning opportunities for the students, such as a visit from Dr. Dan Cohen, the University’s executive director for entrepreneurship.

When third-graders at Speas studied the IB theme of how entrepreneurs enhance the global economy, Cohen visited and worked with the kids on problem-solving simulations.  

“He presented the kids with the problem that he was opening an ice cream store and it was soft-serve and he didn’t want to have to keep cleaning the ice cream machine every time,” Jacober relates. “So, what were some solutions that they could come up with?”

The kids immediately began researching on their Google Chromebooks, gathering data, and doing group work, coming up with true entrepreneurial ideas.

Thanks to the Wake Forest University connection, Speas’ third, fourth, and fifth graders were also able to attend the University’s Entreprelooza last year, where college students pitched start-up ideas to their peers and teachers.

“I know that the parents were so thrilled about it,” Jacober says, “and the students have been invited back again this year, so I’m excited. That’s how that whole thing got started: with one of our IB units of inquiry.”

The IB curriculum has a specific unit on entrepreneurship. But Jacober says students learn problem-solving from the Spanish classes at the school as well.

“Because they have the ability to switch the language, they just think about things differently,” she says. “I notice it with math problems. When they’re trying to figure out a problem, they’re able to persevere through struggling, and that’s really cool to see.”

Some things haven’t drastically changed at Speas: the school still teaches the same North Carolina public school standards. But teaching that curriculum in new ways, and developing IB and Spanish immersion programs, is transforming parent engagement and student happiness at the school. 

 “We’re trying to put things together creatively, so that it’s more impactful and so that the subject lines are blurred,” explains Jacober.

It’s the learning and the understanding of the material that’s important. We want students to know how to learn rather than to memorize things they could Google. – Katryna Jacober

 It’s so encouraging to see a school put in the effort to better meet the needs of families in its neighborhood. Muy bien, Speas Global Elementary School!


Read more: 5 Questions for Katryna Jacober, Speas Global Elementary School 

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