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I stopped by the John F. Kennedy High School back-to-school night this week, where I was pleasantly reminded about lots of great things.

Principal Jeannie Peppel addresses families assembled for back-to-school night.

First off, here’s a stunning statistic.  Over 85 percent of the Class of 2010 were accepted to, and are currently attending, the college of their choice.  In fact, a graduate of 2010 was accepted to Harvard, which is a fabulous thing.

Consider that the DPS graduation rate is 52.66%, when you factor in everyone that finally graduates.  The Kennedy Commanders’ graduation rate is 80.44%, up nearly 10 points from the previous year.  Definitely, things are on a pretty steep upward swing.

Of particular interest to me is the International Baccalaureate Middle Years and Diploma Programme at Kennedy, which is a continuation of the feeder program built by community and district that starts at Sabin Elementary, follows through to Henry Middle School and finally wraps up at Kennedy High.  I was ably guided through the back-to-school by the junior daughter of a fellow Lincoln alum, Amber Hunt-Cass.

The Captain and 1st Sargeant of ROTC

The JROTC class is an opportunity for students to learn more about themselves as individuals.  They will be making self-assessments throughout the year, learning where their strengths might be, what kind of learners they are and other important information that will help students “cut to the chase” when it comes to taking on new challenges.  Adults sometimes go through a period of self-discovery before finally figuring out what makes them tick.  The JROTC students will have an opportunity to delve into this self-discovery before they leave school.

Commanders looking sharp at last May's Annual Review.

All JROTC students will be marching in the Veterans Day Parade in Denver on November 6.  I can’t wait to watch…maybe they’ll let me participate!

We then went to Ms. Trish Wigginton’s Biology class.  She strives to pull out from her students the personality traits of all IB learners, including being knowledgeable, reflective and balanced thinkers (read about the IB learner profiles here).  Ms. Wigginton wants students to substantiate how they know what they know.  They tackle various controversial, science-based topics in which they have to defend a given point of view.  Last year’s class dealt with animal testing and euthanasia, the dialog of which brought strong reactions, tears and even support of such events.  This year’s students will be dealing with global warming, stem-cell research, and the “street light effect,” or what happens when funders push scientists to study things that have already been studied…what then?  What does that mean for science?

Ms. Wigginton wants her students to avoid making judgments and to be open-minded learners.  Can you see why I love IB?

By the way, the Biology class will be doing experiments at nearby Bear Creek, and Ms. Wigginton has no rubber boots or hip waders.  If you have any to give, let me know.

IB Spanish teacher Germán Echevarría

IB Spanish teacher Germán Echevarría

Our next stop was Mr. Germán Echevarría’s Spanish 2 class.  His ultimate objective for this group of students is that they be able to handle a 10-12 minute discussion on a given topic, as well as be able to answer questions on the topic.  This is a pretty difficult thing.  If you can remember your own Spanish class, there was a lot of rote learning of verb tenses and vocabulary words, as well as those comical canned dialogues…but when you actually met someone in the street that spoke Spanish, you froze.  It’s exactly that kind of experience that Mr. Echevarría wants his students to avoid.  He wants them to learn the language on a deep level, with the ability to cobble together sentences on the fly, just like we do as native English speakers.  Good stuff.

Later came Ms. Vicki Vernig’s IB English I class.  This year, the students’ reading list includes The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, Cyrano de Bergerac, and poems by Emily Dickenson and Walt Whitman.  Because the students will have normal oral exams in December, she has assigned this wide array of genres and formats so that the students find something that appeals to them.  They will do a better job in passing those exams if something piques their interest, as opposed to simply relating something that was assigned to them.  There is something in this reading list for everyone.

I really do love IB.  I think it’s this level of program strength parents want, but in some places, IB is this island unto itself.  I am so proud of community in southwest Denver, that insisted that this program at Sabin and Henry is for the whole school, not just a selected few.