After nearly four decades, the Williamsburg Christian Academy is changing how they teach their students.
In the coming year, the private school will switch from their current college preparatory learning model to a skills-based International Baccalaureate program, said Johnny Graham, head of school for WCA.
“For a long time, it was just about teaching and how much content a teacher could share with students,” Graham said. “But in the 21st century, students have to explore, analyze, connect and think critically.”
The new program will approach education in a more hands-on, life skills manner. Instead of simply teaching students to memorize the lessons, students will engage in critical thinking skills that help with various aspects of their education.
Graham said this is a shift that’s happening throughout the country and WCA saw an opportunity to expand the learning capabilities for its students.
“Our objective is really to sharpen those analytical tools that students have as well as connect them to a more globalized engagement in the world,” he said. “We want them to realize there is a much bigger planet out there than just this localized area.”
A school with an IB diploma program approaches education differently than the typical learning model and has a different profile of an IB student. According to the International Baccalaureate public website, a student who graduates from an IB program will be:
- A thinker
- A communicator
- A risk-taker
- An inquirer
Graham said those qualities are achieved through a number of different strategies.
First, students will learn through “trans-disciplinary” curriculum, which means courses and subjects interact with each other in the overall learning experience. Graham said for example, a science course isn’t simply science. Students will learn how to do research, writing and analysis in these courses as well.
The classes also engage with other aspects of learning by having large projects that involve critical thinking at the end of each level.
“It’s really a whole-child approach to health, wellness, critical thinking and scholarly engagement,” he said. “When you couple that with WCA’s Christ-centered mission, the IB program really produces students that are respectful, knowledgeable and aware of the world around them.”
To start the new program, the current teachers are going through a training regimen that will bring them from “content specialists” to “learning facilitators,” Graham said. The difference, he added, is that a learning facilitator will engage students to access a higher level of thinking so they not only interact with the information but they can critique it when they receive it.
For example, Graham said when he first started teaching history in the 1990s, he would make sure students knew about topics like President Theodore Roosevelt. Now, however, students will connect the dots to analyze how certain parts of history impact the world today and can use data and technology to form sophisticated arguments connecting the topic to other subjects.
“What happens [is] a learning facilitator acts as guide…and really allows students to roll up their sleeves and have a high level of discovery for themselves,” he said.
Graham said over the past few decades, technology has dramatically changed the way students learn, but not necessarily for the better. While they have access to all this data and information, Graham said the IB curriculum teaches them how to use it for real-life problem solving.
The new program will also help students with post-graduation plans. Graham said the program helps students especially in the transition from high school to college because they’ve learned how to take charge of their own education.
“In college, no one is going to hunt you down to make sure you succeed,” he said. “Research has shown that students who have been in an IB program have a more thought-provoking mindset that instills in them better life skills for after graduation. So it’s not just an academic curriculum, it’s a life curriculum.”
Graham said the transition to the new curriculum will begin in August for students in the lower school and middle school. For students in grades 11 and 12, the new curriculum will begin in August 2021 because the school has to go through a deeper level of certification and training.
To learn more about the Williamsburg Christian Academy, visit the school online.