MYP Project revived through KAP grading policy

As the deadline for this year’s MYP project approaches, conversations regarding the Kaiser Advisory Program’s grading policy have been buzzing as sophomores consider whether or not they should complete a MYP project. If students complete the project they will receive a MYP certificate. Students who fail to submit a MYP project will receive a ‘U’ in KAP; however, the grade will not affect their ability to graduate.

Contrary to many student’s beliefs, the KAP grade has always been linked to the personal project. This year, however, in an attempt to revitalize the MYP program and encourage students to challenge themselves, KAP advisors will be more stringent with their grades. “There are still people who say [the project] is optional because it doesn’t count for a core grade and nothing bad happens to you except for in your KAP class,” said MYP coordinator Cid Chun. “IB has always required it. It says all 10th graders are required to complete a personal project.”

At Kaiser, all freshmen and sophomores are required to enroll in MYP (Middle Years Programme). The program consists of a rigorous framework based around eight core subjects and a cumulative final project and report. In order to earn the MYP certificate, the program requires sophomores to utilize the skills they have (presumably) accumulated throughout middle school and the first two years of high school to create a personal project designed to explore their interest. “The certificate is just a piece of paper but what [students learn] to get to that paper is what I want them to have,” said Principal Justin Mew. “We are seeing more and more of that skills that are essential to it – research skills, speaking, planning, budgeting, developing an idea.” The whole purpose of the project – to find one’s passion while improving technical skills – serves as a conclusion to the five year program and prepares students to undertake the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme or the Career-related Programme.

Kaiser was not always an IB/MYP certified school, however. Up until 2010 when the program was implemented, parents were looking to private schools for a more rigorous curriculum. “Our expectations were too low and the quality of our education was not good enough. So I said, ‘Ok, let’s shoot for the top then.’ We’ll provide [students] with the best the world has to offer and the IB diploma program is most rigorous and challenging there is,” Mew said.

In 2010, Kaiser finally made the jump from a general education curriculum to the IB/MYP program, becoming the only public IB/MYP high school in Hawaii. In the early stages of Kaiser’s switch to the IB/MYP curriculum, students could freely choose between the general education route or the more challenging MYP route. In the latter program, students had separate MYP classes catered to the holistic view of the program – much like the IB classes of today. Very few students would actually receive the MYP certificate, however, due to the failure to complete the MYP project. “It was something not deemed necessary by students as it was [one] meant to be internally driven by students who are self-motivated and who did not need to have any grade attached to it,” said Mew.

In 2014, the MYP program was modified. Incoming freshmen were automatically enrolled into the program when IB guidelines mandated that every student – regardless of ability – be offered equal opportunities from the MYP program, rather than just selected individuals.

Now, all ninth and tenth grade classes are considered MYP. However, there were no classes catered specifically to the MYP project. The IB requirements state that in order for it to be deemed a personal project, the project has to remain disconnected from any subject grades or graduation credit. A committee made up of the school’s past MYP coordinators, counselors, and the principal decided this role should be handed over to KAP teachers. “To make a long story short, we decided to repurpose KAP to provide support for the students since the personal project was not being successful,” said Mew.

The responsibility, then, fell to the KAP teachers whose roles are to serve as guides for students and ensure they meet deadlines. It is an important distinction, however, that KAP teachers do not serve the same duty as mentors who give students immediate feedback and specialize in the particular topic of each project. In order to prepare for the monumental task of leading students through a 25 hour project and 2,000 word essay, KAP teachers are treated to a one day workshop, learning the core benchmarks of the project and receiving rough schedules to follow throughout the year. “What we give the teachers ARE OUR expectations,” Mew said.

However, the method with which they approach the MYP project is ultimately up to the individual teacher. Some advisors, like sophomore KAP teach David Higa and AVID teacher Maryam Ayati, form partnerships to tackle the projects. “To do it through KAP is really difficult. I see [my students] once a week for 30 minutes,” said Higa. “[But] we are doing it step-by step. I’m working with Mrs. Ayati since I have KAP with her AVID class. She does things in her class that helps me out with the process of completing the personal project in the KAP class. Without that support, I don’t know if it would have been possible to make it go as smoothly as it has.” Another sophomore advisor, Shannon Mcmonagle brought up the idea of pairing the project with research reports assigned by English teachers. “Without burdening the English teacher’s existing curriculum, if the teachers were to give more choice in the research projects in English, those projects could conceivably double duty as the MYP project.”  

Other teachers such as freshman KAP advisor, Jasmine Mathews, encourages students to seek out help if they find themselves struggling with the project. “Try it [and] put your best foot forward. You have a lot of teachers who are willing to help you,” she said. “Even though we’re all really busy, we’ll find the time to walk you through what needs to be done. Don’t give up.”

Although the MYP project is still in its early stages, Kaiser administration have seen evidence of improvement since first implementing the program. “We are considered the new school in the IB world,” said Mew. “We are still evolving, [but] during my years here at Kaiser, I’ve noticed that the projects get better and better every year – more sophisticated.” This upward trend can be attributed to various improvements made to the management of the project throughout the years. Discussions with the MYP coordinator are held in town halls and sophomores are shown previous examples of successful projects. In addition, MYP handouts are scrutinized for their ability to convey large amounts of information in coherent ways and deadlines are continually adjusted in order to give students enough time to complete the tasks required of them. “For now, we’ll see how it goes. We’ll give it a try and go back to the drawing board if it doesn’t work,” said Mew.

Meanwhile, teachers and administration are encouraging sophomores to finish their projects before the spring deadline. “Take it one step a time and see what happens. Do the research, find a [topic], and go through the steps. You might find your passion, and even more so, you might find self-confidence,” said Chun. Not only does the MYP project aim to cultivate personal growth and curiosity, it also helps students build a profile to rival the standards of not just Hawaii or the USA, but the rest of the world as well. “Take the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), for example. Who’s applying there? The world,” said Mew. “If you want to get into that school you have to compete against them. And [the MYP project] is one way to help you compete against the world.”

Picture credit: shakerite.com

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