Part seven of a series focusing on how Cherry Creek Schools is meeting the needs of all children.
Bob Kennedy doesn't have to look very far to find success stories when it comes to the International Baccalaureate program.
Kennedy, a teacher, coach and counselor at Smoky Hill High School, has worked with countless students who have benefitted from IB, which offers a rigorous curriculum rooted in critical thinking, individual initiative and a workload that mirrors the demands and expectations of college
He also has very personal connections to the program. His oldest son Evan Kennedy, who graduated from Smoky Hill in 2014, took part in IB classes throughout high school. His daughter Mattie Kennedy, currently a senior at the school, and his younger son Cameron Kennedy, a sophomore, have both taken part in the program since they started at the school.
The Kennedys are an IB family, a legacy that started when Evan, the oldest, started high school and shifted from private school to Smoky Hill.
"We were out of district at the time. My wife and I always knew that Smoky Hill had such great programs – we were looking at the IB program for him," Bob Kennedy said. "I felt that our IB program was stronger than the ones in the private schools we were looking at."
The decision would set the course for Evan's younger siblings. The Kennedys moved into the district, and both Mattie and Cameron followed their older brother's example. Though their sibling had set the academic course, both found unique and individualized benefits to the program. The IB emphasis on organization and its early focus on building writing, reading and study skills had an immediate payoff.
"It's taking on a certain subject and teaching yourself how to learn more about it," said Mattie, who's discovered an early interest in audiology through one of her personalized IB assignments. "They teach you how to take good notes, so that you're better prepared for tests, essays and whatever comes your way. It's looking deeper into textbooks, making things easier. I'm going to college next year, and I feel like I'm a lot better prepared."
Building those basic academic skills comes along with an individualized approach to content. Though Cameron is only in his second year of the program, for example, he's already had a chance to tailor studies specifically to his interests. An active athlete, Cameron has worked on building a sports-based business model that's included working one-on-one with kids.
"What I've seen so far, is that the teachers work hard to get you started, and throughout the year you take on more and more responsibility," Cameron said. "It's pretty personalized."
From his vantage as a parent, Bob Kennedy has seen the benefits of the program in a way that's even more immediate than his role as a guidance counselor.
"They expect the kids to go deeper into the content, to think more creatively and more critically," Bob Kennedy said, adding that his oldest son Evan has seen firsthand benefits of the IB program at Creighton College. "They're required to do an extended essay in their senior year that's basically a college thesis; the kids really have to dive into understanding the depths of what they're trying to learn, to make it cross-curricular."
So far, the IB program has offered benefits to the three oldest Kennedy kids, and their example may very well inspire the academic journey of another future Smoky Hill student. The youngest Kennedy child is in elementary school, and her siblings already see a direction for her future.
"She's such a smart girl," Cameron said of his younger sister. "I'd encourage her to take part in IB."