Seven Peaks School in Bend could offer the first International Baccalaureate program for elementary students in Central Oregon by 2020, joining baccalaureate middle school programs at Seven Peaks and Pilot Butte Middle School and a high school program at Bend High School.

The K-8 private school announced this week it was accepted as a candidate school for International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Programme, intended for students ages 3 through 12. IB, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is a worldwide educational program that gives students rigorous coursework and has high college-­acceptance rates, similar to Advanced Placement or honors classes.

According to IB, only 17 schools in Oregon have the primary-age program, with a majority of them in Portland and Beaverton and one each in Salem and Woodburn.

Because Seven Peaks’ middle school program was accredited in 2013, the school shouldn’t have too big of an adjustment to have its younger students join the system as well, said Meredith Blunda, IB primary years coordinator and third-grade teacher at the school.

“I think a big strength for us is we’re already IB in the middle school, so it’s kind of in our blood,” she said. “It’s really more the logistics of learning the paperwork and documentation rather than, ‘Oh my gosh, what does this mean, I have to change everything.’”

According to Blunda, Seven Peaks’ elementary teachers have already undergone some training to prepare for the shift, but in March, IB officials will visit Seven Peaks to have a major training session. Then, Seven Peaks will operate like it would under the program for more than a year until an IB representative returns between September 2020 and March 2021 to observe classes and interview teachers and staff to make sure the school is meeting the program’s standards. If the school is approved, it will become officially certified in the IB program by December 2020 at the earliest.

Blunda said the elementary-age program is “forward-thinking” and helps prepare young students for a time when their future jobs probably don’t exist yet. It also shies away from rote memorization.

“We don’t need to be memorizing and doing worksheets; we have technology to get quick facts,” she said. “Now it’s, what are we doing with that knowledge?”

The Primary Years Programme also approaches each topic from each subject, focuses on social responsibility and interacting with the local community, encourages students to take risks and lets students take agency in their own learning, Blunda said.

While students traditionally learning about the Oregon Trail would solely focus on that one event, students in IB’s primary program would compare it to other instances of human migration, from African-­Americans moving north after the Civil War to current Syrian refugees arriving in Greece, said Head of School Paul Harrell.

“Suddenly, you look at things in a context that’s global, and you say, ‘Whoa,’” Harrell said. “You can frame this in a way that a child would get that the Oregon Trail was important, and it’s a part of the world’s history that was built around migrations.”

Seven Peaks’ transition into offering the elementary-age baccalaureate program is being guided by someone with experience in this field. Before arriving in Bend last year, Blunda was the IB primary years coordinator for a school in San Francisco. She’s also taught in baccalaureate-certified schools in Washington, D.C., and Milan, Italy.

“When you want to build something, you have to have the confidence that you have a leader who’s done it before, and bam — she’s it,” Harrell said of Blunda. “Her success within the classroom and in previous schools gives me every confidence in the world that this is going to be an out-of-the-park home run.”

Because of her previous experience, Blunda said, she’s confident Seven Peaks will eventually become fully certified for their primary IB program. In the meantime, the school’s staff is “super excited” about the challenges ahead.

“It is work, but I have such a great team that it’s been a joy,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854,