McCarver Elementary School

​​Serving students with an inquiry-based International Baccalaureate curriculum

Four fourth graders face their Spanish teacher with white boards and erasable markers in hand.

“Eme,” the teacher says. The students scramble to write down the English translation of the Spanish letter. On the count of three they flip their whiteboards, revealing the English “M.”


These four students volunteered for extra Spanish practice during part of their lunch period, but they aren’t the only ones at McCarver learning a second language. Every student takes a language class, due to the school’s adoption of the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years curriculum.​


mccarver_innov07.jpgThe innovative curriculum was initially created in the 1960s for the children of diplomats. Now IB programs are offered in more than 4,800 schools in 143 countries. The system emphasizes understanding world connections and solving real-life problems.


The IB governing organization is an international, non-profit educational foundation headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland founded in 1968. It offers Primary Years, Middle Years and (High School) Diploma programs.


“The Primary Years Program is about real-life applications that teach kids how to solve problems,” said Principal Wayne Greer. “Research shows that the IB program is effective because it makes learning relevant to real life and engaging.”


 Curiousity, open-mindedness, reflection

First grade teacher Katrina Hindman teaches math to her class without lecturing up front. She crouches next to groups of students gathered around low tables.

The students focus on a math worksheet, identifying whether numbers listed next to each other are less than, greater than or equal in value. When one girl finishes early, she walks immediately over to another table and pulls out a packet of flash cards to practice counting higher numbers.

“That’s the classroom culture,” Greer said. “Students don’t just raise their hand and ask the teacher what’s next. They know what to do.”
mccarver_innov03 test.jpg

The independent thinking on display is fostered intentionally. It’s part of the IB Learner Profile, 10 character traits the program develops, including risk taking, curiosity, open-mindedness and reflection.

The IB program encourages students to become active, compassionate and lifetime learners. It emphasizes inquiry, and the curriculum is based on interdisciplinary themes that cover six subjects: language, math, science, social studies, arts and personal, social and physical education. 


In practice, that means teachers attend professional development courses on the IB curriculum and collaborate on their units. For example, students might study about energy usage from a social studies and science perspective. 

Kindergarten teacher Rebecca Owens said that her students respond eagerly to the IB culture. One activity she promotes is “center time,” where students pick stations like reading, drawing, measuring or block building.


“They are self-monitoring, learning about appropriate voice level and social behavior,” she said. “The students are naturally motivated to do their own exploration.”

A natural fit

The IB program is a natural fit for McCarver Elementary, which has a long history of innovation. Located in the heart of Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, McCarver was the country’s first magnet school in 1968. 

 McCarver earned official authorization by the IB governing body for its Primary Years Programme in June 2015, following a three-year evaluation period. 


A housing innovation

Recently, McCarver also garnered national attention and a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for an innovative housing partnership project, operated by the Tacoma Housing Authority, which provides housing subsidies to a limited number of low-income McCarver families if they commit to keeping their child at McCarver for elementary school and being actively involved in their child’s education. The housing subsidies aim to establish continuity of learning for students. Research shows students who move in and out of various schools perform poorer academically. Traditionally, McCarver has had one of the most mobile student populations in the Tacoma School District.


Get to know McCarver

Innovation Model: McCarver provides its students with an IB Primary Years Program. The IB program is inquiry based and focuses on six core subjects. The students learn language, math, science, social studies, arts and personal, social and physical education. Teacher use interdisciplinary units to teach topics. There’s also a focus on character development and creating learners who are: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk takers, balanced and reflective.

Students best served: The IB program is for all McCarver students. Those wanting to continue on an IB track can attend Giaudrone Middle School and Henry Foss High School.

Grades: Preschool through fifth

Students: 420

Teacher training: Teachers are trained in the IB curriculum.

School report card

School Web site

Special clubs and after-school programs: • Spanish • Peacemakers • McCarver Scholars Afterschool Extended Learning Program • Boy Scouts • Girl Scouts • PTA • School garden

Related links: 

International Baccalaureate Organization

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant

Designated Innovative School - Washington State 

 Photo gallery: View McCarver innovation in action