International Baccalaureate at Pine Street School

The goal of the International Baccalaureate is to develop students who will build a better world through intercultural understanding and respect.


The International Baccalaureate (“the IB”) is known for its academic rigor and highly respected among colleges and universities worldwide. It is considered a gold standard in education.

Most families are familiar with the IB in association with the Diploma Program for students in 11th and 12th Grade. Many are surprised to learn that the IB includes an early childhood and elementary school program called “the PYP” or Primary Years Program.

Pine Street School is the only school in New York City and one of just a few in the world offering the PYP with dual language options in both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish and then continuing this inquiry-based approach, offering the MYP with Spanish dual language through 5th Grade.

In 1990, international educators developed the PYP with inspiration from a host of constructivist learning models, like Montessori and Reggio Emilia. Then, as now, these models were considered global best practices for children ages 2-10. Constructivism has been around since the first Montessori school opened in 1907. Then, in the 1930s, Jean Piaget came out with his revolutionary theory of learning and officially labeled it constructivist theory.

Constructivism is a learning theory based on the belief that we all learn by constructing our own knowledge of the world through experiences and reflection, rather than by simply absorbing knowledge shared by someone else. In essence, constructivism argues that we gradually build (and revise) our own unique understanding of how things work and relate as we conduct observations, ask questions, and interact.

So, when you walk through a Montessori classroom or a Reggio Emilia classroom, you will see children investigating and building knowledge by interacting with materials, tools, the environment and each other. You will not see teachers directing students or insisting that they memorize facts. In these environments, all knowledge is constructed by each student in a highly individualized way. No two experiences are alike.

In 1990, the inventors of the PYP were inspired by these early constructivist models and strove to find ways to expand on them and connect them to the powerful IB model of global relevancy, rigorous inquiry and peer-to-peer collaboration.

They took notes from Montessori and Reggio Emilia and incorporated some basic elements of each into the PYP.

What Is the PYP?

The IB Primary Years Program (PYP) is the first ever curriculum framework for international primary schools, designed for students ages three to ten (Preschool through 5th Grade). Through both a unique curriculum approach and unique teaching methods it develops the intellectual, emotional and physical potential of each child.

At the heart of the PYP is a commitment to structured inquiry as the best approach to learning. Giving more ownership to the students in planning and assessing their learning, providing time, space, resources and support, integrating subjects, exploring big themes, we have moved toward more authentic learning.

Throughout the program, students acquire and apply a set of transdisciplinary skills: social skills, communication skills, thinking skills, research skills, and self-management skills. These skills are valuable for any learning that goes on within the classroom, and in life outside the school.

Confidence, caring, and curiosity are the key words for the early years (3-5 year olds) classroom. Through play and exploration children learn about themselves, others and the world. Though play, fun and enjoyment don’t end with preschool, the bigger focus from reception to 5th Grade is on becoming inquirers, thinkers, knowledgeable, and reflective learners.

The PYP recognizes the importance of traditional subjects but even more it emphasizes the need for using the knowledge and skills of these subjects to explore significant concepts that are global and common for all humans. Therefore, the PYP has identified six transdisciplinary themes that are explored through 6 units of inquiry in each grade level. Together, all six units make up the “Program of Inquiry”.

Each unit lasts about six weeks giving ample time for the students to demonstrate their prior knowledge and understanding, explore, wonder, experiment, solve problems, question, research, read, view, visit places, interview people, make connections, make meaning, and construct new knowledge and understanding. The students may work individually, with partners, in a small group or as a whole class.

Not everything can be integrated, so thereis time for subject specific learning. In teaching subject specific content, teachers encourage students to learn by acting and thinking as musicians, artists, sportspeople, mathematicians, readers, and writers.

To celebrate and demonstrate what the children have learned we have class gatherings, put work out on the walls, invite parents and peers for presentations, showcase work in many forms during regular assemblies, and have student led conferences with portfolios.

The culminating activity in the end of PYP is the PYP exhibition. This is not the end. Students are encouraged to reflect, to make informed choices and to take action that will help their peers, school staff and the wider community.

What distinguishes the PYP from other programs?

International perspective:
A driving force behind the PYP is the philosophy of international mindedness. The IB’s mission is to nurture young people who recognize that they are global citizens and who are motivated to make changes to and in the world.
The subject areas of math, language, science, social studies, technology, the arts, and physical education are taught through transdisciplinary themes in order to help students make connections among the subjects, thereby facilitating more effective learning.

The PYP fosters the development of thinking, communication, socializing, research, and self-management skills. Students are encouraged to put what they have learned into practice through service to the school community, the local community and the global community.

You will notice that the PYP is comprehensive and complex. It takes time for the average PYP parent to learn the program in-depth and fully understand its power. But you will see it shortly after your child starts to experience it.

The PYP Is Made of...

Middle School

Pine Street School has adopted the Common Ground Collaborative curriculum framework for Middle School (6th-8th Grade) as a continuation of the PYP offered in Elementary School. Visit Middle School to learn more!