|St. Mary’s School
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
As communications technologies get better, the world gets smaller – and the need for children to receive a globally integrated education grows more important than ever. St. Mary’s, a private school in Aliso Viejo for preschoolers through 8th grade, has embraced the challenge by investing considerable money and training into acquiring International Baccalaureate (IB) World School accreditation, then taking it a step further with a teaching approach that combines field studies and international exchanges with immediately relevant classroom curriculums.
“Although St. Mary’s has students and teachers from many walks of life and different faiths, the school employs a foundation of Christian values taught through song, reflection and chapel,” says Headmaster John O’Brien. “Seen as a whole, we’re not just teaching our students, we’re showing them how to assess what they learn in class and field studies and use it to activate their values in meaningful ways.”
St. Mary’s is the sole IB World School-accredited private elementary school in Orange County, yet that’s only part of what makes the school uniquely effective. Its IB strengths are interwoven with a well-thought-out schedule of overseas student exchanges, plus week-long immersive field studies to such places as the Sacramento state capitol (4th grade); Astro Camp (5th grade); Catalina Island Marine Institute (6th grade); Pali Institute (7th grade); and Jamestown, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. (8th grade).
“When we go on field studies, we don’t do them in isolation. They’re tied in to what the students are learning in the classroom. They see a connection and can apply what they’ve absorbed from the classroom to the field study and vice-versa,” says O’Brien, who would like to see St. Mary’s one day add a high school. “When the children return, they share their field study experiences with younger students, who then eagerly look forward to the next school year.”
The roughly 670-student school currently partners with the International School of Milan (ISM) in Italy, wherein St. Mary’s students visit Milan and live with host families for a week as they attend ISM classes with their student hosts. They also travel to explore Italy’s culture, customs and people. The exchange is mirrored when ISM students come to Southern California for weeklong stays with student host families while attending St. Mary’s.
“Our students get a much more informed view of the world by living within a foreign culture. They develop a better understanding of what it’s like outside of Orange County,” O’Brien says, adding that he hopes to see St. Mary’s also partner with a school in Singapore sometime in the near future.
The IB World School status of St. Mary’s influences the school in many ways. Foreign languages are continuously incorporated into the curriculum beyond specific classes in Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, and Italian. The school attracts faculty and students from around the world – West Africa, Germany, Australia, England, Singapore – who prefer the global approach known in IB schools.
On the home front, St. Mary’s science lab (it currently has one for grades 6–8, and is completing another lab for grades K–5) focuses on earth, life, and physical sciences, plus engineering, in classes that dovetail with robotics courses and two after-school science clubs.
“The goal is to inspire students to explore their world, dive into inquiry, and apply what they’ve learned for real-world results,” O’Brien says. “For parents who’d like to know more, I advise that nothing can replicate the insight they’ll get from a visit to our campus. We welcome visitors to come learn more about St. Mary’s.”