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Future of Learning

The International School of Panama’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Diploma Playbook

Exploring Secondary Pathways
By Allwyn Bryner
The International School of Panama’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Diploma Playbook

Here is the International School of Panama’s (ISP) playbook on how we successfully launched the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Diploma (#IEdiploma) and the lessons we learned along the way as we quickly outgrew ISP's initial elective course offering, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate (IEC).


Challenge: Three years ago, when I started working at ISP, I was quick to observe that students who were not enrolled in the full International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program had a very subpar educational experience, sometimes having huge gaps in their schedules and even taking the same course twice. However, the worst part was that these students were treated differently by some teachers, administrators, and even their peers, as they were considered not to be "academically smart."

Current Status: Over the course of my three years working with the non-IB diploma students at ISP, I have witnessed the same students who were written off by others challenge the existing status quo, step up, and prove themselves, and on several occasions be recognized globally. This year alone, my students were shortlisted as finalists in various global innovation and entrepreneurship competitions, sometimes even competing with students from Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University, and Cornell University. A few of them won awards, such as the 2024 Diamond Challenge Horn Entrepreneurship Official Global Award and 2nd Place in Latin America at the 2024 Blue Ocean Student Entrepreneur Competition. As the icing on the cake, 22 students received college credit from the University of Iowa, and four of them were awarded the National STEM Innovator Scholar Award by the University of Iowa for being in the top 10 percent in the United States.


Challenge: At one point, due to COVID-19, enrollment for the IEC course dropped to three students. I had to personally convince each and every child to sign up for my class to have the minimum number of students needed to run the course.

Current Status: Currently, we have over 20 percent of our rising juniors enrolled in the new #IEdiploma. Due to its unique offering—a chance to bring ideas to life while earning university recognition and credits in the process—we were able to get students to sign up for the #IEdiploma with little to no marketing.


Challenge: When creating authentic learning experiences that challenge the current Advanced Placement (AP) and IB offerings for high school students, it can often feel like fellow teachers, administrators, and the whole school community don't fully understand the work we are doing, making it seem as if we are doing this work by ourselves.

Current Status:

1. Counselors: The success of ISP's Innovation and Entrepreneurship diploma should be credited to the behind-the-scenes work of our amazing counselors at ISP (Jennifer Tassell , Dave Lalonde, and Eleonora Raviglione), who support our students every day and demonstrate to the world that there is more than one way to measure a student’s success.

2. Curriculum Coach: I can’t thank Jeremie Rostan, our in-house artificial intelligence (AI) expert, enough. We brainstormed regularly to explore ways to leverage AI to handle the heavy cognitive lifting needed to align our experiences with the curriculum.

3. Universities: One of the reasons ISP was able to pioneer and create a one-of-a-kind graduation pathway for our students is because of our unique partnership with the University of Delaware and Syracuse University. The #IEdiploma is built around the Diamond Challenge, an opportunity that empowers our students to bring their ideas to life. Thanks to Felicia Harrington from Horn Entrepreneurship Official at the University of Delaware for working with us to explore and align various dual-enrollment courses for the #IEdiploma that synergize well with the Diamond Challenge, a core offering of the #IEdiploma.


Challenge: Will my child be able to go to college without taking the IB?

Current Status: Thanks to our school's college counselors, students previously enrolled in IEC have not only been able to get into college but have also got admission to their college of choice. At this year’s award ceremony for seniors, numerous parents of students who enrolled in IEC reflected on the initial conversations we had with them about enrolling their child in the IEC program. They shared how their child has grown during their time in the program and expressed that enrolling their child in IEC was the best decision they ever made.


Challenge: Instead of doing what is best for them, students often give into peer pressure. The common excuse students always give is, "But my friends are taking the IB diploma."

Current Status: Unlike their peers, students who were previously enrolled in the IEC took a chance at challenging the status quo. They are passionate about bringing their ideas to life and were rewarded by not only getting into the university of their choice like Felipe da Paixao Fernandes but, in some cases, receiving a full-ride scholarship, just like Andreina Correa Quirós.


Challenge: I often hear, "What you offer is not the IB or AP. Will colleges even recognize this?"

Current Status: ISP has partnered with leading Tier-1 Research Universities in the United States of America to offer dual enrollment opportunities for #IEdiploma students. This means that students not only have the opportunity to bring their ideas to life but also receive recognition from Tier-1 Research Universities for their work.


Challenge: Four high school principals in four years.

Current Status: The biggest reason we were able to outgrow what we offered in IEC and scale it to #IEdiploma is because of Bill Hatcher and Audrey C. Menard, Ed.D.. As the head of school, Audrey has been supportive from the beginning in addressing ISP's strategic plan to offer a rigorous alternative option for students choosing not to take the IB Diploma Program. Bill, on the other hand, has been the cornerstone of innovation at the International School of Panama. His role in generating and supporting innovative ideas to build the #IEdiploma highlights why every school needs a leader who is passionate about creating authentic learning experiences for students.

The newest member of our squad is Anna May Drake. She will be attending the orientation at Syracuse University to teach our Applied English course offerings for the #IEdiploma. The knowledge and passion she brings to empower our students to be the best version of themselves is second to none.


Challenge: Initially, one of the reasons for low signups was the common misconception among   students that the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate (IEC) teaches only how to start a business because it has "Entrepreneurship" in its name.

Current Status: After three years of demonstrating to the ISP community that students enrolled in IEC were taught the necessary skills to bring their ideas to life, sometimes leading them to start a business, our community members have now become well aware that the word "entrepreneur" is derived from the French word "entreprendre," which means "to do something."

As we close this chapter of the IEC at the International School of Panama, we are excited to see how the #IEdiploma will empower our students to not only bring their ideas to life but also change Panama and the world for the better.

Originally Published on LinkedIn.

Read more about Exploring Secondary Pathways in Join the Conversation and Designing an Innovative High School Diploma Together


Allwyn Bryner began his professional journey as an Information Technology consultant for a Fortune 500 company. Despite the promising prospects of a lucrative corporate career, he made the choice to explore the world and use his expertise in Innovation and Technology to make a meaningful impact. After working in international schools in China, Brazil, and Mali, Allwyn currently works at the International School of Panama where he pioneers and leads the development of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship diploma, a unique graduation pathway that empowers students with the necessary skills to make a difference in Panama and the world.

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