A wall of clocks inside the Charter Oak International Academy shows the local time for West Hartford, Puerto Rico, Hanoi, Nairobi and Kolkata, India.

In the main office, T-shirts are sold with the school emblem on front and "Citizen of the World" printed across the back. Two years after Charter Oak signed up to become one of Connecticut's few elementary schools with an International Baccalaureate curriculum, a hint of what that means is in Jen Dolan's fifth-grade classroom.

The topic one recent morning was renewable energy. Dolan's students had just read an article about a young African who built a windmill with wood and junkyard materials to power his family's home in a Malawian village.

"What kind of person does this?" Dolan asked.

"A risk-taker?" replied Zahra Smith, 10.

"Why do you think he's a risk-taker?"

"Because he built something and never quit," Zahra said.

"He's determined," volunteered a boy. "Because he made something out of nothing."

Caring, patient, strong, "a thinker" -- around the class, kids offered up attributes that school leaders want them to emulate. Then they began analyzing a newspaper story about brothers who installed a wind turbine at their New Haven business. Dolan posed a question on the board: "How does a person's beliefs guide their actions?"

To answer, the students first had to plow through words in the story such as "confluence" and "zephyrs," difficult for any fifth-grader. A few went to a dictionary and all seemed to carry on. Only later did Dolan reveal that about half of her class receives special education services, including help for reading.

"I have very few students who are on grade level," she said, "but you really wouldn't know it."

Of the four schools in the state with an authorized International Baccalaureate program for elementary grades, two are in Greenwich. The International Baccalaureate Organization, based in Geneva, Switzerland, promotes ideals ranging from brainy curiosity to empathy; its program is developed up to the high school level and is known for its rigor in all parts of the world.

But Charter Oak's push to be certified as an IB World School -- authorization is anticipated this fall or early winter -- is less about prestige than defeating low expectations. Test scores through the years have not reached district and often state averages. A quarter of the students speak a primary language other than English, and about 40 percent are from low-income households. Eight of 10 kids are identified as black, Hispanic or Asian, the highest minority population in the West Hartford school system.

This spring, headed into the standardized Connecticut Mastery Test, there was no sense of dread, Charter Oak Principal Mary Thompson said. Regular in-class assessments have shown improvement. Student confidence has been "noteworthy."

"They'll give you what you expect of them, and I think that's what's been different," Thompson said. "I roam all day, just sitting in classes, taking notes on things I see. .... Learning is taking place, and IB is just an opportunity to see what children can give you."

'Who We Are'

Charter Oak's walls are covered with traits of the IB "learner profile," which the Geneva organization considers central to its "education of the whole person" on intellectual, emotional, personal and social levels. Those attributes are posted throughout the International School at Dundee, too, across the state in Greenwich:

Knowledgeable. Principled. Open-minded. Balanced. Reflective. Communicator. Inquirer. Caring. Thinker. Risk-taker.

Easing overcrowding in the Riverside section of Greenwich was the reason that Dundee opened in 2000 as the first magnet school in Greenwich, Principal Teresa Ricci said. But drawing families from other schools required a tempting magnet theme, and so a committee of parents, educators and community members convened to choose one.