Start-up IB program a success so far

Published 8:49 pm Saturday, November 8, 2008

Students in the first year of Suffolk’s pre-International Baccalaureate program say it has been well worth it so far.

International Baccalaureate is an intensive two-year program of international education for high-achieving high school students. The actual program is completed during a student’s junior and senior years; however, those hoping to enter the program must take rigorous pre-IB courses during their freshman and sophomore years.

“I had been looking for a challenge,” said Ethan Gould, one of the 37 IB students. “I definitely found that.”

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The program, housed at King’s Fork High School, is costing the school division about $200,000 this year. The advantages of the program for the select few students make up for it, say school officials.

“We serve the needs of all students,” said Lynn Cross, assistant superintendent for special projects. “We’re not denying one (group) to provide this.”

The students in the program say it is a huge benefit for their educational process.

“You feel so much more accomplished when you get a grade back and it’s a good grade,” Ethan said.

The program requires more studying, writing and reading than the mainstream curriculum, the students said. However, they also recognize that they’re gaining an advantage on their non-IB peers – in all kinds of ways.

“I can just tell that I’m learning more from the classes,” Ethan said.

Several of his classmates agreed, saying they find they’re always ahead of their non-IB friends in different subject areas, even though they’re covering more and more difficult material.

The international perspective of the program is brought into play during the foreign language, social studies and literature classes more so than in the regular curriculum, they said.

“We get exposed to other cultures, other ideals in the world,” said Elena Vitullo.

Elena was motivated to join IB after hearing about the vastly higher college acceptance rates for IB graduates.

Brandon La Dieu, like Ethan, wanted a challenge out of school.

“Going through middle school, I was able to just get the grades without studying,” he said. “But now, it’s more rewarding.”

Ravynn Stringfield decided to forego the Governor’s School for the Arts to participate in IB.

“It was worth it,” she said.

A popular perception of the IB program is that students can’t participate in sports or clubs. However, Ethan, Elena, Brandon and Ravynn say it’s not so.

“It’s not like it’s a program that destroys your social life,” Ethan said. All four are involved in clubs or play sports, and still find the time to have friends, they said.

“You get to meet a lot of new people” through the program, Elena said. “It’s like a big family.”

Initially, Ethan and Elena had doubts about the IB program, because they are zoned for Nansemond River High School. Students who want to be in IB must attend King’s Fork full-time, including playing sports and participating in clubs there.

“It was a big, big thing for me, because I already had a lot of school spirit going to River,” Ethan said. “But sometimes, you really have to sacrifice something to get something better out of it.”

When this year’s class makes it through their junior and senior years, they will have completed rigorous courses in six groups of study – their first language, a second language, humanities and social sciences, experimental sciences, mathematics and arts and electives. In addition, they will have written a 4,000-word essay on a subject of their choice; completed 150 hours of extracurricular activities such as sports, outside art endeavors, community service, and the like; and completed the Theory of Knowledge course and an accompanying essay. Students’ work in all subjects is evaluated by both internal and external judges to determine if they will earn an IB diploma, and those who do will likely receive college credit.

“There are a lot of advantages,” said Micah Smith, the lead teacher for IB in Suffolk. However, the benefits aren’t just limited to the 37 in the IB program. Students and faculty in the entire school system will benefit, because IB instructors teach regular classes, too.

“That’s what sold us on the program – the trickle-down effect,” Cross said. “Once a teacher begins to teach at a higher level, they can’t just turn it off.”