By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Kurt H. Leggard
Even as new state and federal reforms begin to change the face of education, Pierson High School is moving forward with an initiative of its own choosing — the International Baccalaureate (IB).
After years of heated discussion and debate, Pierson kicked off its first year as an IB World School this fall. For the first time, upperclassmen have the option of enrolling in individual IB courses or sitting for the full two-year IB Diploma Programme.
According to Principal Jeff Nichols, who is currently overseeing the program with Vice Principal Gary Kalish, over 130 students are taking the 10 IB courses now offered at Pierson. Eleven students — all juniors – are aiming for the full diploma.
Nichols, who has been one of IB’s biggest supporters in the district, believes the program will provide students with the necessary skills to succeed after graduation.
“In my opinion, the habits of mind that are encouraged and woven into the curriculum throughout IB will better prepare students for what comes after high school, whether it’s college or the workplace,” Nichols said.
For example, he said, writing effectively, problem solving and considering multiple points of view are all some of the most important skills emphasized by IB. Nichols went on to say that the school planned to “gradually phase out” some of the Advanced Placement (AP) courses over the next two to three years, while simultaneously increasing the number of IB courses.
The Diploma Programme requires students to take classes in six different disciplines, as well as a philosophy class called Theory of Knowledge. In addition, students must write an extended essay and participate in Creativity, Action and Service, a community service program. At the end of the two-year program, students take external examinations in order to qualify for the diploma.
Nichols estimated that the net cost to the district is roughly $20,000 per year, with the majority of the cost stemming from the approximately $11,000 annual fee to the IB organization and the registration fee for students enrolled in the program. The school also pays an assessment fee for individual exams, similar to the cost of an AP exam.
While the program has only been instituted at the high school level, Sag Harbor Elementary Principal Matt Malone has also been exploring IB.
“I value a lot of what the IB curriculum represents,” he said. “I feel it’s a great addition to our district right now.”
“One of the things that’s very important to the success of the program is having the full staff receive staff development and the training from IB before you even embark on it,” Malone explained. “I’m committed to supporting the diploma program and I want to make sure we have strong coordination K-12 with regards to IB.”
“I like it an awful lot,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso of the program. “It’s an ongoing, continuous program with coherent and impressive curriculum, so I just think it’s been proven to be very well received in the districts that have gotten involved in it.”
Furthermore, Dr. Bonuso said, IB “encourages the kinds of activities that very often brings you beyond the four walls of a classroom.”
A case in point is perhaps a field trip taken by the IB History of the Americas class. In September, Ruth White-Dunne and her 17 11th graders attended the 2012 C3 Summit on Arab-U.S. relations and commerce in Manhattan.
“Intrinsically built into the IB program is this idea that students [become] global thinkers, global-minded and see things from different perspectives,” said White-Dunne. At the summit, students “really got to see global dialogue in the making.”
“We want the students to learn how to think differently and take their knowledge and then do something with it,” she added. “It’s one thing to get A’s and get into good schools but we want them to become good global citizens and teach them to learn how to do something with it and give back.”
Pierson juniors Garrett Potter and Chance Sevigny, who attended the conference, both expressed their preference for IB over AP. They also said that they would “definitely” recommend the program to other students.
According to Cole Severance, who is taking a mixture of IB and AP courses this year, both types of classes are “equally challenging.
However, he said, “For myself, I like the APs better because they’re just more my style.”
“I think with the AP, it’s much more memorization and with the IB, it’s more how you express what you know. It’s not all just memorization – it gives you other options,” said Carli Fischer, who is enrolled in the full diploma program.
“With IB, you really have to know [the material] in-depth and you have to solve problems instead of [choosing] one clear-cut answer,” said Ian Barrett. “It’s a different way of thinking. I don’t know if one’s necessarily that much better than the other, but I think they’re both decent programs and they all have their pros and cons.”
Still, according Principal Nichols, the philosophy behind IB is also consistent with the educational changes put forth by Common Core and other recent education reforms.
“If you look at the Common Core, I think it’s more aligned with IB than AP,” he said. “Even if you look at AP, they’re making changes to their program that in many instances move their program more toward IB-like program.”
“I think that IB should be the wave of the future in terms of a program that prepares students for what comes next,” Nichols added. “I think it should be. Whether it is or not, that remains to be seen.”