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Sag Harbor Schools: So Far, So Good on International Baccalaureate Program

Posted on 05 June 2013

By Tessa Raebeck

Students, teachers and administrators spoke in favor of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program Monday night, in a presentation at the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting which reviewed the advanced learning program’s inaugural year.

In a workshop put together by the Educational Operations Advisory Committee, Pierson Middle/High School Vice Principal Gary Kalish explained the format and mission of the program, the requirements for earning a degree and the statistics on IB enrollment at Pierson. Kalish serves as the IB district coordinator, a position that each IB school is required to fill.

IB was enacted this school year as an alternative to the Advanced Placement (AP) and Regents curriculums. A global program, IB “focuses on the process of learning, rather than the acquisition of knowledge,” according to Kalish’s presentation.

According to Kalish, the program’s “pedagogy suggests what gets measured gets done.” The comprehensive criterion “emphasizes critical-thinking and problem-solving” and “provides skills vital to college readiness and college success.”

“We are one of the smallest schools in New York State to be able to offer the program,” said Kalish. “So we’re very proud of that feat.”

During their junior and senior years, students can take individual IB courses or work as IB diploma candidates. Twenty faculty members at Pierson have been trained to teach IB.

Students who decide to work toward the IB diploma must meet special requirements. They must take two Higher Level (HL) courses and three Standard Level (SL) courses.

In addition to these six courses, students must complete the Core, which includes an extended essay, 150 hours of Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) and Theory of Knowledge (TOK).

The extended essay is an independent 12 to 15 page writing assignment. It gives students the “opportunity to investigate an academic research question of individual interest and in the process develop independent research and writing skills expected for further education,” according to the presentation.

Student topics this year range from “Genocide and Dehumanization through Propaganda” to “Science Fiction in Post-Industrialization Societies.”

In CAS, students complete a minimum of 150 hours in an extracurricular activity outside of school. How they earn these hours is largely up to them.

Tiger Britt, a junior at Pierson who presented at the workshop, joined the robotics team, while his classmate, Drew Harvey, took ukulele lessons. According to Britt, CAS “helps you develop new skills and helps you join new activities and new groups.”

Pierson teacher Sean Kelly leads the Theory of Knowledge and Extended Essay components. TOK is a discussion-based course that makes sure students are “developing as thinkers in the way that the IB requires of them,” said Kelly.

“The students are not just getting the content,” he explained. “I’m able to model for them the different types of sophisticated thinking that’s at the core of the IB. It’s really about to what extent are our students becoming thinkers, as opposed to mere knowers.”

During the 2012 to 2013 school year, Pierson offered 10 different IB sections. In the upcoming 2013 to 2014 school year, the high school will offer 16 sections, adding IB courses in Chemistry and Physics.

Training for Music will also be added to the curriculum and the district will make “an effort to have someone trained in computer science,” said Kalish.

Several students and teachers spoke at the meeting on behalf of the IB.

“We have in-depth discussions for the entire class,” said Garrett Potter, a diploma candidate. “It really gets you thinking for real life situations and how we can apply what we learned in the IB to not only better us for school, but for life as well.”

“Some may say it’s more work, but it’s enjoyable work,” he continued. “Everything we do is fun work because we’re going to discuss it in class the next day. And you want to be a part of that discussion because they’re really fun discussions.”

Harvey agreed, adding that as the first group of diploma candidates, “We’re kind of the guinea pigs. We’re helping the school and the teachers figure out where IB is headed.”

“The main thing that IB focuses on in the classroom is perspective,” said Harvey. “We’re looking at why different world issues happened from a global perspective.”

Britt compared the IB to other advanced learning methods.

“I feel so much more comfortable with this learning style than I did with the AP or the Regents programs,” he said. “This goes much more in detail and much more in-depth.”

Pierson junior May Evjen is participating in the IB through individual enrollment in the course Environmental Systems and Societies, taught by Dr. Robert Schumacher.

“This class has really helped me change the way I look at the world,” Evjen said. “Every single person that I asked, they said they would take it again. I’ve never enjoyed a class this much.”

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