Education officials are in the early phases of obtaining approval from Switzerland-based International Baccalaureate to run an academically rigorous program out of International High School on Grand Street to better prepare city students for college.
The baccalaureate’s Diploma Programme, once authorized by the Geneva-based non-profit, will turn the school into a truly international high school with a core academic curriculum comprising of a theory of knowledge in which students are taught to reflect on the nature of knowledge, the extended essay in which students research to complete a 4,000 word paper, and creativity, action, service in which students work on a project related to the three concepts.
Catherine Forfia-Dion, district’s International Baccalaureate (IB) coordinator, said students will begin working on the lengthy essay with help from teachers beginning in the 9th grade. She said students will also formulate an action plan to better their community through a community service project of their own.
Additionally, students will take courses in six subject groups: mathematics, studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts. Within the groups are courses, for example in mathematics, the program will go as far as teaching students differential equation, said Forfia-Dion.
She said a student will take five courses and take a sixth course of their choosing. “So if a student is strong in math and they don’t want to take an art course they can take another math or science course or another world language course if they like,” said Forfia-Dion. Among the language courses will be a Mandarin course, hitherto unknown in the district, but required by the organization.
“IB has been proven to prepare students for university courses,” said Forfia-Dion. She said students develop strong study and time management skills that propels them to a successful academic future.
Forfia-Dion cited a study completed by the University of Chicago which – looking at Chicago public schools — found students enrolled in the program were 40-percent more likely to attend a four-year college and 50-percent more likely to attend a selective college compared to students not in the program.
“SAT scores are significantly increased by participation in IB program,” said Forfia-Dion.
“IB scores are accepted at the University of Rochester, New York University, Yale, and Harvard in lieu of SAT scores,” said Forfia-Dion. “So you do not have to submit a SAT score if you have an IB score.”
To obtain all of these benefits the district must go through a three-phase authorization process which goes on for about three years. Currently in the consideration phase, some school staff have attended seminars sponsored by the Swiss non-profit to better understand the program. During this phases a feasibility study is conducted to figure out the impact of implementing such a program.
The next phases, which will be undertaken next school year, is the candidacy phase, in which teachers attend professional development courses and work closely with the organization to prepare the school for the program.
Then comes the authorization phase during which the program is approved by the organization after it is able to evaluate the district’s preparedness and commitment. The lengthy process ensures every school meets the organization’s high standards. “As a result of the process, parents and students can be confident that each IB World School, no matter where it is located, is held to the same high standards,” reads the organization’s website.
Initially, the program will begin with approximately 25 students prepared for rigorous studies through a pre-IB program, then it will slowly expand by adding 5-10 new students per school year, said Forfia-Dion. She is hoping the program will begin in earnest in 2017 school year.
She said every district student will be able to submit application for selection into the program.
A program like this can turn the tide of students fleeing the district’s high schools for Passaic County Technical Institute, said Manuel Martinez, school board member. Another school board member, Jonathan Hodges said he would like to see some of the skills acquired by teachers in the course of preparing for this program be exported district wide.
“We can learn a lot from IB and use this training and these tools we learn as educators and implement it around the district,” added Forfia-Dion.
The organization that oversees the program came into existence in 1968 when a group of Swiss teachers saw a need to prepare young people to build a peaceful world free of war.
There are only two school districts in New Jersey with this program: Linden High School in Linden and West Morris Mendham High School in Mendham.
If authorized the district will be the first sizable school system in the Garden State to have this program.