Source: Sherman Publications

OHS okayed to hand out IB diplomas

April 11, 2012

By Lance Farrell

Leader Staff Writer

Oxford High School is now authorized to administer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program.

OHS will begin to implement the intensive two-year college preparatory curriculum during the 2012-13 school year.

Approximately 20 students have enrolled in the program so far, with 30 anticipated by the end of the summer. The first OHS IB diplomas will be awarded in the spring 2014.

All OHS students are encouraged to participate, though Superintendent Dr. William Skilling wanted it known that the program is very demanding. While the IB diploma program is intended for all students, he insisted a student has to be “highly motivated, very responsible, (and have) a strong work ethic” in order to succeed in this rigorous college prep program.

Though it is mistakenly considered a program for so-called gifted students, Skilling finds the program to be nondiscriminatory. He insisted the IB diploma program will not cater to preconceived ideas of what a student’s abilities may be.

Instead, Skilling affirmed, “every student who has the desire and motivation to go through an IB program will be allowed to do so.”

Skilling indicated Oxford has earned the distinction of being the first school district in the world to convert an entire K-12 system to the IB curriculum. Full IB accreditation for entire school district is on track for fall 2013.

At an initial cost of $57,000 to switch the district to IB accreditation, it is an expensive endeavor. More challenging, however, is that successful implementation requires a “full buy-in” from all staff members. Otherwise it won’t succeed, Skilling conceded. Skilling has found the teachers and staff very receptive to the new curriculum.

To implement the IB program in an abbreviated manner would not have served the students, Skilling argued. Any other scenario would have been nonsensical, as it would lead to uneven preparation for students across the district.

Students can choose to enter the IB Diploma program after their sophomore year, and may register for free. Students are strongly encouraged to enroll in certain advanced prerequisites as early as the ninth grade, however. Students can still opt into the IB Diploma program starting their junior year, but will be at a significant disadvantage without the recommended prerequisites, Skilling cautions.

Students coming out of IB diploma programs have demonstrated a higher college completion rate, ranking higher than the more familiar AP courses. And as with AP courses, virtually all Michigan colleges and universities will award credit for IB courses taken, while some grant early admission or second-year status for IB diploma holders.

Local institutions of higher learning that award second-year status for IB diploma holders include Kettering University, Lake Superior State University, Lawrence Technological University, Michigan Technological University, Northern Michigan University, Oakland University, Saginaw Valley State University, and Western Michigan University.

Skilling mentioned that the University of Michigan is currently conducting a study to assess the IB program and may soon admit students on a second-year status.

While the U of M accepts nearly half of all applicants, the percentage of IB students accepted is nearer to 80%. The admission ratio at Michigan State University is similar: 67 percent of all standard applicants are admitted, while 79 percent of IB students gain entrance.

The IB Diploma program represents a great opportunity for students, according to Academic and Career Transitions Coordinator Kai-Lynn Rim. It prepares students to compete at the university-level, and is “very much in line with where students are heading” in today’s increasingly globalized society.

Not only does the IB diploma program offer the rigor that will enable students to succeed after college, and prepare them now for the work force they’re heading into tomorrow, the IB courses will also provide an enhanced appreciation of the culture and heritage of the United States.

One way this goal is met is in the community service component required of IB students. IB participants choose and propose their own service learning project, a component of the degree that spans 18 months. This community involvement fosters a sense of responsibility to neighbors, and can extend local awareness to a global context, as in the case of a South African chicken project OHS is conducting in tandem with the Cherwell High School sister school in Oxford, England.

The focus in these projects takes the students away from self-esteem oriented models of education and changes behavior to affect greater compassion and confidence.

Appreciation for the local is further encouraged by the freedom shrines Skilling is implementing in all OCS IB schools.

Artifacts and images that strongly impress the value of the United States, its founders, and its heritage will be included in the shrine. Skilling, a father of two sons in the U.S. military, is adamant that OCS students be reminded of the American heritage first and foremost, before being incorporated into a global context.

It is only from a strong appreciation of the principles and people that launched the American nation that a productive interaction can occur with the global world into which youth are heading.

While there is no extra cost to enroll, the program “requires a lot more of the student,” Skilling stressed. The rigor is to be expected in such a high-caliber curriculum, but students will be challenged by IB courses in ways they’ve likely not faced before.

The challenge will come, “not from the amount of work,” noted OHS Assistant Principal Kurt Nuss, “but in the type.” The course work is inquiry-based, which doesn’t always generate direct answers, and may yield frustration in students.

However, Nuss said depth of thinking and the interconnections between subjects stressed in the IB course will prepare students well for post-secondary work.

The course work is challenging, but that’s to be expected of many important undertakings, Nuss said. IB course work fosters habits of mind that make the work more meaningful than merely difficult.

Students interested in the rigorous and rewarding IB diploma program should speak to their academic counselors.