City College seeks to offer diploma for rigorous study Challenge: A hundred sophomores have already applied to enter the International Baccalaureate program.

November 30, 1997|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

City College is working on the assumption that tougher is better.

Next fall, Baltimore's magnet, liberal arts high school expects to offer an internationally recognized curriculum for 11th- and 12th- grade students so rigorous that universities such as Johns Hopkins will give credit for the high school courses.

The International Baccalaureate program will require more analytical thinking, more homework and more outside activities for a degree, according to teachers and school officials.

But students have embraced the opportunity -- a third of the 10th-grade class has applied to the program. Fifty of those 100 sophomores will be selected based on grades and teacher recommendations.

One applicant, Angela Shaeffer, has begun to realize just how much her life may change next year. She foresees a schedule jammed with after-school sports, community volunteer work and late nights with the books. She'll have to drop her part-time job and won't see her best friends much at school anymore.

Despite her worries, she is eager.

"I think I will be a lot more proud of myself if I graduate [from the program]," Angela said. If she can make the sacrifices and do well in her courses, she said, "that proves that I can be independent and do a lot of things on my own. It will help me in my life."

The International Baccalaureate program, with headquarters for which is in Switzerland, began 30 years ago as a way for high school students to have a diploma recognized by universities in dozens of countries.

The IB degree is offered at 713 schools in 90 countries, including 221 schools in North America and nine in Maryland.

City College applied to the North American branch of the organization and received a strong recommendation last month. A final decision will be made in January, but City College expects the program to begin in the fall.

"We believe it is probably the best liberal arts foundation we have found anywhere," said Louise M. Jira, coordinator of the program at City College.

SAT scores raised

One of the oldest high schools in the nation, City College is trying to rebuild its reputation since it received a poor evaluation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools in 1992.

The school has reduced its class sizes, increased attendance and raised SAT scores.

Last year, 95 percent of students were admitted to college. With the IB program, the school is trying to attract the best and the brightest.

For City College students, many of whom will be the first generation in their families to go to college, the International Baccalaureate program offers practical and financial advantages.

Tenth-grader Tamera Samuel hopes to be part of the program, she said, because she may get credit. "It's a head start for college," Tamera said.

At some colleges, the students might be able to skip their freshman year, allowing them to save on tuition and get into the work force more quickly.

The degree may be key to getting scholarships, financial aid or simply getting into a better college.

Local colleges that recognize the program include Hopkins, Towson University, Goucher College, the Naval Academy and Loyola College.

Some colleges will give a few credits; others, many.

Hopkins, for instance, will give credits, but only to those students who get very high scores on final exams.

"It is an honor to be an IB school. Very, very few schools offer it," said Paul T. White, Hopkins' director of admissions.

There is an assumption that graduates have a higher level of academic ability, he said.

The IB program is not the only way students can earn college credits. Students at any high school can take the College Board advanced-placement exams and receive college credits if they attain certain levels.

IB exams are like advanced-placement exams, except that students in the IB program can receive a diploma that certifies their achievement.

Multidisciplinary study

Students in the program have adifferent curriculum for the last two years of high school than their non-IB peers. They choose six subjects, such as a foreign language, mathematics, laboratory sciences, social studies and English, and concentrate on three of them.

In addition, students must take a course called the Theory of Knowledge, which connects different disciplines.

Students will get an IB diploma only if they pass six exams -- one for each subject they take. Students who don't receive the diploma can get some college credit if they pass a few of the exams.

The course work focuses on theoretical thinking skills, not memorization. Rather than having her students concentrate on memorizing dates and names, as in a traditional history class, Consuela Scott, a U.S. history teacher at City College, said students also will look at the themes of history. For instance, if they choose to concentrate on the Russian revolution, students will have to compare it with social revolutions elsewhere, she said.

Besides passing their exams, students must write a 4,000-word research essay.

To make sure students aren't just bookworms, they will be required to complete 150 hours of outside activities, which can range from sports or singing in the church choir to volunteering at a soup kitchen to taking piano lessons.

"We are trying to broaden their worlds," Jira said.

Preparation for the program will begin during the summer with a course on study and research skills.

The school also hopes to ensure that no student becomes overwhelmed by the workload.

"I think the key," school counselor Toni Grant said, "is to monitor the kids to make sure it doesn't get too stressful."

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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