Arundel explores International Baccalaureate program

Schools superintendent wants tougher courses

August 11, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Superintendent Eric J. Smith said he wants to bring the International Baccalaureate program - a slate of tough courses for bright, motivated students - to Anne Arundel County high schools within two years.

As part of Smith's effort to "raise the ceiling" for gifted students, he envisions IB programs at two high schools and pre-IB programs at elementary and middle schools. Anne Arundel would become the fifth school system in Maryland to offer the rigorous program.

"It's an option that parents need to have available to them," Smith said in an interview last week. "I would certainly think the quality of student work here would at least merit the consideration of two IB programs."

Smith said he plans to present the school board with information about the program next month, then identify the schools that would participate and begin the application process, which can take up to two years. The involved schools would act as magnets, drawing students from across the county.

"I would expect it to move into some initial steps of operation as early as a year from this fall and as late as two years from this fall," he said.

Students take the baccalaureate program in their junior and senior years of high school. The liberal arts program includes traditional courses - literature, foreign language, social science, experimental science and math - and an elective such as visual arts or music.

Students must also take a theory-of-knowledge course, write a 4,000-word essay based on original research, complete 150 hours of extracurricular activities and community service, and pass exams at the end of their senior year to get an IB diploma, recognized by many colleges as equivalent to a year's worth of college work.

"It is absolutely great," said Joseph M. Wilson, principal of City College in Baltimore, a high school that began offering the program four years ago. It pushes students like nothing else, he said.

Word is spreading fast, Wilson said. This fall, 20 percent of City College's 400 freshmen will be coming from outside the city's public school system, many enticed by the IB program.

Luring students from private schools is important in Anne Arundel County, too, where private and parochial schools are filled to the brim and planning expansions. Parents have complained for years about the lack of challenging coursework in public schools, and they say the IB program could go a long way toward fixing that.

"I think it's absolutely wonderful he's exploring that possibility," said Terra Ziporyn Snider, a Severna Park parent activist, "because we want to have a top-notch school system and we want children to aim for the sky."

The Swiss-based International Baccalaureate program is in 1,341 schools worldwide, including 394 high schools in the United States. Besides Baltimore City, the program is in Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland.

Smith set up IB programs in five Charlotte, N.C., high schools when he was superintendent there, so officials at the program's regional headquarters in New York were not surprised to hear of his plans for Arundel.

"It's really encouraging and it's something we were hoping for," said Jennifer Dikes, the manager of IB's high school program in North America.

"For students, it provides them with a really great foundation for college," Dikes said. "They explore all of the disciplines at an advanced level and think hard about what it is they know and not just parrot back information they've been given."

The program provides a curriculum framework for teachers, along with training and guidance. The membership fee is $7,900 per school per year.

The Anne Arundel system had established a committee in the spring, before Smith's arrival six weeks ago, to study the IB program. That committee will speed up its work to meet Smith's timetable.

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