A contingent of Anne Arundel County educators is traveling to South Carolina today for a weekend crash course on how to set up the prestigious International Baccalaureate program at two county high schools.
Students across the county will compete for 200 spots in the magnet program, to be housed at Annapolis and Old Mill high schools beginning this fall.
Instructional director Mary Gable, one of 22 educators going by bus to Myrtle Beach, said the group will learn the ins and outs of IB and how to successfully apply to become a host of the program. "We're excited," Gable said. "I think it's going to be a very busy weekend."
Superintendent Eric J. Smith, who has overseen IB schools in the past, has said the Swiss-based program will challenge high-achieving students in Anne Arundel and encourage more students to take accelerated classes. It rivals the widely used Advanced Placement (AP) program, which also enables high school students to earn college credits.
The two-day seminar will be the first in-depth training for the teachers and administrators charged with starting IB at the two schools. Six hundred educators from scores of school systems are expected to attend.
They will quiz educators and students who have used IB and participate in workshops tailored to their duties. School principals will learn how to integrate IB into their schools.
Educators assigned to be "IB coordinators" at the seminar also will learn how to work as a link between schools and the parent organization, which independently evaluates students. Teachers will practice writing lesson plans and grading tests according to IB standards.
For many teachers, the program is daunting because it takes some of the control out of their hands, said Ralph Cline, head of professional development for IB North America. "It's not like a lot of American education, where a teacher makes the exam, and the teacher determines what an A is," he said.
School officials also will use what they learn at the seminar to complete the lengthy application process required by IB, school officials said.
The IB organization scrutinizes each school's plan for months before giving authorization for the program. "We won't bring them on if they're just doing it for cosmetic reasons," Cline said. "They have to show they care for it and really want to do it."
Smith won support for IB by taking groups of educators, parents and school board members to Montgomery County and to Fairfax, Va., two districts already using the program. The Anne Arundel school board forwarded a budget to the county last month that includes more than $150,000 to start IB next year. This weekend's training seminar will cost the school system about $33,000 in fees and travel expenses.
This fall, the first class of ninth-graders who are admitted will take "pre-IB" coursework to prepare for their junior year, when the program formally begins. In the last two years of high school, IB students take rigorous classes in six subject areas, focus on thinking critically and expressing themselves, and do community service.
Students who succeed in the program earn an IB diploma - in addition to their high school diploma - accepted by universities in more than 110 countries.
Information sessions will be held next month for eighth-graders interested in applying for IB and for their parents. The first will be held at 7 p.m. April 7, at Annapolis High School. The second is scheduled for the next evening at Old Mill High.