The most rigorous academic curriculum offered by Leander ISD is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme and it is coming to Vandegrift High School, said Debbie Quick, VHS IB coordinator.
Upon successful completion of the program, students will receive an IB Diploma, described as a “door opener” by Lisa Brittain, LISD director of college and career readiness.
“It transcends a lot of barriers,” she said.
IB is a branded program that is internationally known. A student’s IB/DP candidacy status is asked about on the common application for colleges.
IB/DP was established in 1968 to provide students with a balanced education, to facilitate geographic and cultural mobility and to promote international understanding. As of May 2015, 2,795 schools in 143 countries worldwide offered the program.
It has been available in LISD since 1999, but to participate students have had to travel to Leander High School. Availability at VHS eases access across the district, said Christa Thompson-Martin, VHS dean of instruction/head of school for IB.
Now, promoting students from Canyon Ridge and Four Points middle schools will have access to IB at VHS. Cedar Park Middle School students have the option of attending either VHS or LHS for the program, Brittain said.
The IB/DP curriculum is made of six subject groups with studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, math and the arts.
The curriculum is also made up of what is called the DP core, comprised of:
• Theory of knowledge, in which students reflect on the nature of knowledge and on “how we know what we claim to know”.
• Creativity, activity, service or CAS, in which students complete a project related to those three concepts.
• An extended essay, an independent, self-directed research paper.
Among specific requirements are four years of a foreign language, 150 hours of community service and a lot of writing. In fact, the aforementioned extended essay is a 4,000-word paper completed on the student’s time outside of school.
Writing requirements are considered the real “payoff” of IB, not the college credit hours awarded by some colleges and universities.
“IB teachers will tell you it’s not about the (possible) hours of college credit. It’s about the writing, which really prepares students for college,” said Brittain.
“Even dance class (an elective) has a writing component,” added Quick.
Students begin preparing for IB/DP when, at the end of 8th grade, they consider course selections for high school. Then, in 9th and 10th grade, they take pre-IB courses before the intense rigor of the 11th and 12th program.
“We had a meeting (earlier this year) with 8th grade students and their parents and asked those interested in IB to sign a letter of intent. The letter is not binding, but it allows us to plan,” said Thompson-Martin.
Several months later, 200 letters had been returned. It is a high response, and administrators continue to be open to additional inquiries and interest.
“The IB student doesn’t have to be an ‘A’ student. IB learners can be ‘B’ students if they want to be learners, are good with time management and they are students with a desire to do IB,” Quick said.
“IB really stretches a student. The student has to want to do it,” said Brittain.
“The (participation) numbers will ebb-and-flow,” she added. “As students learn more about it, they change their minds about whether or not they want to pursue it. At the end of the 10th grade, we will know how many really want to continue. It truly starts their junior year.”
The first year of the two-year implementation at VHS is partially funded by a grant from the Hill Country Education Foundation.
“I want to thank the foundation for its support. New programs always require budget considerations, like position allocation, training and supplies. The foundation’s support really helps defer some of the costs, ” Thompson-Martin said.
The high school Diploma Programme is one of four unique programs available through IB. LISD also offers the IB Primary Years Programme at both Grandview Hills and Mason elementary schools.