Those girls and boys
are enrolled in a preparatory program intended to ready them to
enter the first International Baccalaureate Program to be
available in a public school in this state when they begin their
junior year in September, 2004. If they complete the
academically rigorous curriculum successfully, they will receive
two high school diplomas when the Class of '06 graduates, have
all but guaranteed entrée into whatever college they wish to
attend and more than a leg up on a successful adult career.
The present group
will be joined in September by about twice their number in next
year's incoming freshman class and some rising seventh-graders
entering Talley Middle School, Mount Pleasant's
feeder school, which
will begin a more extensive International Baccalaureate middle
years program to serve future aspirants.
District and its Board of Education two years ago designated
Mount Pleasant as the venue for offering an International
Baccalaureate curriculum. Since then, a team of faculty members
led by Lynn Wright has been going through a
by-no-means-automatic acceptance process while preparing
themselves to teach the courses the curriculum requires.
The process, Wright
said, is on track and on schedule, but she's cautious about
erring on the side of prematurity. With reference to the courses
now being offered, she said, "Don't call it 'pre-I.B.' We're
not certified yet and we're not supposed to use that term until
we've been officially accepted."
Coordinator Lynn Wright (left) with prospective
International Baccalaureate students Brittany Finocchio,
Philip Weigel and Sylvia Dee.
The big hurdle in
that regard is a site visitation next autumn by a team of
evaluators. If the annual state assessment tests that designated
public school students take are considered high stakes, that
inspection and the rest of the acceptance process is much more
so. Success will literally put Mount Pleasant and the Brandywine
district in a class almost unto itself.
It will join
Wilmington Friends School, which is about a year farther along
in the process, as the only International Baccalaureate schools
in Delaware. There are only about 70 in the United States and
1,400 in 144 countries around the world. The closest are Richard
Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md., Washington (D.C.)
International School and the United Nations International School
in New York City.
program here is the outgrowth of a 'magnet school' suggestion
made by Mount Pleasant principal Dennis Runyon and Harlan
Intermediate School principal Anita Thrope. Before coming to
Delaware, Runyon taught in a school in Florida which has an
International Baccalaureate curriculum although he did not teach
any of those courses.
superintendent, Bruce Harter, and the school board make no
secret of the fact that introducing the program into the
district is closely allied to and influenced by the new call for
competitiveness in education. Harter has said that including it,
along with other elements, in the district's long-range
improvement program is intended to keep pace with private
schools, which in Brandywine Hundred and the rest of northern
Delaware attract a disproportionate number of students when
compared to most other places in the nation. Coupled with
state's public school choice law, it also is intended as an
attraction to draw from the broader public school 'market'.
Be all that as it
may, Wright makes clear that qualifying to offer the program is
a veritable cakewalk when placed next to being able to
successfully complete the curriculum.
"It is the most
stringent liberal arts curriculum I have seen in my 35 years as
a teacher," she said.
For starters, 16-,
17- and 18-year-old students are required to take a full load of
one- and two-year courses in the second half of their high
school careers which, for all practical purposes are college
level. Some colleges award holders of International
Baccalaureate diplomas immediate sophomore-year status.
Mount Pleasant plans
to include English literature and composition, mathematics study
and methods, biology, chemistry, French and Spanish, visual arts
and history of the Americas in its curriculum. Students must
take six of the courses -- three or four of which must be
two-year higher-level courses.
In all the courses,
the approach to teaching is focused, she said, "not on the who
and what, but on the why."
and imparting decision-making ability have become education
catchwords of late, but in the International Baccalaureate
program they are the raison d'être. "For years we have
been talking about doing this. I.B. forces the issue," Wright
schools can select specific courses to offer from a broader
menu, Wright said the Geneva, Switzerland-based International
Baccalaureate Organization keeps close tabs on what is being
taught and how it is being taught. "What make it (the program)
so strong is the amount of control that they exercise. We have a
good bit of flexibility, but we have to operate within their
framework. They are continuing [to] monitor assessment and
performance," she said.
standards carry teacher accountability to the limits. Teachers,
for instance, are required to predict each of their students'
performance two within two points on a scale of seven points --
a stringent measure of how closely that teacher knows and
interacts with his or her students.
Required to be
included in the curriculum is a component called 'Theory of
Knowledge' which, she said, focuses "not only on what [students]
know but how they know it." There also is a community
participation component which requires 150 hours of community
service, creative activity and artistic and cultural involvement
which "gets to kids to think beyond themselves [and to
understand] their need to give back to family and community."
That is capped by a
requirement to produce a 4,000-word original essay, comparable
to a college thesis, and to pass essay-type examinations
evaluated by educators who may be situated in any place in the
It is obvious, then,
that being an International Baccalaureate student requires a
serious and extended commitment. That alone, Wright said, is a
measure of a young person's "willingness to take an academic
risk." There is no guarantee of success anywhere along the way.
It is, however, possible to take a partial program -- leading to
a certificate rather than a diploma -- which opens it to
students who are strong in particular academic areas although
not in all.
It will be a
thorough evaluation procedure for admission into the program at
Mount Pleasant. Using an objective point system, prospective
students are evaluated beginning with recommendations from their
eighth-grade teachers through personal interviews. The same
criteria are applied equally to applicants who live in the Mount
Pleasant attendance area or elsewhere in the district, who live
in the Brandywine district or in other districts, and who have
attended public or non-public elementary school.
necessarily looking for those with the best records, but those
who's attitude and past record show that they have the best
chance to succeed," Wright said. "The important thing is now who
I keep out but who I am able to get in."
That, she said,
appears to have worked out with the unofficial first-year
curriculum. Two of the original 27 have dropped out, but they
have been replaced by two from a waiting list. Wright expects 21
or 22 from the group to enter the actual program in 2004. There
are a sufficient number of applicants for the unofficial
curriculum next year to have two groups with 14 youngsters
already committed for them.
treating the program the same as its self-contained
'academically gifted' program with open enrollment to all
district residents. Out-of-district applicants must come through
and meet the conditions of the public school choice procedure.
In a sense, the
difference between enrolling in high school and signing up for
the International Baccalaureate program can be considered
comparable to the difference between joining the Boy or Girl
Scouts and enlisting in the Marine Corps.
Even so, the rewards
for making it in the program are certain. "For those who are
willing, it's a tremendous opportunity,": Wright said.