It is now in the
'dry run' year of a five-year process which will see Wilmington
Friends awarding the first International Baccalaureate
Organization diplomas to members of the class of '05. They will
be the first to receive them at a school in Delaware. Mount
Pleasant High School expects to be the second a year later.
Far more significant
than being admitted to a relatively exclusive group of schools,
participating in the program means "Friends School becomes a
global school," according the Rick Grier-Reynolds, the teacher
coordinator. With not only the political and economic sectors
but the entire spectrum of human activity becoming increasingly
more global, that has obvious implications for the rising
generation. In effect, it helps put them on a level with their
peers in other nations.
It's a matter of
helping assure "they're not going to be left behind," he said.
That, in fact, is
the reason the program was established. It was set up in the
late 1960s so that the children of Europeans posted around the
world, particularly in Asia and developing 'Third World'
countries, would have access to and be prepared for higher
education back home.
What has developed
since then, under the auspices of an organization based in
Geneva, Switzerland, is an academically rigorous curriculum
which emphasizes a large measure of self-motivated development
in the context of a traditional liberal education vigorously
applied. Grier-Reynolds describes it as a "holistic approach
[which] is not normal in most [U.S.] high schools today."
The closest geneally
familiar comparison, he said, is with advanced-placement courses
which present high schoolers with both college-level material
and college-style instruction. If that qualifies in many
instances for awarding of college credits, an International
Baccalaureate diploma is something akin to a passport to college
In Florida, where
the program has been strongly embraced, it translates into a
full scholarship for a state resident at any institution in the
state system. It is hard to generalize, Grier-Reynolds said, but
several schools, including the University of Delaware, award
credit for having taken some International Baccalaureate courses
and admissions directors everywhere "look favorably on
applicants with International Baccalaureate diplomas."
There are now
1,365 schools in 112 countries
participating in the program. To be eligible, a school
must go through a two-year application process. "They don't just
accept you because you ask to join," he said.
done so, Wilmington Friends this academic year began offering
International Baccalaureate courses. Those taking them will not
be able to qualify for International Baccalaureate diplomas.
Their academic transcripts, however, will identify them as
having done so.
The curriculum is
designed for high school juniors and seniors. During those
years, students must take six International
Baccalaureate-sanctioned courses -- three or four two-year
higher-level courses and two or three one-year standard-level
courses with a total of at least 100 hours of instructional
time. The six study areas are language arts in the student's
primary language, mathematics, experimental science, a secondary
language not native to the student, history or other social
science, and visual arts. In addition, there is a core course in
the 'theory of knowledge' -- which is defined as "an
interdisciplinary requirement intended to stimulate critical
reflection on knowledge and experience gained inside and outside
the classroom" -- and an activity requirement calling for 150
hours of participation in community activity, service, sports or
The culmination of
that is a series of six comprehensive essay-type examinations
administered at the student's school but graded by participating
teachers elsewhere, frequently in another country.
Grier-Reynolds said that arrangement provides an unbiased
assessment of the student's work and, although a single test
weighs heavily, the questions are broadly designed to measure
the thinking and reasoning process rather than an ability to
merely give back memorized facts.
participation in such a program requires a strong commitment. At
present, Wilmington Friends School sophomores and their parents
are being asked to decide whether to sign up. "We're asking them
to think it over very carefully and determine if they're
up to the higher level of challenge," said Matt Micciche,
assistant head of Wilmington Friends upper school.
On the other hand,
he added, no one is being excluded from an opportunity to
participate. "It's not going to be an exclusive program. We want
it to be open to a broad range of students and we don't want to
keep anyone out. But we do want them to know and understand what
they're signing up for," he said.
Katherine Dinh, head
of the upper school, said it is possible that every student
could end up becoming an International Baccalaureate program
student. In any event, it is certain that all will be touched in
some way by the program. Every faculty member has been trained
in the program and is expected to incorporate International
Baccalaureate elements into teaching other courses. It is also
possible and encouraged that students not enrolled in the
program will take one or more International Baccalaureate
The school will
award graduates who earn International Baccalaureate diplomas a
Wilmington Friends diploma as well.
At a time when a
more competitive society and world are placing increased
performance demands on high school students, Micciche said,
"International Baccalaureate ups the ante that much more."