Despite the fact
that they are students following what arguably is the most
rigorous academic curriculum in Delaware -- or maybe because
they are -- a representative sample of the 70 students enrolled
in preparatory classes leading up to full participation in the
International Baccalaureate diploma program makes it clear they
don't intend to let that interfere with keeping pace with the
typical involved high schooler.
"Some days are more
hectic than others, but you get real good at managing time,"
said Sylvia Dee when asked how she juggles a complex schedule.
In that, she added, she is no different from others in the
program. "We're all into sports and other school activities,"
That's mostly a
matter of personal preference, but there is a not-so-incidental
matter of maintaining an image of not being a-typical. That is
likely to become harder to do over the course of the next couple
Come September, the
third of the preparatory students who are sophomores will begin
course of study
which will lead to most of them receiving not only a state
diploma but also an internationally recognized and prestigious
International Baccalaureate one in June, 2006.
They will be the
first graduates of a Delaware public school to do so. Wilmington
Friends School, a private high school, expects to graduate its
first International Baccalaureate students in June, 2005.
As might be
expected, with the acceptance of their school as a full
participant in the International Baccalaureate program the Mount
Lynn Wright (left) with
students in Mount Pleasant High's International
Baccalaureate program. They are: sophomores Jacinta Gracias
and Sylvia Dee and freshmen Brittanie Booker, Brian Ross and
have already achieved poster-person status in the Brandywine
School District. And they are certain, in short order, to become
examples of the upper reaches of quality in the Delaware public
That may be, as the
vernacular of their generation puts it, awesome, but the idea
that it makes them elite is, as they say, uncool.
Brian Ross said he
has plenty of friends and they don't regard the fact that he is
taking different classes as having any great significance on the
things he does outside of those classes. "Some kids might think
that, but I don't see it" in other classes or extracurricular
activities, said Margaret Appleyard-Smith.
Baccalaureate students take five major subjects as classes
within the program and the other two with other students.
Appleyard-Smith said, teachers "don't treat us any differently
from their other classes." With only one International
Baccalaureate preparatory class at the sophomore level and two
at the freshmen level, no teacher spends more than a tenth of
his or her schedule with those students.
That will not change
as the program grows to its planned goal of 100 students in four
classes at each grade level, according to Lynn Wright,
coordinator of the program.
benefit of having the program at Mount Pleasant is to have a
significant portion of its faculty take the training necessary
to qualify to teach in the program. That will "rub off on the
rest of their teaching" and raise the overall quality of
teaching at the school, she said. It is intended that as many as
possible become qualified.
Baccalaureate teacher workshops are the best continuing
professional education I've ever seen," Wright said.
All the teachers
involved with the program volunteered for those roles and to
take on the extra work it involves. Brittanie Booker said that
commitment translates into such things as "taking the time to
help us whenever we need it."
With all that,
however, there is a camaraderie developing among the rising
International Baccalaureate students. All of them are in the
program because they want to be. The reward for that is shared
experience and "being in a good class with great kids,"
describes himself as "naturally competitive," he said the
competition is with the program and its requirements and not
among the students. "We all want each other to succeed. None of
us wants to be better than anybody else [in the class]," he
said. "We won't let anyone fall behind," Dee added.
'challenging' is the adjective most frequently used to describe
the program, the students said that is not the same as daunting.
Jacinta Gracias, in fact, said the challenge was the main
attraction for her enrolling in it.
To the extent that
'challenge' is a euphemism for 'difficult', none of the students
interviewed said they ever considered dropping out nor not
moving into the diploma program when they reach junior year.
Not only is that a matter of
personal achievement but it also is a collective desire to see
the program succeed at Mount Pleasant. Wright pointed out that
sophomores in the preparatory program have invested nearly two
academic years with no guarantee they would have the opportunity
to go on to earn an International Baccalaureate diploma and the
enhanced opportunities for further education and career that it
comes close to guaranteeing.
Schools must be accepted after
fulfilling rigorous standards in order to participate and that
is by no means automatic or easy, she said. While having come
far enough down that path to be able to institute the
preparatory program is likely to lead to eventual acceptance, it
frequently does not happen on the school's timetable.
Mount Pleasant and the Brandywine
district "had a lot at stake in gambling that we'd make it when
we said we would, but nobody had more at stake than the kids,"
Now that the startup goal has been
achieved, there are further ones for the future.
While the number of participants in
International Baccalaureate will probably never involve more
than a relatively small portion of the Mount Pleasant
enrollment, "we expect [benefits] to trickle down to all the
other students." To the extent that happens, the school stands a
good chance of emerging as something of an academic model for
"It's no secret Mount Pleasant has
been losing students to choice. We expect to reverse that," she
said. Even more dramatic turnarounds are fairly common where the
program is operating.
The International Baccalaureate
program is also open to students who come to Mount Pleasant
through use of the state's public school choice law. Youngsters
who have gone through nonpublic elementary and middle schools
also are fully eligible whether or not they live in the Mount
Pleasant attendance area..
The students headed into the diploma
program acknowledged that they will have a voice in setting
standards for those who come after them.
"My friends are already asking me
about it. We in the first couple of classes are going to be seen
as sort of role models," Dee said.