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Students give program life
Hernando's International Baccalaureate program is at least a year away, but students are getting ready.
By TOM MARSHALL, Times Staff Writer
Published November 26, 2007
SPRING HILL - Preparations to launch Hernando County's first International Baccalaureate program have taken a giant leap forward this fall, with the addition of a critical component: students.
While the district's full application to join the program won't be approved for at least a year, 35 ninth-graders at Springstead High School are pushing through their first honors-level courses to prepare for the intensive program, coordinator Cliff Wagner said.
If all goes well, Wagner said, they will join a global community of high-flying scholars during their junior and senior years.
Founded in 1968, the IB program was initially envisioned as a global curriculum for the children of diplomats and others who needed a diploma with international credibility. Today, there are 2,146 IB schools, including more than 500 in the United States, and feeder programs for elementary and middle school students.
It's far more than an accelerated college prep program.
Unlike the Advanced Placement system, in which a student might select a single college-level course or two, IB is a package deal. Students pursue a diploma that includes high-level work in language, history, math, science, research and writing.
Every student writes a 4,000-word research essay and takes part in a two-year course in the theory of knowledge. Rather than study for tests in discrete subject areas, students must continually make connections among different fields.
"It's a thinking process," Wagner said. "And the student who does it has to be a well-motivated student who doesn't mind thinking."
At Springstead, the 35 students will travel together for the next four years, with teachers who mostly have master's degrees and a taste for rigor.
It's just the sort of intense academic experience that parents of gifted children have been clamoring for in Hernando County in recent months.
And School Board members have already suggested the program might play a significant role in efforts to revamp the district's offerings for such students, who are typically identified on the basis of IQ scores or other tests.
The board has invested about $40,000 in startup costs. Last year, the international organization approved the district's initial application and has indicated its plans look solid.
Wagner said he hopes the program will remain accessible to all students who want a rich academic experience that emphasizes learning and global connections. Eventually, there will likely be a portfolio requirement for admission.
"That doesn't mean you have to have all A's or score only 4's and 5's on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test," he added. "When I recruited students this year, I didn't look to see whether they were gifted or not. It didn't even dawn on me."