SSS to welcome first IB students

pseligson@newsobserver.comAugust 24, 2013 

After years of preparation, Smithfield-Selma High School is finally an International Baccalaureate World School. The first class – made up of juniors – begins the program this week.

“We’re trying to build better citizens,” said Principal Michael Taylor. “To me, that’s the simple and elementary function of the IB program.”

Students in the IB program will go through a two-year series of special classes and testing. The program, which focuses on making students global citizens, is made up of an internationally standardized curriculum offered around the world.

Students take academically rigorous courses in the standard four subjects – math, science, English and history. The program also includes lessons in fine arts; a concentration in a language (Spanish at Smithfield-Selma); and a “theory of knowledge” course, which examines how a person knows what he or she knows.

The program culminates in a final essay and in a final project that, much like North Carolina’s senior project, involves community service. Students must also complete a round of tests in the spring of their senior year.

Taylor said the program teaches students knowledge in a variety of subjects. It also teaches an appreciation of other cultures, compassion for those less fortunate and a commitment to education.

“It’s a big ball of excitement for me because I believe it’s one of the most impressive opportunities that high school students will have, but it’s also the most demanding,” Taylor said. “I would not try to sugar coat that.

“But I believe students who graduate with an IB diploma or the opportunity to have obtained the IB diploma are going to be better citizens for the future of our community, our country and our world.”

Smithfield-Selma’s first IB class of juniors is six students, said Kevin Daughtry, the IB coordinator and an English teacher at the school. Another 15 sophomores and 10 freshman are on the path to the program. The goal, Daughtry said, is to have about 20 students per grade.

Students don’t enter the program until their junior year, but they can begin taking preparatory classes earlier. To become an IB candidate, students have to go through an application process. For this first year, SSS accepted everyone who applied, Taylor said.

Open to all Johnston County students

Daughtry said the vision is to have students begin showing interest in the eighth grade. That way, in ninth grade, they can enroll at Smithfield-Selma, regardless of their home school. Smithfield-Selma is the IB school for all of Johnston, so the program is open to all students regardless of where they live. Of the current class of six juniors, one is from South Johnston High School; the others are from SSS. Two sophomores transferred in from West Johnston High School, and the incoming freshman include students from middle schools in Four Oaks and Archer Lodge.

The IB students will be in class together for almost the entire day, with an option for electives. The smaller and more family-like setting is another one of the program’s attractions, Taylor said. Non-IB students can also take the courses but cannot take the IB tests.

IB students are regularly tested on what they’re learning, with oral presentations and essays – no multiple choice. Though the program is often compared to Advanced Placement courses, IB is different, Daughtry said, because it offers a more holistic education.

To become an IB World School, the county’s school system had to pay about $10,000 for Smithfield-Selma to apply. Seven teachers are certified to teach IB, and their initial training cost about $20,000. The teachers will have to update their training every two to three years. Working to keep certified as an IB school will cost SSS another $10,000 every year.

Taylor said he has received mixed responses from parents. Some are excited because of the prestige of the curriculum, while others are nervous because of the level of rigor and the time commitment.

Students are excited and nervous too.

Ina Colon-Villafranca, a junior in the first IB class, said when she first heard of the program, she was a little terrified. “It sounds hard, but I like to be challenged,” she said.

“Even in honors classes now, I’m not really challenged. I’m just sitting there doing my work.”

Ina said she’s a little nervous because she’s never done something like this before. “I don’t know what to expect, but that’s the good part about it,” she said.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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