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A boost for local students

Jennifer Davoren

Aspen High School’s class of 2004 might have an advantage when the time comes to apply for college.

AHS was recently accepted as an International Baccalaureate Diploma school by the International Baccalaureate Organization, allowing the school to offer specialized diplomas to juniors and seniors. The program, created in 1968 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, is designed as a college prepatory course that gives participants a taste of university-level classwork.

George Burson, IB coordinator and history teacher, said members of the Aspen School Board were eager to include AHS as one of 1,200 schools in 101 countries offering the IB diploma.

“We needed something in the high school to reward kids. We wanted to give them some incentive,” he said.

The ability to pursue IB certification was the result of gifts from a local source.

“We were able to do this through the funds of the Aspen Education Foundation. They gave us about $45,000 over three years,” Burson said.

After two years of preparation, using AEF funds to send teachers to IB workshops and seminars, AHS sent its 250-page application to the IBO in April. An evaluation team was sent to the school in November to talk with everyone from potential IB students and teachers to concerned parents and members of the school board.

The high school’s final approval came in late January, paving the way for IB classes to begin in the fall of 2002.

Requirements for the diploma are split into six subject groups: primary language; secondary language; individuals and societies (which includes courses such as history, geography and economics); experimental sciences; math; and arts and electives. Students must take at least one course from each subject group or substitute the arts and electives grouping with a class from group three or four.

Rather than receiving a letter grade in IB classes, students will be evaluated on a point system. Classes are worth anywhere from 1 to 7 points each; a minimum of 24 points are required to earn the IB degree.

This system of grading should work well for students struggling in certain areas of the curriculum, Burson said.

“If someone gets a 2 in one class, they can counterbalance that class with a 6 in something else,” he said. “I really like that. You’re not setting a kid up for failure.”

Counselor Karen Angus said the program would push students to excel.

“You don’t have to be the brightest student in the class. You don’t have to be a genius to do IB, but you have to really want it,” she said.

AHS faculty won’t be the only ones evaluating graduates – only 20 percent of classwork will be graded within the high school, with the remaining 80 percent sent to international IBO instructors.

Baccalaureate students are expected to do a little legwork outside of the classroom as well. IB students are required to complete an extended essay showing research and writing experience, enroll in Burson’s Theory of Knowledge course to examine the basis of thought, and participate in the Creativity, Action and Service component, a 150-hour community service program.

Burson speculates that 40 percent of AHS juniors and seniors will attempt IB classes, the same number who enroll in the school’s advanced placement courses. Ten to 15 percent of those students are expected to stick with the specialized program and receive the IB diploma.

These numbers will go up as AHS students and teachers become familiar with the program, Burson said.

“Five to 10 years from now we’ll be running more kids through. They’ll be more aware of the program,” he said.

Another beneficial element to the program, Angus said, is that it gives students the option of taking an IB class or two without attempting to finish the entire program – a student particularly interested in art, for example, would be allowed to take an advanced art course.

“Even if you don’t want to do the whole program, you can stretch yourself in certain areas,” she said.

The advantage after graduation is well worth the extra work for an IB student, Angus said.

“I know colleges look upon it highly,” she said. “I think it will add to the appeal of kids going into selective colleges.”

AHS and its students will receive a boost from the IB program, Burson said.

“It means they’ll have a better chance of getting into a competitive university, and it means once they get into the university of their choice, they’ll do better,” he said.

“If we say we’re a good school, this proves it.”


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