Roaring Fork High may pursue International Baccalaureate certification | AspenTimes.com

Roaring Fork High may pursue International Baccalaureate certification

John Stroud
Carbondale correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE ” A Roaring Fork High School exploratory committee is looking into the possibility of seeking certification in the highly touted International Baccalaureate Program.

The program, based in Geneva, Switzerland, has become a magnet of sorts for Aspen High School, where the IB program has been offered for a number of years. Numerous Roaring Fork School District students over the years have opted to attend AHS partly because of the program and its high favor for admission into some of the nation’s top universities.

Having RFHS certified as an official IB World School, as they’re called, is seen as one way to keep Carbondale students in their hometown high school. It would also be a way to further Roaring Fork Principal Dale Parker’s goal to bring more of an international focus into the school’s classrooms, an emphasis that began informally this year.

But IB certification is a time-consuming and rather expensive prospect, involving a three-year certification process that would likely require outside grant funding to pursue and fully implement.

That’s why Parker said he didn’t initially consider it as a likely option at Roaring Fork. But now that a group of interested parents and teachers seems willing to do the leg work, he said it’s something worth pursuing.

“The big stumbling block is the funding,” Parker said, including an upfront fee of about $8,000 or $9,000 just to apply for certification.

And that’s not including the cost it would take to train teachers and develop the curriculum according to the IB standards, he said.

“With the interest from the community, and individuals willing to find ways to do the funding, I am very enthusiastic about it,” Parker said. “I believe that’s where we would like to be.”

There are nearly 3,000 certified IB World Schools in 125 countries, with programs for the primary years (ages 3-12), the middle years (ages 11-16), and the diploma program for high school juniors and seniors.

Colorado has 23 certified IB high schools, mostly on the Front Range, with only three on the Western Slope ” Aspen, Summit and Palisade high schools. Summit Middle School also has a certified middle years program.

According to the IB website [www.ibo.org], the diploma program involves “a demanding two-year curriculum leading to final examinations and a qualification that is welcomed by leading universities around the world.” It also includes intensive studies in two languages besides the students’ native tongues.

The local exploratory committee grew out of the efforts of the rejuvenated RFHS Accountability Committee, which entered this school year with a goal to heighten academic rigor at the school.

“It is something we’re interested in doing, but we want to see if it’s in the best interests of our students and faculty,” school accountability committee chair Lisa Weimer said.

“RFHS needs something to attract students, and we have lost students to Aspen because of the IB program there,” she said.

Working on the exploratory committee have been parent and local attorney Johnathan Shamis, recently elected new RFSD school board member Bill Lamont, and Mark Grice, principal at the state charter Ross Montessori School in Carbondale. Several RFHS teachers have also stepped up to work with the committee.

“We are hopeful that it’s something that can be added to the curriculum at RFHS,” Shamis said. “To me, it serves a lot of different needs for the school, from attracting students to Roaring Fork, to building on the multi-cultural, multi-lingual atmosphere that already exists at the school.

Roaring Fork has a sizeable Latino student population already, and this year the school has three foreign exchange students, two from Austria and another from Germany.

“The IB program began as a way to address the needs of international business people,” he added. “It’s an internationally standardized program that embraces multi-culturalism and critical thinking, and how students need to be able to function in our world community.”

The committee has applied for some grants to obtain the start-up money. But it’s likely to be an ongoing fundraising effort to see the process through, Shamis said.

“Carbondale has a pretty significant affluent community with a lot of international influences,” he said. “Bringing this program to (Roaring Fork) can meet those needs without creating that compulsion to leave the local school community.”

In addition to the certification fee, there are also costs associated with training teachers in the curriculum, plus an annual fee and related student fees to enroll in the program.

“After three years, the IB commission would send a team here to go through our program to see if we can be certified,” he said. “It would be hugely expensive, but we might find that it’s not as expensive as we thought.”

Once the school commits to move forward, there is a cost involved, with no guarantee of receiving certification after three years. At that point, though, it would likely be just a matter of filling in the gaps to gain certification.

This year, RFHS began introducing more of an international focus in the classroom by asking teachers to integrate an international perspective in a variety of studies.

“We are doing the curriculum mapping to see how that has worked this year,” Parker said. “We’ve had some general guidelines, but no real tracking. We are trying to incorporate international perspectives into every part of our teaching now.

“For the parents to look at this (IB), I see as something that can be good for the school,” he added. “And if the exploratory committee gets to point where they say it can’t be done, that doesn’t mean we’re through. We will still pursue that international emphasis in our school, even if it’s not through the IB program.”


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