I.B. diplomas earn graduates scholarships, college credits

Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 12:12 a.m.

After months of anticipation, many graduates of the 2009 International Baccalaureate class of Eastside High School reunited at their alma mater Wednesday night to receive their program diplomas.

Eighty-five percent, or 106, of the graduates of the IB class of 2009 were awarded the diplomas, which automatically qualify them for the Florida Academic Scholars award, the highest scholarship offered by Florida Bright Futures.

"Earning an IB diploma is an amazing accomplishment for these young people," said Jeff Charbonnet, the school's principal. "The goal [of the program] is nothing less than to develop young people who create a better and more peaceful world."

It takes several months for IB students to learn if they've met the stringent requirements for the special diploma.

Students' final exams and their extended essays, which are similar to college-level senior theses, are sent across the globe to be scored by experts, accounting for the lag between the time the students receive their regular diplomas and the IB diploma.

The program fully deserves its prestigious reputation, said graduate Denis Balaban, who is majoring in biomedical engineering at Washington University. Balaban completed high school with about 18 credit hours he could apply toward college and attributes his smooth transition to college life to the program's demands.

"I decided to do it because I felt it would give me a great education," Balaban said of his decision to go the IB route. The program's flexibility allowed Balaban to customize his high school schedule, he said.

EHS, which added the IB program in 1987, is one of 2,816 schools in 138 countries to offer a curriculum that is consistent worldwide. Students select courses in their primary language, a foreign language, math, science, history and an elective subject.

They also must complete a college research paper on a topic of their choice, known as the Extended Essay.

The IB curriculum culminates in a series of written tests for the subjects that are sent around the world to be graded to prevent any biases, said Jeanne Ewert, an IB English teacher at EHS.

The program also has a 150-hour creative or action-based community service requirement, which Balaban said he used as incentive to try new experiences. He volunteered at the state Spanish language competition and took salsa lessons, both of which provided opportunities for him to educate himself on other cultures.

Cultural awareness is the core of the IB program, which aims to develop caring, intellectual students with an international focus, according to John Noonan, Eastside's IB coordinator. The program's English classes focus on international social issues, and students must complete workshops on the theory of knowledge from a worldwide perspective.

"Students in IB tend to develop a strong identity, a strong connection to their teachers and a strong connection to their class," Charbonnet said.

For graduate Kelsey Braley, who attends Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., the close-knit IB community was one of the main reasons she chose the program. She said that teachers were genuinely invested in her life and academic career.

"I think it gives us a broader view of the whole world," Braley said. "The focus is more international than it is individual."

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