COEUR d'ALENE - The International Baccalaureate Organization's program in the Coeur d'Alene School District will end as the last graduating IB diploma candidates cast their mortarboards into the sky at the close of the school year.
Eighteen Lake City High School seniors have spent the last two years in the internationally recognized academic program, which was implemented eight years ago.
"It was a massive undertaking," said Principal Deanne Clifford.
Clifford was one of the program's proponents who helped introduce it to LCHS. The program was approved in 2006 and the first class of IB graduates was in 2008.
Now, with the program ending and the largest class of IB grads ready to take flight, Clifford, IB teachers and the students are reluctant to see the program go.
"This is a huge class of candidates with 18 and I couldn't be more proud of you guys," Clifford said to the students, who gathered around a table in a conference room in the school Thursday afternoon.
"I am so honored to be able to hug you all and shake your hands and congratulate you as the last diploma team coming out of Lake City High School. You're all so deserving of the honors you're receiving."
What is IB?
The IBO touts its IB Diploma Programme as one that challenges students to analyze and conceptualize as they develop intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills useful in a global economy. Its mission, found at www.ibo.org, states the program "aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect," as well as prepare students for success at the university level and life beyond.
It is offered to juniors and seniors worldwide, focusing on a breadth of knowledge in six areas: studies in language and literature, individuals and societies, mathematics, the arts, sciences, and language acquisition. Students are expected to demonstrate their knowledge through extended essays, creativity, action, service and theory of knowledge.
"IB tests don't say, 'List when the Great Wall of China was built,'" said Kaity Widmyer, 18, of Coeur d'Alene. "It tells us how, why, what caused it and to what extent."
She said IB allows students to learn concepts in their own ways of thinking. She referred to IB art classes, which she said demanded unique perspectives.
"We get to literally come up with anything we want that's original," she said. "We're not limited with pieces or dates or anything like that. It's all original, it's all coming from our own thought."
Caroline Beresford-Wood, 18, of Post Falls, said the IB curriculum is one that provides a global context for education.
"I think that with IB, because it's an international program, you get an international perspective, which is really nice to have because some people really just focus on America, whereas the Americas is a subject, instead of just the United States," she said. "We focus on the Americas, we focus on Europe, we focus on how places interact instead of just entirely the American way."
Gabby Vietri, 18, of Coeur d'Alene, said IB teaches students the facts as well as a particular way of thinking.
"I think most of us like to hope and think that we'll be able to apply that way of thinking to future problems," she said. "Not all the facts and knowledge learned in (Advanced Placement) will be applicable in future life, whereas a way of thinking is always applicable."
Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate
Advanced Placement courses will replace the IB program at LCHS. Schools can choose up to 34 AP courses in different subjects and the program is offered in many schools in the state. It provides a different kind of higher-level curriculum from the IB program.
AP is la carte, said LCHS math teacher Karen Grossman. Grossman has taught at LCHS for 18 years and taught the IB math courses since the program was implemented.
"The programs are just so different. I like the AP program too," she said. "I don't have anything bad to say about AP. It's a different perspective, excellent questions, in-depth questions kind of like the IB program, just the writing component's not there."
While both programs can assist seniors with entering preferred universities and bolstering resumes, the Coeur d'Alene School District trustees voted unanimously to phase out the IB program in 2012. It was a matter of cost-effectiveness, enrollment, overall test scores and ability to earn college credits, they said. According to these criteria, the AP program stands more firm than IB.
"I'm not a believer in choice at any cost. I fully support choice when it can be proven effective, and when the cost is reasonable when compared to the value gained," said board chair Tom Hamilton, before making the motion to discontinue the program in 2012. "After the number of years that we've had the IB program, I cannot say that IB is successful by these measurable standards."
The Coeur d'Alene School District spent $1.35 million on the IB program from its advent in 2004 to the decision to cancel in 2012. In 2011, the district spent $50,630 to provide the courses, compared to $11,449 spent on AP courses.
Many of the seniors said if they had the choice between AP and IB when they signed up as sophomores, they still would have chosen IB. Beresford-Wood said she has friends who attend Coeur d'Alene High School and Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy, where AP courses are offered. She compared one friend's programs to hers.
"The difference between my full IB schedule and her full AP schedule is the amount of memorization," she said. "She has test after test after test, whereas we have essays and seminars where we just sit in a circle and discuss ideas, and kind of be able to bolster up our own opinions about things and be able to defend our opinions instead of just having one and just accepting the fact that we have one. We need to know why we have the opinion, and that's what I really like about IB. That's something I'm going to be able to take any other place I go. I can know why I think the way I do."
Saying goodbye to IB
As the program draws to a close, those at LCHS shared some thoughts on their experiences as teachers and students.
"I thought it was kind of ridiculous IB being taken down because the people who are against IB said it was promoting socialist and communist viewpoints, it was anti-America, and I mean, God forbid we learn more about the world, trade ideas with the world," said Rikki McCaw, 18, Coeur d'Alene. He said he doesn't feel "any more socialist or communist" than he did before enrolling in the program, and that it is being discontinued for false reasons.
"I just feel like they shouldn't have taken it out for that. Yeah, I mean, we're learning new ideas from the world. When we go to college, also we're learning about the world," he said. "Hopefully, a lot of us are going to study abroad, and learn more about the world, and I feel like IB helped out. It was ridiculous IB got taken out."
Sam Balas, 17, Coeur d'Alene, said it's unfortunate to see IB go because it readied him for the world of higher education.
"The advantage in that is there are a lot of nights when we're staying up 'til like 2 a.m. and we're trying to get work done super, super late," he said. "That prepares us more for college where we're going to have to do that instead of just having to practice for some test that's going to be in May. Throughout the year, we're staying up late at night, we're talking to our other classmates like we will in college. So I think IB is better for preparing you for college."
In response to McCaw's comment, Balas said the program actually made him more pro-American.
"It made me understand that even when maybe the government was wrong, or there were some people who did things that we today would consider wrong, there were still people in America who believed in America and didn't subscribe to that, who knew it was wrong, but at the same time, they didn't give up on America," he said. "They worked hard to try to fix America, people like MLK and all the women's rights leaders in the 1920s. Learning about those people made me believe more in America in that even though America might have hard times, or might be doing the wrong thing at times, if you work hard enough, you can fix it."
Local IB Diploma Programme graduates have gone on to universities such as Duke, Dartmouth and Stanford, as well as regional schools such as the University of Washington and Whitworth University. They have become chemists, physicians, graphic designers, musicians and much more.
"The great thing about IB is that it attracts and produces so many different, unique individuals with such diverse skills and talents," Clifford said. "It's just a program that would be for everyone."
This year's co-valedictorians, Kira Oskirko, 17, of Coeur d'Alene, and Kaity Widmyer, are IB Diploma Programme students, as well as the salutatorian Kaselyn Widmyer, 18, of Coeur d'Alene. Clifford said the program will have a lasting effect on the students, the school and even the IB teachers' teaching styles.
"It's affected the whole population," she said. "Teachers don't just teach IB classes and then stop teaching that style in their next class ... they use those talents and skills, so it affects the whole school."
LCHS is now offering AP, University of Idaho, North Idaho College and University of Washington courses as advanced learning courses for its students. Clifford said she thinks AP is going to be a great program for the school.
Although she'll miss the IB program, she is confident LCHS will continue its legacy of greatness. She said the fact that LCHS grads have been able to get into such great higher-education institutions is a direct reflection of the hard work of the educators, counselors and the students themselves.
"Do I think that is going to go away? No," she said. "Do I think it helped put us on the map with universities? Yeah, I think we're seen as a whole as a district of high-achieving kids."