Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

IBThe stress of the college application season is just about winding down, as students now anticipate learning where they are accepted — and, ultimately, which school they will attend. But next year at this time, the newly minted college freshmen will be dealing with other challenges, such as transitioning to the academic demands of higher education.

Recently, three students from Red Bank Regional High School were interviewed about a program they were participating in; one which they believe will serve them well once they transition to college. The students (pictured left to right: Manny Sanchez, Claire Toomey and Ray Bernard) offered their thoughts on the school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program; first made available during the 2009-2010 school year to to upper classmen at RBR — one of only four schools in Monmouth County (and one of only 12 in the entire state of New Jersey) that offers this rigorous and internationally renowned program.

The IB program does not require prerequisite courses, and, therefore is open to any motivated student in the school. Requirements to obtain the IB diploma include completing six core subject classes and the IB signature Theory of Knowledge course. Additional requirements include a 4,000 word essay and the completion of continuous activities outside the classroom over 2 years (sports, extracurricular and community service). Students can take IB courses as electives or in place of their core classes without seeking the diploma. They are eligible to receive college credit for each IB course they complete. College course credit requires passage of end-term exams (which are graded by an external panel), and other assessments conducted throughout the courses which are graded internally.

According to Ray Bernard of Red Bank, the IB program offers an “international perspective;” exemplified by the fact that “for several weeks we skyped with a class of Swedish students building a relationship. Our classes were both reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale, and we were discussing feminism with them.”

Manny Sanchez, also of Red Bank, was apprehensive at first, when his guidance counselor recommended he enroll in IB program. Like Ray, he hoped to be the first in his family to attend college. After experiencing the IB program, he states, “I went from regular classes to taking this and with all the special writing I had to do, I feel so much better prepared than I ever thought for college.”

Claire Toomey of Little Silver was gravitated to the program because of her writing skills and interest in world events. She feels that both interests have been nurtured and expanded by the program, which “influenced my decision to join the school newspaper and really delve into current events. It is really cool having discussions with students and teachers in class which expanded my thinking and led me to wanting to put my writing out there.”

The classes are interactive, creative in their design, and in-depth — with Ray observing that “You just don’t learn facts to take a test, you really learn the subject and everything is connected, like what we are studying in math is connected to psychology.”

Claire offers another example, explaining that “when we learned about the Spanish Civil War, we didn’t just learn why America got involved but how things developed. Our teacher has us reading multiple historians, which teaches everyone that you can’t always just trust one source.”

Documentation shows that the college acceptance rate is much higher for IB students versus non-IB students,” says Ryan Hilligus, who has coordinated the program at RBR for several years. The school has graduated five classes of IB diploma students, with 10 to 20 graduates in each class. Many more students are encouraged to take the individual classes, with 259 students currently enrolled in IB classes.

An additional benefit, in these days of sky-high college tuition, is the credit credit offered by many colleges for IB programs — with Mr. Hilligus citing the example of a student from a Colorado college who was granted 33 credits from the IB program.

“Now she is debating whether to graduate early, or schedule another major or minor,” he explains.

While the courses are challenging, RBR has put enough supports in place to help each student succeed. For instance, Mr. Hilligus explains that “we have a big-little relationship set up whereby the senior big may counsel a junior little. It is someone they know they can trust who will support them through the process. Also, the diploma students have study hall with me every day, so that I can give them additional support through the process.”

Perhaps one of the unintended — but longest lasting — benefits of the program is the camaraderie that is built among the students, with Claire stating, “We have such a strong support network for each other and I feel I made such great friendships.”

For more information on the International Baccalaureate program, visit its website here.