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IB program hopes to attract more students with new math course

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MASSENA - Massena High School’s International Baccalaureate coordinator says they hope more students will consider the IB program in 2014-15 when they roll out a new math course.

“We’re expecting a greater number of students. It’s our first year of testing a new math course,” Jan Normile said, noting iT provides a new avenue for more diploma track students in the program.

The IB program has been a part of Massena High School’s offerings since 2000. Massena is the only school north of the Syracuse and Rochester area to offer the program, according to Ms. Normile.

“We went through an intense two-year-long process” to become an IB school. It definitely sets us apart from the rest of the schools in the north country. Students are exposed to issues that are global. It’s a rigorous curriculum,” she said.

“It’s really kind of a flagship of our high school,” high school Principal Patrick J. Farrand added.

“I think IB is the shining star,” board of education member Patrick Bronchetti said. “The kids couldn’t say enough about the IB program.”

The IB program requires students to take certain courses, such as a language like Spanish or French, English, sciences like biology and chemistry, and mathematics.

They also have to compete a 4,000-word extended essay that they start in their junior year and complete in their senior year, and they have a class called Theory of Knowledge, where the IB Diploma students get together and discuss what knowledge is.

In addition to their classes, students have 150 hours of Creativity, Action and Service. That could include sports, music, volunteer work, mentoring or other community involvement activities.

The end result includes in many cases college credits once students leave Massena High School.

Robert Cameron, who graduated in 2013, lauded the program.

“It is a transition from the high school level to college level both in length and rigor. It gave me a huge advantage in admissions,” he said.

Nikita Gupta, the 2010 valedictorian who is now in her final year at Sienna College, agreed.

“This this day I still credit the IB program I took in high school for much of my success. It helped me stand out. It made me a global student and hopefully showed colleges I was willing to challenge myself,” she said.

“It lets you see more difficult types of courses. It lets you get more in-depth courses,” according to Sarah Murphy, the valedictorian for the class of 2013 who now attends Harvard University.

Ms. Normile said junior and seniors students have two options - become full diploma students which includes the full rigor of the program or course students, where they take a limited number of IB classes. The program currently offers 28 sections.

“One-third of the juniors and seniors are enrolled in IB courses. They are challenging themselves. They realize that colleges are selective,” she said.

Full diploma students take external exams each May that are sent all over the world for grading. Internally, Ms. Normile said, they’re involved with “practical, real-world application of material.”

The end result is that IB students not only develop higher level thinking skills, they also have advantages in the admission process, scholarships, financial aid and college credit, she noted.

“The average acceptance rate is 22 percent higher than the general population,” according to the IB coordinator. “We’re certainly proud of those students. We should also be proud that we gave the students the tools they need to be successful.”

The IB program is not only rigorous for the students, but also for the teachers, who must take part in professional development sessions to keep themselves proficient in the material, Ms. Normile said.

“IB wants them trained every five years, at least,” she said.

The program must also undergo an evaluation every five years, she added.

The challenge right now, according to Mr. Farrand, is increasing the number of students for the “school within a school,” something they hope to do with the new math program.

“Their philosophy is everybody should be challenged. It’s not just for the elite,” he said.

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