By Tessa Raebeck
Adequate sleep, a social life and good grades: a diploma candidate in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program must choose two.
At a recognition ceremony for the first group of Pierson High School IB diploma candidates, eight seniors who were the guinea pigs when the school started IB in September 2012, Vice Principal Gary Kalish joked that students could only choose two of the three—and, perhaps surprisingly, the students laughed.
“Two years ago,” said Garrett Potter, a senior and IB diploma candidate, “we, Cohort 1, made the conscious decision to take on the challenge of the IB diploma program head on. And I can honestly say, two years later, I have not only improved as a student through the program but as a person.”
The eight inaugural students, Tiger Britt, Carli Fischer, Drew Harvey, Garrett Potter, Chance Sevigny, Max Snow, Kyle Sturmann and Bryant Yunker, were recognized in a ceremony before teachers, parents and administrators last Thursday, May 29, in the Pierson library.
As the district’s IB coordinator, Mr. Kalish led the initiative to introduce the international curriculum to Sag Harbor. A rigorous college preparatory program that seeks to educate the whole student, emphasizing critical thinking, creativity, responsibility and cultural understanding, IB is currently offered to Pierson students in grades 11 and 12.
Following recommendations made to the board of education by Mr. Kalish and Principal Jeff Nichols in March, the district is in the process of extending the IB curriculum to include a Middle Years Program (MYP) that would make it available for students in grades six through 10.
IB is designed to give students a global perspective, with more group discussion, problem solving and abstract thinking than traditional lecture-style classrooms. To qualify for the diploma, the eight members of the group had to complete six IB classes, as well as the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course, Extended Essay Project, and Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) activities.
In addition, the students completed internal and external assessments demonstrating understanding of different subject areas, including math and science portfolios, research investigations and research papers and oral commentaries, which included some 20 minutes of speaking in another language, “quite an impressive feat,” according to Mr. Kalish.
“What really makes the IB program unique, aside from those six courses and their assessments, is what the IB weighs as equally important in terms of their preparation for life after high school,” said Mr. Kalish.
Students are pushed to be critical thinkers, develop natural curiosity, act with integrity and honesty and show empathy, compassion and respect for others, Mr. Kalish said.
“I’m not going to sit here and say it was easy,” Garrett said, adding nothing worth accomplishing is ever easy.
“What I would say to Cohort 2,” he said, addressing the group of junior students in their first year of IB seated in the audience, “is I know things may seem tough at times, [but] that feeling of accomplishment when it’s all over—it’s all worth it.”
Garrett apologized to the graduating group’s parents for “stressing you guys out sometimes,” and thanked the administration “for going through this process with us and doing it together.”
“We know it was equally as hard for you, but we believe it was a mutualistic relationship, in that we all benefited from it greatly,” he added. “I believe the program has many more good years in the school.”
Theory of Knowledge, an essential component of IB, is a two-semester course that challenges students to question the bases of knowledge in the disciplines they study and to develop the ability to analyze evidence and express it in a rational argument.
“The best student does not need to wear their grades on their sleeves to demonstrate their stature,” said TOK teacher Sean Kelly. “Fearlessness, toughness, dedication and, most important of all, integrity…When you consider the expectation and standards inherent in the IB program, you can see how it can reveal the best in students.”
Student Drew Harvey said the biggest switch in adapting to the IB program was on the shoulders of the teachers.
“They had to change their whole curriculum and go outside what they’ve been teaching for the past 10 to 20 years,” Drew said.
“Mr. Kelly taught us to think outside the box and create our own opinions,” he said, adding the students’ were primarily pushed through writing.
History of the Americas teacher Ruth White-Dunne, he said, “did a really fine job of teaching history in a way we never thought was possible [and] showed us historical perspective by showing us all the causes and effects of global issues for all sides and parties.”
“That really opened our eyes to another way of thinking that was echoed through Mr. Kelly in his class,” added Drew.
Another key component of the IB curriculum is the Creativity, Action, Service requirement. Students must obtain 50 hours of each of the three components. The means to do so vary widely; creativity hours can be earned through playing an instrument or making art, action through moving your body via horseback riding or bushwhacking, and service through helping the community.
Seniors Carli Fischer and Kyle Sturmann told the room about their experience initiating recycling in the elementary and middle schools.
“These kids got pretty jacked up,” Kyle said of the younger recyclers. “I’m not gonna lie, they were into it.”