Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

IB classes will keep high-level academics at Kennedy

Administrators at the Silver Spring high school say the new program is more well-known than the current Cambridge Academy

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The International Baccalaureate program will give John F. Kennedy High School students an advantage when applying to college and reinforce academic rigor at the school when the program starts next year, administrators say.

Montgomery County Public Schools announced in November that the IB program would replace the Cambridge Academy currently offered at Kennedy in Silver Spring and Seneca Valley High School in Germantown.

Both the Cambridge and IB programs offer challenging classes in mathematics, language arts and sciences, intense training in a foreign language and an international perspective in most classes.

But administrators say the IB program is more well-known. IB is offered in 125 countries.

‘‘We were struggling to get the word out about Cambridge, both in the system and the university level,” said Brian Beaubien, academy head for the Cambridge and IB programs at Kennedy.

He said some students even had to attach a letter to their college applications explaining the Cambridge program. That problem won’t happen with IB, Beaubien said.

Cambridge Academy students at Kennedy will be able to complete their senior year; incoming ninth-graders may take pre-IB classes next fall.

There are six high schools in Montgomery County that offer the IB program, including Albert Einstein High School in Kensington. Einstein and Kennedy are part of the Downcounty Consortium, which offers students a choice of high schools within the consortium boundaries.

In both Cambridge and IB, students can take exams to receive college credit. Students in Cambridge who have chosen to complete certain classes and internship requirements may receive the Advanced International Certificate of Education Diploma.

The IB program offers a certificate path or a diploma path. Completing the IB diploma can be challenging and includes a 4,000-word research essay and 150 community service hours, but students can also earn up to 30 college credits, Beaubien said.

Students take pre-IB classes their freshman and sophomore years to prepare for the program’s official start in the junior year.

The county also offers IB programs at elementary and middle schools. Marty Creel, director of the department of enriched and innovative programs, which oversees the IB program, said MCPS has more trained staff and more professional support for the IB program than Cambridge.

The switch will cost MCPS about $80,000, which will be included in the schools’ fiscal 2009 budget. The money includes application fees the school system has to pay to get Kennedy and Seneca Valley certified and for professional development, Creel said. It may take up to two years to get the schools certified, Creel added.

While IB is well-known nationally and internationally, Beaubien said he expects Kennedy will attract students on the same academic level as those enrolled in the Cambridge Academy.

‘‘In Cambridge, we have a culture of rigor or challenge, and students who are yearning for that high level of education,” he said. ‘‘... I think we’re going to attract that same level of student.”

Kennedy Principal Thomas Anderson said while there are many similarities between the Cambridge and IB program, he does expect perceptions about Kennedy will change once the program is added next year.

‘‘Whenever you are able to enhance the academics, people will see the school differently than before,” he said.

George Gadbois, a Rockville resident who has a son in eighth grade at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School, said that students in the Downcounty Consortium would likely choose a program based on location and the set of electives available at each school, since the IB programs will be identical.

Mark Rother, acting president of the Kennedy PTSA, said the replacement of the Cambridge program is a positive change and will make more sense financially for the county, but he has concerns about the pressure that often comes with IB.

‘‘There is a lot of peer pressure and parent pressure to sign up for that,” he said. ‘‘Once [a student is] in it, we need to be aware if someone is struggling and figure out what we do for ... that student,” he said.

However, Creel said that the program is what students make of it.

‘‘The difficulty of the program is sometimes overestimated,” he said. ‘‘I think sometimes we have this impression that this is only for the super-smart, and I don’t think that’s the case. This program is for any student who wants to work hard and earn a very challenging degree.”