To IB or not to IB: Options for pathways and programs

Bianca Reznic, Managing Editor

Whether one has seen the shrine in the lobby or heard about it from their teachers or parents, it is likely that students can recognize the IB Diploma Programme.

The IB Diploma Programme is a rigorous two year program that teaches students analysis, discussion, and critical thinking skills expected in college. Typically, the subject becomes more prominent as upcoming juniors are faced with the decision of whether or not to pursue the IB Diploma. The answer is found in breaking down and considering various elements.

“We always tell students – it’s rigorous. It’s a lot of work, it’s a comprehensive program. But it should be a student who really likes to look at things in an abstract view. That looks at multiple perspectives, that really wants to dive into their own understanding of it. And that’s really motivating to do the work. It’s between the six groups and the work that goes between the six groups – it’s extensive. Many, many of our students do it and they do it very successfully, and they have a great experience. We just want students to do the work that they find meaningful,” said assistant principal and IB coordinator Eric Biagi.

Principal Carrie Lipenholtz discusses the benefits of the IB Programme.

“I think that the biggest thing for me is that the program itself creates good people in general. The whole idea of it is to create globally minded good people. You can’t fight the idea [that] we want people to be caring, we want people to be balanced, we want people to be principled. No matter who you are, when you graduate from Commack High School, that’s what we want you to be, no matter what program you graduate from. That’s what I love most about the IB Programme,” said Lipenholtz.

The first element to consider is the difference between AP and IB courses.

“The biggest difference is assessment. There’s a portfolio of assessment in IB as opposed to AP where there’s an exit exam. That exists in IB but there are other components. For example, in your English class, over the course of the 2 years you are going to do an oral exam, you’re going to write an analytical paper, AND you’re going to take exit exams, whereas if you were taking AP lit, you would just have one exam at the end of the course. So I think that one of the benefits of the course, [which is] true of all of the courses, they all have a portfolio of assessment, is it allows [a student] to show all of their skills and not only show all their skills but also, if they’re better on one thing than another, one piece isn’t going to completely destroy them. In other words, if they’re not very good at writing analytical essays, there are other components. If they’re not good at timed exams, there are other components,” said lead teacher of advanced programs Dr. Phillip Cicione. 

Despite differences, there are many benefits to pursuing the full diploma.

“As far as going for a full diploma, I think that it is excellent training for college. And I say that as one of the two people in this room right now who actually has gone to college. The full diploma gives you an opportunity to understand a variety of different subjects. That’s another benefit of it,” said Cicione.

Another major factor to consider is a student’s personal motivations and individual qualities.

“It’s definitely a rigorous program made for people who really want to challenge themselves and really see if they can do college level coursework. So if you’re really motivated to do something like that and intrinsically you yourself want to challenge yourself then I would recommend it. But if you’re just doing it to please your parents or something like that, you really have to want to do it,” said senior and IB diploma candidate Ava G.

The IB Programme is constantly undergoing evaluation and changes to better benefit students. In order to teach IB classes, teachers are trained in the curriculum and may participate in several training sessions as the courses continue to change.

“The curriculum constantly changes, the assessments constantly change. Which I also think is an advantage of the program. Because that means IB is evaluating itself […] This is forcing the teacher to perhaps get out of his or her comfort zone and it’s forcing the student to get a variety of experiences in the subject and I think that’s also an advantage to the program,” said Cicione.

Lipenholtz reflects on how Commack evaluates their own program and seeks to improve.

“I think the best way to improve the overall program is really to concentrate on some of the basic framework of the program, like the inquiry approach, like the discussion based model, and take some of those ideas and bring them to the ninth and tenth grade classes. That takes a lot of work, but I would love to see some of that happening because I think that will help. Not only is that something we see in IB but that’s also something we see in college […] And if not college, even in the real world,” said Lipenholtz.

In addition, many goals of the advanced programs revolve around helping students grow and benefit in the future.

“Right now we have two IB Programmes, we have our Diploma Programme and our brand new career related program. So our goal is really to engage students, as many students as possible, in IB learning. It’s really the best approach to learning in the world. And it’s unparalleled – what you do in an IB classroom can’t be replicated in any other classrooms. So we want students to be engaged in IB learning. That doesn’t mean that every student is going to go into the full Diploma Programme, but we want students in IB classes to be exposed to that style […] IB is best practice for teachers. And they have a set of what they call approaches to teaching and approaches to learning that are skills that translate to every single discipline at every single level. So some of the work that our administrative team is doing this year actually, is trying to bring those approaches to teaching and learning into non-IB levels so that students across our program are exposed to that and start to understand that. That’ll make the transition to IB classes when they’re in the full IB classes a little bit easier but it’s also the best way to approach education,” said Biagi.

Students may have concerns regarding the transition from content based courses to more analytical, discussion based courses.

“I would tell you that there’s an IB learner profile, which has all the different characteristics we hope for an IB student, really any student, to have. And we’re really trying to push that profile into the ninth and tenth grade classes because it is executed in the middle school and it comes back in eleventh and twelfth so we’re really trying to make it a more streamline process and in doing so, those ninth and tenth grade classes will likely have more of those conversations and deep thinking occurring so that it’s a smoother transition. That’s definitely a discussion that’s occurred and we’re hoping to make that shift happen,” said lead teacher of advanced programs Amy Capiello.

There are also numerous benefits of the IB Programme in higher education.

“When you’re in a real college level class on a college campus, that’s how college courses are run. They are student based, there’s a lot of socratic dialoguing and […] there are students who want to be told what to do and that sometimes become a conflict for students when they come into an IB class and they’re told ‘No, I’m not going to tell you what to do, I’m going to ask you what you think.’ And being asked what you think is going to be better preparation for college and beyond,” said Cicione.

Capiello highlights advantages of IB in comparison to other courses and the benefits of IB for college.

“The high school has lots of different academic pathways, so it really depends on the needs of the child. But I think any student who is thinking about going to college should seriously consider the program so that they’ll be more prepared and earn many credits depending on the school that they choose,” said Capiello.

Senior Norah B., an IB diploma candidate, provides insight into the workload of the program and gives advice for potential struggles.

“If I could go back in time I think I would still do it because it’s just good practice. The amount of work [isn’t] a ton, you just need to learn how to manage your time and everything. A lot of people do it, so it’s not impossible […] It will get worse before it gets better. But in the end for people who are considering doing it, I would say just do what’s right for you. Don’t feel pushed by anyone else to do it, because you actually have to want to do it or else you’ll never be able to keep up. For the people already in it who are [maybe] struggling right now, I would say just keep going because the way we do things, it gets easier,” said Norah B.

Lipenholtz also gives advice to students considering the program.

“It can be overwhelming when you hear about everything that you need to do. But I think that we’ve done a really good job of breaking it up over time and really trying to work with all the students to support them to be able to do all of the elements of the program over two years. And there’s so much support and the teachers are so good at supporting all of the students that it will all get done. I think that sometimes it’s a little scary and intimidating at first but there’s so much support and there’s so much help given […] Don’t be nervous and don’t be scared and don’t be intimidated by it because it all works out,” said Lipenholtz.

There are also alternate pathways that students can pursue that include IB classes and learning but are not the full diploma.

“We have many pathways, we’re talking about the Diploma Programme here but now we also have the CPP program where 45 juniors are currently in that program and that’s a more defined program. Right now the two pathways we have are business and STEM. But the plan is to develop more pathways over the next couple of years. For example, we’re hoping to have fine arts next year and we’re also hoping to have healthcare professionals […] We’ll be working with Mr. Biagi on developing that as well […] And similarly, where the diploma student is writing an extended essay, the CPP student is writing a three thousand word essay as well. It’s a different kind of paper, it’s more directed in their field of interest, but they’re doing a lot of the same kinds of things that a full diploma student would do,” said Cicione. 

Regardless of what a student chooses, it is important to focus on what is best for each individual student and the education that will best benefit them.

“Knowledge is an important thing, the more you know, the more you understand,” said Cicione. 🔳