Linden High School is celebrating its 20th year as part of the prestigious International Baccalaureate program, an open-enrollment course of study that prepares students for college and life after graduationwith rigorous classwork alongside community service.
IB is open to all juniors and seniors and allows students to earn up to a semester’s worth of credits toward college at no cost upon completion. Students can select classes from six course groups: English, World Languages, History, Science, Math, and Art.
All of the IB classes are free to students, unlike in some other districts that pass testing fees on to students. That level of accessibility is something that makes IB special at Linden High, said IB coordinator Anthony Fischetti.
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“When I work with other districts during conferences or roundtables, they’re amazed that we are able to offer the breadth of courses that we are and that it is completely free to students,” he said. “That really is something special because it not only gives our students that opportunity for the higher-level classes but it also makes it very accessible for them. Not having to pay the testing fees really removes a barrier for all of our students.”
Students who wish to pursue the IB Diploma – which is the pinnacle of the program – take courses in each of the groups, as well as complete a college-style Theory of Knowledge class, a Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) community service project, and an extended essay. They must pass challenging assessments in all six subject areas, which are graded by IB instructors from around the world, to receive the IB Diploma.IB Biology teacher Pramila Natarajan works with her seniors along with math teacher Madhurima Vangipuram to bridge science and math skills.
It’s a lot to grasp for students in ninth grade or younger trying to decide if IB is right for them.
“The message I try to send it that everyone can fit in the IB puzzle,” said Fischetti, who took over as coordinator in 2019 and continues to teach IB Italian and Introduction to Education. “Whether it’s one or two classes, whether it’s a full diploma, there’s something there for every student to explore some interest.
“I urge younger students to think about what they do in ninth and 10th grade because I think it’s best for students to be on a path to know what they want to do. Be aware of what we offer and have that long-term view of what you want your academic career to be at the high school level in preparation for what you plan to do postsecondary.”IB science students took part in a science competition in January 2020 to rebuild a community following a zombie apocalypse. The winning team was made up of Michael Martinez, Mathew Rocha, Emily Garcia, and Sara Serio.
Superintendent Dr. Marnie Hazelton wants parents to understand what a great resource International Baccalaureate is for students.
“The IB program really is the crown jewel that epitomizes our district motto of ‘Excellence in Education,’ ” she said. “Students who go into the IB program with a willingness to work hard come away with a greater understanding not only of the subject matter but of new ways of thinking and learning. It can help put them a step ahead as they go on to higher education or a career.”
Linden High School has a diverse student population, and the IB program’s enrollment reflects that. Of 137 senior IB student in the Class of 2020, 65 percent were female, 36 percent were Black or African-American, 40 percent were Hispanic or Latino, and students came from a range of socioeconomic levels.
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Some of the benefits students gain from being involved in the IB program include:
- Independent thinking and student-driven learning.
- A program of education that has connections to some of the highest-ranking universities around the world.
- The necessary component of cultural awareness through the development of a second language.
- The opportunity to engage with people in an increasingly globalized, rapidly changing world.
Many people may be more familiar with Advanced Placement courses, which also offer students the opportunity to gain college credits in high school. In the past, AP may have been more recognized by colleges and universities, but IB scores have gained a growing amount of recognition and value at college and university levels.Students in Tania Miguelez’s IB Spanish class completed a project in October 2019 in which they creating items of beauty out of recycled pieces.
The educational objectives of the two programs differ as well: AP courses tend to focus intensively on a particular subject, while IB courses take a more holistic approach. Attaining an IB Diploma would be on par with earning a top grade on AP exams in six courses.
“The biggest misconception, and something that we have been trying to realign a little bit, is that IB is only for the best of the best,” Fischetti said. “Not to say that we don’t have amazing students in the program, we definitely do. But we have had students coming from a college prep background, or an honors background, or a special ed background, that have found success in the IB program. And even the word success is very much defined on an individual basis.”
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Core aspects of the IB diploma program reflect the holistic approach that makes IB unique:
- Theory of Knowledge: This college-style course offers a unique perspective on understanding. It shows students how knowledge is constructed and that there are multiple pathways to learning. The key foundations are thinking critically and asking questions.
- Creativity, Activity and Service: The CAS community service program is a vital extension of IB learning beyond the walls of LHS and encourages students to be active in their communities. It is not only about helping others, but also about growing oneself.
- Extended Essay: This project allows students to utilize the knowledge of all their areas of study to develop research skills proven to help them in higher education.
Some adjustments have had to be made for virtual learning and social distancing, but Fischetti said students and teachers have worked to overcome the challenges.
“I’m thankful for a staff that is really outstanding in terms of their understanding of their students and flexibility in terms of work,” Fischetti said. “And for the students themselves. They’ve had challenge after challenge, and to still have so many students go through the IB and to be part of the program, it says a lot about what they understand that it can offer them.”
– Story by Gary Miller