Is getting ahead in school worth it?

Addressing the issue

SAT. ACT.  AP. IB. While these abbreviations sound foreign to those outside school, what they mean for the future of the students is of utmost priority in an increasingly more competitive academic environment.

Newbury Park High School is unique compared to other schools in the district as it offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. This program allows students to take advanced courses which count for college credit to universities both in and out of the United States.

Taking a full IB course load “emphasizes global-mindedness,” Christy Hodson, IB English and Theory of Knowledge teacher, said. “It emphasizes being more student-focused and sometimes a student-driven curriculum.”

There has been a drastic increase in those who desire to get ahead via the advanced classes NPHS offers. Taking an advanced level class is anything but easy, yet there has been a significant growth in sophomores and even freshmen taking these classes.

“For a long, long time we’ve sort of fluctuated between 20 to 35, maybe max. of 40, students who are doing full IB. In this current group of seniors there are 46 and there’s over 75 juniors now that are on the pathway to be full IB,” Deborah Dogancay, IB Coordinator, said.

Having more students take higher level classes seems to imply that students are increasingly more conscious of their academics, however, this may not necessarily be the case.

“I honestly attribute (the increase in students) more to the fact that we have increased our IB offerings,” said Dogancay. “For example, one of the roadblocks used to be science because…if (a student) didn’t take honors chemistry as a freshman, there was a time where that meant you couldn’t be full IB and that is just not true anymore. There’s so many different ways that you can meet the requirements.”

Maddy Weise, junior, is partial IB, meaning she has chosen a select few IB courses to take instead of the full IB curriculum. “For any of the classes that (underclassmen) are passionate about or think that they have a future in, I think it’s important to challenge yourself,” Weise said. “But if you’re really not interested in a specific subject, it doesn’t make sense to push yourself past your breaking point.”

For students keen on attending prestigious colleges, higher-level classes provide a smooth transition, even if they are not interested in the subject.

“I think some students want the challenge. I think both students and parents and high school counselors think that there is a competitive edge for college admissions if a student begins in an honors track and pursues that until the end of their high school career,” Hodson said.

In order to further boost their college applications, students will get a year ahead of their grade level by doubling up in certain subjects, such as math, science and foreign language.

Sarah Wang, sophomore, is one student who took the opportunity to double up; most sophomores are either taking Geometry or Algebra 2, yet Wang has maneuvered her way into IB Calculus in only her second year of high school.

Wang, skipping sixth grade math all together, is a big proponent of working hard in school, yet will not take part in the full IB program so she can focus on other subjects.

“I’m just taking the classes and doing the AP tests because standardized testing– colleges look at that. I feel like people don’t do that because they think it’s too much stress or too much work,“ Wang said.

Another explanation for this increase in achievement is competition.  “Everybody’s kind of getting that competitive, ‘if my friend can do it, I can do it.’ And there’s a good part to that because we’ve got kids challenging themselves, which is great, but I do kind of worry about overloading your plate,” Katie O’Neill, science teacher, said. “But I’m glad to see it, especially in science, because I think that’s where careers are going.”


Challenges of IB

While taking IB classes may help students get into a good college, the program’s rigor  can take a toll on a student’s social life and sleep schedule.

“(Full IB) was way too much of a time restraint,” Weise said. “It would be really hard to have a social life and I think that’s important too. So just being well-rounded, I didn’t want full IB to take over my entire life.”

O’Neill has the same view. “What I worry about is students trying to take every (opportunity), their junior and senior years are full of all AP and IB classes and then you don’t have the time for the sports and the clubs and the things that first of all, round out your college applications, and second of all, probably make you happy. When do you have time to get excited about homecoming dances and stuff? I feel like sometimes the AP and IB kids have too much on their plate and forget how to be kids,” O’Neill said.

The AP and IB philosophies and curriculums also have significant differences that each lend themselves to certain students in the wide spectrum of work habits. However, the AP and IB students often enroll in the same class, preparing for different tests. Victoria Dzieciol, junior, is taking all the required classes to receive an IB diploma, yet has opted out of the program.

“I’d rather take the AP exams than the IB exams, and I don’t want to do the extended essay, and I’d rather do AP psych instead of IB psych because (IB) takes a year and a half. I feel like the IB tests are more subjective because there is more writing. Since I’m more into science…I’d rather take AP so I can choose the courses instead of having to do all the subjects,” Dzieciol said.

Eric Lindroth, photography teacher, believes that while IB is a great program it can take time away from doing actual studio work.

“Sometimes I’m skeptical about that change because I don’t know if you can develop yourself as an artist as much when you’re doing so much writing. I think writing is important, but I don’t know if it should be 60 percent of your (IB) score,” Lindroth said.

AP students, on the other hand, “tend to develop their photography to a higher level because they are spending all their time on their studio work. And that’s where I prefer AP over IB. I feel that you’re just bogged down on writing,” Lindroth said. “And it’s not like writing is a bad thing, but it’s a studio art class… AP is 90% of the time doing studio work.”


Effects on non-IB students

MJ DeVere, senior, is not in the full IB program, but decided to take IB 20th Century History. However, like most other non-diploma candidates, she was unable to enroll because there were not enough spaces in the class.

“(Administration) called all the students who weren’t in full IB and just told us that we had to change to AP Gov. because there just wasn’t enough room,” DeVere said. “I think as more and more students are taking IB classes, there should be accommodations for all students who want to take them.”

While doing IB classes helps students in some ways, this influx of new IB candidates has led to a shortage of seats in necessary classes.

“I know there was greater demand for 20th Century this year than we could accommodate, but no one could have predicted that sudden burst in course requests for that particular course. This could have happened with any course, given that we have certain teachers trained to teach certain courses and once in a blue moon we are not able to accommodate everyone who wants a particular course,” Dogancay said.

Savannah Thunell, senior, was in AP Studio Art for a few days but soon decided against taking it, not because the course load was too difficult, but because there were too many people. “There were a lot of people in the class, and Mr. Lindroth is an amazing teacher, he has such a good atmosphere for all those students, but I think that it would have been really hard for him, and for everyone else, to be able to work with little supplies, and I know that. I thought it would just be easier for me and everyone else just to kind of go,” Thunell said.

Lindroth also observed changes with this new flood of students. “We did have to turn away a few. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to do that. It’s the first time ever. Because just the numbers this year,” Lindroth said. “I have about doubled my numbers of IB students than I normally have. It creates challenges, but we’re getting by.”

Other classes, such as IB English, experienced increases as well. However, because there are six class periods instead of one or two, more students can enroll. “It seems to me we just continue to accommodate, and I’m speaking specifically from the point of view of English,” Hodson said. Hodson teaches four 12th grade IB English classes, while Jill Magnante teaches the other two.

While there are more students who want to take IB classes, CP classes offer another pathway for students. I am someone who does not thrive under stress so I found that I do better in a CP environment,” Sam Freeman, junior, said. She is happy with her schedule, as it “allows for a good balance of schoolwork and free time.”

Some people believe that CP classes may not include as much information, but Thunell thinks differently. “I’ve been in some CP classes and I’ve honestly learned a ton from the teachers there. I think it just depends on how much you’re willing to put into it and how much you really want to learn for it. IB and AP- I think it’s a lot more work and a lot more studying but I think that I’ve learned the same amount in a CP class.”

Overall, the decision to take certain classes depends on what kind of experience the student is looking for.

“It has to do with being an appropriate fit. A student has to look at their interest level, their curiosity level (their level of inquiry for any given field), their work ethic, what’s happening in their life on campus and outside of campus, above and beyond the day-to-day drama they have here. If they find that they like to be intellectually challenged and they like a very strong sense of autonomy and accountability expected of them individually, then an IB class can be an excellent fit,” Hodson said.

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