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Renton High School hoping for approval of IB program

Renton High School will find out in April if the school has been approved to host a new International Baccalaureate program.

Colloquially known as IB, it is a college preparation program for juniors and seniors that expects the students to demonstrate college level work. Students can either pick and choose several of the IB classes to take, or they can go for an IB diploma and take all seven classes, do a research paper and complete community service.

Successfully obtaining an IB diploma gives students the opportunity to apply to exchange credits and gain access to such college’s as Paris’ Sorbonne and Harvard. Students can wave up to two years of college classes with an IB diploma anywhere the diploma is accepted nationally and internationally.

But the work will require a lot more studying than students are used to now, said Principal Giovanna San Martin.

San Martin is an IB graduate herself and said the program offers students skills beyond just college readiness.

“The overall effect, if you like, beyond college and career readiness is really all embedded in that piece,” she said, of the international aspect. “How do they operate in a pluralistic community, form their own opinions and relate and understand other people.”

Students at Renton have been hearing about the program from advisory sessions that give them details on what to expect.

“They are excited,” said Shehnaz Wadhwania, Renton’s IB coordinator. “In fact, our juniors and seniors are upset that they are not going to get the IB program.”

If approved, all 11th-grade students will get IB English next year and the first graduating class of the program would be in 2016. If there are at least 12 or 15 students who choose to do the program and graduate the first year, that counts as success, said the principal.

Renton High has been a candidate school for the program for the past three years as school staff has researched and applied to the program.

“It’s extremely rigorous and the training the staff needs to have and the curriculum and instructional piece that we need to have to become and IB school is very rigorous,” San Martin.

The school and its teachers had to make many changes and prepare curriculum and instruction to meet IB standards. The process usually takes a school five years, San Martin said.

One added bonus of their preparation is that the IB preparation is aligning teachers instruction with what the school has to do to get ready for Common Core standards. Common Core standards are reading and math benchmarks adopted by the state and are rolling out all across the country.

“So actually, the beauty about IB and the Common Core is that they are almost the same,” said San Martin. “Because the Common Core standards have that international setting, that global perspective, so it’s very easy to align them.”

The move to the IB program is just one more step in a very intentional trajectory to give students at Renton High more opportunities. Under the direction of former principal Damien Pattenaude, such programs as the University of Washington’s Dream project, Washington State University’s Imagine U program and the state’s Navigation 101 were all brought to Renton.

The school has also sought to increase the numbers of students enrolled in their Advanced Placement classes. They started with 29 students several years ago and have grown to a record 397 students in AP classes last year.

San Martin says her personal take on college readiness programs is that public school students should have the same opportunities as private school students if the means are out there.

“If public schools now have the ability to offer IB, why shouldn’t my kids receive that too?” she said. “So it’s a very strong issue of equity and access and giving them the best that there is in education.”

Renton High received a visit in November from a Canadian team representing the International Baccalaureate Organization, which is headquartered in Cardiff, England.

School officials have been partnering with the Seattle School District to share information and gather feedback on the IB program. Seattle’s Rainier Beach, Chief Sealth and Ingraham high schools all have IB programs.

Recently Renton was awarded a total of more than $400,000 from the Executive Committee for the Road Map Region Race to the Top grant for work on their IB program and Seattle partnership.

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