Fenton — There’s only a handful of kids in the program. It costs the Fenton schools hundreds of thousands of dollars. Teachers are taking luxurious, expensive trips for training on the taxpayer’s dollar. It’s brainwashing students.
These are some of the assertions made in the Hot lines and in the community about the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at Fenton Area Public Schools. Since its inception in 2009, the IB Program has been shrouded in myth by those outside of the classroom.
Ask students or teachers in classroom however, and you’ll only hear praise. The IB program focuses on international education, where students learn about various cultures around the world. The program also emphasizes hands-on research and learning secondary languages.
“You learn as much about yourself as you do about the material,” said Jacob Keesee, a senior at Fenton High School. “(The classes) teach how important it is to learn and grow as a person.”
Fenton High School IB Director Sara Armstrong likened the IB Program to the Socratic Method, where students learn through a series of questioning and answering. Classes are structured on discussion between students with teachers acting as guides for each discussion. English teacher George Kralosky said the classes focus more on individual growth rather than teaching to a test.
“It really is student driven. It’s all oral or written exams,” Kralosky said. “None of it has objective test.” Kralosky, who has been teaching for 42 years, believes IB courses gauge a student’s knowledge more accurately than other methods of teaching.
One criticism amongst parents and students is that the classes at Fenton High School are too crowded. Kralosky admits 25 students to a classroom is ideal, but said scheduling conflicts exist within the high school and not just with the IB program.
“You adapt, that’s life,” Kralosky said. “It’s always a work in progress.”
Armstrong views the classes as rigorous and will prepare students to compete on a global level. And while the program has garnished much public comment, Armstrong said, “any change will garner a lot of comments — good or bad.”
“Many students will take on jobs that are not even invented yet,” Armstrong said. “They will have to know other cultures.”
Superintendent Timothy Jalkanen said the IB Program costs the school district $300,000 a year or about 1 percent of the district’s budget. Every student from Kindergarten to 10th grade manditorily take IB courses, which Jalkanen said accounts for more than 2,850 students. IB courses for high school juniors and seniors are voluntary. Students can choose to take as many IB courses as they want and those who take all six and complete other requirements are awarded an IB diploma upon graduation.
Of the junior and senior class, there are 16 students pursuing the full IB diploma program. However, 179 juniors and seniors are taking at least one IB course this year, which accounts for 31 percent of juniors and seniors.
Credit for IB classes vary amongst universities. Armstrong said it is the student’s responsibility to research how much credit they can receive.
“Even if we don’t get college credit, we’re still gaining skills,” said senior Rose Joynt. “It’s giving us a broader perspective. It’s stuff that makes us think.”
Teacher training for the IB Program is included with the $300,000 budget. While teachers did have to leave the state for training during the first few years, Jalkanen said more teachers are being trained in state in areas like Detroit and Midland. While the training may seem excessive to some, Jalkanen said Fenton Area Schools needs the IB Program.
“Critical thinking skills, reasoning and problem solving abilities are becoming more and more important for the success of students after graduating from high school,” Jalkanen said. “At Fenton we are working to raise the educational bar for each and every student.”
Juniors and seniors in IB pay a one-time fee of $141 and $96 for the course-ending test, which is mandatory, Armstrong said. Students in IB classes are given weighted grades, having the opportunity to earn above a 4.0 grade point average. Federal and state government funding is available to students who do not have the finances available to take IB courses.
“It’s a preparation for my own perspective. It makes the school environment much more enjoyable,” said senior Josh Muhleck.