A group of 21 high school seniors will not only have the privilege of graduating in June and moving onto the next chapter in their lives, but also next week they'll have the honor of being the first graduating class of Harford County's only International Baccalaureate program.
The high-level magnet program at Edgewood High School began four years ago with high hopes and a willing group of freshmen to be the "guinea pigs."
On Wednesday, the group will walk across the stage at Edgewood High School in their caps and gowns.
While very similar to a regular high school curriculum, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program offers a wider array of classes and puts its students through rigorous testing.
After four years of courses, community service projects and the last three weeks of their senior year spent taking exams, the students are ready to put down their pens and pick up their diplomas.
"It's been a challenging year for them," IB director Amy Woolf said about the students. "They're filling out college applications, waiting to hear back about scholarships and preparing for IB exams."
The kids finished "exam month," as Woolf called it, on Tuesday and many left feeling more prepared than ever for their impending college careers.
"It was intense," she explained, "but to see their faces when they came out of exams, they knew they were prepared." One student, Woolf said, told her that a piece she wrote for an English exam was the best thing she had ever written.
The students weren't, however, always that confident.
Since the now-graduating seniors were the first class to go through the program in Harford County and the teachers were new to it as well, everyone had to take a leap of faith that everything would work out for the best.
"They really were coming in on faith," Woolf said. "They didn't know much about the program coming in and they've really been a big part of our [teachers] success because they stuck with it and helped us forge ahead."
One of the students who took that leap is Anthony Bunger.
The 18-year-old from Abingdon said he had no idea what to expect when he was accepted into the magnet program, but is "so honored to be in the first class."
"It definitely makes you believe hard work pays off," Bunger said about the tough course work.
He explained that the classes he took are similar to Advanced Placement (AP) courses, but harder with more curriculum to cover.
"It's a well-rounded program to prepare students for college-level courses," Bunger said.
That's one big benefit of the IB program — many colleges accept an IB diploma in lieu of that freshman year packed with general education classes.
The catch is since all exams are mailed to locations all over the world for IB employees to grade, students won't know if they have earned the IB diploma until July.
Bunger, however, seemed confident that he did his best and succeeded.
In the fall, he'll attend Towson University as a music education major — he plays trumpet — and hopes to one day earn his master's in music therapy.
Woolf also has confidence in the group of kids she has gotten to know over the past four years.
"They've made a huge impact on me, and I hope I've had some impact on them," she said. "I think I've had the opportunity to teach them things outside of academics — the life skills and how to be a good person."
She has seen people come out of their shell, gain self-esteem and evolve into adults and now, it's time to let go.
The graduation, Woolf said, is "a celebration of their accomplishments in being the first graduating class."
While the students will also participate in Edgewood High School's graduation ceremony June 5, the one on Wednesday will be extra special as it was one they all started and completed together.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun