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Students thrive with international study

The Baltimore Sun

It wasn't easy for Joey Travers to finish as an International Baccalaureate student at Old Mill Hill School.

Between varsity wrestling and football, the senior completed the 150 hours of community service and slogged through a 4,000-word thesis required by the globally recognized curriculum. He pulled all-nighters to catch up on reading so he could weather discussion-heavy classes.

The challenge fueled him, said the 18-year-old bound for the Naval Academy. Now he is among the 90 students in Anne Arundel County's inaugural crop of International Baccalaureate diploma candidates from Old Mill High and Annapolis High who were honored at a reception last night.

"It's not for everybody," Travers said. "You've got to want to learn. You've got to be able to handle your time and priorities well. I had longer term papers that I had to do over three or four weeks, on top of normal overnight homework, tests. But I have really changed and grown in this program over the last four years."

Travers and his I.B. peers at Old Mill say the program's strengths are the interdisciplinary style of the courses, and the extra support given to students. Topics in I.B. classes bleed into one another, so that a discussion of the Cold War in history might prompt an essay or discussion in English. The I.B. students also go through the same courses together, so they become "a sort of small community, a family," said Heather Horner, 18, a senior at Old Mill.

"There's bickering, because that's normal, we're teenagers," she said. "But then you know if you ever need help, you can just turn to the person next to you, and they'll be there for you."

I.B. students also have program coordinators who help them when they felt discouraged, overwhelmed or confused. At Old Mill, the coordinator was Elizabeth Mitchell, a former AP English teacher, whom the students called "life coach."

I.B.'s reputation for support and closeness among students has boosted enrollment at Old Mill and Annapolis High, which are among 19 schools across the state offering the diploma program.

This year, Annapolis High has 54 diploma candidates and 130 in the pipeline for the diploma in 2010. At Old Mill, 154 students are expected to be I.B. candidates in 2010.

"The response to a program that offers rigor and relevancy with an international perspective has been overwhelming," said Christine Amiss, who oversees the I.B. program for the district. "There's clearly a hunger within our communities for programs that require our students to go above and beyond."

It has taken some time for the program to take root in Anne Arundel County. In 2003, Annapolis and Old Mill began offering the two-year Extended Learning Program, designed to prepare students for the rigorous international diploma program.

That first step faced criticism from some county residents who felt the $1.1 million the district spent to hire 11 additional staff members and pay for application costs was too much for something that serves so few of the county's 74,000 students.

After four years of limbo for launching a middle school version of the I.B. program, it remains uncertain because of the austere county budget passed yesterday.

The district had earmarked $590,796 to start Middle Years at Annapolis Middle, MacArthur Middle and Old Mill Middle North, but those plans appear to be among many programs vulnerable to cuts. The County Council reallocated an additional $2.2 million to the education budget for teachers' salaries, but the school board has shown interest in rerouting that money to other endeavors, such as for new year-round schooling at Annapolis High, all-day kindergarten or the I.B. Middle Years program.

"We had hoped to establish a clear continuum," said Amiss, noting that there's interest in adding a primary years program in elementary schools.


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