Flathead High School will be part of an International Baccalaureate initiative seeking to reach more low-income and minority students around the U.S.
The IB Excellence and Equity Initiative was established after research revealed the underrepresentation of low-income and minority students in International Baccalaureate programs. The initiative will work toward creating more inclusive programs by removing barriers that may exist for students.
Flathead is one of 100 International Baccalaureate World Schools selected through an application process. About 41 percent of Flathead’s total student population qualify for free and reduced meals, which is based on family income, according to Flathead High School International Baccalaureate coordinator Kelli Higgins.
“You know that there are probably just as many intelligent, capable students who are low-income as there are who are not low-income, and yet they don’t access the program at equal levels,” Higgins said.
The Excellence and Equity Initiative seeks to change that. Up to 16 staff members will have access to equity training through online workshops, webinars and case studies in the areas of leadership, counseling, assessment and approaches to teaching and learning. Schools will aim to improve practices, policies and culture by setting goals and creating action plans.
“We will have the opportunity to analyze our own practices and our own policies, and look for opportunities that we might not even be aware of right now, where we might unconsciously be making it more difficult for some students to access our program. But we can hopefully become more aware of how we can best open the doors and invite students and support and encourage them to take a challenging course,” Higgins said.
The school will also receive two years of students’ scored and marked assessments. Typically, the school only pays to have some assessments returned in order to look at where the instruction can be improved. Having two years of information will be a valuable resource, according to Higgins.
Participating schools will receive the equity-based services and support through 2019. The cost to participate is $3,000, which is a significant reduction in what the services would normally cost, according to Higgins.
Flathead’s International Baccalaureate program is open to juniors and seniors. There are 19 International Baccalaureate courses currently offered at Flathead. Some of the courses are one to two years in duration.
Some students choose to take one or few classes, while others go for the full diploma.
To get the full diploma, a student must successfully complete six International Baccalaureate courses in English, foreign language, history, science, math and an elective in addition to a theory of knowledge class.
In addition to offering rigorous academics, the goal of the International Baccalaureate program is to develop critical thinkers and well-rounded students in the areas of arts, athletics and community service.
Since the program’s inception at Flathead in 2005, 176 students have earned the full International Baccalaureate diploma.
This year, about 403 juniors and seniors (63 percent) are taking one or more International Baccalaureate classes and 110 students have opted to take one or more final exams. A benefit of taking the exams is that students may earn college credits and it’s not uncommon for students to enter college with sophomore status. Of those 110 students, 19 students were eligible for free or reduced meals.
“It is my goal to make this program more accessible for a wider range of students,” Higgins said.
Students may be deterred to enroll because of preconceptions that International Baccalaureate is exclusive to high-achieving or college-bound students. However, any student can take the classes and there are no application or GPA requirements.
“Think about it — if you’ve grown up in a life where your mom and dad tell you how smart you are, and you go to college, and have all kinds of opportunities, it’s just sort of expected this is your path,” she said. “And if you grow up in a life where maybe no one in your family has ever been to college, or the family is in crisis, or that’s not the focus, you might not see that in yourself. You might be intimidated, but that doesn’t mean that student can’t be really successful and benefit from the program.”
Cost may also be a deterrent.
Full diploma candidates paid $886 this year, which includes an exam registration fee of $172, plus $119 per exam. Students obtaining class certificates pay the registration fee each year they test.
While payment plans are available, the federal aid for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch was cut. Fortunately, donations and grants received in January from the Rotary Club of Kalispell, Weyerhaeuser Foundation and Bob Lopp will go toward exam costs to assist low-income students, according to Higgins.
Higgins has seen students who take International Baccalaureate classes gain confidence in their ability to complete rigorous classes, to ask for help and to speak up in class.
“I can make sure that they have just a little bit higher writing skills, or a little bit higher reading skills, or they get six college credits in English and that makes college just a little bit easier to access then it would be otherwise,” Higgins said.
Higgins hopes the equity-focused training will have a school-wide impact.
“We always want to take good care of all our students no matter what experiences they come in with, or what home looks like and I’m hopeful this kind of training will allow us to take the best care of our students possible,” she said.
For more information about International Baccalaureate visit http://www.ibo.org.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.