FAIRHOPE — It’s hard to forget the story of Laura Smith, the Fairhope High School class valedictorian who didn’t receive admission to her college of choice — the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — despite a 4.0 grade point …
FAIRHOPE — It’s hard to forget the story of Laura Smith, the Fairhope High School class valedictorian who didn’t receive admission to her college of choice — the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — despite a 4.0 grade point average, completion of every Advanced Placement class offered, her role as president of the school band, and a 34-out-of-36 score on her ACT.
Smith eventually received a full scholarship to LSU, but her story, and others like it, have forced education administrators to take a long, hard look at the educational system in Baldwin County.
“This was a real wake-up call for the faculty here,” said Melinda Oliver, a chemistry teacher at Fairhope High School. “I use this story a lot as an example to parents as to what our students are up against.”
Last November, the Baldwin County Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the addition of five new Advanced Placement classes, in hopes that expanding the AP program would give students like Smith an even better chance of receiving scholarships and gaining admission to top schools; but Oliver said in her opinion, it still isn’t enough.
The AP expansion did open the door to schools in Baldwin County to apply for an International Baccalaureate (IB) honors program, and both Daphne and Fairhope high schools have applied.
The schools have to be authorized by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) as IB World Schools before they can offer the IB Diploma Program; a process that often takes two or more years. Fairhope High School is roughly halfway through that process, said Oliver, who also serves as the IB coordinator for FHS.
Oliver said the school has been working on their certification for nearly a year and a half; with 14 teachers already trained. Representatives from IB will visit FHS this fall, and will announce their decision next spring, she said. If accepted, the school will undergo an IB evaluation every five years.
Seven other Alabama schools already have IBO programs in place. Murphy High School in Mobile, the only school approved in southeast Alabama, has been an IB World School since January 1992. The other six schools are located in northern Alabama.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program, a rigorous, writing intensive program with a two-year curriculum designed to prepare students for college, is typically aimed at students over the age of 16.
There is no limit on applications. In a process similar to technical schools or magnet schools, acceptance is dependent on a student’s grades, standardized test scores, and finally, an interview by IB teachers.
Parents are thrilled, said Oliver, adding that an informational meeting held in Loxley last month drew over 200 people. Ninety students have already applied for the Fairhope program.
“This program is a learning experience that prepares students for the rest of life … such as dealing with the pressures of college and a career. Students learn life skills, such as time management, and they strive for a higher level of critical thinking,” said Oliver.
Emily Davis, 14, an eighth-grader at Fairhope Middle School, maintains straight A’s and takes ballet four days a week. Her parents say she is self-motivated and enjoys school, but they are concerned that good grades may not be enough to get her into the college of her choice. They encouraged Emily to read through the IB information, and although she would not actually enter the program until 11th grade, Emily decided to apply now.
“I hope to gain a more developed knowledge of the subjects I am studying and required to study, and I may as well learn everything I can about them … as well as other courses I would like to pursue,” said Emily.
Emily’s parents said they appreciate the fact that IB program offers a more well-rounded education that includes community service.
“We liked the community service requirement … maybe it will help kids to think more globally,” said her mother, Diane.
Emily said the entire program will benefit her.
“I am excited about the whole IB program”, she said. “It will be great, if I get accepted, to take classes not offered at the average high school; I feel like I have the opportunity to go above and beyond what other students my age have access to.
“I’m also looking forward to being on an academic level with my peers around the world.”
What really sold them, said Diane, was the fact that colleges look for IB kids. The program is standardized, which sets it apart from the honors programs. The IB program is the same in every school, regardless of the schools profile or rating; therefore, colleges know what they can expect from IB students.
“We are really excited about this,” Diane said.