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What is IB Anyway?

Exploring the International Baccalaureate program for Central Oregon students


Pilot Butte Middle School students take part in community service work—a large component of IB learning at the school. - SUBMITTED
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  • Pilot Butte Middle School students take part in community service work—a large component of IB learning at the school.

Imagine the scene: An auditorium of young teens and their parents or guardians, sitting down to listen to a program detailing how they can make their high school careers even more challenging.

Yes, this really happens. As a parent, you've probably heard of Advanced Placement, often called AP, offering students a more rigorous high school curriculum. That program has been fairly widespread in U.S. schools since many parents were students themselves. But "IB," on the other hand, is less well-known and understood in U.S. schools. So what is IB anyway, and why did so many students come to a recent High School Info Night at Bend Senior High School to find out more?

The International Baccalaureate program is an internationally-recognized curriculum, currently used in around 5,000 schools in more than 150 countries around the world, according to the International Baccalaureate program website. IB coursework is available at Bend High and Pilot Butte Middle School in Bend, but internationally, it's available for students age 3 to 19. According to the program's site, IB "aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect." The U.S Department of State describes IB as, "academically challenging curriculum emphasizing the philosophy of learning and the integration of disciplines."

The High School Experience At an IB high school, students can simply take an occasional IB course to challenge themselves in subjects ranging from Spanish to math to world religions—or they can pursue the IB Diploma Programme, a more comprehensive curriculum which can result in college credits and scholarships, and sometimes even "sophomore standing" upon entering college, according to the Bend High IB webpage.

At a recent Info Night at Bend High, one student described how she'll use her upcoming IB diploma to attend university in the United Kingdom, where she'll study to become a doctor and attend fewer years of school than she would for a similar degree in the U.S. That's one big benefit: Opening up further educational opportunities elsewhere, with few hoops to jump through to have past schooling recognized in the chosen country.

Sierra Freihoefer is another senior at Bend High, set to study computer science at Oregon State University after graduation. She's been taking IB courses since her sophomore year and is pursuing the full IB diploma.

"When I decided to do IB it wasn't all about the (college) credit. I think it was mainly just about trying my hardest and learning about different ways of thinking and not just the U.S. perspective," Freihoefer said. "There's so much involved in it, more than just learning, beyond just memorizing things. You're actually learning things in the program beyond just surface level understanding—it's like lifelong understanding."

Andria Lindsey is the IB coordinator at Bend High, where the program has been available to students since 2010. At Bend High, students can choose from 23 IB courses. More than 450 students there are taking at least one IB class this school year, with 26 seniors and 36 juniors pursuing the full IB diploma, Lindsey said.

"I think one of the biggest strengths of the IB program is how it prepares students for college-level learning, and real-world responsibilities," Lindsey relates. "We see that our students—whether they take one class or they do the full diploma—we see that they are stronger with managing their time and organizing all the activities that they have going on, and balancing them in their lives."

Yes, the program is challenging, and not ideal for everyone, Lindsey admits, but that challenge can also be beneficial. "We also see the transition for students from their senior year in high school to their freshman year in college be much more seamless than if they haven't taken any of those college-level courses," she says.

IB in middle school Pilot Butte Middle School has been offering the IB Middle Years Programme for all students at the school since 2015—a designation that took the school three and a half years to achieve. It was the first Oregon middle school outside the Portland metro area to offer the program, according to the district. The Middle Years Programme requires students to take a second language, arts classes and a design class that marries problem solving with technology. Students also have to take part in global community service projects, helping them develop a worldview that goes beyond their own backyards. That global perspective is just one component of the program—but it's a perspective that educators hope can translate into a lifelong love of learning and making connections, Bend High's Lindsey says.

"We really ask students to connect all of their learning across all of their disciplines and apply it to their life outside of their classes, and so they're just this continuous learner."

About The Author

Nicole Vulcan

Nicole Vulcan has been editor of the Source since 2016. While the pandemic reduced "hobbies" to "aspirations," you can mostly find her raising chickens, walking dogs, riding all the bikes and attempting to turn a high desert scrap of land into a permaculture oasis. (Progress: slow.)

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