By Natalie Maier
When senior Irene Gibson planned her schedule for her freshman year, she didn’t have as many options as incoming freshmen now do. Like other students, Gibson had to choose which diploma she wanted, and she selected the IB diploma. But unlike incoming freshmen, Gibson could not take any pre-IB classes until her sophomore year. Beginning next year, freshmen will be able to enroll in a pre-IB block class, which combines honors English 9 and honors world history 9.
Gibson said, “I think I would have taken the block class because it’s a higher level of learning. It’s different then AP because it doesn’t have as many details. I think it’s a good idea.”
While Gibson and all other CHS students had the option of pursuing the IB diploma, taking pre-IB courses as a freshman are a new option. “The decision to offer the new freshman course was made by the CHS administration, and those involved in the IB program,” IB coordinator Lori Harmas said via e-mail.
According to the CHS website, the IB program is made up of six classes taken over the course of a student’s junior and senior years. These six classes are mandatory to receive the IB diploma, but the new IB block class will not be required and is considered to be pre-IB. Still, the new class may provide a good way to lead more students to seek an IB diploma, according to Katie Gray, a social studies teacher who will teach the honors world history portion of the class.
“The pre-IB block class will simultaneously prepare students for the advanced curriculum at Carmel and challenge them to apply their learning to creative problems throughout the year,” Gray said via e-mail, “In addition; the pre-IB class will be a great bridge for students who are unsure if they are ready for AP world history.”
Gray said the idea for the new program began from discussions she had with Jason Elrite, who will teach the honors English 9 portion of the class. She said, “The inspiration for the class was a combination of the block class that Mr. Elrite taught in California and my own experiences in the AP U.S. history and AP American literature course while a student at CHS.”
The class was also added as a way to provide more opportunity to incoming freshmen who want to be challenged more academically and as preparation for other advanced courses, like IB or AP classes. According to Gibson, another benefit of taking the new class would be meeting and interacting with other students who might eventually choose the IB program.
Harmas said, “So many students at CHS have the ability to achieve at such a high level, and the staff at CHS is committed to making sure that the needs of each student at the appropriate level. By offering courses of different rigor to students, students and parents are able to select the course that best meets the needs of each student. Only one AP course is currently offered to incoming freshmen; by expanding those offerings, we hope to meet the needs of more students.”
With more challenging courses made available for incoming freshmen, there is a fear that the work will be too difficult. According to stressfocus.com, around one third of teenagers suffer from at least one stress episode each week. Among the most common causes of stress are new demands in school, as well as changing schools, which would be part of the transition from middle school to high school. Aaron Scott, a current eighth grader at Carmel Middle School, said, “I just think IB sounds really hard. And you’d have to be like an honors student where I am now to do well in it.”
Gibson said that a student’s success in the class will depend on his learning style. Gibson said, “I don’t know how difficult it would be, it’s only a pre-requisite. But it’s a new style of learning, and it might be hard for freshmen to handle.”
However, as the IB program is known for its rigorous academic demands, Gray said the IB block class is designed to be challenging, but also manageable.
“The new pre-IB block class is designed to challenge freshmen at an appropriate level. We understand that this class will be challenging, but we are dedicated to helping our students develop the skills that they need to be successful in our class, along with future IB or honors courses,” Gray said. “Will it be challenging? Yes. Will it be unreasonable for honors level freshmen? No.”
Harmas agreed with Gray. “So many of our incoming freshmen are ready and willing to accept an academic challenge,” she said. “The block class will allow them to experience English and world history at an elevated level, just as the biology course will. The teachers who will facilitate these courses have experience teaching students of this age and are professionals who will engineer a course to expand students’ thinking, while still making the content manageable for others.”
And the curriculum is flexible. If the class is too much for freshmen students to manage as they begin their high school careers, Gray said changes will be made to the class. “Mr. Elrite and I are approaching this class as a work in progress, and we are hoping to adjust our expectations as the year continues. If we have problems as the class continues, we are ready and willing to make changes that will make it a better fit for students.”
Still, it is an IB class, and the IB program is made for students who make strong academic achievements. Enrollment in the program to earn the IB diploma faces competition from the more popular honors diploma.
But with the start and potential success of this class, the hope is that it will attract the attention of potential IB students and help the program grow.
“It’s a good way of learning,” Gibson said. “IB teaches you in a way that is more applicable to real life. It’s higher level learning, but it doesn’t focus on smaller details, like AP does. IB focuses on depth over breadth, while AP focuses on breadth instead.”
Harmas said, “The pre-IB classes will succeed because they fill an academic niche for students who are interested in IB as freshmen and want to know more, but historically haven’t been able to experience what IB is like until their junior year. This allows them to have an IB experience earlier in their high school career.”
Harmas said she sees this as a class that will continue in the future, with preliminary enrollment numbers supporting a continuance of the pre-IB block class. Gray said, “I hope we can create a strong curriculum that will succeed now and in the future.”