Sealth to offer new diploma
The Chief Sealth High School class of 2009 will be able to start their college careers as sophomores at universities across the country and internationally if they successfully complete the two year International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, scheduled to start in 2007.
The International Baccalaureate Program is integrated high school college preparatory curriculum created 37 years ago as a common university entrance credential with concentration on diversity and culture, according to the organization. A large focus will be on an international perspective, said John Boyd, principal of Chief Sealth.
Because there are no test-in requirements, there are different options for different levels of learners and interests. Students are expected to pass six exams to earn the diploma credit. The subjects include one literature course in the student's native language, a foreign language, a social science, an experimental science, mathematics and an arts course. A 4,000-word research essay, completion of the Theory of Knowledge (world philosophies) course and participation in creativity, action and service activities are also required.
Those who want a less rigorous course of study can take two or more classes in one area to earn certificate credit that also transfers to universities.
"The action and service piece really promotes well-rounded people," said Molly Seaverns, a West Seattle parent. "The program is not just for the valedictorian. They want people who have found ways to give back to their community."
The program accreditation process takes two years, and the early application phases for the program are already under way. The school expects to turn in an application for acceptance in June, said Boyd.
In the meantime, Sealth will be challenged to meet the intensity and commitment of the program, which requires rigorous teacher training to develop new curriculum and meeting the program's level of standards for facilities and equipment, said Laura Robb, the International Baccalaureate program coordinator for Sealth.
"It's a huge commitment on behalf of the teachers, and a scary step for them to take," she said. "But the standards are immutable across the country."
Last year, a community group formed in support of the program and held a meeting that more than 200 West Seattle families joined. Sealth staff began looking into the program and visited local schools, such as Ingraham High School where the program has been successfully implemented.
"Ingraham High School went from a last choice school to a first choice school since the program, and the student body has grown substantially," said Seaverns, adding the same could happen for Sealth.
"People have been very enthusiastic about it," said Irene Stewart, West Seattle's school board member.
After some panel discussions, an article in the school newspaper and student polling, the students seemed generally excited about the program too, said Boyd.
Seaverns' fourth and seventh grade children attend schools outside of West Seattle, but she is looking forward to their future at Sealth.
"This program will change the tenor of the school and provide scaffolding to meet the academic demands, really connecting the students to learning," she said. "And it teaches students to think critically, which will make them more successful in life."
As a school that has been recognized to have an achievement gap among the ethnicities of the student body, Sealth hopes the new program will turn things around by including all students in the program, no matter what their prior academic history, said Boyd.
"Sealth is a very diverse school, both economically and ethnically," said Robb. "We are very protective of that. We believe the IB program will only work if it is inclusive of all students. We want to make sure that happens or else we won't feel that it is successful."
To reduce the achievement gap, this designation allows added resources and funds for additional training to work with nearby middle and elementary schools to coordinate curriculum with Sealth. Boyd hopes this, in conjunction with the new program, will reduce the gap.
"This could help us recruit more neighborhood students who we are losing to other schools," said Boyd. "We really want to become a community school. It's also giving us an opportunity to reach back to Denny and keep the communication open between the schools to prepare our younger students. We want to be intentional that students are not repeating the same kinds of skills."
The organization offers middle and primary school programs meant to form a continuous sequence, but each may be offered independently.
But first, Sealth must be accepted to the program.
"A whole host of things are involved with the application process," said Boyd, including site visits to ensure science rooms, texts and library materials are up to date.
Though the diploma program is designated for junior and senior students, Sealth will also train ninth and tenth grade teachers in alignment with the program, said Boyd.
Seattle Public Schools will provide $50,000 each year for the next five years, said Robb. But because most of the money will be consumed in training and the coordinator's salary, a steering committee, formed by Seaverns and other parents, has raised more than $22,000 to balance other program needs.
The money will be used to train as many teachers as possible and to ensure the school has strong academic support programming, said Seaverns.
"Parents are looking ahead at what this program can offer their children," said Stewart. "It's about caring and investing in your community."
Boyd called fundraising for any school program "important to success."
"We would love to see all of the students involved in the program," said Stewart. "I have no reason to think that every one of them couldn't succeed."
Stewart said the program could spread to other Seattle schools, but so far their only plan is to be successful with the program at Sealth.
Sealth would be the second school in Seattle to employ the International Baccalaureate Programme, which is offered in 2,000 schools in 122 countries at state, public, private and international schools, including 13 Washington high schools. Visit http://www.ibo.org/ for more information.
Rebekah Schilperoort can be reached at 932.0300 or firstname.lastname@example.org