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YHS juniors enrolled in IB World Religions (photos: Luci Montoya)

Yosemite High School’s IB Program: It’s About Opportunity

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IB Biology students doing field work.

OAKHURST — Among the many seeds of academic excellence at Yosemite High School is the International Baccalaureate program, known as IB. It’s a rigorous undertaking designed for junior and senior students with both a desire and the required commitment to expand their base of knowledge beyond the borders of YHS before they ever leave it.

Founded in 1968, the International Baccalaureate is a non-profit educational foundation offering international education designed to develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world. Schools must be authorized by the IB organization to offer the program, and undergo periodic evaluation to maintain their coveted IB status. Students may follow a path that offers a full IB Diploma on graduation, or participate in as few or many classes as they wish. Yosemite High School has offered the program for about 25 years.

The mission of IB is to “develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect,” explains IB English instructor and advocate Matt Skeahan. “The opportunity for students from a small, rural community, who often do not get firsthand experience of multiple perspectives,  to be exposed to this international approach is invaluable.”

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The bio experiment is about whether two certain species correlate with each other positively or negatively, i.e. blackberry bushes and river beds.

According to Counselor and IB Coordinator Stephanie Samuels, 180 students are currently enrolled in at least one IB class at YHS this year. The classes include English Literature (Skeahan), Biology (Calderwood), History of the Americas (Hardison), World Religions (Hardison), Spanish (Browning), Art (Higgins) and Math Studies (Mello).

“The IB has a hard-earned reputation for high standards of teaching, leadership and student achievement,” says Samuels. “From my perspective, the greatest advantage of taking IB classes is the preparation students receive. They will be ready for college after taking IB! We hear that over and over again from our alumni.”

In fact, one of the advantages of the accelerated program is that students may receive college credit in several forms.

“Some get general education units toward graduation, others benefit by receiving units and waiving college writing and/or math classes,” Skeahan points out.

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IB Biology is led by Carole Calderwood.

“We’ve actually had some full IB students enter college with sophomore standing, as they received enough units to fulfill their entire first year’s requirements. I’ve also had several students tell me they are the ‘go to’ person in their dorms when writing essays, as they are far better prepared for college writing than most incoming freshmen.”

The extra credit toward college is a draw, but the real beauty in the IB program lies in the love of learning for the sake of learning. Skeahan says many full IB Diploma grads have come back after spending time in college to talk with current juniors and seniors, and that’s what they appreciate most.

“The majority of them would tell the students who were considering doing full IB to do it, not for advantages concerning college, but simply for themselves, for their betterment and the sense of accomplishment. I find that to be a great example of how IB allows student to take control of their education.”

Students enrolled in any accelerated class, including IB, are steering their own ship, often having already surpassed their guardians when it comes to quality of education and the tools they’re afforded therein. Take IB Art, for example.

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Jerico Garcellano loves working with quality materials.

“My favorite thing in IB Art is creating,” says Jerico Garcellano. “The most valuable thing in the class is having the opportunity to paint or draw with supplies provided. It’s great not having to pay for paint and canvases and brushes. I love creating new things and I think what’s better than creating art is that art is now creating me.”

New this year at YHS is IB World Religions, taught by Rebecca Hardison, which helps to illustrate how the IB program benefits not just the full diploma candidates but the school as a whole.

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Katie Thompson, drawing a skull, is enrolled in IB Art.

“There are as many students enrolled in this course as there are in the college prep Social Science classes,” notes Skeahan. “Most of these students will not be testing in the IB subject, but will have direct exposure to what the program has to offer. In a way it’s equivalent to having multiple extracurricular programs for students to try.”

Luci Montoya is a full IB candidate who helped with this story by taking photographs of IB classes and talking with students about the program. For Luci, the best part about IB World Religions is the opportunity to learn about religions from around the world, and being allowed to be a part of a new class and a new experience.

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In IB World Religion students were cutting up Judaic scriptures and organizing them into the three fundamental questions (where are we going, how do we get there, and what is the human condition?).

On a personal note, this writer’s daughter graduated from Yosemite High School with a full IB Diploma in 2016. Clara Briley worked really hard in high school, and not just for the two years she was enrolled in IB, which starts formally in junior year.

Students must have their eyes on the IB path early, to have had the right courses leading up to it, starting as soon as 8th grade. That means the middle schools must continue to support the program in order for kids to be prepared when they get to YHS. There’s no doubt they are prepared for college when they graduate, thanks to the program and its teachers, and the administration that supports it all.

Clara Briley is now a Biochemistry major at Cal Poly SLO, enrolled in the Honors program, and a recipient of the Frost Scholarship.

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IB Spanish class celebrating Mexican Independence Day.

“I was given credit for all of my IB classes,” Clara says, since she scored well in the final testing required to receive the diploma. In Clara’s case, that was for English, Bio, and History.

“I don’t have to take entry level courses for any of those three, essentially allowing me to go in with an additional 12 credits more than someone who did not do IB/AP/college courses before their first year of college. Meaning, I am basically a quarter ahead of some other kids.”

Clara concurs that the best parts of the IB program at YHS are apart from the credits, entirely. Just a few weeks into university, she’s feeling like her efforts paid off.

“I have found that I perform better in school when I am busy and pressed for time,” she texted between classes. “It doesn’t allow me to believe that I can slack off and not do my work, which keeps me on top of things. IB helped with this. The fact that it integrated other cultures’ beliefs and values into the education was a really great and fascinating aspect of the program for me.”

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IB English students learn to Columbian cumbia dance.

College is very fast paced, Clara continues, saying that accelerated courses in high school will help students adjust more easily to university life.

“Because of the IB program I feel better equipped in my writing and thinking processes and, for the classes I have to retake because I tested out in standard level, such as psychology, it’s a nice quarter of review and basically an easy A. For me as a biochem major, that is very nice because all of my other courses are difficult.”

The classes are challenging for IB students, and so is the pace, and the teachers work equally hard to keep the program going. Skeahan explains that IB teachers need current training to comply with IB program requirements, and administration must juggle time and moneys to provide financial and managerial support.

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Best friends Clara Briley and Allie Donnell, YHS Class of 2016. Clara is sporting her IB tassle (photo credit Steve Montalto, HighMountain Images)

“Students need to be self-motivated and willing to take charge of their own education,” he says, adding that the rewards are great. “For me, it’s teaching awesome people at a point in their life when they truly begin to discover their potential.”

Yosemite High School

YHS senior and IB Diploma candidate Luci Montoya contributed to this article.

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