February 7, 2005
Aging Westwood High School in west Mesa is on its way to going global.
This fall, Mesa Unified School District’s oldest campus hopes to launch the third International Baccalaureate diploma program in the East Valley.
It will be one of only eight in Arizona.
Mesa administrators hope the college-level program will entice students to come from all over the district and throughout the East Valley — giving a boost to Westwood, which has faced declining enrollment in recent years as growth has shifted eastward.
"It’s about wanting to have kind of a flagship program, an excellent academic program at Westwood to enhance Westwood’s identity," said the school’s International Baccalaureate coordinator, Greg Good, who previously taught at Mountain View High School.
Before that, he was involved in an International Baccalaureate program in Phoenix.
YEARS OF PLANNING
District officials have worked closely with the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, for more than two years and are now awaiting final approval to offer the program.
Westwood now enrolls about 2,400 students but could handle as many as 2,800, Good said.
"We’ve grown out in our area," he said. "It’s not like some of the schools farther to the east that are constantly adding developments."
He said the program would bring students eager to take on one of the most challenging high school programs available.
The curriculum in the fastpaced International Baccalaureate program is comparable to taking Advanced Placement courses almost every school period. Students would take advanced classes in literature, math, world history, Spanish and music — all from a global perspective.
They would have one elective course, and could still take part in sports and club activities.
SCHOOL WITHIN A SCHOOL
Essentially, International Baccalaureate programs become a school within a school.
The Mesa district hopes to enroll 30 juniors and as many as 50 sophomores by August in Westwood’s International Baccalaureate and preparation programs.
Within the next few years the program could grow to 300 or 400 students overall.
Westwood is just one of many Arizona schools seeking to offer the program, which began in 1968 as an elite program for children who traveled worldwide with their parents.
Next in line in the East Valley is Cave Creek’s Cactus Shadows High School, which has already started the application process.
Curriculum is the same worldwide — so students can move to another nation and pick up where they left off.
Like many schools now applying to host an International Baccalaureate program, it began at Westwood with requests from parents.
"They were very knowledgable about it and went to the administration several years back asking about inquiring into the program," Good said.
He said that the location of the school made it prime for a magnet program: Being close to loops 101 and 202 and Chandler, Tempe and Gilbert.
"We’re interested in eventually having kids come to the program from throughout the East Valley," Good said.
Lynn Burnham, who was elected to the Mesa school board in November, was among the Westwood parents who began seeking the program about three years ago.
"I think that it would be good for Westwood," said Burnham, whose own ninth-grader is investigating whether to attend the program.
Carole Vandersteeg, International Baccalaureate site coordinator at Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain High School, said International Baccalaureate classes are comparable in difficulty to Advanced Placement courses.
However, she said International Baccalaureate classes have more of a global focus.
Monica Barrett, assistant principal of curriculum at Cactus Shadows, said a group of parents and students came to the Cave Creek Unified School District asking for either a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program or International Baccalaureate.
The school should make the transition easily, Barrett said, because the school already offers an honors matrix. Housing an International Baccalaureate program, however, will provide students with an opportunity for a more recognized diploma, she said.
Catherine Flesner, International Baccalaureate coordinator at Paradise Valley Unified School District’s North Canyon High School, has organized a meeting early this week to speak with Arizona universities about offering International Baccalaureate students more scholarship or college-credit opportunities.
COLLEGE CREDIT IN ARIZONA
Many International Baccalaureate students take Advanced Placement exams because some of their International Baccalaureate exams don’t qualify for college credit despite their high academic level, she said. That, in turn, can lead to many of the graduates attending out-of-state colleges that look more fondly at International Baccalaureate graduates.
"We lose some of our best and brightest to go out of state, and we have three fine institutions in state," Flesner said. "We want them to be decision-makers in our state. If you lose them to other colleges and universities, there is always a chance they won’t come back to Arizona."
Chandler High School International Baccalaureate student Neeraja Krishnaswamy, 17, said she knows several Mesa students who will jump at the chance of attending an International Baccalaureate program in their own district.
"I know people that I have talked to that would switch to Chandler for IB," she said.
Direct from Geneva
Origin: The International Baccalaureate Organization formed in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland. Today, colleges around the world recognize its diplomas.
Reach: As of last week, 1,462 schools in 119 countries offered the diploma program.
Curriculum: Two-year program includes college-level courses in English, foreign languages, economics, geography, history, science, mathematics and computer science. Students also study the arts and do community service. Students can take International Baccalaureate courses without earning an International Baccalaureate diploma.
Advanced Placement comparison
Advanced Placement course students may pick and choose from a wide range of subjects. They may take one or several advanced classes. The International Baccalaureate program offers a complete curriculum, also for college credit. The goal for many students is a special International Baccalaureate diploma from Geneva.
History in Arizona
Eight schools in Arizona will have International Baccalaureate programs this fall.
They debuted in the following order:
North Canyon High: Phoenix, 1991
Desert Mountain High: Scottsdale, 1998
For more information on the International Baccalaureate diploma program, visit www.ibo.org