CPS expanding successful international diploma program

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announce expanding access to high-quality education thru 10 new International Baccalaureate Diploma programs placed in Chicago high schools. The announcement was made at Currie High School 4959 S. Archer. Friday, March 23, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools will double the size of its International Baccalaureate diploma program – and devote five neighborhood high schools exclusively to that curriculum – to prepare as many as 3,500 more students for college.

Two days after a University of Chicago study touted IB programs for their success in inner-city neighborhoods, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a dramatic expansion of the rigorous college readiness curriculum currently confined to 13 high schools and 3,500 students.

Five neighborhood high schools – one in each region – will offer IB programs exclusively. Five additional high schools – also-one-per-region – will offer the IB curriculum in conjunction with more traditional curriculum.

“A program that was designed once just for the children of diplomats will now make sure that the children of Chicago are college diploma-ready,” the mayor told a news conference at Curie High School, 4959 S. Archer, flanked by IB students.

“I want parents to know now we’re planning for the future so, as they sit around the kitchen table and their child is in fifth-grade [or] sixth-grade, they don’t head for the doors for the suburbs. They know they’re gonna have an option here in Chicago.”

The Chicago IB program that’s been stuck in place since 1995 selects students based on several factors and weeds out those unlikely to succeed. That will not be the case for the five new exclusive IB schools.

“The current programs within schools have a filter. … There is an interview. You look at the ISAT scores, teacher grades, etc. The wall-to-wall schools will accept any student in the neighborhood who wants to make a commitment to the program. … The wall-to-walls will not look to filter students out,” said Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

The decision to take all comers did not well with Sharyl Barnes, beloved coordinator of the IB program at Curie High School.

Barnes said a program that requires juniors and seniors to take seven university classes needs to weed out those who can’t cut it or risk setting kids up for failure and losing them when they do.

“We want them to be successful and we want students who are ready to work hard. … It’s six-to-seven hours of homework-a-night for juniors and seniors,” Barnes said.

“Any expansion needs to be well thought out.”

The University of Chicago study showed that IB students are 40 percent more prepared to attend a four-year college, 50 percent more likely to get into a selective college and significantly more likely to stay in college for at least two years.

That impressive track record is no surprise to the IB students at Curie.

Senior Juana Villalpando said the six hours of homework she does each night has already paid off – with a $70,000 merit scholarship to the Illinois Institute of Technology.

“I’m a cheerleader at Curie, so I have to stay after school at practice. I’m also in student council. I basically don’t sleep. I sacrifice a lot of sleep. But, it’s so worth it,” said Villalpando, who will be the first member of her family to go to college.

Diego Frias, a 2011 Curie IB graduate who’s now a freshman studying biology at the University of Illinois, said the IB curriculum taught him how to write, think and manage his time. The 150 hours of mandatory “creativity, action and service” taught him tolerance and commitment.

“We get the same workload – if not even less workload – than IB. That’s a good thing. I’m not gonna lie. The essays are really a breeze,” Frias said.

“We had to do 10-page papers, 15-page papers. We were really used to all the stress. In college, I go into my history class and I only have to write two papers for the semester. Looking back at my senior year, I had to write like ten papers. I aced those [college] papers because IB also helps you develop your writing skills tremendously.”

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