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Park High School approved for International Baccalaureate program

Park High School Principal Efe Agbamu is excited to move ahead with her dream to have the International Baccalaureate program at the school.

When it was announced in classes that the school had been approved, not all the students understood what it meant, Agbamu said, but they heard the excitement in her voice. Teachers took time to explain, she said.

"Rarely, does a school get approval in two years," she said, crediting teachers and International Baccalaureate coordinator Aaron Pozzini for much hard work.

Randy Zipf, district superintendent for secondary education, told the school board of the acceptance at the Dec. 17 board meeting.

He said there was a backup plan in place in case Park was not accepted but is relieved that International Baccalaureate classes can be offered when students begin registration after winter vacation.

What is IB?

International Baccalaureate allows students who commit to complete the program in their junior and senior years to earn up to a year's worth of college credits that are accepted by many universities, including the University of Minnesota, according to the International Baccalaureate Web site at

The college-preparatory curriculum, equal or superior to those offered in private schools, according to Agbamu, has six subject areas including English, foreign language, social studies, science, mathematics and computer science, experimental science and the arts.

To be granted an International Baccalaureate diploma, students must write an essay of up to 4,000 words on a topic of individual interest, acquainting them with independent research and writing skills expected at a university level, according to the Web site.

In addition to passing exams in International Baccalaureate subjects, they must also complete a 100-hour course in theory of knowledge. The course is designed to teach critical thinking. Students must write a 1,200- to 1,600-word essay.

There is a community service element included in International Baccalaureate that also includes physical and sports activities.

Learning a foreign language is an important part of the International Baccalaureate program. Students literate in a second language speak better English as a consequence, according to Agbamu, because they have a deeper understanding of its structure.

"This will help Park graduates be successful wherever they decide to go," Agbamu said. "We need to compete internationally. Students need to go beyond their environment and become citizens of the world."

Students who don't commit to completing the program will benefit by taking International Baccalaureate classes. "The experience is priceless," she said.

Two of the three school counselors are IB trained and will be encouraging students doing well in school to take IB classes.

Completing IB classes will help students be accepted to college, she said.

Approval comes after an application process that included re-writing curriculums and teacher training.

Approximately 30 teachers have attended International Baccalaureate.

To be accepted into the program, Park wrote an in-depth analysis of its philosophy and curriculum and identified the resources to deliver it.

Writing the 250-page document was like starting a new school, Agbamu said.

The application process and staff training cost was partially paid for by the Office of Equity and Integration.

An International Baccalaureate delegation visited and evaluated the school this fall.

They interviewed staff members and school and district administrators, she said, because they want assurance that the district has a long commitment to the program.

Taking advantage of program

Agbamu said she will be meeting with middle school administrators so students can begin to prepare to enter International Baccalaureate when they get to high school.

According to a transfer policy approved by the school board Dec. 17, students from Woodbury and East Ridge high schools can apply to transfer to Park to take advantage of the program.

If approved, they can apply to the Minnesota State High School League for permission to play varsity sports without having to sit out for one year, according to the policy.

Other districts that have International Baccalaureate high schools, and some with K-12 programs of study, include Robbinsdale, Champlin, Anoka-Hennepin, Brooklyn Park and Fridley. South St. Paul has had the program for 20 years, said Agbamu, who administered an International Baccalaureate program at Highland Park High School before coming to Park.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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