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Students embrace advanced programs

Students at Pueblo West High School are exploring a world of opportunities now that International Baccalaureate classes are available to upperclassmen without the requirement to be enrolled in the complete IB diploma program.

Students can choose as many courses as they want to take of IB, freeing up the schedule for some students who want to pursue other offerings or giving students the availability to take advanced courses in their favorite subjects.

“The kids are loving it,” said Rachelle Eastep, IB coordinator for Pueblo West High School.

“With the full diploma program, you take six accelerated courses, plus the Theory of Knowledge, the CAS (Community, Action and Service) and the extended essay … it’s the ultimate education, but it’s more than some students want.”

Students can choose to take one or more IB courses, and if enrolling in individual courses (not the diploma program as a whole), they must also take the test.

The tests are $250 each, but a passing grade on a test can mean as many as six college credits, so the cost is well worth it.

“But beyond that, it’s just the thinking. The phenomenal international mindedness of the courses. The IB coursework is phenomenal in everything,” Eastep said.

“These are not courses where kids are filling in the blanks and memorizing answers. They think and analyze and use critical thinking skills to pass exams.”

Eastep said she’s learned that most colleges recognize the same IB courses as they do AP courses.

For any student who knows where they’d like to go to school, she can look it up to find out what kind of credit the student would receive per course.

“When I sit down with kids now, I’m asking them about careers and universities,” Eastep said.

“They know they need to start thinking about coursework to prepare themselves to get where they want to go. These kids can do anything they want to do. We come in and make a plan.”

Eastep said, in fact, several incoming freshman this year mapped out their plan of courses for their entire high school career.

They can make adjustments along the way if the want or need, but it sets them on the right path to achieve their dreams and goals, she said.

“We’ve got kids with big goals!” she said.

“One of our graduates last year that earned a diploma is at Rice University. One got accepted to Tulane, and is getting $30,000 a year in scholarship money, renewable for four years! She’s done the hard work in high school and now it’s starting to pay off.”

This year there are eight seniors and nine juniors enrolled in the complete IB diploma program, but there are 27 seniors and 35 juniors taking some kind of IB coursework.

“Most schools offer the individual courses like this,” Eastep said.

“Originally started off trying to make AP its own thing and therefore IB its own program, but we have so many kids that want to take some classes that it made sense to offer whatever kids want to take to those individual kids.”

The one IB course that only available to diploma program students only is the Theory of Knowledge class, something Eastep said “everybody wants to take,” that it can’t be opened to general enrollment.

Eastep said she’s pleased to see so many students involved in the IB program, whether it’s one, four or all courses.

“I’m just thrilled that they’re pushing themselves to that level,” she said.

“It’s nice to see that these kids are out there and going for it. Every kid has to find what’s right for them, and if they’re happy and healthy they have my full support, whether it’s one rigorous course or all of them.”

There are three new IB courses available this year — visual art, environmental systems and societies and physics.

In the visual art course, students not only produce art, but have to know about art history and techniques as well.

“They know their art and when you read what they wrote about their pieces, you know they studied it,” Eastep said.

“This looks like professional artist stuff. And this class is so unique because there is no ‘sit down and take a test.’ They literally put on an art show that is videoed and sent to IB graders.”

The environmental systems and societies course is a trans disciplinary class between social studies and science.

“It is described by the instructor as the “softer science” that explores things like environmental issues in the world and how they affect our existence and the global economy, etc.

“We have a total of 20 different IB courses now,” Eastep said.

“There are so many incredible paths at this school. It’s a phenomenal place for a kid to get an education and find their niche.”

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