Guest column: Oakland County school helps students thrive in IB curriculum

By Joan Stelzer

More than 300 Oakland County high school seniors at the International Academy in Bloomfield Hills recently passed a key milestone when their 4,000-word essays electronically flew to evaluators around the world.

Taking six months to research and write, each extended essay was an investigation into a topic never before published. It is one of the many unique requirements in the school’s International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Today, with almost 1,350 students, International Academy is the largest IB high school in the United States and the third-largest in the world, according to the International Baccalaureate Organization, the nonprofit organization that created the IB.

From many districts across Oakland County, students attend this tuition-free public school at one of three campuses. The centrally located IA-Okma campus draws students from more than 10 neighboring school districts. IA-East, in Troy, serves students from as far away as Detroit. IA-West is in Huron Valley.

Bridge: Global schooling for a smaller world

Joan Stelzer is the parent of two students at the International Academy’s Okma Campus. She is a graduate of University of Michigan and Western Michigan University.

The curriculum for the IB Diploma Program comes from the IBO’s worldwide network and is well-known overseas. The IA therefore attracts students who want to be part of an international environment and follow strict requirements -- such as four years of intensive study of a second language.

A number of other area schools recently added the IB curriculum as an option, according to Lynne Gibson, IA’s principal. “But the IA remains different from most of them because 100 percent of our resources is devoted to implementing the IB mission,” she said.

Many statistics suggest how IA’s focus on only the IB helps students achieve academically. One is US News & World Report’s 2012 “college readiness” ranking of US public high schools. IA is No. 5 out of the 22,000 examined.

Even among IB schools, the IA excels. At least 92 percent of IA graduates also earn IB diplomas every year for passing the IBO’s standardized, cumulative final exams and other tasks like the essay. North America’s average overall is 70 percent.

In addition to the sole focus on the IB mission, using multiple, small campuses enables the school to nurture strong academic roots throughout the culture, Andy Levin points out. He said his son “loves that there is no social pressure to slack off or not do your homework.”

Camaraderie also distinguishes IA’s student body. Tricia Meade, of Birmingham, said “My boys felt at home at IA right away. Bullying is pretty much non-existent and kids enjoy individual differences.”

When it comes to college preparation, Avinaash Kalidindi, an IA senior from Auburn Hills, said that his 4,000-word essay was a lesson in time-management. “We will write essays every week in college,” he predicted. “The process we learned will make them a lot easier and less time-consuming.”

With the essay experience, plus other IB program requirements, a large percentage of IA graduates enters prestigious college programs every year. About 80 percent of each IA class receives University of Michigan acceptance, for example.

Once immersed in their college classes, students often write to their former IA teachers to report transitioning to the demands of college has been easier for them than for those around them, according to Gibson.

“I have no doubt they will be prepared for college,” said Christy Wellens, about her two IA students from Oxford.

“I experienced other privately-run international schools outside of the U.S. with the same IB program,” Marion Wehner, Rochester Hills, said. “I am amazed about the quality of education the IA offers -- without the budget of a private international school.”

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