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Program to prepare students for world

By Greg Gelpi

As the world grows smaller, students are no longer competing against other students down the street, but rather with students around the world, Lovejoy High School Principal Mike Duncan said.

Duncan and other school officials introduced the public to the International Baccalaureate program, a "rigorous" interdisciplinary program that internationalizes students through a two-year course of study.

"It's a global marketplace," Duncan said, and the first step to competing globally is to challenge students.

That challenge brought about 40 people to the informational meeting Tuesday night to discuss the program.

"I think it is wonderful because the (International Baccalaureate) program will be an asset to our children," Sadiria Wright, whose son is a freshman at North Clayton High School, said. "Not only will our kids be looked at locally, but they will be looked at internationally."

Wright said her son approached her about wanting more "rigor" and more challenge.

The program differs from Advanced Placement courses in that the International Baccalaureate program is a comprehensive bundle of classes that work together.

"In general, the International Baccalaureate is a program that offers a rigorous course of study," Linda Andrews, the school system's program coordinator, said of the program that will be offered at North Clayton and Lovejoy high schools starting in the fall.

"Highly motivated" students will earn "universal" diplomas, following course work that is uniform at other International Baccalaureate sites around the world, Andrews said. The students will also receive an "international understanding" of the world, four years of a foreign language and a course called the Theory of Knowledge, which demonstrates the interconnectedness of school subjects. In addition, students will be required to write a 4,000-word essay and complete 150 hours of "Creativity, Action Service," a mix of service work and outside activities.

In the fall, 42 freshman and 42 sophomore students at both schools will begin work to enter the International Baccalaureate program, and 42 freshman students will be added to each school each year following, she said.

Interested students will be required to fill out an application, write an essay and be interviewed, Andrews said. Students will be chosen from throughout the county and will be able to participate in extracurricular activities as traditional students.

The International Baccalaureate program is the "biggest initiative" by the school system to provide parents with choice, but is only one of many initiatives in the works, Sharon Brown, the school system's director of federal programs, said.

"We've got so many different kinds of choice," she said, explaining that the new choices will be different from the federally mandated choices for No Child Left Behind, which requires choices for students attending low-performing schools.

A School Choice Committee, consisting of students, school staff and members of the community, will be convening to consider other magnet programs, Brown said. One such program is planned for the county's newest middle school, Sequoyah Middle School, which is scheduled to open in August.

"Right now one of our big pushes is to make Sequoyah Middle School a math and science school," Brown said.

All seventh-graders will take pre-algebra, and all eighth-graders will take Algebra I, she said.

Other magnet programs are also being considered, she said.

Although some principals fear that magnet schools will "drain" students of particular interests from schools, Brown said that the school systems Clayton is modeling haven't had that problem.