BELFAST — The Advanced Placement program has been a staple of American high schools since the 1950s. The AP program was a response to Cold War concerns that American students were falling behind.

AP courses and exams also promised a route to prestigious colleges and universities for high-achieving students. Equity and diversity concerns have led the AP program to expand access and, today, a record number of high school students take AP exams.

One Belfast Area High School administrator is proposing another path for high-achieving high school students. This path is fast-growing, well-respected and comes with global connections.

The International Baccalaureate program is nearly as old as the AP program. Registered as a nonprofit organization in Switzerland in 1971, its core concepts have been taught since the late 1950s.

As of November 2022, there are now over 7,500 IB programs being offered worldwide at 5,500 schools in 160 countries.

“It’s really caught on in the last 20-30 years here in the U.S.,” said Belfast Area High School Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Matt Battani. “Now there are 2,700 U.S. schools that are IB schools. If you go to the top world colleges or go around from city to city to see the top private schools, they are almost all IB schools.”

The IB program includes four different program models. The diploma program requires students to take academically rigorous coursework, complete creativity, service and activity components, and to learn the theory of knowledge. The diploma program usually concludes with an extended essay that the student must research and author.

The IB program also offers a career-related program that is similar to the diploma program, but includes career-related studies without the extended essay piece. These programs are designed to accommodate students in their last two years of high school, like the AP program.

At present BAHS and Regional School Unit 71 have implemented the creativity, activity and service component into the philosophy with an eye toward becoming an IB school candidate.

“The idea is to build empathy through service and emotional intelligence,” Battani said. “We ask our students, as all IB schools do, to pick a creative pursuit that goes beyond the classroom, pick an active pursuit that goes beyond the classroom, and pick a service pursuit that goes beyond the classroom. We’re not giving them money, or a grade. It’s a core tenant of IB schools all over the world, and it seemed to fit here. We started doing it last year.”

Battani notes that the BAHS and RSU 71 administrative teams have agreed to pursue IB school candidacy, a process that will take a few years.

The process of applying for candidacy has already started. If approved, BAHS would be a candidate school for a year, spend a year at the authorization phase and, if authorized, begin offering full IB courses in the third year.

The IB curriculum is created by teachers and gives educators latitude in designing their classes. Teachers can connect with stakeholders (e.g., students, parents, colleagues, local leaders) to design what and how to study the subject matter.

Both programs offer college credit for certain courses. The AP classes tend to look at an issue from multiple perspectives, where the IB program takes more of a global approach, looking at an issue over time and how it impacts parts of the world.

Battani has experience with the IB program. He has worked at IB schools internationally in Italy, Germany and Hong Kong. He notes the curriculum and support received from the IB program is extensive and consistent. Battani also believes the resources are already in place for BAHS to become an IB school. He adds that the IB program offers significant professional development for educators.

“It’s a beautiful system,” said Battani of the IB program. “Let’s say you’re a carpenter. You can give someone wood, nails and a hammer and they can figure out how to build something. Or you can send them to professional development to teach them how to be a master builder. The IB program offers professional development that will turn our teachers into master curriculum developers.”