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Students say IB diploma tough, but didn't take over lives

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Sarah Seabrook's parents let her decide to enter Decatur High School's fledgling International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, but they were beginning to wonder if she made the right decision.

"Honestly, we thought maybe she made a mistake after the first week or two," said mom Lisa Seabrook.

Sarah, a junior, and Austin High junior Ashley Gholston said Wednesday that beginning the program has been the most difficult part of their first semester, but they feel that joining it was a good decision.

"In the beginning, it's pretty overwhelming," Ashley said.

They spoke to city teachers at an in-service assembly at Decatur High's auditorium. Austin and Decatur high schools became official IB Diploma schools in May and began the programs in August.

"Some call us 'guinea pig,' " Sarah said. "I choose to think we're more like pioneers."

Many students and parents fear IB will take over students' lives, forcing them to study constantly, with no time for extracurricular activities or friends. That fear has kept enrollment low. Decatur has just nine IB students, while Austin has only four.

The two students said that fear has proved unfounded, for the most part. Both are active in school. Sarah is a varsity cheerleader, which requires cheering at least two nights a week from 6 until 9 or 9:30.

Sarah said she usually takes a 30-minute break after school, then studies for a couple of hours until dinner with the family. If necessary, she'll study more until bedtime.

"There's not much time to watch 'American Idol,' " she said. She records her favorite shows like "One Tree Hill" and "America's Next Top Model" so she can watch them on weekends.

Ashley, a former cheerleader who is active in Key Club, Junior Civitan and other clubs, said taking a "zero-hour" class at 6:50 a.m. is turning her into a morning person, but it helps that she gets out of class at 2 p.m. Both girls said they study between three and five hours a night.

"Sometimes I have to study a little more when there's a big test or lab report due," Ashley said.

Sarah said she doesn't think IB students study more than other honors students taking Advanced Placement classes. Her class load might force her to miss going out to dinner with friends on a weeknight, but she rarely has weekend homework, so she has plenty of time for friends then.

"The junior year is always difficult because the homework doubles," Sarah said.

She said IB requires a different kind of learning. While an AP class might require students to memorize information and then answer 30 sometimes repetitive questions, IB might require students to go into more depth on two or three questions, she said.

"There are more application problems than memorization problems," Sarah said.

When considering whether to take the IB Diploma Program in 11th and 12th grades, Lisa Seabrook advises parents to let their child make the final decision because the program isn't for everyone. She said Sarah does well because she is a highly motivated student who doesn't have to be reminded to study, do her homework and make good grades.

Sarah has a middle-school age brother, but Mom isn't sure yet if the IB Diploma will be right for him when he reaches high school.

"As a parent, if you have to worry about your student keeping up with school, then this program is probably not the right choice," Lisa Seabrook said.

She compares IB Diploma Program to a top athlete participating in travel ball.

"If your child is good at sports, then you want him perform at the highest level and face the best competition," she said. "So, if your child is good academically and highly motivated, you want them challenged in a program like IB."

Both students said they're already seeing the benefits of the IB program. They got a tour and lunch with The University of Alabama President Robert Witt in the fall, and they'll tour UAB this semester. Several universities are already actively recruiting the IB Diploma students.

Ashley said she likes that she is taking biology, anatomy and physiology classes that will help in her chosen major, pediatric sports medicine. And her extracurricular activities are service-oriented, making it easier for her to fulfill IB's service requirement.

"It's hard and a lot of work, but it'll pay off in the long run," Ashley said. "And I still have a life outside of school."

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