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Newbury Park High Boasts a Few World Class Students

Education: Ten graduate from an international honors program and also receive some early college credits.

July 13, 1998|JOEL P. ENGARDIO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THOUSAND OAKS — When Newbury Park High School teacher Marcine Solarez put a batch of exams in the mail for grading in Jakarta in May, she was worried more about postage than Indonesian civil unrest.

"The day after I mailed them, I turned on the news and thought, 'Oh, no!' " Solarez said. "But we got the scores back just fine."

The English teacher has sent her students' work to educators from Denmark to Hong Kong for grading. So goes the global classroom at Newbury Park, which graduated its first group of International Baccalaureate students this year.

The two-year program for juniors and seniors--known as IB--is an intensive honors curriculum that offers students the chance to receive college credit and an additional diploma upon graduating from high school.

Ten graduating seniors at Newbury Park received the IB diploma this year, which Solarez said puts them in a "very elite group."

"They have earned the distinction of being measured against the top students from around the world," said Solarez, who coordinates the IB program locally.

Although similar to the Advanced Placement classes offered by many high schools, which also grant college credit, the IB program goes a step further by creating a core curriculum that integrates what is taught in each class.

"IB is more analytical and deeper than the AP style of memorizing facts," Solarez said. "The measure of a good thinker is someone who is able to evaluate, understand and compare, rather than just spit back facts."

After taking English, history, math, science and foreign language courses, IB students are required to complete a "Theory of Knowledge" class and write a 4,000-word essay on their education experience.

"How does the knowledge of math tie into the knowledge of a poet? What does it mean to know? How does art fit into truth? IB gets into things kids normally talk about in college, but not in high school," Solarez said. "For teachers, this is some of the best curriculum we've ever seen."

The IB program emphasizes international learning, where member schools share in each other's cultures and grade each other's tests.

"From the novels to plays we read, our students are much more broadly exposed to the international writing scene than they would in a traditional high school class," Solarez said. "As for history, we study not just America, but the Americas--Canada, Mexico and South America."

Since beginning in 1965 in Geneva, Switzerland, IB has grown to more than 700 schools worldwide. Nearly 250 are in the United States, with 37 IB schools in California--the most of any state. Newbury Park is the only one in Ventura County, though Simi Valley's Santa Susana High School plans to start an IB program.

Ian Lebby, a Newbury Park and IB graduate, plans to attend UC Berkeley this fall and major in history and psychology. Through the program, Lebby was able to take classes like 20th century world history in addition to higher math classes like analysis and calculus.

"I feel totally prepared for college," Lebby said. "It was a lot of hard work, but we learned the whole stress-time management thing. We know how to study and where our limits are."

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Despite the rigors of IB, students have a choice in how much study they will subject themselves to. There are two tracks, an IB diploma or certificate.

To obtain a full diploma, students must complete six classes. A certificate lets students take a sampling of one to three classes. At Newbury Park, 10 students were awarded diplomas and 20 received certificates. Only one student dropped out of the diploma track.

"That's the beauty of IB--it lets students participate at a level they feel comfortable [with]," Solarez said.

Lebby, who in addition to receiving an IB diploma was also named Newbury Park's valedictorian, did well on his IB exams. Each IB student must complete a battery of tests at the end of the senior year to assess how much they retained after two years of classes.

On a scale of 1 to 7, Lebby scored a perfect 7 in math and a 6 in chemistry, English and Spanish. He received a 5 in history and a 4 in psychology.

"It's nice to know all the hard work paid off," Lebby said.

Indeed, he could receive up to eight college credits for each upper level IB exam with a score of 5 or better. The University of California system will grant college credit with an exam score of 5, while other colleges, like Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, will consider a 4.

It's a prospect that makes parents happy, too.

"Parents care because they end up saving money," Solarez said. "When UCLA costs $16,000 the first year, it's kind of nice if you can save a third of that."

Lebby's mother, Anita, agreed.

"It was a fabulous education, which gave Ian an incredible thirst for knowledge. He was never really into it for the credit," Anita Lebby said. "Of course, all I can think about are the dollar signs and how much we'll save."

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