Students across the state are gearing up for a new school year, but one group at Sandia High has a particularly rigorous schedule ahead.
Those 26 juniors and seniors are enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, which offers challenging coursework focused on critical thinking and college preparation.
Monday was a busy day for area children overall, as it was the first day of school for Albuquerque Public Schools.
Sandia High is among a handful of New Mexico schools that offer the IB program and the only one in the APS district.
Launched 49 years ago in Switzerland, the IB diploma is currently granted in 3,104 schools across 147 countries. The International Baccalaureate, a nonprofit educational foundation, also provides programs for pre-K, elementary and middle school students.
Seventeen-year-old Mikhaela Barnes said she is glad she signed up.
“It’s a private school education for free,” Barnes said.
The aspiring fashion designer described Sandia’s IB students as tight-knit and highly motivated.
On Monday, Barnes sat next to her friends Sydney Nesbit, a future environmental health specialist, and Tessa Dallo, an aspiring radiologist.
The three are all considering their college options, including demanding private schools like Vanderbilt and the University of Denver.
Ann Goswick, Sandia High’s IB coordinator, said students in the program are often accepted into top institutions – and they thrive when they get there.
“College isn’t a culture shock for these kids,” Goswick said. “They are taking school seriously. … They’re very engaged.”
Sandia High administrators are hoping more students will take advantage of IB thanks to a new effort to pre-enroll freshmen. This year, 80 freshmen are on track to enter the IB program when they are juniors.
Within the next three years, Principal Larry D’Anza would like to have 50 juniors and 50 seniors in IB, and more sophomores and freshmen prepared to enroll.
“Our goal is to create a school within a school,” D’Anza said.
The program has the support of Mayor Richard Berry and the city, which provided a $115,000 check in 2013, when Sandia High launched the IB diploma.
The city continues to help cover IB test and application fees, which run $750 to $900 per student.
“We need to prepare our young people for a global future, and this program embraces the value of providing a world-class education to future generations and instilling them with a strong sense of global responsibility,” Berry said in a 2013 statement announcing the IB diploma.
APS does offer Advanced Placement courses across all high schools. Advanced Placement classes provide college credit with a passing score on the final exam. Unlike IB, Advanced Placement is not a formal diploma program.
For all the fanfare, IB has flown a bit under the radar.
“We had anticipated there would be more interest,” said APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta.
She noted that it has sometimes been tough to get the word out about IB, which is popular on the East Coast but not well known in New Mexico.
Private schools and charter schools can attract high-performing students through ad campaigns, which APS can’t afford, Armenta said.
“Our money is supposed to go to the classroom,” Armenta added.
Goswick agreed that IB can be a hard sell.
Many seniors want time to enjoy their last year in high school, Goswick said, but IB students have to stay focused and don’t have time to “goof off.”
“We need to find the parents and kids who want to take part in this,” Goswick said. “People don’t always understand the long-term benefits of the program. It’s not easy, but nothing that is really worthwhile is easy.”
Goswick said she would love to see APS expand IB to the middle and elementary school levels, creating a pipeline of high-performing students for Sandia High.
Some board members have also asked for an IB diploma program on Albuquerque’s West Side.
Armenta said the district is prioritizing “school choice” to provide families with programs that address diverse needs, including gifted education.