WATERLOO — Nathan Nebbe’s West High School biology students Friday altered the chemical structure of protein molecules — specifically egg whites.

The junior International Baccalaureate diploma program students mixed beakers of the substance with baking soda or vinegar or exposed it to heat or an ice bath. “This way, we can understand on a chemical level what happens,” said Mel Ikanovic.

Students are expected to lead the way on their own learning in the IB class.

“We pretty much created our own experiment,” said Marissa Gates. Students draw conclusions from such experiments and present them to their peers. Nebbe’s lectures confirming or challenging their conclusions come afterward, the reverse of many biology classes.

“It’s a really cool pathway into understanding the things we’re supposed to learn,” said Ikanovic. That includes more than concepts in biology or other subjects the IB students are studying. Among the skills students have learned are time management techniques and good study habits, traits they will need to excel in college.

“It definitely feels like we’ve been to college already,” said Ikanovic.

Waterloo Community Schools’ introduced the rigorous two-year college preparation program at East and West high schools three years ago. Students take classes in six academic areas along with completing a half-year theory of knowledge class, writing a 4,000-word extended essay and doing a service component outside of school.

Next fall, 26 seniors are expected to continue with the second year of the program at both schools. Another 17 West students and 11 East students will begin the IB program as juniors.

“In terms of workload, it prepares,” said William Huynh, a 2016 West High IB program graduate who just finished his first year at Iowa State University. “You’re already stress-tested.”

He was among the first group of 16 district students who earned the IB diploma when they graduated last spring. He and three other students who have just completed their freshman year in college recently spoke to The Courier.

Cara McKinstry headed to the University of South Dakota after graduating from East High School.

“For me, I felt really prepared to go to college,” she said. McKinstry saw some of her friends at college stressing out days before a paper was due. “I didn’t really have that.”

In the dorms at Luther College, West graduate Morgan Seeman said, “I had a really social floor.” That made it essential for her to have the balanced study habits learned through IB.

“Writing was the easiest thing,” said Loras College student Patricia Patnode, who graduated from West. “The extended essay (required in the IB program) translated into every paper I wrote in college. I’d have so much more work to do if I wasn’t in IB.”

Having gone through writing the 4,000-word essay in high school, said Huynh, “just makes it easier, streamlines the process” of writing in college.

“One of the things that helped me was being able to look at a question and take it apart,” said Seeman. “I would help out my classmates. They just struggled with kind of synthesizing papers.”

Patnode said the hard work was worth it, and not only for how prepared she was for college.

“Everybody in our cohort (from East and West) is going to college for a lot less than we would have,” she said, because of scholarships. In some cases, the IB diploma earned them college credits, as well, reducing the number courses they will need to pay for.

Overall, IB students did receive a lot of financial aid, according to Sherice Ortman, Waterloo Schools’ IB and advanced programming coordinator. “Last year, that first cohort recovered over $700,000 in scholarships,” she said.

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Waterloo Schools / HCC Reporter

Education reporter for the Courier

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