WATERLOO | The International Baccalaureate diploma program remains "very strong" in Waterloo Community Schools, said its coordinator, despite some ups and downs in enrollment during the first year.
Sherice Ortman, the district's IB and advanced programs coordinator, told the Board of Education Monday that numbers changed over the course of the year as some students decided not to continue with the program.
International Baccalaureate is a rigorous two-year college preparation diploma program that's in only one other Iowa school district. Students are accepted into the program as sophomores and start as juniors.
The number of students accepted into the program's first class peaked at 44 for West High School and 23 for East High School. By the time school started last fall, there were 22 at West and 17 at East.
Since then, a few more have dropped off. Eighteen remain enrolled in the program at West and 12 at East, some of whom will not continue pursuing the full diploma in the fall. Instead, they will be allowed to take several individual IB courses. That includes six of the West students and two of the East students.
West student Noel Mills, who transferred from Columbus High School last fall to participate in IB, is one of those continuing with the diploma program.
"I have never been challenged this much and it's been such a blessing," said Mills, noting she expects to be well prepared for college by graduation.
Earning the diploma requires classes in six academic areas and completion of three core requirements -- taking a half-year theory of knowledge class, writing a 4,000-word extended essay and doing a service component outside of school.
Ortman said they are allowing individual classes for the initial group because they weren't able to go through pre-IB courses before enrolling in the program. The preparatory classes didn't start until last fall.
Ortman said some of the students were struggling with the essay or service components while others wanted to pursue electives outside of the IB offerings. Because the district is "building up" the academic pathways preparing students for advanced coursework, she said new students coming into the program may not be offered the option to take individual classes if they decide against pursuing the full diploma in their second year.
The next cohort, which will start this fall as juniors, includes 13 students from each school. Ortman said the schools are already accepting applications for the following year, as well. Letters of acceptance have been sent to 15 West and 19 East students. Those students will be sophomores in the fall.
"I think those are good numbers," said board member Mike Young. "I think most districts that had (the IB diploma program), it takes years for it to get going."