International Baccalaureate (IB) Academies – Student choice, student voice

Way Beyond the Point

Examples of Project-Based Learning activities for IB students

The International Baccalaureate is an extensive educational option allowing students to gain a global understanding of their classes and beyond through a multifaceted manner of learning. Also called IB, the programme began in Geneva, Switzerland, according to its website and has grown far beyond Europe. Among the IB programmes offered on the Virginia Peninsula are the ones in Newport News and Hampton, giving students the opportunity to further their learning process in multiple areas.

“The end goal for the IB Academy is for students [to become] well-rounded individual[s] with lots of knowledge in different areas of study, in different areas of academia,” says Sarah Genevich, who is completing her fifth year as an IB French teacher at Hampton High School.

Teachers explain that International Baccalaureate encompasses basic core classes as well as programme-specific requirements unique to this learning style. IB students are not just book smart — the programme also includes a service aspect that hands students the reins to help other people and communities. This element often falls under the Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) component of IB, with students working on projects to benefit others. Genvich mentions an oyster preservation project that Hampton High IB students have been working on with other teachers, a part of IB’s PBLs, or Project-Based Learning.

Genevich says each high school under Hampton City Schools offers different academies that give students different learning paths. After
completing the 9th-grade freshman academy, students can choose which academy they will study under beginning with their sophomore year. Hampton High’s academy is its International Baccalaureate programme. 

“What I see as changing students for the better is actually more about the development they experience that is not just academic, but also choices they have to make,” says Ashley Ault, IB visual arts teacher and CAS coordinator at Hampton High, “because the academic aspect is set up to where students have a lot of student choice, a lot of student voice. There is no ‘cookie cutter’ in IB.” Ault emphasizes the wiggle room that the program offers for mistakes along the way of learning, as “part of the process.”

Christopher Kraus, a Hampton High social studies teacher and IB Academy’s faculty leader, says, “Our society has a very limited definition of what smart is. The IB format with open-ended essay questions allows for different kinds of thinking and different ways to express understanding.” He maintains when students gain international viewpoints across the board, they also gain new “intellectual approaches” as well as “different cultural points of view.”

“As executive principal,” says Hampton High’s Shameka Pollard, “I am very involved with the IB’s inner workings and tenets, which includes the IB learner profile and ensuring our students are receiving that international-minded connectedness in all of their courses.” Pollard is assistant principal of Hampton High. She details how their IB programme began in 2000, with the first class graduating in 2004, proudly saying
the school has been “going strong with IB ever since.”

Pollard praises the programme’s foundation and flexibility, noting how it gives students “more autonomy” and the opportunity to unite and bond with one another. Core class offerings stay the same throughout the years, but electives can shift based on student interest and staff availability. She emphasizes the importance of faculty creating positive, non-academic experiences for the students, such as Brownies for Braniacs.

In a conversation with a panel of Hampton High students under teacher Jennifer Menzel, Aaron Bunn, a 10th-grade IB student, says “If you can make it through IB, you can make it through a lot of things.”

Krista Fountain, an 11th grader, says the IB programme has helped her “narrow [her] career choices.” 

Kameron Mallory, a senior, says, “I would really like it if the Academy could broaden itself to encourage more students to join so we could hear different points. It was a great advantage for me to earn college credit instead of going to college for four years.”

Dr. Kellie Mason, principal of Warwick High School in Newport News, says Newport News Public Schools follow a different model, but “four of the five high schools have academies.” Since 1995, Warwick High has had IB classes available for students.

Dr. Maranda Hall, Warwick High’s specialty coordinator, says that 9th- and 10th-grade students are pre-IB, while 11th grade begins the official length of the IB programme. “The idea is to have a global focus,” she says. “At this point, [IB schools] are considered world schools because there are IB programmes across the world that have this common focus on global-minded students.”

“Many of our students who have graduated from the [IB] program have come from low socio-economic homes and as a result of their IB experience, have received full and/or partial full rides to colleges,” Mason says. “Many have returned to either teach or assume leadership roles not only in NNPS, but also in Newport News city government and/or ownership in local Newport News businesses.” 

Mason also notes the social awareness aspects of Warwick High’s IB student life, including “[working] in collaboration with their peers to organize peaceful protests regarding gun safety and the protection of the rights of the [LGBTQIA+] community.”

In the case of many IB classes throughout Hampton and Newport News, teachers and administrators have noticed exponential growth in class sizes. Teachers and administrators also emphasize how IB is and should be for all varieties of students, regardless of their goals or abilities. There are close to 85 IB students in Hampton High, while Warwick High currently has 252 IB students.

The teachers and other faculty members who head these programmes work to ensure student success through different avenues, which measure up to the IB programme’s goal of a global perspective in learning. 

International Baccalaureate Academy–Hampton High School (Hampton)
Contact: Haneef Majied, academy principal, International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme
Phone: 757-896-5745

International Baccalaureate Academy–Warwick High School (Newport News)
Contact: Dr. Maranda Hall, director of specialty programs–International Baccalaureate
Phone: 757-591-4700, ext. 67521

About Anna Dorl 33 Articles
Anna Dorl grew up all over the United States as a military brat, and she now calls Virginia home. She is a graduate of Christopher Newport University with a degree in communication studies, with minors in writing and film studies. Since graduation, she’s worked in journalism and education. When she’s not writing, Anna can be found hanging out with her dog, Stella, and watching spooky movies.