Portage Public Schools see growth in international program

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — Students in Portage Public Schools were among the first in the state to have the opportunity to earn college credits in high school through an international program.

It started in 1998 with a few diploma graduates a year, but now more than 100 students in the district graduate with the International Baccalaureate diploma.

Tashifa Fayyaz is in her second year at Western Michigan University, but is already close to completing the requirements for her minor in Spanish. In part, due to her I.B. diploma from Portage Northern High School. 

“It really emphasizes you becoming an independent thinker and being more socially conscious and aware of your surroundings. My transition from high school to college was not as difficult as it may have been for many students. It was a heavy workload and so I already had the traits, you could say, to be a successful student,” she explained.

The idea behind I.B. is like advanced placement courses, but it’s universally taught around the world and focuses more on challenging students to a different way of thinking.

Eric Albertus, now the principal at Portage Central High School, was the coordinator for the I.B. program when it started in the district 20 years ago. He taught history, but had to start thinking about his lesson plans differently.

“I taught from Civil War to the present. The first unit I had to teach was on background to WWII from an Asian perspective. I didn’t anything about [that]. It forces us as teachers and our kids to look at the world through a different set of eyes,” he said.

Although the program is very demanding, Albertus thinks high school is an ideal time for students to take on the challenge because they’re still in a supportive and disciplined environment.

Most colleges and universities will offer credit for I.B. classes proportionate to how a student performs on the assessment. It varies from institution to institution.

Albertus says his son started at University of Michigan with 24 credits through I.B. which translates to money in the bank. That was also a factor for Fayyaz.

“As a college student, you want to save as much time and money as possible. So being able to get credits for classes, test into higher level classes and passing the I.B. exams with high enough scores to receive that credit was definitely a determining factor.”

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