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World-class grads

Annual ceremony honors special group of Schenectady graduates

Wednesday, January 8, 2014
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2013 Schenectady High School International Baccalaureate (IBO) diploma recipients, listen to Superintendent Larry Spring speak at the IB Celebration held at the school on Wednesday afternoon.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
2013 Schenectady High School International Baccalaureate (IBO) diploma recipients, listen to Superintendent Larry Spring speak at the IB Celebration held at the school on Wednesday afternoon.

— In a record graduation year, Schenectady High School can add another record: 27 percent of its 2013 graduates also earned an International Baccalaureate certificate or diploma.

Many of them gathered again Wednesday to celebrate their second graduation, this time from the harder, internationally-recognized program.

It takes months for students’ IB portfolios and tests to be judged, often by examiners in another country. They didn’t find out their scores until July, and by then, many had jetted off to early college programs. So every year, the school district holds its IB ceremony during winter break, when most students can attend.

Many students had hoped to earn a full diploma, but had to settle for certificates in various subjects after falling only a few points short. Others logged on to discover they’d gone all the way.

In total, 110 students earned certificates, and 22 earned full diplomas.

Graduate Edward Ryan said that after four years of extra work, what he was most proud of was simply earning enough points to get the diploma.

“It was passing the math exam, because it was hard,” he said, “that’s what I’m most proud of. Everyone has a weakness they had to overcome.”

Diploma holder Austin Liebers recalled a moment of desperation when he had to come up with a creative project that would connect with his group’s goal of helping build wells to provide safe drinking water in other countries. Their first idea was rejected, he said, and they decided to instead take the unlikely route of doing a movie about dysfunctional superheroes.

Liebers said he assured teachers they would make it work, and it did: They sold tickets for the screening and donated the money to a well-digging program.

Ryan, who also worked on the movie, said it was so much fun it didn’t seem like a school project.

“It was dysfunctional superheroes. They had to save the world, and they did. It was kind of a metaphor for us, trying to building these wells,” he said.

It was not the typical way to work toward safe water, but that’s what makes the IB program great, said diploma holder Jeff Leavitt.

“It focuses students on using creativity, rather than just following the route that’s been done before,” he said, adding that it’s a better foundation for the future because it will help the next generation come up with solutions to new problems.

Ryan added that he was forced to think critically, rather than simply memorizing facts.

“IB isn’t, ‘This is what you’re going to learn,’ ” he said. “It teaches you to be creative and think outside the box.”

All three are now in college, and that’s where parents are particularly happy with the results of the program.

“He was very comfortable making the transition to college,” said Austin’s father, Don Liebers. “He learned very good study habits and critical thinking. He was working very independently. And they really learned to use their knowledge and develop ideas and then defend them.”

Unlike the regular high school graduation, the IB students ran Wednesday’s event largely on their own. IB graduates and students were the main speakers, with district Superintendent Laurence Spring only on stage for a few minutes.

In the audience were high school students currently enrolled in the IB program, and they cheered on the graduates enthusiastically. Only a handful of parents attended, and students turned to their peers for validation.

Spring told them they were the best part of the school.

“You are special because you embody everything education is supposed to be,” he said. “We’re so proud of you. You represent everything that is so great about Schenectady.”

The program even attracts students from other school districts. Senior Meg Brudos came to Schenectady High School from the Schalmont Central School District solely to enroll in the IB program.

“I’m learning critical thinking skills, which some kids don’t learn until college,” she said. “I think going to an inner-city school is just as educational as the IB program. I know more about the world because I’ve seen so much.”

In her Schalmont classes, she said, the entire class might embody one culture or religion. Here, she said, the viewpoints of her classmates provide a diverse snapshot of the world.

“It really adds to the program,” she said.

The graduation ceremony also acknowledged the seniors in the IB program, each of whom was ceremoniously given a can of Pringles, a reference to a hiking trip they went on in September, Brudos said.

It was the first time many had ever carried a backpack up mountains before. Considering they’d have to carry their food, many chose to carry Pringles, because they were light.

“That’s what we pretty much ate for several days,” she said.

And they never got sick of them.

“Oh, no,” Brudos said. “How could you? There’s so many different flavors.”

 
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