It’s not a graduation ceremony exactly, but close. And like all things related to the International Baccalaureate—better known as IB, the most rigorous standardized academic program on the planet—it stands out: it wasn’t until an evening in late December that the Flagler Palm Coast High School IB Class of 2017 returned there to claim diplomas in a modest ceremony attended by faculty, parents, and a few IB students from former years.
It’s part of IB’s quirks that students don’t actually find out of they passed their courses and got their IB diploma until July. And the diplomas aren’t mailed out until months later. But for FPC it’s been an annual reunion of sorts, and a way to shed additional light on the school’s most challenging program, and its most academically successful students.
The Class of 2017 stood out in a few other ways: With a 74 percent success rate—three points above the world average– it’s the most successful at FPC in the more than dozen years that the IB has been around, with the sole exception of the very first graduating class. But that one was three times smaller than the 40 students who ended with the Class of 2017, thirty-one of whom got their diploma.
“So, with the success rate that you had,” Roger Tangney told the Class of 2017 that December evening, “coming to school this year, the 2018 bunch of course they got wind of that through social media and whatever else you guys use, and they said, well if they got 74 percent, we can do better than they did. My take on that is, Class of 1017, you set the bar, you started the trend.” (Tangney is the IB and Advanced Placement coordinator who also happens to be FPC’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.)
The class also sent two graduates to Columbia University, two to Wake Forest University and two to Drexel University, and for the first time got graduates into Wellesley College, Washington and Lee University and Davidson College. Florida State got the most graduates—eight. The University of Florida got five.
“We’ve had lots of conversations about this group over the last couple of years,” Dusty Sims, the FPC principal, told the assembly at the school’s Bistro. “This group was a very special group to me. You’re my first IB class as a principal, but you’re the class that I felt embraced Flagler Palm Coast High School the most. You loved school, you enjoyed being here, you enjoyed all the activities that went on while you were here. The other things that I loved about this class were, you were colleagues. You shared, you collaborated, you worked together, you weren’t individualistic, you shared the hard stuff, you laughed at the fun stuff, but you did it all together.”
FPC's IB Class of 2017: Their Colleges
|Adrianna Bigwitch||Columbia University|
|Ivana Moore||Columbia University|
|Drew Harris||Daytona State College|
|Daniel Thomas||Davidson College|
|Ayden Craig||Daytona State College|
|Megan Kisner||Daytona State College|
|Anna May Bus||Drexel University|
|Christian Michael Ear||Drexel University|
|Preston Harvey||Edward Waters College|
|Ayden Craig||Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (spring semester)|
|Kamrin Raye Bunn||Flagler College|
|Marcel Baldassarri||Florida International University|
|Ayden Craig||Florida Polytechnic University|
|Sierra Biggs||Florida State University|
|Isabella Alyse Del Greco||Florida State University|
|Jake Ekberg||Florida State University|
|Christian Gazzoli||Florida State University|
|Nathan Allen Higgins Jr.||Florida State University|
|Jaia Jolyn Huggins||Florida State University|
|Lana Claire Schultz||Florida State University|
|Mikhail Vassilyev||Florida State University|
|Cassandra Gubala||Nova Northeastern University|
|Anabella Giuliano||Rollins College|
|Lauren Ruth Jackson||St. Johns River State College|
|Anna Baj||Stetson University|
|Jessica Gundy||Stetson University|
|Austin Barger||University of Central Florida|
|Jonathan Hernandez-Cooper||University of Central Florida|
|Cody Clifford Kaufman||University of Central Florida|
|Judy Lynn Colindres||University of Florida|
|Alan Doron||University of Florida|
|Nina Jones||University of Florida|
|Maetavee Shubeck||University of Florida|
|Anna Walls||University of Florida|
|Casey Rinella||University of South Florida|
|Brandon Santiago||University of South Florida|
|Joell Jonathan Wright||University of South Florida|
|Mark Zevallos||University of South Florida|
|Abby Emma Duquette||Wake Forest University|
|Kelvin Dinh Tran||Wake Forest University|
|Melissa Victoria Yorio||Washington and Lee University|
|Elizabeth Mason||Wellesley College|
The International Baccalaureate program was founded 50 years ago this year in Geneva and has since grown to 146 countries in 4,783 schools: FPC’s 40 students were among 85,508 IB candidates across the United States in 2017. No other country comes close. (Canada is second with 11,000.) It is as famously challenging as its students are successful in earning acceptance to top universities. The chances of making it to those universities are considerably slimmer without an IB diploma. Yet the IB still gets maligned here and there, mostly because of misinformation or prejudice: it’s too rigorous, goes the claim, it prevents students from having a social life, it prevents students from engaging in extra-curriculars or sports.
All false claims, discredited foremost by the students themselves.
“When I went into it,” says Elizabeth Mason, the first student out of FPC to make it to Wellesley, where she’s on a pre-med track at age 17 no less, “it seemed very scary that you couldn’t do anything else, like you couldn’t be in sports or do too many extra-curriculars because IB was so time-consuming. But it seems that most extra-curriculars are made up by IB students. You really have as much time as you want if you know how to handle it and know how to prioritize when you have to and get work done when you have time to get it done.”
Or take Daniel Thomas (Davidson College) and Anna Buss (Drexel University): they were able to make it through their high school years by going to sleep at 10 p.m. or a bit later, usually getting their eight hours. They’re quick to point out the myths about IB. “Everyone thinks you can’t have a social life in IB. But you can,” Buss said. How? “Time management. Study groups.” Not to mention the good training it provided for college. Buss and Thomas both say they were able to adapt to college much quicker than many other students around them thanks to IB.
“Yesterday I was talking to a few students about how IB really helped me and my college course work now at Davidson,” Thomas said of speaking to current IB students at FPC. “And going into Davidson it was either you did IB, you did a full AP curriculum, or you went to super-private boarding school somewhere like northeastern Europe or something. And being from such a small community and do such a rigorous program that’s at an international level really allowed me to compete.”
But Thomas notes: “It’s not instant gratification as with AP [Advanced Placement] and dual enrollment. You really have to put in a lot of work throughout the four years in high school. With AP you take a class and you get a score right after and you know you passed the course. It’s like, end-all. With IB you really have to work hard in all your classes.” There are internal assessments, a required and very extensive community project that can take up the better part of a year, the famed “extended essay” that adds up to the equivalent of a thesis, and a final grade only after two years of work on higher-level classes and a full year of work on standard-level courses. “You’re working at it for basically two or more years to get to the point of getting your IB diploma like we did today.”
“I also think IB makes you very well-rounded. With AP you can play to your strengths and do what you’re good at, but with IB you’re kind of forced to work on everything,” Buss said. “If you’re willing to put in the work and the effort and you want the challenge, then definitely stick with it because it does prepare you.”
Mason, the 17 year old now at Wellesley, IB has been a family affair: both her twin bnrother and sister, Forrest and Alexandria, graduated through FPC’s IB program in 2014. Forrest is attending UF (he just got accepted into five dental schools) and Alexandria is attending Stetson. And their mother, Bobi Mason, didn’t attend IB, but she’s attending UF too—rooming with her son—and getting a degree in occupational therapy. Four Masons, all in college at the same time. Scholarships are helping, and Elizabeth is on a near-full ride at Wellesley, where tuition is $47,000; with room and board it’s $63,000.
They’d all previously had a mix of home-schooling and parochial schools. “I didn’t think I’d ever put them in public school, ever,” Bobi says. “All the garbage that happens at public schools, the bullying, this and that. I knew when they were in seventh grade they had one more year then they’d go into high school, at that point we knew there was IB.” Discovering the program was enough for Bobi to turn her students over top FPC. There’s been no regrets. Much credit, she says, goes to people like Phil deAugustino, the long-time IB-assigned counselor who follows his students as if they were his own children. He once told Alexandria, according to her mother: “If you don’t come into my office today and decide where you want our transcripts sent, I’m sending them for you, I’m going to decide.” That’s an example of his involvement and availability to students and parents alike.
Not that the IB at FPC hasn’t had its lows. The Class of 2017 is emerging from just such a low.
“This class is highly significant because it was almost as if the IB program was breaking down as far as the students were concerned,” says Warren Sanson, who with Dianoe Tomko (Theory of Knowledge) and Debbie Couch (English) forms IB’s Holy Trinity at the school. “They were starting to say, oh, we don’t really need the IB diploma, that’s no big deal, and so they were just kind of studying hard in places they needed to and doing what they minimally had to, then weren’t passing the IB exams that they had to. So it kind of came to a head. Colleges had started to pick, this up. I’m talking big schools, like Chapel Hill. And Harvard. They now have on the acceptance, if you’re in the IB program, ‘This is contingent on you getting an IB diploma,’ which you don’t even know you get until July. So what happens is, if you don’t have an interest in it, and we’re warning all the kids about that—that they’d better make sure they understand the fine print on their acceptance letter and really how important it is to get the diploma. So that’s helping, and this class is major help. It seems now that the seniors we have this year and following them, the juniors, are all headed straight to get their IB diplomas. They really have that goal in mind.”
It’s also helped that FPC has turned the 200 Wing into something like an IB school within the school: from pre-IB on, students in the program can spend their years there in an environment more conducive to their work. “That’s been good for a lot of reasons,” Sanson says. “One, because of the incredible creativity, the things that are going up on the walls, the creativity of the teachers and then the students with them , and then also, to be honest with you, it’s a little more protective. Obviously you’re not getting big macho boys or that kind of thing in IB. It’s a little bit more protective.”
Past IB students typically react wistfully for their IB years, and now a bit enviously, too, for what coming IB students have at FPC. But it’s not as if they’re not themselves enviable. “Parents,” Sims told the assembly in December, “you should be extremely proud of these young people, they’re going to make their mark on the world, and I’m proud to say that they came out of Flagler Palm Coast High School. So thanks for being awesome and amazing and being role models for those who have a high bar set behind you. They have to try to reach that. You guys have moved it way up there for them, and I thank you for that.”