In 2001, 29 students took a chance on something new at South Forsyth High School.
More than a decade later, the school’s International Baccalaureate, or IB, program has become a magnet for accelerated learners.
“It’s an indication of work ethic and it’s an indication of a student welcoming higher rigor and then accomplishing it,” said Cindy Salloum, the Forsyth County school system’s chief accountability officer.
It was also a way for Chris Reid to start college a semester ahead. Reid, who graduated from the IB program in 2009, said a teacher mentioned it to him as a possible good fit.
“I get bored easily and the amount of work and also the kind of work was good,” he said. “It’s not work you can kind of compute and pump out an answer, you have to think about it.
“It was challenging.”
During a recent school board meeting, IB Coordinator Kevin Denney and South Forsyth High’s new principal, Jeff Cheney, talked about the growth and future of the program.
Students were previously able to earn an IB diploma when they graduated high school. This year, however, that’s changing. For the first time, students in the program can also receive an IB Career Certificate in either marketing or engineering.
“It’s a very rigorous program,” Cheney said.
Reid he can see pros and cons of having a career pathway. For those who are leaning toward a marketing or engineering, it “would be a big help.”
“[But] when I was 16, I had no idea what I wanted to do, so narrowing me into a direction might not have been that beneficial,” he said.
Regardless of what path a student chooses, Denney said those who earn the diploma can receive as much as two years’ worth of college credit.
Because of the program’s rigor, not every student will make it through, Denney said. That is especially true because no students are turned away from the program.
“We want this program to be accessible to all students in this community,” Cheney said.
Those looking into the program are counseled about a decision and strongly encouraged to join as freshmen to take full advantage of the benefits.
That means they’re asked to decide in eighth grade. Still, the pass rate is high for the program.
Since the program came to South, 89 percent of IB students have graduated with an IB diploma. By comparison, the pass rate for the nation’s 744 programs is 68 percent, while it’s 56 percent for Georgia’s 25 IB programs.
Another benefit of the program is the courses are easily transferrable. So for military students, or for families who move often, credits can be transferred to any other school with an IB program, Salloum said.
“It’s recognizable throughout the nation,” Salloum said. “But even if they don’t move around, it gives them an edge to put that on their resume or transcript for entry to college.”
While the program is based out of South, it’s open to high school students throughout the district.
According to Salloum, last year there were three students from West, one from North, eight from Lambert and 13 from Central.
And there’s talk of expansion. North officials are discussing possibly adding the program there, she said.
“It’s going to depend on the numbers and need,” she said. “Right now, South is handling it fine.”
It’s more than just starting a program, Salloum said. It’s whole process just to get accredited to start it. Implementation involves many steps, including teacher training and random monitoring to ensure effectiveness.
The program has benefits for the system and county. It helps Forsyth County Schools stand out and can boost economic development and industry recruitment.
But the bottom line, Salloum said, is it’s a great opportunity for students.
Specifically, the career pathway program will launch students into their future careers before they step onto a college campus.
“It’s going to help them get into a college more readily than they would have otherwise,” she said. “It’s going to help them solidify that this is the path they’re going to take.
“They’re going to be one step ahead, they’re going to see what the rigor in college is going to be like and it’s going to make them more successful in the end.”
For Reid, he liked the program enough that he “nudged my younger brother into it and he just graduated and is going to the University of Chicago.”
Reid, who attends Carnegie Mellon University, will graduate college early because of the program.
“I was able to test out of a lot of the general education courses,” he said. “I’m glad I did it.”