Hunt & Gather returns to Homewood Farmers Market on Saturday

International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme students
Jordan Kouassi and Joel Osei presented their art projects
to the H-F school board in May.

(Photo by Marilyn Thomas/HF Chronicle)

Homewood-Flossmoor High School, the first public high school in Chicago’s suburbs offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, is awaiting the ratings for its first 17 IB diploma graduates.

Teachers around the world are grading the work of these outstanding H-F graduates to determine if their projects, essays and test scores meet all criteria for an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma or certificate. A final decision is expected in the next several weeks.

In 2013, after years of study and a lengthy application process, H-F was named an IB World School. The designation meant H-F could begin offering students the IB Diploma Programme as part of the H-F Gifted Academy.  

This IB curriculum was organized in 1968 in response to demands of European diplomats who wanted a rigorous, relevant and consistent academic program for their children, according to Nancy Spaniak, H-F director of curriculum, instruction and professional development. 

Initially, H-F invited 60 Class of 2015 students into the Gifted Academy. Through attrition, there were 27 students who went all the way through their senior year.

The 17 students who qualified for the IB diploma are Sobechukwu Anidobu, Valeria Carrillo, Peter Cipriano, Gita Connolly, Khayleia Foy, Mia Guzynski, Terez Hobson, Emma Kaye, Jordan Kouassi, Branden Levine, Josiah McFadden, Nadia Mendoza, Fiona Moran, Jeremy Osei, Joel Osei, Madison Thiros and Kelsie Wilkins. 

Spaniak said some H-F Gifted Academy students were in the IB curriculum but will receive a certificate, rather than a diploma, because they chose not to fulfill the art/music/service-specific requirement.  Those students are Maiya Estes, Jacob Fontana, Austin Grandison, Austin Harris, Marcus Mangel, Zhamese Mead, Lauren Minga, Michael Morrow, Marlene Slaughter and Nicole Wood.

Spaniak said they all were trailblazers for the IB diploma.

“It hasn’t been easy but they persevered and they all feel good about themselves, as they should,” she noted.

The H-F Gifted Academy is a four-year program for academically talented students. 

H-F designed the program around incoming freshmen whose achievement scores, junior high work and admissions exams showed they were up for exceptional challenges. 

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for our most actively talented students that would be beyond Advanced Placement (AP),” Spaniak said. “AP’s done a great job for our students, but AP is kind of like a cafeteria.  We have 23 courses and you pick and choose. There’s no programmatic aspect to it” as there is with the IB model.

Gifted Academy freshmen enroll as a cohort taking AP classes their first two years. Teachers, administrators, parents and students meet and discuss whether the program is of value to the students, and decide if the students are academically, emotionally and mentally prepared to move into the rigid International Baccalaureate Programme as juniors. 

The IB organization has 3 levels of courses: primary courses, middle courses and the baccalaureate diploma program, and six groupings: language (English classes); language acquisition (Spanish/French); social sciences (including H-F’s required economics course); science (including H-F’s required physics course); math; and arts and music.

H-F faculty teach IB courses, and adjust their teaching styles and materials to meet IB requirements. Class exams are sent off to IB headquarters for grading. Spaniak said that, too, has helped H-F teachers see if they’re matching IB expectations.

IB students are also required to take a two-year Theory of Knowledge course that Spaniak says gets students to “think and explore what knowledge is in all the content areas. For example: What is math knowledge, and how does math knowledge relate to the scientific knowledge, linguistic knowledge? There’s a lot of philosophy involved.”

As if the coursework isn’t demanding enough, Spaniak said the program includes projects done outside of the classroom, including a mandated 4,000-word essay that the students start in the second semester of their junior year, work on over the summer and complete in their senior year. 

And, each student completes a Creativity Action and Service (CAS) project.

“It could be music, it could be writing, it could be architecture,” Spaniak said. “It could be anything that you’re creating,” and designing a project around.” For example, H-F’s new organic garden is the project of an IB Programme junior.

IB Programme representatives grade the essay, the report on the CAS project and end-of-course exams to determine if H-F students met the mark for a diploma or certificate.  

Spaniak said the two major complaints from IB students were: It’s really hard and it doesn’t allow for much leeway. “It’s not for everybody,” she admits. “We have so many electives and the students just can’t take much” outside of the set curriculum.

“All of our freshmen — most of them have a bit of a shock when they get here and now (in the Gifted Academy) they have higher expectations for homework and extra time and we do want them to be involved in extracurricular activities. That’s part of high school,” Spaniak said. “We don’t want them to just be studying all day.  We want them on teams and joining clubs and doing all those things, and these kids have.

“We believe in giving kids opportunities but we want to make sure that the students who are enrolling understand the rigors and are prepared to work hard,” she added.

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