GOSHEN -- For many students, taking International Baccalaureate courses is about preparing for college, but the demanding academic program is also about preparing students for life.
Sara Garcia is a senior at Goshen High School set to complete the IB program this year. Students may take individual IB classes or complete the entire program, as Garcia is doing. To earn the full diploma, Garcia must not only take IB courses, but score high enough on intense examinations at the end of the year, do community service, write several thorough essays and take the class "Theory of Knowledge." If she completes all of that, she will receive the IB diploma, earning her several college credits, enforcing her college application and taking her beyond just learning facts.
"It's not focused on cramming everything in," Garcia said about the IB program, "but actually understanding information."
Garcia said all the IB classes force students to analyze but especially the "Theory of Knowledge" class, the one class only the diploma-bound students take.
One of the class's teachers, Carl Weaver, describes the point of the class as "unpacking the suitcase," digging into issues and looking at them from multiple views, Garcia said.
"It helps you think a lot differently," she said. "You consider the counter claims and the 'what ifs.'"
The class explored whether addiction should be labeled as a medical disease, if population sizes should be limited and the morality behind stealing, Garcia said.
That will likely be an advantage for Garcia, who hopes to get her bachelor's degree in psychology and pre-law and become a lawyer.
Shelly Wilfong, IB organizer at Goshen High School, said the classes and diploma are considered international because they look at issues from multiple angles, including other countries' points of view.
"One of the things that we try to do is look at things globally," Wilfong said. "How do the things we learn in U.S. history affect the world?"
The IB program is also practiced and largely accepted as college credit worldwide, Wilfong said.
This was Goshen's second year offering the classes. Northridge High School began offering the classes this year.
Phil Eddy, assistant principal at Northridge and IB organizer, said he is a fan of the program and its focus on reflection.
Eddy said he wants to carry those critical thinking skills through all high school courses.
"Our goal is to get every single staff member trained in IB," he said.
"Are we training kids to be inquirers, communicators, open-minded?" he asked, listing several of IB's goals. "It's not just what you learn; it's how you reflect on it."
Eddy said the IB courses on their own are off to a good start.
"We do have students who want a rigorous schedule, who do want to learn, and I think this is a good fit here," Eddy said.
So far 32 students are pursuing the full diploma and Eddy estimated that more than 100 are taking individual classes. Those numbers may fluctuate through the school year.
At Goshen High School, 15 students are prepared to graduate with an IB diploma. Completing the whole program and earning the diploma can earn students enough credit to start as sophomores at colleges.
Wilfong said the IB diploma is the best diploma offered at the high school, but Wilfong and Eddy said they allow any student who wants to take IB courses to take them.
"They don't have to be an academically gifted student," Wilfong said. "That's just going to help them be more ready for college and be more successful in college."
According to Wilfong, at least two of the six students who completed the entire IB program received a year's worth of college credit.
Last year, 123 students took 230 exams and six students earned the full IB diploma.
"We feel like we've done a really good job in our first year and students did really well, especially when we didn't know what to expect," Wilfong said.