IB course work prepares Cordova students for upcoming college challenges

“We’re trying to let them know it’s an investment for education and something that’s going to benefit them now and later in life.” –Christian MacDonald



Maxim Russu, Cordova High School

Cordova High School is a rare breed among its California peers in offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) advanced study program that aims to help students enter college and succeed when they get there.

California has 1,299 public high schools, according to the state Department of Education (CDE). Based on a database search of the website maintained by IB, a global organization based in Switzerland, only 101 of those schools, or 7.7%, provide IB programs. Cordova High is among that 7.7%. (https://www.ibo.org/programmes/find-an-ib-school/?SearchFields.Region=iba&SearchFields.Country=US&SearchFields.State=CA%7CUS&SearchFields.Keywords=&SearchFields.Language=&SearchFields.BoardingFacilities=&SearchFields.SchoolGender=)


Cordova offers students advanced course work through both the IB and Advanced Placement (AP) programs. Both expose students to what university study is like, but through different approaches.

AP provides college-level courses in 31 subject areas, and students can receive college credits for completing such classes, according to the CDE.

The main IB program, called the Diploma Program, provides a two-year “comprehensive and rigorous pre-university curriculum leading to an IB diploma,” according to a CDE description. Students who successfully complete the DP, the CDE said, “are typically granted advanced placement credit” at universities.

In its IB program, Cordova High offers the DP, and a Career-Related Program (CP). The CP is geared toward preparing students not just for college, but also for careers in specific fields of interest. (https://www.ibo.org/school/049181/

Christian MacDonald, who teaches World Cultures and IB Global Politics at Cordova High, said  the program is working to change the way students perceive IB.

“So we’re trying to build this culture around the IB so it’s not viewed as this daunting challenge that’s unnecessary,” MacDonald said. “Instead, we’re trying to let them know it’s an investment for education and something that’s going to benefit them now and later in life.”

English teacher Grace Martinez, said of the program, “Advanced classes provide us with a higher level of rigor, and if they [students] do well, they can earn college credit. Similar in some ways to AP courses.”

Frank Murrieta, who teaches math at Cordova, said advanced classes certainly help students prepare for college.

“On a school level, teachers will at least try to make students aware of what those classes are, and the benefits of completing these courses of higher level,” he said. But Murrieta issued a note of caution.

“Because there’s a leap in difficulty of the material in a lot of courses, there is a danger in overloading students, ” he said, “if they have a lot of advanced classes.”

Junior Brian Nguyen agreed the IB workload can be heavy, saying, “Everyone constantly complains about the workload since the program itself necessitates depth of knowledge and extensive attention.”

Nguyen  said peer pressure often helps motivate IB students to deal with workload pressures.

“Peer pressure is a fascinating concept, especially in the IB classroom,” he said. “Everyone pushes each other to finish their work and bring their grades up when needed. It is a wonderful spectacle of camaraderie that is not seen in ordinary classes since these students have been together for a long time. Conclusively, the motivation stems from other students, and the teachers have little involvement in motivating students.”

MacDonald said one way teachers are trying to encourage students to get into IB is “to give incentives (like) a T-Shirt that helps them stick out a little bit and show off their achievements. Maybe try to give them pens or stickers when they finish tasks in IB . . . .  We are just trying to kind of put a spotlight on their success and encourage others to be interested in IB and want to sign up for IB classes.”