Students making their own dreams at Edmonds-Woodway

International Baccalaureate program good for students and community
By Makenna Dreher | May 23, 2019
Photo by: Make Edmonds-Woodway High School IB students and their future colleges. From left, top row: Daniel Ghebreyesus, Brown University; Isaiah Colobong, Stanford University; Gabi Callero, Occidental College; Ken Razo, American University; Trevor Pastega, University of Notre Dame; Ella Chung, Wellesley College. Bottom row, from left: Carina Ly, Stanford University; Tori Cook, Brown University; Ava Gehlen-Williams, Yale University; Haley Rundorff, University of Washington; Kelly Maldonado, University of Washington; Tina Masoum, University of Washington.

Ken Razo didn’t think college would be an option for him in his first two years of high school.

Now in his senior year at Edmonds-Woodway High School, Razo is completing a full International Baccalaureate diploma and will be heading to American University in Washington, D.C.

The IB is a nonprofit education foundation with a liberal arts curriculum focused on the humanities, mathematics and sciences, working in over 150 countries. Students can receive either a full IB diploma or IB Certificates for individual coursework.

In a cohort of 105 full IB students at EWHS receiving their diploma this spring, Razo will have completed IB coursework over his final two years of high school, then will take three weeks of comprehensive IB exams. The exams go on for more than several hours a day, and are writing-intensive and critical-thinking focused.

To receive full IB diplomas, students also complete a 4,000 word “Extended Essay,” Creative, Activity and Service (CAS) hours, and a “Theory of Knowledge” course.

“I had that mindset that I’m not good enough to take IB, so one of my Latina friends, who is in the full IB program, talked to me about it, and it really helped me,” said Razo.

David Quinn, IB coordinator at EWHS, also helped Razo change his mindset as a student and as a person, Razo said.

“I didn’t think college was even financially possible for me because I did really bad my freshman year,” he added.

Razo plans on studying political science with a pre-law track, with hopes of becoming an immigration attorney.

“IB really taught me discipline. I didn’t think I would be here my sophomore year,” Razo said at the school, wearing his American University sweatshirt. “It’s crazy. Quinn really helped me.”

“Ken had never taken an honors class in ninth and 10th grade,” Quinn said later. “That kid’s not thinking, ‘I’m going to be full IB,’ but when you go out and you find them, it turns out that grit and perseverance are way more important than anything. Because obviously the courses aren’t easy. Two years is a long time.”

“Cult of Quinn”

Quinn has been the IB coordinator at EWHS for eight years. His goal is simple: Make kids’ dreams come true.

T-shirts were even made with the slogan “Cult of Quinn,” he said with a laugh.

But he’s quick to remind you: It’s not about him – it’s about his students.

“I find a kid who is going off on a full-ride someplace who didn’t see themself as college bound two years before, and their whole journey changes,” he said.

This year’s cohort of full IB students are heading off to a wide range of colleges next fall, including Stanford, Yale, Brown, the University of Washington, Boston College and others.

As impressive as this year’s cohort is, it is not unique for the IB program at EWHS, Quinn said.

These courses aren’t easy, as two years is a long time, but it is worth it for students to achieve their dreams.

“The IB isn’t about intelligence,” he said. “There’s nothing in there about being a genius and levitating off the ground and inventing space time continuums while you’re in class. It’s about the follow-through and wanting to do it.”

After announcing their college decision on May 1, IB students at EWHS head straight into IB testing for 22 days.

“What excites me about the IB curriculum is the well-roundedness it has and the emphasis on critical thinking,” said senior Isaiah Colobong, among a group of 12 full IB students gathered together to speak about the program.

“It’s a lot, but if you can handle it and ground yourself and find ways to not go insane – there are some things that are nice,” said senior Haley Rundorff.

Washington state and the IB

The IB program at EWHS started in 1996, but it wasn’t until 2011 that Washington state allowed students to earn a full IB diploma as its own graduation pathway, instead of completing both the full IB diploma and the state’s graduation requirements.

Two years ago, Washington state’s biennium budget didn’t line up with the federal budget, so grants were cut that support Advanced Placement (AP) and IB students’ ability to take exams for free, Quinn said.

Quinn worked with Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib to raise the funds so low-income students could take the exams for free.

After that year, questions about equity across the state were brought up, as universities and colleges in the state were crediting IB and AP courses in “wildly” different ways, said Quinn.

For instance, one university in the state would give a student five credits, and another would give the same student no credits for getting a full IB diploma.

“And it was strange, because the ones you would expect to give more credits to lure students, were actually writing less credit for them,” he said.

To solve this problem, Senate Bill 5410 was passed and signed on May 8 of this year to mandate credit for IB students who score a four out of seven on IB exams and a three out of five on AP exams.

“This pretty much means that every IB diploma candidate who achieves the diploma will start as a sophomore on their first day of University of Washington,” Quinn said.

This could mean a family saving $18,000 or the ability to extend college further, as a student can receive a master’s degree with the same amount of money now, he said.

“And not only that, but students obviously have a wide variety of choices for college.”

“We don’t head cut around here,” he added, explaining how he doesn’t search for a specific type of high-performing IB student, but how the program is attractive to all kinds of students.

Equity in IB

Since September 2017, EWHS has offered “IB for All,” which is part of a larger national option where all students who attend class at EWHS take at least one IB class.

“Something I’m passionate about is making sure that kids in rural areas have the same opportunities,” said Quinn. “My whole thing is equity now. If it’s not equitable, then what’s the point?”

There are many reasons for students to choose full IB, Quinn explained. Some do it for the academic challenge or to have the insurance of getting into their dream school, while others are first-generation students, and IB could be the one option to “change everything.”

About four years ago, EWHS worked with Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), a nonprofit based in Seattle that works to close race and income enrollment and success gaps for students in AP and IB programs across the nation.

EOS conducted an equity experiment for EWHS to find students who had “grit,” but didn’t have high grades or could see themselves as IB students. Part of this experiment was actively recruiting students that EOS identified for EWHS.

“That was one of the most successful cohorts we ever had,” said Quinn. “In particular, it was a group of girls, and every one of them got into college and one is starting medical school in the fall. These were kids who had grit but nobody was looking for them.”

Quinn believes one of the things that EWHS does well is find students who are “diamonds,” but who don’t see themselves as that.

“We have worked really hard in this building and in the district on equity to make sure that access is available for all students to take higher-level classes.”

About a decade ago, EWHS ended academic and valedictorian ranking to prevent competition to be the first in a class, Quinn said.

“When you do that, you don’t have one of these people who would try to kill the other ones for their ranking like you hear at other schools,” said Quinn. “We just don’t do that, and they actually have a reason to want to collaborate with one another.”

Ending class rankings and valedictorians was the best thing the school did, Quinn added.

Making dreams a reality

Quinn frequently speaks about the fear of the unknown students face in deciding whether to go full IB, or not. Weighing expectations and experiences is part of the challenge of making that decision, he added, quoting a poster hanging in his office.

“Nobody can make you do this. It’s your choice. I say these things all the time – this has to be your choice.”

Balancing multiple activities while doing the full IB program is also common for students.

Every student in the gathered group of 12 at the school raised their hands when asked a mix of questions about involvement in either a job, sports, music, or art.

“If the program was so impossible, then how do hundreds of students do it every year?” Quinn asked.

Quinn says he feels blessed for the community and district for supporting the IB program, and that the students are giving back as much as the community is giving to them.

EWHS IB students are involved with organizations such as the Edmonds Senior Center, the Edmonds Youth Commission and Students Saving Salmon, to name a few.

“The IB program is a really special gift that the taxpayers of Edmonds have given our community,” he said. “That’s the best part about being in this district. Our district says, keep growing.”

To be a small part in seeing students succeed and make their goals a reality is why Quinn shows up every day, he said.

“This is the dream. You have to live the dream; otherwise what’s the point?”

 

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