Academic Boosters Strives to Keep the Bar High

By Jennifer Lee

The old axiom “It takes a village to raise a child” could be the impetus for a group of Clarke County parents dedicated to supporting students and teachers in Clarke County Public Schools. The Academic Boosters of Clarke (ABC) has its roots in Concerned Citizens of Clarke County for Education, which was formed in 2009 by Juliet Mackay-Smith and Dr. Laura Dabinett. At that time, a sudden loss of funding for Clarke County High School students wanting to take International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) tests inspired the effort to raise funds for students who could not afford the test fees.

The name of the group has changed, and the scope and mission have expanded with a fresh group of parents. The mission of ABC is to create a community of people working together to support all students and teachers involved with all advanced academic programs in the public schools, to educate the public about these programs, to advocate for the importance of these programs, and to generate funds to support these programs.

Why is this important? Teachers report that the students who are taking the exams are more invested in the classes, are better positioned to get into college, and, once there, are better prepared. Many colleges provide credit for the IB and AP classes which can save students tuition fees.

Facing budgetary constraints in 2008, the Clarke County School Board made the difficult decision to eliminate funding of IB and AP registration and test fees. What had been covered by the school system became the responsibility of the student. Many students could not afford the $100 test fee or $125 registration fee. ABC wants to provide funding so that money is not an obstacle for any student wanting to take the IB and AP exams.

Now in the leadership roles, parents Tracy Smith, Amy Barley, and Dr. Terri Catlett are working on creative ways to raise awareness, support, and funds. “The community of people who are interested in academic excellence needs a unified voice,” they assert. “ABC wants to be the voice of parents, students, and teachers who believe in the value of an outstanding academic program.”

In the fall of 2012, ABC provided $9,679 to the school system for 22 students who could not otherwise have afforded to take the tests. ABC also provided funds to Laurie Barbagallo, Mathematics Department Chair, for a study session for students preparing to take an IB math exam. The four-hour session was held on a Sunday afternoon at the high school—the money was used to supply food and water to the students.

How does a student apply for help with test fees? Thom Potts, the IB/AP Coordinator at CCHA, distributes applications at the beginning of each academic year. All applications are collected and reviewed by the School Board office, and the required fees are transferred from ABC to the school system once the selections are made. “No student was turned away this year,” says Smith.

While ABC’s efforts are currently focused on high school students, the group hopes to expand to middle and elementary schools. ABC uses the Clarke County Education Foundation (CCEF), a 501(c)3 nonprofit that raises funds to promote multiple programs, provide supplies, and encourage scholarship funding within the entire school system, to hold the funds it raises and provide tax receipts to ABC’s donors. CCEF also transfers funds to the school system as needed, but neither ABC nor CCEF plays a role in selecting the students who receive money for test fees or registration.

“The mission of CCEF is much broader than that of ABC,” explains Barley. “We are like a feather in the wing of CCEF, supporting the flight of students who expect that their school systems will provide the best opportunities to excel in school and go on to college.”

ABC has monthly meetings during the school year, with guest speakers who help identify and explain opportunities within the school and answer questions members and parents have about various programs. They are also in the process of planning some fundraising activities in addition to the traditional letter writing campaign. A video highlighting the IB program is in the works, as well as plans for a special event this fall. Loose change collection jars will be placed around town, “because every penny counts,” Smith says.

The new group is thankful to the Clarke County “village” for its past support and donations of time and resources. Members are hopeful that generosity and commitment will continue. “We would like to give extra thanks to Thom Potts, whose dedication to the IB program has kept it stable and strong all these years,” they say.

Anyone interested in learning more can email or write to Academic Boosters of Clarke, PO Box 1162, Berryville, VA 22611.

Author’s note: Thanks to Amy Barley for her assistance with this article.

What’s an International Baccalaureate?

By Colleen Lentile

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program is known for being a great deal more difficult than the Standard Diploma classes, so students have the option of enrolling in individual classes of their own interest and earning IB Certificates or choosing to work towards achieving the IB Diploma. This decision should be made early on, so that students can get the required middle school classes, Algebra I and the first year of a language, and be on the Honors track in 9th and 10th grade. Then IB classes are typically taken in the student’s junior and senior year.

Students attempting to earn the IB Diploma have to fulfill certain requirements. First, the student must pass the tests and finish the work required in the core IB subjects, which include English, World Language, Social Studies, Laboratory Science, Mathematics, and Arts/Electives. These courses are offered in both Higher (HL) and Standard (SL) Level; the students are expected to take 3-4 HL classes and 2-3 SL classes. Second, students have to be enrolled in Theory of Knowledge (TOK), which like most of the other subjects, is a 2 year course. In TOK class, IB Diploma candidates will write a 4000-word Extended Essay on a subject of the students choosing. Lastly, they are asked to accomplish 150 hours of extracurricular activities that obey the IB Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) guidelines. With these requirements executed, the students will earn their IB and their Virginia Advanced Studies Diploma.

Students that are not diploma candidates can choose whether or not they want to take the IB tests as well as being enrolled in the course. The tests, which are taken in May, are graded separate from class work and then can be put on transcripts to be sent to colleges and universities. Each college and university has different standards when it comes to transferring a student’s credits earned from IB classes and exempting them from college courses, but even being involved in the IB Program at all helps a student’s chances of getting into universities and colleges.

For each of the IB tests there is a fee, which can be seen on the IB website, or they can meet with the IB Coordinator, Thom Potts, with any questions or concerns.