For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told high school is my chance to grow, to find out what my interests are and dive into those areas. Entering high school, that seemed obvious. The doors of Shawnee Mission East were like the gates to adulthood. I mean, I was going to school with people who could actually drive and legally vote. Teachers would no longer be telling me how to walk in the halls or when I was allowed to use the restroom.
I was ready to dive in and start swimming, determined to make high school my never-ending pool of freedom. With an overflowing course list and seven hours a day to fill it with, it was as if my education could be personally designed by me. No two schedules would be the same.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) program was introduced to me sophomore year, and with its highly challenging, yet highly rewarding class structure, it seemed like the next step in my high school education.
Up until this point I had always taken on the highest level classes offered. It had been instilled in me that if there was a higher level class offered, I should be taking it. So on paper, the IB program seemed like the right decision.
To the wide-eyed sophomore, IB was the ultimate challenge. Described as a rigorous, pre-college program, intended to challenge and provide an international world view to students who have an inquiry for knowledge, it had my name written all over it.
Then I began examining further. With only 30-40 kids enrolled per grade, it was the antithesis of the larger than life high school community I had already been exposed to and grown to love. It also had a very detailed and set course of classes I was expected to take. I would be required to continue on with a foreign language, and after two years of Spanish, I was ready to be done. It also required an arts credit, and with the exception of Orchestra, I had never enrolled in an art class at SME.
Then there were the C.A.S. hours: 50 creative hours, 50 active hours and 50 service hours were required to receive the prestigious IB diploma at the end of senior year. The creative hours were intended to engage students in different art forms, the active hours were intended to get students out from behind their desk and participate in physical activities and the service hours encouraged students to help the community.
While all of these are great idea and should absolutely be done by everyone, it was the principle of having them assigned that bothered me, as if I couldn’t be trusted to excel on my own. The idea that someone was going to tell me that I had to participate in physical activity, and then require me to document it in order to receive a diploma completely contradicted the newfound freedom I had found in high school.
I was already on swim team. The thought of needing to document those hours spent in the pool seemed so arbitrary. I was already active in the arts. I played cello in high school orchestra and KC Youth Symphony. I didn’t need someone reminding me to be artistic. Suddenly, it seemed like I had just hit the bottom of my never ending pool of freedom.
I was stuck. I was always told to challenge myself as much as I could, but the IB program wasn’t what I envisioned for high school. I wanted to dive into math and science, my strong suits. I wanted to take whatever electives I desired, without the pressure of diploma requirements looming over me. I wanted to grow and excel in a class of 400 something, not 30 something.
But the best part about high school is that there is always something for everyone. And for me that was Advanced Placement classes. Choosing the AP route, I could still enroll in high level classes, but my life outside those four core classes was mine to make. This year it’s AP Calculus, AP Biology 2, AP English and AP American History, all of which provide plenty of challenge and an opportunity to receive college credit on AP exams in the spring.
Now I’m two months into my junior year and still diving deeper. Sometimes it’s as if I’m drowning in homework and to-do lists, and I have to remind myself to come up for air. But I can still fill out my college application knowing I made the right decision to enroll in AP classes instead of IB.
I’ll graduate from Shawnee Mission East without an IB diploma, without 150 C.A.S. hours and without having taken any IB exams. But I’ll meet new people in all of my classes, I’ll have taken my fair share of AP tests and I’ll do it all without a preset course made for me.