CHICAGO -- Karol Knowa left his native Krakow speaking Polish with only the basic English he was taught in grammar school. Now he speaks English fluently and is a junior at Hubbard High School, which sits in an economically and racially diverse Chicago neighborhood.
"I spent the entire eighth grade learning English," said Knowa shaking his head. At home he speaks Polish, in school he speaks English. His efforts paid off though, just three years after immigrating, he is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Hubbard where he is one of many foreign and first generation American students.
A spate of IB programs have sprung up in Chicago as part of an effort to turn around low performing schools and draw the middle class back into the public school system. The IB program is attractive because it offers rigorous college-level course work in 11th and 12th grades. The course work stresses critical thinking and integrates subjects to enhance learning. Students must know a second language and be familiar with world literature.
The oldest program in the city was started at Lincoln Park High School in 1979. The success of the IB program at Lincoln Park has inspired Chicago officials to include the program in the larger school-wide reforms that the city started in 1995.
"When this school [Lincoln Park] was first here most people wouldn't send their kids to Lincoln Park," said Mary Enda-Tookey, the IB program coordinator at Lincoln.
In the 1970's Lincoln Park was called Waller High School and undercover cops roamed the hallways. School officials feared the school would be shut down.
Al Dziedzic, IB coordinator at Hubbard, first taught at Lincoln Park, "The IB program served as a basis for turning around what was Waller," he said adding, "It worked."
Lincoln Park 20-years later is a sought-after zip code by the urban middle class, and 450 of the school's 1700 students are enrolled in the IB degree program. The students come from 35 different countries. Many don't speak English at home. A typical biology class at Lincoln Park has students from Romania, Greece, France, Italy, Macedonia and America.
"Students are realizing that while they integrate into American culture they can still hold on to their native language," Enda-Tookey said.
Hubbard is the second fully participating IB high school in the Chicago area. Of the 1600 students in the 9-12 high school, there are 30 juniors, 27 sophomores and 53 freshman in the IB program. This year's juniors will be the first Hubbard students to take an IB exam.
There are 312 schools in the United States that offer IB courses or diplomas, 15 of them are in Chicago.
Hubbard joined Lincoln Park as a fully participating IB school three years ago offering the program to students if they pass a demanding test and interview.
Approximately 43 percent of Hubbard's IB students are Hispanic, 33 percent are white, 17 percent black and 6 percent Asian, according to Dziedzic.
Students in the program earn at least one-year of college credit and graduate with an IB diploma that gives them a better chance of getting into the nation's top universities.
"I wanted to go into a school where I would be challenged," Hubbard Junior Karen Reodica said. She hopes to study molecular genetics at Stanford University.
IB students learn from a curriculum that is based on the way subjects are taught in many foreign countries. The IB organization's headquarters are in Switzerland. It provides the curriculum, assessment and teacher training to over 800 schools in 100 countries.
The curriculum includes 60 subjects and 35 languages. Courses cover history, science, mathematics, literature, geography, economics, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, technology, art and music.
Students sit for a series of six exams in May of their junior and senior years and must prove their writing skills with an independent research project of 4,000 words.
Each student's exams, portfolio and written paper, are sent to an international team of experts for grading. The same standards are applied to all IB schools and there is no grading curve.
Most states have schools with an IB program. The 17 states that do not offer the degree are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming, according to the International Baccalaureate Organization (ww.ibo.org).