Miriam Spak (Freshman)
The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) is the crown jewel of Obama Academy. It is a highly prestigious academic program that requires years of studying, writing lengthy research papers, and examinations. All Obama students are enrolled in the Middle Years Programme (MYP), a period of pre-IBDP learning, which begins in sixth grade and ends in tenth. All eleventh and twelve graders are enrolled in IBDP courses, but they can choose whether or not to take the total of six exams and earn the Diploma. The primary purpose of the program is to prepare students for college by challenging them with rigorous coursework as well as equipping them with a credential that stands out on applications to elite schools.
The IBDP is a true asset to this school: Obama is the only public high school in Pittsburgh that offers the option to take it, and one of very few in Pennsylvania. Teachers and administration can be heard extolling its virtues at assemblies and orientations, and it is one of the reasons why students choose to attend Obama. The Diploma is standardized across the world, so Obama students are able to access the same curriculum as students at top-ranking private schools across the planet. Higher-level IBDP courses, which students can choose to take up to four of in their senior years, are designed to contain the same intensity and standards of learning as college courses. This is reflected in the fact that students can receive college credits for high scores on these exams. In the opinion of an anonymous senior, Obama’s IBDP candidates work incredibly hard and generally achieve exam scores that reflect this. The offerings of the program and the students who choose to complete it are what make this school shine.
While the IBDP has many positive attributes, it has flaws as well. Though the Diploma looks great on college applications, not all American universities offer course credit for exams; and of the ones that do, many will only accept higher-level credits (students are unable to take only higher-level exams), and only if a student scores above a certain threshold on any given exam. Getting the Diploma is also expensive. It costs around 120 dollars to take a single exam and students need to take six to earn the full Diploma, making the total cost around 800 dollars. If students fail the exams, they have lost both the opportunity to earn this credential and a significant financial investment. An anonymous junior working towards the full diploma told The Eagle Times, “This might be the worst financial decision I have ever made.” Above all, the IBDP is simply hard. Students who do not work towards the Diploma are potentially able to spend the end of high school with an abundance of free time. The eleventh and twelfth grades are already a time of burnout and stress, and deciding to achieve the Diploma means spending the tail end of one’s high school career studying and researching.
Is getting the Diploma worth it? The answer truly does depend on one’s personal priorities. If spending high school soaking up knowledge and preparing for postsecondary education is necessary for a student, then they should strongly consider taking the exams and getting the Diploma. If a student’s priority is spending the end of high school focusing on extracurricular pursuits or working, then they may want to remain enrolled in IB-level courses without taking the tests. Regardless, students should weigh their options carefully and make the decision they feel is right.