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Diefenbaker students speak up to preserve their school’s IB program

Five students from John G Diefenbaker have written an open letter to the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) expressing concerns over the potential cancellation of the International Baccalaureate program.

Included among the scenarios included in a recent CBE briefing were the discontinuation of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at either Diefenbaker or Lester B. Pearson High School.

According to the CBE, the scenarios were proposed with the intent of balancing enrollment in high schools. It also provided cost savings of roughly $16,000.

Kathy Rwamuningi, parent council chair for Diefenbaker, said cases of both over and underutilization of facilities exist within the CBE.

“They’re trying to create an environment so that you don’t have some schools that are… almost over 140 per cent capacity,” she explained.

There are currently five schools in Calgary that offer the IB program, which offers internationally-recognized enrichment for high school students.

The programs are designed to encourage students to participate in creative and service-oriented actions. They also offer an expanded curriculum required by both Alberta Education, and the IB  program.

“[IB] also includes a component called CAS (Creativity, Activity, and Service) which [students] also have to do as part of their school curriculum,” said Rwamuningi.

Redistribution of Calgary students

If an IB program is discontinued, students who wish to continue studying the curriculum will be redistributed to other schools.

These include Sir Winston Churchill, Western Canada, or Henry Wise Wood High Schools.

Rwamuningi said they shouldn’t be eliminating an enriched learning opportunity for students.

“Anyone who is involved in the IB program finds it curious that where other school boards and jurisdictions are trying to increase having that influence in their school communities, that the CBE is trying to get rid of one,” she said.

Diefenbaker IB student Siraaj Shah, who worked on the open letter, said removing the program will negatively impact student learning. It won’t “Provide a more equitable learning experience for all high school students,” a mandate the CBE noted in their press release regarding the proposals, he said.

“Removing the IB program would effectively strip us as students, especially those of low socioeconomic status, from [having access to] this immensely incredible opportunity,” Shah said.

“Effectively, the IB program gives students an opportunity to impact the community in ways that they would not do so in any other program.”

According to Diefenbaker student council co-presidents Tia Wong and Robyn Warden, who also had input on the open letter, their school currently supports more than 350 IB students.

Warden said the financial gain is marginal and is outweighed by the loss of student opportunities.

“I don’t believe that it’s worth losing all of the benefits of IB just to save [$16,000]. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much money,” Warden said.

Effective resource allocation: CBE

The CBE noted in both scenarios that the reduction of locations offering the IB program comes “in an effort to allocate resources effectively.”

The CBE said it’s possible to have fewer locations offering IB while maintaining the quality of learning opportunities.

Wong said based on the population of students enrolled in the program at Diefenbaker, the school would suddenly become underutilized, should it disappear.

“If the IB program were to be removed, [population] numbers are projected to be a lot more unstable… based on the Alberta Education website,” she said.

“It’s counterintuitive. We will be losing [hundreds] of students and our utilization will drop significantly.”

Shah said the decision to cancel it could limit student accessibility to the IB program.

“IB with only four schools [offering the program] will be capped. At least three to four hundred students will be denied the opportunity simply because there isn’t enough space,” he said.

An opportunity for the public to provide feedback on the proposed plan is being made available.

The decision on the potential scenario will be announced this fall for the 2022-2023 school year.