The Decision: Mason Educates Parents on the IB Education

Falls Church Times Staff

January 31, 2010

The sixty or so parents who had assembled in the Mustang Café at George Mason High School were in full agreement with Asheesh Misra, the International Baccalaureate Program Coordinator, and he had only spoken five words:  “Your time is quite precious.”

Beyond the fact that it was 7:00 p.m. on a work and school night, the bottom line for those attending the annual parents’ IB information night was time.  Is the IB program worth the time required of students and their families?  Does participating in IB leave time for extra curricular activities?  If a student chooses to pursue an IB diploma, what time will they get to sleep?  How does time spent in IB translate into college credit?

This was Misra’s second IB information night at Mason – he was hired as the IB program coordinator in 2008 – and his approach to the evening paralleled his approach to overall program management: thorough preparation, a focused, inclusive message, and enthusiasm for the IB mission and learner’s profile.  In Misra’s professional opinion, “IB is not just for the most successful students but for all students who want to dig deeper to reach that which is beyond what is simply offered in the classroom.”

With the assistance of Amy Kurjanowicz, Mason’s Director of Counseling, panelists had been gathered together who could speak to the program from almost any relevant perspective.  Taken as a whole, they could be grouped into three categories.

1.  The Supportive, Insightful Parents

Barry and Catherine Breen may be to IB families in the City of Falls Church what N.C. Wyeth and his wife Carolyn were to families of American artists.  It is entirely possible that by the summer of 2011, the Breen family will have produced five IB diploma recipients: Betsy (2003); Andrew and Peter (2008); and Cathy and Mollie (IB diploma candidates, Class of 2011).

Speaking about his family’s experience, Mr. Breen stated that in his estimation the program taught his children time management skills that enabled their participation in the diploma program while simultaneously opening their schedules to the extracurricular activities of their choosing.  “IB was the right thing for our children, the right thing for our family.  I bet more people can take it on than realize they can take it on,” he said.

2.  The Preternaturally Organized and Composed High School Students

There was the captain of the cross-country team – one of her three varsity sports.  She had also spent five weeks volunteering time to tutor students in Peru.  Her early admission to Duke had recently been announced.

She was joined, after the presentation began, by the accomplished young flutist running late because she works as a volunteer with elementary school students in the District of Columbia.

Then there was the walk-on phenomenon, the young man who hadn’t been singled out as a prospect in middle school but who had grown into an earnest, articulate, and ardent spokesperson for both IB and the lifelong love of learning reflected in the IB mission statement.  His early admission application to William and Mary had been successful.

Three of the IB panelists: Barry Breen, Micah Jasny, and Courtney Ready  Staff Photo by Scott Taylor

Three of the IB panelists: Barry Breen, Micah Jasny, and Courtney Ready Staff Photo by Scott Taylor

Courtney Ready, Gemma Seidita, and Micah Jasny, all current IB diploma candidates, were recruited as panelists not because they are exceptional poster children for Mason’s IB program but because they are managing challenges typical for many highly motivated students.  Balancing training and travel for competitive sports with a weekly homework load, resolving scheduling conflicts between band and academic courses, time with friends, time on Facebook, and college admissions goals – each student had anecdotes that communicated what life is like for 15 to 18 year olds participating in the IB program.

3.  What the Return on Investment Looks Like

Three recent Mason graduates – articulate, confident, and seemingly well adjusted – took turns expressing how much they like being who they are today thanks in part to the IB program.  They were Peter Davis, Class of 2008, and a Harvard sophomore; Amelia Nemitz, Class of 2009, and a UVA freshman; and, Emily Perry, Class of 2008, and an Oberlin sophomore.

Perry, who opted for the IB certificate program instead of a diploma due to scheduling conflicts related to her commitment to symphonic band, expressed her appreciation for the “caring aspects of IB students.”

“If it weren’t for IB, I wouldn’t have done as much community service even though it wasn’t required in the certificate program.  I chose to serve voluntarily as a result of being immersed in the program and being around so many extraordinary people,” she said.

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The Creativity, Action and Service Program (CAS) is considered the “heart” of the IB diploma and Perry was referring to the service element which is required of diploma but not certificate candidates.  CAS is designed to move students beyond their academic comfort levels and provide them with real, purposeful, and challenging life lessons.

Emily Perry, Class of 2008, listens to Mason's Director of Counseling Amy Kurjanowicz  Staff Photo by Scott Taylor

Emily Perry, Class of 2008, listens to Mason's Director of Counseling Amy Kurjanowicz Staff Photo by Scott Taylor

Nemitz, whose IB exam scores placed here in the top one percent of all students worldwide thus earning her admission to The University of Oxford in Great Britain should she have chosen to attend, emphasized the importance IB plays in creating life long learners.  “Don’t focus on college credit for IB,” she said.  “IB is very individualistic and what each student gets back depends on what they put into it.”

Davis, remembered by many as the ubiquitous master of ceremonies at countless Mason arts events, seconded Nemitz’s opinion regarding college credit.  “Don’t think about IB in terms of how many credits you can earn – that isn’t important.  Think about looking yourself in the mirror and asking yourself, ‘What do I want to do with my life, what steps am I going to take today to realize that dream, and how is this going to help me pull it all together.’”

For the parents in attendance, the panel was in many ways a panoply of all their hopes and fears for the academic future of their children.  Is he going to be mature enough in a year to begin this journey?  She’s as able as any of these students, but can she put the social distractions behind her?  You have to be a superman to even attempt this.  We’ve been preparing for this since eighth grade and I think we’re ready.

A woman seated near the front of the Mustang Café asked one of the questions many were interested in hearing answered: “I know I’m not the only Northern Virginia parent who can say this: I feel my kids are stretched to the absolute limit already.  How much sleep will they get and how much stress is involved?”

Jasny responded first by linking success to time management skills: “it is all about how you organize your time.”  He sits down with his parents and plans for the coming week each Saturday morning and rarely gets to bed after 11:00 p.m.

In the Breen household, each student took a different approach to balancing work and rest.  This included routinely sleeping between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., a few all-nighters, and heading to bed at 9:00 p.m. – waking at 1:00 a.m. to work until 3:00 a.m. – then going back to sleep until 7:00 a.m.

When questioners returned to the subject of college credit, they were generally asking one of two questions.  With credit for IB, can my student finish college earlier or more easily double major?  Or, I’ve heard some colleges and universities don’t honor IB the same way they honor AP.

Misra answered the first question with a “yes”, citing Mason graduates who have received upwards of 36 credits based on their IB participation.  The answer to the second question was provided by simply turning to Nemitz, who is at UVA and Perry, who is at Oberlin.  Both women had very different experiences when their transcripts were reviewed by admissions personnel, UVA being less likely to award college credit.

Misra did briefly touch on a legislative initiative in the Virginia Senate that would address IB, AP parity.  The Falls Church Times reported on this issue on January 24, 2010, and as January 31st, SB 209 had yet to come up for a vote in committee.

As the Mustang Café emptied and parents made their way to the parking lot, many agreed the evening had been worth their time.  One man remarked to his wife as he pulled on his coat, “Time management kept coming up but I’ve never seen that course offered here at the high school.  I feel better now about being such a pain in the ass when it comes to time management at home.”


The George Mason High School IB Program Website

The IB program is depicted in the IB hexagon

The IB program is depicted in the IB hexagon

Information on Virginia Senate Bill 209


January 31, 2010 


3 Responses to “The Decision: Mason Educates Parents on the IB Education”

  1. MOMwithAbrain on January 31st, 2010 2:41 pm

    The IB program uses a Constructivist teaching method in the classroom. This is a controversial approach. This is the same approach used in the “reform” or “new” math programs. E. D. Hirsch is a vocal critic of Constructivism.

    There are many parent groups around the country who are now fighting against Constructivist programs for various reasons. Along with parent groups are some of our top mathematicians who actively speak out against this approach being used in the classroom.
    The best source is:

    This group of professionals, parents, teachers, school board members, and mathematicians, who contribute to that site, are supporters of a solid academic foundation for all students. E.D. Hirsch and the Core Knowledge curriculum offers students that needed foundation and is supported by the people involved at

    However they would argue that a constructivist approach in the classroom has been detrimental to students in the subject of mathematics.

    As you can see in this study, there are serious problems when using this approach in the classroom.

    In addition to the issues with Constructivism, the IBO incorporates some of the agenda from the United Nations. The UN is a political organization that pushes a political agenda to affect policy both in the US and abroad.

    With the recent scandal involving the IPCC and the UN paid scientists who manipulated and attempted to destroy data, it was clear that authentic science took a backseat to a political agenda. The UN is now involved in a scandal involving data that was manipulated in order to affect the world’s political stage.

    Within the IB curriculum you will find a heavy UN influence. The 2011 Geography (page 12) explicitly states they will promote the UN agenda. (climate being one of those subjects)

    You will also find it here: Global lessons and activities 2009: Peace and conflict | IB Community Theme (scroll down to lessons and activities and click on “suggested lessons”)

    The UN is caught up in a scandal right now that has the scientific world reacting with anger.

    While there may be parts of this program that have real value, one cannot ignore the glaring issues that come with it. Paying the yearly fee, hiring an IB Coordinator and allowing a political agenda to come in to the classrooms needs to be thoughtfully considered.

    The UN pushes a radical leftist agenda that many feel undermines our national sovereignty. The head of the UN, Ban Ki Moon came before the U.S. Senate to push for Cap N Trade and attempt to affect public policy based on unproven science. This is a controversial political issue which can divide a community.

    This is a program that sells itself on rigor and critical thinking, yet no one seems to point out the flaws in this program.

    Hirsch is one of the few voices that understands the value of critical thinking, however his approach is to give the students knowledge so that they can make critical decisions. Since k-12 is still a time of building a foundation of knowledge, I have serious reservations that this is the best approach. Other Academic Topics « Math Wizards This is a time to teach the students subjects like science and allow the discovery to take place once that foundation has been set.

    Rigor can be accomplished in many ways. Research papers can be assigned without adopting a program like IB. Busy work or self-directed learning can be time-consuming, but as you will read from the scientific studies, it can also put students behind their peers who receive direct instruction in the classroom.

  2. Kirstin Johnson, Falls Church on February 1st, 2010 9:32 am

    I wholeheartedly recommend the IB program: for schools, for students and in general. It does take some work, but is manageable. One of the biggest differences I heard about was from substitute teachers. They were amazed at how well behaved and respectful the students were. When it comes to actually learning as opposed to barely controlled babysitting, IB is phenomenal.

  3. Michelle Taylor City of Falls Church on February 2nd, 2010 10:17 pm

    Dear “MOMwithAbrain”,
    (why no name or city identified?)

    I need to point out some serious flaws in your comments and logic, because you do not seem to have done the serious research to back up your claims against IB. I know first-hand how the IB program works. I am a parent of three IB students, two of them 2009 graduates, I am currently a teacher, I have studied education theory, and I am an educational advocate. I have been greatly impressed by the rigor and high standards set out in the IB program. My children have a much better foundation of learning than my generation ever received due to the fact that the standards of learning in the IB program are extremely high, the quality of teaching is exceptional, and once the Core Knowledge has been mastered, the students are required to integrate the knowledge of multiple subjects in order to understand a “Big Picture” assessment of the material they have learned and to see and find ways to apply it in the larger world. As John Dewey stated in the early 1900’s, “What we want is to have the child come to school with a whole mind and a whole body, and leave school with a fuller mind and an even healthier body” (Dworkin, 1959). I believe this is exactly what the IB program does.

    You state that you are against a Constructivist approach to learning. Let’s define that. The Constructivist approach to learning places an emphasis on creating authentic tasks in a meaningful context and encouraging thoughtful reflection on these experiences rather than abstract instruction out of context. Based upon the types of job skills required to succeed in the 21st century that require individuals to be able to be creative and innovative, the critical thinking and reflection upon assignments taught in a contextual manner are highly valuable skills for students entering the job market. Considering that you reference educational theorist E.D. Hirsch’s focus on Core Knowledge, it is important to point out that the IB program does not get to a point of critical thinking until the Core Knowledge has been covered and mastered.

    While you mention Hirsch repeatedly throughout your response, I encourage you to dig deeper in your study of Hirsch to fully grasp all that he stands for in the field of education theory. Hirsch writes that our educational system has gone too far in the direction of Project Based Learning (PBL) and that our students need to have a firm grasp of a core set of information, what he calls Core Knowledge. I agree completely. In fact, the philosophy of the IB program, which focuses on an integrated approach to learning is completely consistent with Hirsch’s integrated approach to learning. Additionally, Hirsch warns that “the human disposition to preselect research results is sometimes called an ‘ideology,’ a word implying that beliefs are chosen primarily to promote self-interest or class interest.” (Hirsch, 1996).

    I believe you are preselecting research results to bolster your anti-IB rhetoric and your apparent anti-global isolationist sentiment. By blindly following the grandiose rhetoric of political activists, it is my position that you place yourself dangerously close to following into a category of anti-intellectualism. Hirsch asserts strongly that anti-intellectualism hasn’t leveled our academic playing field amongst the poor and the wealthy but instead has widened the gap. This type of thought and argument he says is highly inequitable and undemocratic. You are aware of course that while Hirsch is educationally conservative, he is a self-proclaimed political liberal.

    We must all be careful to employ a critical ear when listening to the hyperbolic rhetoric that passes for political commentary in the news media. I am concerned that people don’t have enough Core Knowledge to analyze what they are hearing and make truly informed decisions. In that regard, I fully support Hirsch. We need to ensure Core Knowledge before we get into too much reflection and PBL. Hirsch, himself, backs this up when he asks how can we truly be informed citizens if we don’t have the background knowledge to understand government and politics thereby leaving us open to over-simplifications and lies and conspiracy theories we see in the media, e.g. UN conspiracy theories.

    It is nice to think that we do not have to work with other countries on our educational system, but the world we live in is a global society. We cannot afford to be isolationist in our thinking. IB is a holistic approach to learning that engages the whole child and prepares her to enter the world as a global citizen. Whether we like it or not, according to authors Daniel Pink and Thomas Friedman, we must all be global citizens with a core set of knowledge who can also be critical and innovative thinkers to succeed in the 21st century.