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Oakland International Baccalaureate program aims to challenge advanced students

January 8, 2018

Rutherford County Schools

Lindsey VanParys said middle school was so easy for her that after hearing the information once “it just clicks,” while fellow Oakland High School senior Kyle Lennon said “middle school was almost like a cyclical pattern.”

Shevaughn Holness agreed.

“I never had to try in any of my classes,” she recalled, “and I got straight A’s.”

VanParys added, “It came naturally and easy.”

For high school, the trio wanted to be challenged. All three readily admit they “love school” and they craved classes that took a “deeper dive” into the material.

The challenge of a deeper dive proved to be the International Baccalaureate World School at Oakland High School.

VanParys, Lennon and Holness each academically qualified for a zone exemption to enroll in the IB program.

Holness, a junior, said the IB program has taught her how to organize her study materials and led to the discovery of being a “visual learner.”

However, the biggest adjustment Holness has made from Smyrna Middle to Oakland has been asking for help. She was used to finding answers on her own.

Lennon agreed.

He chuckled, “It’s been humbling.”

Rutherford County Schools currently offers six choice programs that accept applications for students. Those programs include Central Magnet School, Holloway High School, Homer Pittard Campus School, McFadden School of Excellence, Thurman Francis Arts Academy and Oakland High’s IB program.

Students and parents interested in learning more about the Oakland IB program should plan to attend an information meeting at the school on Jan. 11 at 6 p.m.

The meeting includes a tour of the school and a presentation that includes a few words from current students and past IB graduates. Applications to enroll are available and the priority deadline is Feb. 15. The final deadline is March 15.

Students must score above the 80th percentile in two reporting areas on the most recent nationally normed standardized test — TNReady, Explore, Stanford Achievement Test or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills — and have a GPA of 3.0 in core courses of English, math, science and social studies.

Prospective students in Rutherford County are encouraged to apply their eighth grade year in order to participate in IB preparatory courses during their freshmen and sophomore years at Oakland.

Detailed information can be found online at

Principal Bill Spurlock said Oakland offers prospective IB students a magnet-like program within the structure of a large public high school that provides all of its students an opportunity to participate in any number of highly competitive sports as well as top performing clubs and organizations.

“What you see is a microcosm of society,” Spurlock said. “We all come together … to make a large comprehensive high school.”

The applicants who are accepted into the IB program will enroll in pre-IB classes and all advanced honors courses, including AP human geography and foreign language, as freshmen and sophomores.

Prior to the start of their junior year, candidates will decide whether to pursue the full IB diploma program or an IB certificate. The diploma program includes six IB classes, an extended essay, a creative service project and a semester long course called theory of knowledge.

“It’s not about memorization and what you learned,” said IB coordinator and IB math instructor Carissa Huebner Clark, who said the class emphasizes supporting your opinion. “It’s all about curiosity … They take their curiosity and apply it with knowledge.”

In addition to the theory lectures, the six IB courses include English, foreign language, individual and society (history, psychology, business management), math, fine arts and science, which now includes environmental systems.

The IB program forces students to work outside their comfort zones, while maximizing their strengths.

“They know what it takes and it provides them a roadmap,” Spurlock said, “so they know how to divvy up their time.”

Speaking of priorities, Lennon added, “If you want to join IB you have to be willing to work.”

“Like Kyle said, you do have to be willing to do the work to succeed,” said VanParys, who plans to study biology and play golf at Maryville College in the fall, “and understand if you do need help, you have to ask for it.”

She added, “You have to understand it’s about challenging yourself and you’re going to be challenged and you might fall but you have to understand you’ll have people around you to help pick you back up.”

Much like the various athletic teams and the JROTC, the IB program fosters a family-like atmosphere.

“We’re very much a family here,” said VanParys, who also said the seniors help one another out with challenging projects and talk about issues and life outside of the classroom.

Many of the IB diploma-seeking students are together in classrooms for four years, VanParys and Spurlock said.

They ban together as one support group.

The IB program at Oakland started in 2007.

There were 20-30 diploma candidates in each of its first six years with an average of 25. The first graduates to earn an IB diploma did so in 2010. There are currently 47 seniors for the Class of 2018 and 57 juniors make up the Class of 2019, according to Clark.

Clark has been the coordinator since December 2015.

Past graduates are working to sustain crops in Germany, while another former student, Pamela Watson, helped to discover an ameba while attending Mississippi State. Another became a top fighter pilot after attending the Air Force Academy and two others are attending Ivy League schools.

Like his older brother, Sean, who graduated from the IB program in 2016, Kyle Lennon is hoping to attend the United States Naval Academy, where he plans to major in oceanography.

“We never get away from what we understand is our ultimate objective,” Spurlock concluded, “which is to educate young minds.”