Laila Bailey, International Baccalaureate

Published 10:07 am Saturday, June 15, 2024

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Graduation is behind us and the class of 2024 is transitioning from their school days to adulthood. Some are going to work, others college or trade schools. For Laila Bailey, a recent Lagrange High School graduate, she’ll be heading to the Ivy Leagues to attend the University of Pennsylvania. 

Bailey will be the first in her family to go to college. Her tuition is paid for all four years of out-of-state schooling and she will be getting a travel stipend to return to Lagrange for breaks. Bailey’s path was perhaps not typical but was certainly earned. The non-profit organization, QuestBridge, is funding her education through its scholarship program. 

QuestBridge gives financial assistance to high-achieving students with low-income backgrounds. Bailey found the scholarship through the organization’s College Prep Scholars Program. She applied in the Spring of her Junior year to the program and was admitted. At the program’s summer conference at Emory University, she learned about the scholarship. 

“That was really cool to me because I am from a low-income family, I am first-gen [college student]…I was like, ‘Oh my gosh this is the key to me going to college.’

Bailey attributes part of her participation in and admittance into Questbridge, to another program at Lagrange High School. 

IB, short for the International Baccalaureate program, is a two-year program for junior and senior high school students. The students in IB take all their classes together and have the same teachers throughout the two years. It also employs a more holistic approach to instruction. 

Bailey’s reasoning for getting into the IB program was simply because it sounded fun. She said it was something new and different, so she jumped in. 

“I would just say going into IB you should definitely have an open mind because IB is something that connects so many areas of knowledge.”

“IB focuses more on stretching the student in multiple ways, like in their global mindset, in their ability to collaborate with others, particularly others who may be different from them,” said Randy Hardigree, the school’s IB coordinator. “It seeks to produce a well-rounded kid who is not only sharp academically but can communicate well, can serve well, can work well with others.”

Much of the coursework is collaborative. Sometimes students are told to debate or answer questions from a point of view different from their own.

The Theory of Knowledge course, which is required for IB students, is an example of this more holistic approach to learning. Hardigree said most of our schooling is about the “What.” What is math or history etc.. Theory of Knowledge discusses the “How.”

“How does knowledge come to us? What are the different types of knowledge? And so it’s a completely different layer than you typically get in school…The concepts that they learn in that class, they’re sort of woven into every other IB class,” he said.

“Part of what makes [IB] a really unique experience is that they are with multiple teachers for two full years, which means they really, really know their teachers and their teachers really know them well,” Hardigree said. “They have to take all the same classes…There’s this tremendous family element of it.”

The idea started with Alton White, the former LHS principal.

“[White] was just looking for ways to take Lagrange High School to the next level…Lagrange High School has a really deep tradition of excellence in this community. And we were just looking for ways to maybe [maximize] that and perpetuate that for the future,” said Hardigree.

He explained that the IB program has been around since the 1960s, starting at International Schools around the world. It has in recent years, been growing in the U.S. and become popular in the Southeast specifically.

“IB diploma is sort of considered the gold standard of high school diplomas. It’s the most comprehensive all-around approach for preparing the whole individual. Whereas, you know, a lot of a lot of rigorous academic programs in high schools, they’re strictly academics,” Hardigree said.

Programs like AP classes or honors classes have, historically, lacked diversity. In a study done by The Education Trust, Black and Latino students were underrepresented, based on their populations, in both honors courses and AP courses in the vast majority of states, including Georgia.

“That’s kind of a universal problem that our country faces,” Hardigree said. “[IB] wants it to be so that it’s accessible to all…It should work, so that a kid who has done the prep work, just in terms of prerequisite classes; If they’re willing to jump in there and do the work, they’ll be fine.”

He adds IB students don’t have to be the greatest test takers or even straight-A students. What they do need is a desire to learn and a willingness to work.

“We’re trying to identify kids when they’re younger, who have the potential to do it, and make sure that they have the coursework and support in place to get them there. It is rigorous, it is hard, but if you come to it, you know, reasonably prepared, you can do it,” Hardigree said. “We have kids who just finished the program and graduated and handled it like champs.”

Hardigree hopes the program continues to grow, and other schools potentially adopt similar learning styles.

“I would just love for more kids to get the opportunity,”

The IB coordinator would love to add another IB program offered in other places, called the Career-Related Programme. This combines the philosophy and teaching style of IB with a career in technical education. The current program is the IB diploma program.

The students and administrators are not alone in their praise for the program. 

“IB is probably the most important thing I know of that’s happened in this community in a long time,” said John Hardie, an IB teacher. “Whenever businesses think about moving to a community, the first thing they look for is education, what kind of schools they have, and the fact that Lagrange High School has an IB program is just enormous.”

Hardie teaches the Literature classes for the program and agrees with Hardigree that IB is the best instructional program out there. 

“IB has 12 different academic, intellectual virtues, one of which is open-mindedness, one is international mindedness,” said Hardie. 

Hardie teaches six texts during the year, from authors of varied backgrounds. 

“One’s ancient Greece, Sophocles and his play on Antigone…Then we read Athol Fugard, a South African, I have them read James Baldwin, who’s an African American writer” Hardie said. The other authors are Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne from the United States, and Egyptian writer Nawal Elsaadawi.

Hardie said reading the different perspectives from the authors allows students to broaden their own perspectives. Students seem to enjoy the approach. Hardie took one of his students, Dimitri Hatten to a series of lectures on Baldwin hosted at the University of Georgia because he engaged so strongly with the material. 

“Having that close bond with everybody…that is something that got us so far in IB,” Bailey said. 

She is not deciding on a major just yet, instead wanting to explore her options. Bailey is excited to explore the metropolitan city of Philadelphia where Penn is located. 

“The change just going from Lagrange to Philadelphia, I think is going to be good for me, because I think I’m gonna like exploring…being able to just walk around the city or take a subway and just go wherever I want to go,” Bailey said. 

While her original plan was to stay closer to home, Bailey has already found some friendly faces in Philly. 

“I’ve been cheering the entirety of high school. I recently made the cheer team at Penn…I think my teammates from high school really helped me get through the school year as well. So, I’m glad to have that support,” she said.

Bailey, like the rest of this year’s graduates, is moving forward.

“I feel like I’m kind of a living testimony that you don’t have to have the most perfect grades, or do 18,000 extracurriculars, or have perfect SAT scores to get into a good college,” she continued. “Even if you don’t get into a top school, that’s not the end of the world, because I think just getting the chance to have an undergraduate education or a post-high school education is a privilege.”