North Salem High School students at a graduation ceremony on Thursday, August 6, 2020 (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

North Salem High School students will have a new slate of classes available in the fall that’ll offer more chances to earn college credit.

The school was recently authorized as an International Baccalaureate World school, allowing it to offer IB diplomas to students who complete two years of coursework in language, science, arts, math and critical thinking, as well as pass exams.

The program can give students a leg up in college admissions in addition to giving them more advanced high school courses than might otherwise be available.

The International Baccalaureate program has offered the diploma and curriculum for the required classes since 1968. They’re intended to help high school students across the world develop critical thinking skills and become more familiar with global issues, including through learning other languages. About 1,000 American high schools are certified to offer the diploma, according to the organization's website.

Getting the program in place has taken several years of work, led by teacher Mike Simental, who will serve as the school coordinator.

Simental said he and other teachers at North were attracted to the IB program because of its focus on global issues and the way its curriculum offers connections between subjects.

That’s in contrast to Advanced Placement courses, the other primary way American high schools offer college-level credit to students. Simental said by default, those classes are more “siloed” unless teachers put in extra work to coordinate lessons.

“What you do in AP U.S. history, it doesn’t have a lot to do with AP English literature,” he said, naming two commonly offered Advanced Placement courses. “IB by design encourages students to make connections that kind of move between their different classes.”

Principal Chad Towe said the program’s global focus focus is an asset for North, which has among the most diverse student bodies Salem’s six high schools.

“There is an international mindedness with the IB program that serves our students and community exceptionally well,” he said.

Before becoming the school’s coordinator and working as a mentor for other teachers, Simental taught English. He said the global focus of the program shows up in its English curriculum, which requires a certain number of books be read in translation and come from various cultures and time periods.

That doesn’t mean students won’t read English classics like Shakespeare’s plays or The Great Gatsby, but they’ll be read alongside novels by authors like Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez.

“It’s automatically going to encourage the teacher to bring in diverse perspectives,” Simental said.

Students typically take IB courses as junior and seniors and can take single classes without pursuing the diploma. North will initially offer a dozen courses, including Spanish and French, physics, theory of knowledge and psychology, according to a program brochure.

The school will keep some Advanced Placement courses, Simental said, while others will be replaced with IB.

South Salem High School has a longstanding IB program which also offers the diploma. North will also offer an IB career program, Simental said, making it the only other school in the district to offer it.

Students have already expressed interest in the program, and Simental said the school will do more outreach to parents and students this summer.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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