Students in the Nappa Valley area wrote about their opposition to IB. (Nappa Valley Register)

More than 170 high school students are urging the St. Helena School Board to eliminate the International Baccalaureate program in favor of traditional Advanced Placement classes.

A letter signed by 177 high school students — about a third of the student body — says IB is unnecessary, impractical, and less useful to students than AP classes, which have mostly been phased out over the last few years.

The school district has been polling staff, parents, students and the community as it considers scaling back the district’s K-12 IB program. The board is scheduled to discuss IB at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 10, at Vintage Hall.

The letter claims that IB doesn’t benefit the majority of high school students because “only a fraction of (the) student population is enrolled in an IB class.”

Only eight high school seniors are enrolled in the IB Diploma Program for juniors and seniors, but 110 students are enrolled in at least one IB class.

“The IB Diploma Program has essentially created an exclusive prep school within a public high school, funded with moneys that should be available for the benefit of all students,” the letter argues.

Students say the Diploma Program “isolates students from one another.”

“All juniors and seniors in the (diploma) program, and the majority of students taking more than one or two IB classes, are with the same students throughout the school day,” the letter states. “This contributes to a lack of student unity, and creates apathy as well as antipathy on campus.”

In February administrators recommended replacing the K-8 IB program with a “St. Helena International Program” that would maintain the benefits of IB without all the logistical hassle.
Administrators recommended keeping the IB Diploma Program for at least another two years for the sake of students who’ve already committed to it.

Students say the implementation of IB classes “has cut other much-needed classes, many of which were geared toward a wider array of students,” including vocational courses.

“In addition to cutting classes themselves, IB has eliminated the possibility of new classes in general, e.g., an anatomy/physiology course — SHHS is the only high school in the Napa-Santa Rosa area which does not offer anatomy,” the letter states.

Students remain unconvinced that IB is superior to AP, and question whether IB is necessary to give them a global perspective.

“In reality, thanks to modern technology and a world economy, we live in and learn through a global community regardless of the IB program,” the letter states.

Supporters of IB have said it values critical thinking and analysis more than AP, but students disagree.

“Certainly, IB encourages independent thought and analysis — but only if it results in a conclusion previously prescribed by the program,” students claim. “This serves to hinder true independent thought in students for fear of a failing grade.”

AP is far more likely than IB to be recognized by American colleges and universities, students added.

The struggles of IB have been attributed to a lack of understanding of IB among parents and students. But students say that after two years, “it has become painfully obvious that the more parents and students learn of the IB program, the less they want to be involved.”

The letter concludes that the district should cut its losses rather than “continue to pour time, money and effort into a poor investment.”