Ten Years Later, World-Renowned Education Program Thriving at Flathead High

School celebrates International Baccalaureate Programme and original students and staff who laid the strong foundation

By Dillon Tabish

Since its inception 10 years ago, the International Baccalaureate Programme at Flathead High School has become a prominent and proud part of the school’s identity.

In 2004, Flathead became the first high school in Montana to add the renowned college preparatory program, establishing a comprehensive two-year curriculum for juniors and seniors in Kalispell seeking a diploma with international recognition.

Seven students signed up for the ambitious, rigorous list of courses that first year. Building on their successful achievements and others’, the IB programme — spelled as it is in Europe — now boasts almost 400 students who take at least one class in the curriculum this year. Over 70 local students are pursuing the full IB diploma, the most ever.

Reaching the 10-year mark, Flathead administrators recently celebrated the proud tradition of academic excellence that continues to thrive.

This week FHS hosted an induction ceremony for the newly formed Academic Wall of Excellence, recognizing “the Magnificent Seven” who were pioneers of the IB programme as well as other Flathead students who have achieved high marks in the curriculum over the years.

“This is about looking back and looking forward all at the same time,” said Sue Brown, a veteran teacher at FHS who helped develop the IB programme. “To me it’s just exciting having the opportunity to honor some of the people who really took the risks early on as well as those who went way beyond just the IB and exceeded in ways that still set models for us all. Hopefully that’s of inspiration to the kids.”

The ceremony recognized the students from the Class of 2006 who were the first to graduate from the IB programme — Diana Brosten, Kirsten Koslosky, Andrew Creighton, Clelia Leopold, Natasha Tanner, Heather Keller and Elizabeth Myers — as well as others who helped build the foundation: Anna Marie Bailer, Bill Cooper, Callie Langohr, Rosemary McKinnon, DeAnn Thomas, Genia Allen-Schmid, Sue Brown, Sue Hanson, Ivan Lorentzen, Cathy McDevitt, Gayle Vidal, Lisa Schlange, Stephanie Christensen, Mary Kaplan, Kathryn Maxwell, Barb Murray, Dan Zorn and John York.

“To think that a student going to school here at Flathead High School can get an education that’s equivalent to someone in an international school anywhere in the world that has IB is really amazing,” Brown said. “It’s created networks for our teachers. It’s created networks for our kids. I’m glad we get to celebrate that tonight.”

Based on the nonprofit International Baccalaureate education foundation founded in 1968, the program centers on developing intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills in a rapidly globalizing world. Schools must meet strict requirements and criteria to be authorized by the IB organization. Flathead became Montana’s first IB school, and since then Missoula Hellgate has added the program as well, with the help of Flathead administrators and program coordinators. Missoula Big Sky is currently in the application process and has sent teachers and administrators to Kalispell to study how it works on a day-to-day basis.

“It’s part of our identity. We are very proud of the fact that we were the first IB school. We’re also pleased to work with schools that are up and coming and help foster the program across the state,” said Kelli Higgins, the IB coordinator since 2010.

“Over and over again we see students go and reap the benefits, and they are so generous to come back and share their experiences with us. Students see that and they see those benefits in college credits, scholarships and just being well prepared for their school.”

She added, “It’s such a thrill to see them come back and celebrate with us. And to see all of these people who were part of laying the foundation is unbelievable.”

For more information about Flathead’s IB programme, visit here.

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