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Robinson High students excel in IB, merit scholar programs

TAMPA — It took many sleepless nights and weekend community service projects for Wade FitzGerald to graduate with his International Baccalaureate diploma last school year, but now he says he’s reaping the benefits: The 18-year-old started classes at the University of Florida this semester as a junior, for free.

FitzGerald isn’t the only Robinson High student to get a leg up from his years in the rigorous IB program.

Robinson High was the only school in Florida where every senior enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program last school year graduated with their IB diploma. Only 36 other high schools, out of 876 nationwide and 83 in Florida, achieved the 100 percent diploma rate last school year.

This is the first time all Robinson IB students achieved the diploma, said Hillsborough County Schools spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

“Good study habits are important, but you need to want the IB diploma,” said FitzGerald, who hopes to attend UF’s medical school. “The teachers and administration are also very intent on seeing students succeed in getting their diplomas, so there is always help when you need it at Robinson.”

While all students who complete the IB program receive their high school diploma, only students who receive a minimum score on the IB exams given at the end of students’ senior year earn an IB diploma. With the IB diploma, all 105 students in Robinson’s IB class of 2015 automatically qualified to receive a full college scholarship to any state university through the Florida Bright Futures program.

The average IB Diploma rate nationwide is about 80 percent, according to the International Baccalaureate Organization, which oversees the program. The three other public high schools in Hillsborough County that offer the IB diploma program, Hillsborough High, King High, and Strawberry Crest High, had diploma rates over 90 percent last year, said Robinson High Principal Johnny Bush.

“This is a very big achievement for Robinson High School, but it’s difficult to make a comparison with other programs because each one is very different,” said Colleen Duffy, who works for the IB Americas branch.

Many high schools allow students to take IB courses without working towards the IB diploma, and the program is customized for each school’s need, she said.

Still, it’s been a meteoric rise for the program, which graduated its first class from Robinson in 2010. Three years ago, the IB diploma rate at Robinson was only in the mid-70’s Bush said.

“It’s pretty impressive, but our students all definitely have the aptitude and support from home so they come with the tools they need to succeed,” said Bush. “Honestly, it could have been any of our four IB schools with 100 percent rate ... all of our teachers work together.”

This school year Robinson also has the most National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists of any Hillsborough high schools, 16 students from both the traditional and IB program. King High School has 13, Hillsborough High School has 11, and Strawberry Crest High School has 10 semifinalists. Those seniors now compete for one of the 7,400 National Merit Scholarships worth more than $32 million offered next spring.

Part of Robinson’s success is in its efforts to integrate the IB and traditional programs into one student body, Bush said. The IB program is considered by many to be the most rigorous curriculum in the world, but the school’s advanced placement and honors courses have also sent students to universities like Yale, he said.

“Our students are all Robinson graduates, not just IB graduates,” Bush said.

IB students complete college-level coursework during their junior and senior years of high school in English, math, science, history, a foreign language, and social science. Before graduation students also take a Theory of Knowledge course, write a 4,000 word extended essay and accumulate 200 hours of community service, physical activity and creative pursuits, like music or art courses, known collectively as CAS — Creativity, Action, and Service.

The result: well rounded students prepared for college, said FitzGerald’s mom Ari FitzGerald.

Her other son, Evan FitzGerald, graduated with his IB diploma from Robinson three years ago, and having both of her children’s college tuition paid for with scholarships has been a godsend for the family, she said.

“The adjustment for college was relatively smooth,” Ari FitzGerald said. “We’re really happy they were able to place out of some courses that would normal be pretty crowded, and a big benefit is they both entered college with a ton of credits.”

Over the years, Ari Fitzgerald said she noticed the school made tweaks to due dates for projects so they wouldn’t interfere with work in other classes or state-mandated exams. Last school year Robinson’s former assistant principal for the IB program ,Gary Brady, who is now principal of Hillsborough High School, would even send inspirational mass text messages , to students the day before a big test, she said. When news broke in July that all students earned their IB Diploma, Brady was quick to send his congratulations via text.

“I’ve become conversationally fluent in Spanish thanks to my hard work in IB Spanish,” Wade FitzGerald said, “and even in college I can appreciate how well IB chemistry prepared me for college-level chemistry. I even got to skip Chem I, a big plus.”

adawson@tampatrib.com

(813) 731-8093

@TBOadawson

SIDEBAR

This school year Hillsborough County Public Schools has the highest number of National Merit Semifinalists in it’s history — 72 students.

In all, 14 of the 27 public high schools in Hillsborough County were represented on the list of about 16,000 high school seniors nation-wide. Students qualify based on their 2014 pre-SAT scores, their academic record, a teacher recommendation and a submitted essay.

Alonso High: Charles M. Jones

Blake High: Hugh L. Roberts, Mitchell A. Karmen

Brandon High: Linh C. Huynh

Durant High: Kathryn M. Tew

East Lake High: Michael D. McWaters

Freedom High: Austin J. Kee, Sky L. Russell

Hillsborough High: Carolyn C. Ogden, Daniel C. Hamilton, Emma Rodriguez, Enzo Cabrera, Giavanna L. Jadick, Jiaxin Xie, John M. Veliz, Malvika A. Bapna, Sameer M. Puri, Shelby A. Shoup, William N. Petro

King High: Emily S. Cheng, Eugene Y. Luo, Hemal Prasad, Jonathan T. Ptak, Juan S. Ayala, Pranjal Tyagi, Rachna S. Kamath, Richa Bisht, Shashank Mahesh, Shreya Shivan, Sinjana B. Kolipaka, Sunmi Jin, Vignesh C. Bhethanabotla

Middleton High: Alexander N. Hoang

Newsome High: Cameron T. Hyatt, Charles D. Sharp, Elizabeth K. Kirby, Grant M. Sieboldt,

Plant High: Alaina K. McCumber, Andrew S. Howard, Arati Banerjee, Grant Bobbitt, Martha A. Pointer, Xan C. Minan,

Robinson High: Alice S. Lee, Bianca C. Dyer, Cameron N. Ramey, Carson B. Ellis, Claire Chen, Dilina V. Weerapperuma, Elizabeth A. Rice, Jackson G. Dougherty, Jake H. Yancey, Joshua R. Cruz, Kelly P. Dorsey, Kevin Y. Chen, Michael D. Marinskiy, Mitchell S. Tozian, Virginia J. Paight, Zoe O. Gray

Sickles High: John A. Brown

Strawberry Crest High: Benjamin M. Feciura, Keerthi K. Premkanth, Kevin J. John, Maria A. Bower, Meghana Chapalamadugu, Nimesh V. Nagururu, Shalini E. Jose, Shivam Sanghani, Tony Wu, William C. Leech,

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