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Posted on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 5:56 a.m.

Students at new Washtenaw International High School find 'so many cultures in 1 room'

By Janet Miller


9th grader Omair Huda, right, and Sammy Huwio, left, take notes during biology class Sept. 20 at Washtenaw International High School in Ypsilanti.

Angela J. Cesere |

Megan Andrews has attended schools across the globe, from England to Japan to Ann Arbor. So when she learned that seven Washtenaw County school districts, along with the Intermediate School District, were opening an International Baccalaureate school, she didn’t have to think twice.

It was like coming home. “There are so many cultures in one room,” Megan said of her new school. “I’ve been around international kids my whole life.”

Megan is one of 120 students enrolled in the first year of Washtenaw International High School, a free, publically funded academically challenging magnet school that offers an international education.

The school will offer the International Baccalaureate diploma along with a Michigan-endorsed high school diploma, said Bert Okma, school principal. The nonprofit IB was founded in 1967 in Geneva, Switzerland and now has more than 3,200 programs in 140 countries. The IB diploma is recognized around the world.


From left: 9th graders Austin Goven, Imani Small, Nipus Dasanayaka play saxophone during band class at Washtenaw International High School in Ypsilanti

Angela J. Cesere |

Washtenaw International is located in Ypsilanti, in the former East Middle School building. Wi Hi opened to its first ninth grade class in mid-August, following the international practice of a longer school year with a shorter summer break. “We wanted to emulate other international schools, locally and around the world,” Okma said.

The first year opened with just the ninth grade, and a grade will be added each year. The school didn’t fill to capacity its first year, but Okma said he expects to enroll 150 students per class in the future. “A lot of families feel more comfortable if you have a track record,” he said. “You’re asking a lot of a family to trust you.” A lottery will be held if demand exceeds capacity.

It’s a partnership among Ann Arbor, Lincoln, Milan, Saline, Whitmore Lake, Willow Run and Ypsilanti school district and adds to a growing number of options for the county’s high school students, from Washtenaw Technical Middle College on the campus of Washtenaw Community College to Ypsilanti New Tech @ Ardis to the Early College Alliance on the campus of Eastern Michigan University.

While it offers students looking for an academically rigorous curriculum a choice, it also has the potential to bring state funding back to local schools for students who had been attending private or charter schools, Okma said. While Washtenaw International is funded by the state foundation grant that follows each student, the day will come when the entire grant is not needed to run the program, and the partner districts will be able to recover some of it, he said. That should happen once the school is at peak enrollment. Also, any supplemental funds that follow the student, such as Title One federal funds for disadvantaged students, stays with the home district, Okma said.

While admission is not competitive, students must take an assessment test that determines needs, Okma said. And the school markets itself for college-bound students looking for an academic challenge and international education.

The promise of strong academics is what brought Seth Kronick, 14, to Wi Hi. “I looked at the classes for freshmen at Huron, and they didn’t appeal to me,” he said. “I also like that I’m learning a skill set that can be internationally applied.”

Olajumoke Bolanle, 14, said he wasn’t challenged at Lincoln Middle School. “It was easy for me to get good grades,” he said. Born in Nigeria, Olajumoke attended school in Canada before his family moved to Washtenaw County. He said he liked the idea of an internationally diverse study body. “Here, you get to meet people from Saudi Arabia, Japan and England,” he said.


Washtenaw International High School in Ypsilanti on Sept. 20.

Angela J. Cesere |

While many students come for the academics, not all students are high achievers, Okma said. “We have students here who don’t find academics easy. But we don’t lower the bar.” But there’s help. Teachers are required to be in the classrooms for an hour after school and there are after-school study sessions for writing, math and Spanish. And there’s a summer program — 60 percent of the school’s incoming class was enrolled last summer, Okma said.

Megan, who was born in England but moved to Japan when she was 8 years old, attended the private Greenhills School for seventh and eighth grade. She was considering Huron and Skyline for high school when she heard about Wi Hi. There were disadvantages: She’s will have to travel back to Huron to play sports, and she left most of her friends. And her family is responsible for transportation.

But she attended an IB school in Japan and knew that’s what she wanted. “I’ve moved away from my friends a number if times. It now comes naturally to me,” she said.

There’s a common IB curriculum for 11th and 12th grades — with room for choices and flexibility, Okma said. The curriculum, he said, focuses on depth rather than breadth.

“Instead of just learning who Winston Churchill was, we may spend three weeks learning about his character, what made him unique and his role in preserving freedom in the world,” Okma said.

But there are also philosophical goals. Most of the IB founders were World War II veterans and they wanted a program that would lead to appreciating other nations and other cultures, Okma said.

“They wanted it to lead to a better understanding across the world.”



Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 1:02 a.m.

We have a daughter at WIHI, and we LOVE it!! She does, too. To answer a previous comment, the IB school requires more days in the school year, so a waiver was gotten from the state to be able to start school in the middle of August...WIHI kids now LOVE the 4-day Labor Day weekend because they see it as a break instead of the end of the summer... :o) The curriculum is eye-opening, fresh and challenging. They are really thinking and participating, not just being spoon fed and memorizing. The teaching staff is amazing, with actual afterschool tutoring (free) and extra teacher involvement, if needed. Granted, the extra-curricular activities aren't what the home districts boast, but clubs, interest groups, and some sport groups are beginning to form. There's even a dance scheduled soon! Kids can participate in sports in their home district. My daughter is still considered a student in her home district high school and can go back for dances, plays, sporting events, etc. When the kids graduate in 4 years, they will have a chance at a dual, if they pass, from their home district, and the additional IB diploma is earned through testing and completion of a research paper (and is awarded, if earned, later in the summer after graduation). Washtenaw County is very lucky to have this opportunity and I am grateful to the WISD and the school principal for taking this project on. My daughter was not challenged in her home district, therefore was not learning good study work habits that come from actually working on something. It was all too easy. I am a big believer in public school, but we do teach to the average. That is unfortunate.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 11:30 a.m.

Sounds like a great school, great concept. I would be interested in checking it out for my own kids but transporting them there would just be too difficult.


Wed, Sep 28, 2011 : 1:28 a.m.

I have to admit the transportation is challenging, but it is definitely worth the effort! And all the money that other districts are spending on busing/babysitting can be spent on education! Yippee!


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 10:42 a.m.

jns131: I'm not clear on how a faster, stronger curriculum and higher faculty expectations is "going without". Extracurricular activities are "wanting more" for your kid? I must be mistaken, because I thought the whole point of education was, you know, to educate.

Engineering Mom

Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 12:10 a.m.

I have had the opportunity to interact with the WIHI team over the past several months. This school is nothing short of amazing. The teachers clearly love what they do, and bring a world of experience with them. The extreme diversity of the student population means everyone fits in. The work load for the students is pretty heavy, but my observation has been the teachers do such a great job engaging the students that the kids accept the challenge. I'm looking forward to watching this school's continued development over the next few years.


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 8:44 p.m.

Pioneer/Huron/Skyline should seriously consider starting an IB program, and cutting AP classes.


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 8:11 p.m.

It's too bad Dexter didn't go in with the rest of the students. How will they be diverse?


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

Tall and short White students. Male and female White students. I could go on.


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

So, this new school is magically exempt from the state law that requires the school year to begin AFTER labor Day? Reference: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> - House Bill 4803 (2005) Education; calendar; school year; require to begin after Labor day


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 5:20 p.m.

Thank you, L. C. Burgundy for the clarification. I seem to have joined the ranks of &quot;spout off first, read the fine print after&quot;...

L. C. Burgundy

Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 4:54 p.m.

&quot;(4) If a school district, intermediate school district, or public school academy is operating a year-round school or program as of the effective date of the amendatory act that added subsection (2) or is operating as of that effective date a school that is an international baccalaureate academy that provides 1,160 hours of pupil instruction per school year, then subsection (2) does not apply to that school or program. If a school district, intermediate school district, or public school academy begins operating a year-round school or program after the effective date of the amendatory act that added subsection (2), the school district, intermediate school district, or public school academy may apply to the superintendent of public instruction for a waiver from the requirements of subsection (2). Upon application, if the superintendent of public instruction determines that a school or program is a bona fide year-round school or program established for educational reasons, the superintendent of public instruction shall grant the waiver. The superintendent of public instruction shall establish standards for determining a bona fide year-round school or program for the purposes of this subsection.&quot; (Starting school in mid-August in Michigan is still lame if you ask me though)


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 4:01 p.m.

Dexter decided to start its own IB school -- so that it could offer a student body of diverse white kids. WIHS is a great program, truly diverse and rigorous. My understanding is that they brought in teachers from all over the US and the world -- establishing a qualified faculty to boast about. Just wait until the students start receiving accolades. This is the education of the future. My son will be attending in about 13 years.


Tue, Sep 27, 2011 : 1:33 a.m.

Love the Dexter remark!!


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 3:51 p.m.

loving this! I don't know what planet Gordon is from but the Ypsi/A2 area is very diverse and this could get pretty big. Is there a way for these kids to participate in the extra curriculars at the other schools?


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

Our child was suppose to go there but we decided on public because of the curriculum. The curriculum is suppose to be more fast pace and you have to be able to maintain a GPA of 2.5 or better. Ours is honor roll but decided to go public because there were was more extra curricular activities for a public then this one has. It is a great school from what we read, but not for us because they want more then what we were willing to give. They do offer a chance to get college credit by grade 11 and almost have a 2 year degree by the time you graduate. Good luck to those who want to do without. We want more for ours.


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 12:42 p.m.

I'd love to hear some early comments from parents of WIHI kids -- anybody out there?


Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 12:26 p.m.

In principle a great idea. Some what limited when the diversity of students is geographical. Difficult for them to spend time with each other with as diverse a group as the school has in attendance. Car pooling etc. Students are at the right age to gain from their need to be social. It's what makes this country work - it's diversity working with understanding of others.

Janice Anschuetz

Mon, Sep 26, 2011 : 11:56 a.m.

What a great idea and good use for East Middle School!