by Rachel Jones

The International Baccalaureate program is one that sets students apart both during the college application process and in preparation for their career. The main difference between the IB and the popular AP diploma programs are the three core aspects to the IB program: Community and Service, Theory of Knowledge, and the Extended Essay; the extended essay being one of the more dreaded parts of being a full IB Diploma candidate.

The IB program defines the Extended Essay as “an independent, self-directed piece of research, finishing with a 4,000-word paper.” It is a mandatory and very important component of the International Baccalaureate diploma program. The essay provides preparation for undergraduate research that will be required in college. It also provides students a chance to write about and investigate a topic that they are genuinely interested in.

Ms Kresse-Rodriguez, Stuart’s IB Coordinator, elaborated on the process. “Full diploma candidates begin the process of writing the EE in February of their junior and finish it in January of their senior year so they have eleven months to write the 4,000 word essay,” said Kresse-Rodriguez. “We meet with them about 18 times during these eleven months to guide them through the research and writing process.” Senior Rachel Saltzgiver was one of the IB Candidates who completed the Extended Essay in January. “What motivated me to do the extended essay was knowing that it would help me with skills I’ll need for future research papers,” said Saltzgiver.

One of the most important components of the Extended Essay is the research phase of the assignment. The IB Organization specifies that through the research part of the essay, students develop skills in “formulating an appropriate research question, engaging in a personal exploration of the topic, communicating ideas and developing an argument.” Students continue to develop skills throughout the planning and writing stages as well.

“[The Extended Essay] helped me learn how to manage time around the deadlines along with my normal homework and it helped me with skills I’ll need for research papers in college.” said Saltzgiver.

Ms. Kresse-Rodriguez offered information found in a recent UVA study to confirm the benefits of learning to complete extensive research required by the Extended Essay. “ One of the purposes of the EE is to introduce students to the research process,” said Kresse-Rodriguez. “A recent UVA study, “Exploring the Benefits of the International Baccalaureate Extended Essay for university study at the University of Virginia”, conducted by Karen K. Inkelas, found that ‘the IB’s Extended Essay does have an effect on the student’s research confidence and willingness to engage in future research’.  Not only did students feel ‘prepared for college–level coursework involving research’ but they ‘took pride in their research’, ‘intended to conduct future research’ and ‘found their research skills to be important to their future success.’”

There are many challenges that come along with writing the Extended Essay. Deciding your research topic and question, completing the research, and writing 4,000 words on one topic are a few of the challenges that students face during the process. “I perceive that one of the hardest parts of the EE is clearly delineating a research question,” said Kresse-Rodriquez. “Keeping up with the deadlines was probably the hardest part for me,” said Saltzgiver.

However, Stuart’s IB Program offers help for writers in many ways. “Supervisors are very helpful and know what they are talking about, so meet with them as much as you can,” said Saltzgiver. There is also a bootcamp available for students to enter right after the end of the school year. “We highly recommend our Extended Essay Bootcamp (June 27-30) for students who would like to complete the EE before summer begins,” said Kresse-Rodriguez.

One thing that sets Stuart High School apart from many of the other high schools in the county is our IB Diploma Program. Many students at Stuart do this in order to have an advantage getting into the college of their dreams.

“Students may initially find the process daunting but our EE Coordinator, Ms. Traci Rogers, and our librarian, Ms. Gunther, have worked hard to break it down so that all of our full diploma candidates complete the EE.  This year we had 100% completion and we celebrated that at our Pass the Torch ceremony where our seniors who had just finished writing the EE generously gave advice on the process to our juniors who are just beginning it,” said Kresse-Rodriguez. “We are very proud of our students who persevere through this very challenging process.”