IB program gets an A+ at NorKam
Alisha Gotro’s day starts earlier than that of most high-school students.
The 16-year-old is up at 6 a.m. She gets ready and tends to her animals — horses, cats and a dog.
Ninety minutes after rolling out of bed, Gotro and her parents pile into the family vehicle and hit the highway, driving 45 minutes — on a nice day — from their home in Barriere to the Tournament Capital.
After making a stop in downtown Kamloops to drop her mom at work, Gotro is driven across Overlanders Bridge to NorKam secondary in time for the 8:30 a.m. bell.
When school lets out, Gotro heads to her sister’s Kamloops apartment to kill two hours while waiting for her parents to get off work, return to Barriere for the night and wake up to start the whole routine over again.
The 11th grader is one of 23 students in the first cohort of NorKam’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is now nearing the end of its first semester of existence.
Gotro said the sacrifices she has had to make to be part of the IB program are well worth it.
“In the beginning, it was hard to make it work,” she said.
“But, it gives you more responsibility. They’re not babying you.”
She is not alone in her praise of the program, even though it’s just months old.
Sheryl Lindquist, NorKam principal and headmaster of the school’s IB program, said parents and students are thrilled with the advanced curriculum — governed by the Swiss-based International Baccalaureate organization and widely regarded as one of the most respected preparatory paths for students prior to university studies.
Lindquist noted it’s not just highfalutin parents intent on seeing their kids excel academically.
“Kids who never did homework — bored, disrupted, but bright — are happily completing two-and-a-half hours a night,” she said.
“It’s like, it isn’t a job if you’re enjoying it.”
Of the 23 IB students at NorKam, about half are from the school’s geographical catchment area.
The other half, like Gotro, switched to the home of the Saints for the program itself, which is the only IB curriculum in B.C. outside of the Lower Mainland or Victoria.
According to Lindquist, the families from which the students come are diverse — ranging from doctors and lawyers to elected officials and lower-income North Kamloops locals.
Next year, when the current crop of NorKam IB students moves on to Grade 12, they will be replaced by a new cohort of 11th graders, making the total program enrolment about 50 students.
Lindquist said interest in IB makes her think it’s going to get a lot bigger than that.
“I bet there will be 60 kids in each cohort and we’d have to start turning away kids,” she said, hypothesizing about what it might look like in five years.
“I think that, as parents realize this prepares them so well for university, there will be an increase in students.”
Last week, 126 people showed up when NorKam hosted an IB information meeting for students in Grade 9 and Grade 10.
Most attendees were from the North Shore, but every part of Kamloops was represented, as well as Logan Lake, Merritt and Chase.
Lindquist said there were even three students from the privately run St. Ann’s Academy, which is routinely ranked as the top school academically in Kamloops.
The IB program is not cost-prohibitive.
Students pay $40 per month, which covers expenses associated with international exams.
It also falls under the Kamloops-Thompson school district’s financial-hardship plan, which means anyone who can’t afford the fees can have them waived.
Gotro said being in a close-knit group of students who spend the vast majority of the school day in the same room has made the transition — to IB and to NorKam — easier.
“It’s really different because Barriere [secondary] has like 175 people,” she said, gesturing down one of NorKam’s busy hallways for perspective.
“All of us here have our classes together. We all stick together.”