The secret is out at Western Hills High School. With an educational offering that is one of a kind in the state, others are taking notice of the excellence being achieved.
“We’re getting knocks on the door from Ivy League schools, and that’s never happened before,” said Principal James Wellman. He said he’s been at Western Hills since 2005 and remembers one student “getting a sniff" from an Ivy League institution. This year, there were three.
In spring 2012, Western Hills graduated its first class of International Baccalaureate (IB) students and students of its nationally-certified Project Lead the Way (PLTW) program. This combination makes it the only school in the state of Texas to boast this prestigious menu of offerings.
And it’s slowly turning Western Hills High School into a sought after educational destination.
With its Gold Seal Programs of Choice, each Fort Worth ISD high school has unique advantages for students to prepare for careers and higher education. At Western Hills, programs include audio/video production and teaching. It’s also home to the head-turning IB and PLTW programs. All tout real-world experience and unmatched opportunity.
PROJECT LEAD THE WAY
Project Lead The Way offers proven, rigorous coursework in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students apply their knowledge to real-life projects, benefitting from the school’s valuable partnerships with engineering giants Lockheed and Weir SPM.
“The beauty of PLTW courses is that our kids get to experience how a concept they learned in science applies to real-world projects, including robotics,” said WHHS teacher Tim Burson. Rather than sit passively and listen to a lecture, kids are building, developing and creating. It’s the kind of hands-on experience that will engage more students in science, technology, engineering and math – fields that they might otherwise never have considered.”
Others consider it because they know exactly where they’re going. Lisa Savage is parent to son Nolan, who just earned his diploma as one of the first PLTW graduates.
“He’s always been a child very interested in putting things together,” Savage said. “He played with Legos, K’nex – he was always building. We thought maybe engineering would be something for him.”
After signing up for engineering classes, he ended up a PLTW student.
“He loved it, so he thrived in it, and we pushed through all the way,” said Savage, citing the rigorous coursework and being thankful for the exposure.
Nolan is headed for college to pursue engineering. Savage said they were particularly grateful for the broad experience to several kinds of engineering, from civil engineering to digital electronics and even architecture.
Experts agree that these science and math fields will be high-demand career areas. The gravitas of the program’s national PLTW certification – earned for the second consecutive year – ensures a comprehensive curriculum and an engaged network of educators, students, professionals and universities. Wellman said PLTW students are eligible for scholarships and admission preference, as well as the opportunity to earn college credit.
INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE PROGRAM
College credit is also one of the many possibilities available within the International Baccalaureate program. Students can earn a minimum of 24 hours credit in this Program of Choice, earning students a valuable edge and parents a potential cost savings. While advanced placement courses have become the widely-employed method of accelerating learning, IB provides another opportunity.
Amanda Murillo just completed her education at WHHS as one of the first graduates of the IB program. She first discovered it after taking pre-AP classes and middle school and hearing that IB could offer her something more.
“It gave me the opportunity to be more creative,” she said. “Instead of just learning from a repetitive lecture, it’s hands on. We’re going through the motion of a heartbeat.”
She cites specifically her science studies. Instead of choosing between AP Biology or AP Anatomy, she said she was able to study a merger of the two in her IB coursework. For her history requirements, she was learning how the United States is involved with the entire world, instead of simply taking AP European Studies.
“It’s a broader perspective,” Murillo said, with research conducted far beyond a standard issue textbook. Once decided on psychology for a major, she’s headed to college in the fall considering other options she was exposed to in her IB courses.
IB also touts critical thinking as well as reflective thinking skills. She explained how, on tests, a student may see a question asked one way one time, and asked from a completely different perspective the next.
Wellman explained that IB isn’t always necessarily for the student with the highest grades, but for one who is very hard-working.
The IB program is divided into three programs at WHHS. The Career Related Certificate that can actually be combined with PLTW; the Middle Years Programme, which can even begin at Leonard Middle School; and the most rigorous, the Diploma Programme.
The tests themselves, she said, are less standardized. She explained that there might be 15 questions asked. The student can choose five to answer, with no specific direction given on writing style. And for the IB program’s final essay requirement, the topic is completely up to the student. The investigation can be anything that combines individual’s interests and coursework.
“It makes writing college essays a lot easier,” she said, and “IB definitely stands out on an application.”
This is the competitive edge many need in our shrinking global economy, said Wellman.
“Our kids are not just competing with kids in their class for school, for college, for scholarships, for jobs,” he said. “They’re competing with everyone around the globe.”
Through these distinctive academic choices, Western Hills will surely have a chance to lead the way.