Woman of many trades
A more easily frazzled person would turn green at the sight of Tracy Arledge’s schedule.
But the Palisade High School teacher, coordinator of the school’s International Baccalaureate program, cheerleading coach, wife and mother of a blended family of five children handles long days and an even longer list of duties with a smile and equal doses of patience and dedication.
In the mornings, she teaches an Advanced Placement English class and two International Baccalaureate classes. She shifts to her other job as coordinator of the IB program in the afternoon. Just a few items on the check list of duties for an IB coordinator include managing the program’s budget; communicating with teachers, students, parents and outside agencies; recruiting and selecting students to participate in the program; coordinating teacher trainings; overseeing exams; and going through three levels of training.
Arledge said she knew she wanted to be involved with the International Baccalaureate program immediately after she learned the school would begin the application process in 2005. She learned about the program while teaching in the 1990s at St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Ore. The all-girls Catholic school considered adding an IB program during the three years Arledge taught there, but ultimately decided it would take too much work to support the program.
Arledge, a Tulsa, Okla., native who grew up mostly in Boulder, spent another three years teaching at Kempner High School outside of Houston before moving to Mesa County in 1999. She taught at Palisade High School for five years before Principal Matt Diers asked her to coordinate the IB program. At the time, she was only planning on teaching in the program. But she believed in it enough to take on the extra job.
“It’s such a solid program. I’ve seen kids grow and learn and our teachers have come to love it and our building has changed,” Arledge said.
Palisade High was losing students when the IB application process started, which is why there was room for the program at the school. Arledge said the combination of additional tutoring, stricter policies for leaving campus during lunch, and the influence of IB students determined to perform well in school and go to college in recent years have created a more academically motivated culture.
The school decided to apply for accreditation through the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Baccalaureate program after District 51 parents and teachers requested a more-rigorous high school program. Students at IB high schools finish their regular high school credits in ninth or 10th grade before entering the full IB program in 11th or 12th grade, when students spend two years in college-level social studies, native language, foreign language, philosophy, biology or chemistry, math and computer science, and arts courses. Students also must spend 150 hours performing community service in the last two years of high school, write an extensive essay, and pass a series of exams in each of the seven IB subjects to earn an International Baccalaureate program diploma.
Each year, 60 eighth-graders from all over the valley are selected for the program beginning in ninth grade. Arledge said 35 to 45 students usually make it to graduation still in the IB program. Some find they can’t handle the workload, others miss friends at the high schools they would have gone to instead of Palisade, and a few move away.
The ones who stick around have given Arledge some of her favorite moments in teaching.
“They are easily motivated, knowledgeable, not afraid to throw out their opinions. It’s like a family,” Arledge said.
Eighteen-year-old IB student Audrey Steinkirchner agrees the program feels like a family. She said IB allows the kids who stood out as the smart kid in class in middle school to now have a chance to challenge each other in a classroom where everyone is top-of-the-class material.
“It’s kind of a competitive aura, so everyone pushes you to be your best,” she said.
Shalyn Pilling, 17, said Arledge is always willing to motivate IB students when they’re struggling to do their best.
“If you need help, she’s always there for you,” Pilling said.
Palisade’s IB program has on average a 65 percent pass rate on diploma exams since the program graduated its first class in spring 2009. Arledge said that first year with seniors in the program was the hardest because exams were introduced for the first time. Some exams take days for just one subject and Arledge is in charge of sending the exams off to be graded by other IB teachers, sometimes in other countries. Arledge herself has become a trained test examiner for IB exams. She also goes to teacher and coordinator trainings, guides students toward financial aid resources, and will rifle through a stack of 160 applications for the IB program this spring searching for students with consistent grades, a thirst for knowledge and glowing teacher recommendations.
“It’s not always the perfect, straight-A student who gets in,” Arledge said.
The result is a group of smart, sometimes quirky students, according to John Arledge, Tracy’s husband and a fellow IB teacher. The couple have four children from previous relationships: Katie, 17, Will, 9, Maddie, 7, and Taylor, 7, plus 1-year-old Nixon, whom they adopted together when he was a newborn. As if she didn’t have enough to do, Tracy Arledge said she plans to write a book about the complications of America’s adoption process.