PATERSON, NJ – Paterson Public Schools officials continued to voice their support for students, as well as their parents, teachers, and administrators, by letting them know that their hard work in the district’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program is appreciated.

The comments at Tuesday’s meeting came just days after reports seemed to disparage the program by failing to highlight the accomplishments of all 44 students enrolled in the program, the only one of its kind in Passaic County. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of our IB students,” Superintendent of Schools Eileen Shafer said. “I know what you’re going through. You need to continue what you’re doing. We are always here to encourage you and support you, as we are for all of our students.”

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“I submit that the point of the IB program is not just the IB diploma, but the person who develops in striving to achieve it,” Shafer said in an op-ed previously published by TAPinto Paterson. 

A total of 44 IB students were in the district’s first graduating class. All of them graduated high school and were accepted to such colleges as the University of Pennsylvania, The Citadel, Howard University and Case Western Reserve University. Twenty-three of those students were candidates for the IB diploma, and had completed the rigorous academic track that Superintendent Shafer further detailed. Five of the 23 IB diploma candidates came within just a few points of qualifying for the IB diploma and will be resubmitting their work for reconsideration.

Saying that previous remarks that were circulated on the internet “made us seem like we are failures,” Isabela Gonzalez, a tenth-grader in the IB program, assured those in attendance that  “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“I signed up for the IB program to reach a higher education so that I could succeed and show that Paterson students can defy the odds and not become delinquents or trouble-makers,” said Amina Cuascat, another tenth-grader in the IB program.

Board of Education President Oshin Castillo was concerned about the label of delinquent being associated with Paterson students.

“That’s not the perception we want of our students in the City of Paterson. They are amazing. They are talented,” said Castillo. “It’s our job to help change the narrative. What can we do moving forward? We can’t allow our students to have that perception of delinquent about themselves.”

Castillo empathized with the students, saying that it wasn’t long ago when she was a high school student herself, and she made a point to acknowledge the efforts of the IB program’s teachers.

“Thank you for motivating our students,” Castillo said.

Commissioner Manuel Martinez, Jr. told the IB students to pay no attention to people who criticize others online.

“Most of these people do so from the comfort of their couches rather than engaging in life. Shame on them,” Commissioner Manny Martinez, Jr. said, urging the students to ignore online criticism. “Do what you are continuing to do every day. Greatness is alive and well in the City of Paterson and it is in this auditorium tonight.”

First Vice President of the Paterson Education Association (PEA), the union that represents the more than 3,000 education professionals in Paterson’s public schools, also offered his support for the students in the IB program by saying that he would “match up students from Paterson against students anywhere."

“Our students can compete with anybody, without a doubt,” the 1978 graduate of Eastside High School turned educator said.

Commissioner Johnathan Hodges advised the students to remember who they are, and to try to turn the negative episode into a point of motivation.

“By going through the IB program, you are already winners,” Commissioner Jonathon Hodges said. “I would put it up as a challenge to be more successful than you already are.”

With David Weiss, Head of US Schools for the IB Program, offering his congratulations to the 44 students it wasn’t just local voices weighing in.

“Having 44 students participate in the program is a significant accomplishment, complemented by the first IB diploma being awarded,” in Paterson, Weiss said.

“Completing the program produces academic advantages for both diploma earners and non-earners,” he added. “These ambitious students are well-prepared for success, in further study and in life.”

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