Learning questions as well as answers

Sisters Sharon, Stesha and Sheila Doku graduated from Myers Park High School. The same course of study, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, led them to take different journeys. Two are in the medical field and one practices law. Each said the program taught them to expand their thinking, find connections, solve problems and prepare for college.

Twenty-five years ago, Myers Park High became the first public school in North Carolina to offer IB, an academically challenging program that encourages critical thinking, international awareness and open minds. Myers Park was a magnet school at the time. No longer a magnet, the school continues to offer the middle years program for grades nine and 10 and the diploma program for grades 11 and 12. Now, 15 elementary, middle and high magnet schools in CMS offer the program through school choice.

Sharon Doku, a 2001 graduate, studied at Harvard University and Georgetown Law Center. She is an attorney for an international company in Germany who specializes in international capital markets and corporate transactions. Her work has recently taken her to Lagos, Nigeria. She credits the IB program for helping her find her niche.

"I never wanted to become a lawyer but IB led me to it," she said. "I studied German, spent a summer in Germany and enjoyed all the international aspects of the program. It suited me."

She was drawn to physics and chemistry as well. Her knowledge in those subjects helps her when she is working with clients in the biotechnology field. She recalls that being a student in the IB program was an adventure, one that required an immense amount of commitment.

"I loved the passion the teachers displayed for the subject matter," she said. "Because it was important to them, it became important to me."

Stesha Doku, who graduated in 2004, studied biomedical engineering at Duke Pratt School of Engineering. She was named a Fulbright Scholar in 2008. After completing her first year in medical school at Stanford, she began her Fulbright research at the University of New South Wales, Australia in the summer of 2009. She is an anesthesiology specialist and her hobby is designing websites. 

"Our parents are both nurses so we were exposed to the medical field at an early age. I loved science, so medicine was a good fit for me," she said. "While in the IB program, I also learned computer science. My favorite teacher, Robert Corbin, would let me create websites and produce electronic workbooks."

Both women shared a memory of a combined English and social studies class that embodied the program's purpose.

"We would study different periods in history and simultaneously study a piece of literature from that time," said Stesha Doku. "That class taught me to think in a more rounded way because I was learning the literacy skills within the context of what we were studying."

Sheila Doku graduated in 2010 and went on to study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy. She is a pharmacist.

"My IB chemistry class is what set me on the pathway to my career," she said. "I wrote a research paper in that class about pharmaceuticals and was hooked. I also received an internship with CVS and Walgreens after school and on weekends."

She gained self-confidence through the IB studies.

"In English class I remember having debates and having to stand up to say what you thought about a passage," she said. "Myers Park felt like a college campus and the classes were difficult. When I attended college the classes didn't seem as hard but it's because I was well prepared."

The program connected her learning to the real world in many ways.

"I was reading a book about Morocco and was then set up with a Moroccan pen pal," she said. "We also held international days where different booths were set up and we would learn about cultures and their foods. It really expanded my thinking."

Myers Park has continued to teach IB students to develop strong communication skills, to become adept at sharing their ideas and to justify their thinking through writing and oral presentations.

"Students in the program become a part of a close-knit learning community," said mathematics teacher Michelle Krummel. "At Myers Park, teachers meet monthly to receive training and share information about the program and its activities."

Krummel has attended two three-day workshops specific to her subject area provided by the International Baccalaureate Organization. She said the workshops provided her with an opportunity to connect with and learn from other teachers around the world.

Krummel's students see the benefits of IB. Eleventh-grader Duncan Pickett said he is learning such life skills as time management.

"Scheduling and planning are things I need to do well," Duncan said. "There are days I have band practice and long-term projects I have to complete. To get it all done, I need to set priorities so I can stay on track."