Longform

Brainiacs

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But Glantz, in a preppie navy Student Government sweat shirt under long, wavy Felicity hair, and Ramos, wearing a favorite Che Guevara tee shirt, meet at their own table, far to the west of almost all the others. At first glance, the senior IB table appears to be the most welcoming and diverse gathering place in the yard. On this day, an Asian girl in smallish, rectangular glasses discusses history with Ramos, while a white boy in a scruffy punk hair style quizzes a darker-skinned boy in dreadlocks on quadratic factoring.

But a quick polling of surrounding tables reveals the IB kids' clique is actually the most impenetrable to the average, mainstream student.

"They keep to themselves," says a Hispanic girl named Astrid, today lunching at a table just behind them. "They're in their own little group. It's like they don't like to talk to you, 'cause you're not IB."

The IB kids, in turn, sometimes catch a chill from the others. Glantz says the rest of the school tends to look at them as "those IB white kids," even though membership clearly crosses ethnic boundaries.

"They look at us as stuck-up, rich, snobby," says Glantz, who passed on a private girls' school education at Xavier to come here. "But that's just the group they put us in. Once you get to know us, we're not like that at all."

The school deliberately schedules lunch for the IB-ers at the same time the mainstreamers eat (not all IB schools do) to encourage interaction between the two factions. "We want that trickle-down effect," says Craig Pletenick, community relations coordinator at North. "We want the smart kids getting together and collaborating and assimilating with the general student population."

You don't have to be particularly smart to figure out that that rarely happens.


Slamming the school your IB program's in -- and the mainstream students who dominate it -- is a popular pastime of International Baccalaureate students around the world. At the Web site IBscrewed.net, where stressed-out students in IB programs worldwide vent their frustrations and share their study tips, IB-ers often rant about the "ghetto" learning facilities where their esteemed program is offered.

"In my three years at being at North Miami Senior High, I've always wondered why such a crappy school gets a program like IB," writes one Florida teen. "Why should a program that prepares you for college be given to a hellhole like NMSH? There are a lot of people, including myself, who would leave that school in a second if that program weren't there. It's already a dying school, so why waste the program on it?"



Other submitters get into roasting the mainstream kids at their school, which appears to be a bit of a sport for some. "That's the one reason I'm still here," admits one IB brainiac on the Web site. "Superiority. The fact that I can walk down the hall and go, I'm smarter than you, you, you, you, waaaayyy smarter than you, you, you, and you, too, retard.' That keeps me going. That, and Mountain Dew. Both are necessary parts of IB: caffeine, and blatant badmouthing."

None of the IB students at North High come off quite as openly critical of their fellow students, or even of their outdated 66-year-old institution, built when its campus on 12th Street and Thomas was still considered north Phoenix. Still, there's a focus on material success among IB students that sometimes borders on a misplaced snobbism -- and occasionally even a streak of prejudice against the kids from the lower-income families in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.

"I have no interest in learning Spanish," says a girl on her way to an IB French class in the Liberal Arts building, even though a lot more of the girls she passes in the hallway are speaking Spanish than French. "It's the language of poverty. I mean, look at all the Spanish-speaking countries. Actually, I'd really like to learn Japanese."

Paul Lowes, a social studies teacher at North who instructs both IB and non-IB students, is concerned some of his high-minded IB kids devalue the laborer's work ethic built in to the heritage of the Hispanic culture around them, and focuses many of his lessons on Mexican and immigration history, "material too rarely taught in American secondary schools," he says.



Few of the IB kids show any signs of discrimination based on race. But the IB kids definitely show a bias against underachievers, or any students who don't have their eyes on the prize of a prestigious career and "wealthiness," a word that comes up on several students' lists of goals. "The one thing that separates us is we all have a higher common goal than the mainstream kids," says Jack Hannallah, a senior at North Canyon who's already banking on a career in medical technology. "We're striving to make the money, to get out there and get the higher-paying jobs when we graduate college. Not just to have as much fun as we can right now."

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Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern