Mariana with pro golfer Gene Sauers in Pebble Beach, CA with the First Tee of St. Petersburg

Mariana with pro golfer Gene Sauers in Pebble Beach, CA with the First Tee of St. Petersburg

Do you remember your senior year in high school? You went to prom in May, you attended graduation ceremonies in June, and said goodbye to the only life you knew. Graduating from high school is exciting, although it is also bittersweet. Some graduates are unsure of their future and do not have specific plans for work or college. The graduates from the St. Petersburg High School International Baccalaureate Program have worked hard over the past four years. These exceptional students are well prepared for college and have exciting futures ahead of them.

Since 1983, St. Petersburg High School has been home to the first International Baccalaureate Diploma Program in Florida. As one of the most prestigious academic programs in Pinellas County – with a passing rate that continuously surpasses the world average for earning an IB Diploma – the SPHS IB Program excels in college and career readiness for its graduates. Each year, 100% of the IB senior class is accepted to college, and the class of 2016 is no exception.

In addition to the rigorous IB curriculum, IB students are active members of the community and have initiated and participated in several activities which benefit the community and/or 501(c)3 charities including Dance Marathon (several thousand dollars), Cemetery Restoration (over 200 hours committed to restoring Greenwood Cemetery), Math Camp (over 50 hours to plan and help), Kickball Tournament ($500), Pumpkin Pallooza (40 hours and $400), and the Student Talent Showcase ($300 to the arts program for the school).

The assistant principal and IB coordinator is Susan Farias, who has held the position for the past 10 years. The IB faculty is comprised of a team of highly effective educators, many of whom are IB graduates themselves. The faculty has years of experience and provide students with a world-class educational experience. The class of 2016 includes Adam Ambrozy, a nationally ranked tennis player, and Mariana Ocano, a state-ranked golfer. The class included student athletes who were involved in all sports, theatre, band, and all clubs and honor societies offered at SPHS. The IB students are well-rounded individuals who will make a significant difference to our society.

Mariana Ocano

Mariana Ocano and her family began looking into the IB Program because of its great reputation. She was not zoned for SPHS originally, so in order to attend, she had to qualify for the IB Program. Mariana stated, “Even though the academic rigor intimidated me at first, it has been the best opportunity and the best education I could have received.” She feels IB prepared her well for the college application process because of the amount of writing they were required to complete as part of the program. It not only improved her writing skills, but also opened her eyes to global issues and changed her perspective for the better.

Mariana is ranked in the top 5% of her class. She is an avid golfer and played all four years on the women’s golf team. She made first-team all-county for 3 years. In 2014, Mariana was in the top 10 for the State of Florida. Mariana qualified for the 2016 United States Golf Association Four Ball. Mariana enjoyed homecoming week each year because of the fun events and great times. Spending Friday nights at the beach with her friends watching the sunset and having a picnic are some of the high school memories she will cherish the most.

She enjoys playing golf and also likes yoga. She enjoys spending time with her friends and family. Her mom and dad (Bebe and Juan) were born, raised and married in Guatemala. They moved to the U.S. when she was young. Her dad started her playing golf at a young age.  Her mom is an artist and realtor. Her brother, Lucas, is eight and plays golf and soccer.

Mariana would recommend the IB Program to other students. She said, “I know it is intimidating at first because of all the rumors and stories about it. Yes, it is difficult and rigorous, but there is no better way to prepare you for college and life beyond. The skills I developed through the IB Program are so valuable, and I would recommend it to those willing to work hard and learn a lot.”

Mariana plans to attend the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC. Everything about this university will give her the opportunity to pursue both athletics and academics at a high level. In addition, she loves the golf coach, team, and campus.  She was accepted into the Assured Admissions Program for the Kenan-Flagler Business School, and she plans on majoring in the business field – it may be marketing, entrepreneurship, or other.

Tarek Ziad

Tarek with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

Tarek with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

Tarek Ziad knew he wanted a great, well-rounded high school education. He felt it would be better to attend the SPHS IB Program because it offered a holistic learning process, instead of attending a specialization school.  He received the Horatio Alger National Scholarship, the Stone Gate Bank Scholarship, Phi Beta Kappa Scholarship, and a varsity soccer letter in his freshman year.

He was also the 2016 IB class male valedictorian. Tarek’s favorite memories are putting on various shows as a thespian over the years. From rehearsal to show nights, his most treasured memories come from the experiences he had while performing, specifically during his senior year musical, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He enjoys musical theatre, soccer… and sleeping. He recommends SPHS IB because he feels it is the best program in the area for college preparation. As Tarek noted, “The course load exceeds that of most colleges, so by the time you graduate, you’ll be more than ready to breeze through college. And your education will be well balanced and provide for you a foundation to build upon in college as you narrow your focus.”

Tarek lives with his mom and dad, Fatima and Ahmed, and three younger brothers, Samir, Mounir, and Yassin. After marrying, his parents immigrated to America from Morocco. His dad already had a high school education and his mother got her GED once she came to the states. They both have been working ever since, and were not able to pursue a college education. His brother Samir is 15 and attends the Lakewood CAT Program. His brother Mounir is 13 and will also be joining the CAT Program next year. And his brother Yassin is 9 and attends Bay Vista Elementary.

He feels participating in the IB Program positioned him in a place to be accepted to the best universities because it offered the most rigorous curriculum. He was accepted to Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. He chose Yale because of its loving and family-like community, something he grew accustomed to in IB. Tarek will major in Developmental Biology.

Florida public education is often criticized for numerous reasons, although the SPHS IB Program is an excellent use of our tax dollars hard at work. Parents of IB students respect the solid education their children are receiving and recommend the program to others. Many of these parents have multiple siblings enrolled in the program. Our local high school graduates are being accepted into high-ranked universities and colleges, evidence that the SPHS IB Program is second-to-none. The IB Class of 2016 includes students attending the University of Florida, Florida State University, MIT, Duke, University of Chicago, US Air Force Academy, Yale University, Georgia Tech, Northwestern University, UC-Berkeley, UNC-Chapel Hill, and many more exceptional schools.

Hats off not only to the class of 2016 SPHS IB Graduates, but to all high school graduates. Your four years of hard work and dedication has paid off. Your excellent education has provided you with a strong foundation to continue your education and new endeavors.  Your futures are bright, and each of you will accomplish great things in the world. Maybe we will even see you in the White House in the near future!

by Holly K. Walker