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Why IB bilingual program drew these seniors together at West Hall High School
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Reynaldo Santana - photo by Scott Rogers

Graduating seniors at West Hall High School enrolled in the school’s International Baccalaureate bilingual English-Spanish program had an opportunity to showcase what they had learned over two years at a “Spartan Symposium” in April.

But while individual performances and accolades were given for the superior academic work this small cohort of students had achieved, each one later expressed gratitude for their peers.

Reynaldo Santana, who plans to pursue a degree in engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta (after attending and then transferring from the University of North Georgia first), said the rigorous coursework, after-school home study and effective time management that the IB program offers or demands have prepared him for the next level.

However, the self-discipline it requires to excel in high-level math and science courses, for example, some of which offer students early college credit, takes time to master.

And that’s when Santana leaned on others in the program.

“The other students are definitely a big resource,” he said.

The small cohort of students involved in the IB bilingual program all share similar backgrounds and upbringings.

For example, each student who spoke with The Times said their parents are immigrants, and each student will be among the first in their family to earn a diploma and go on to attend college (some have siblings that have preceded them).

Those built-in ties make working and, sometimes, struggling together through the program a little easier to manage.

Andrea Garcia said she plans to major in psychology at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville this fall.

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Andrea Garcia - photo by Scott Rogers
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Stories of seniors from each Gainesville and Hall school are collected in this class of 2019 section.

Even when stressed and feeling overwhelmed, “They’ve all kind of motivated me,” she said of her classmates.

This teamwork and camaraderie has given Garcia confidence to pursue her academic dreams, and she hopes to serve the large and growing Latino demographic in Gainesville and Hall County as a result.

When it comes to mental health, it is common for Latinos and immigrants to “usually not talk about … their feelings,” Garcia said.  

“Maybe, as a Latina, I can help people feel more comfortable because they can relate to me,” she added.

Maksymus Zepeda plans to study engineering at Florida International University in Miami.

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Maksymus Zepeda - photo by Scott Rogers

“Ever since I was a little, I’ve had a fascination with Legos,” Zepeda said.

So, he’s always building things, figuring out how they work and looking for ways to improve. And this fascination has led him to an interest in robotics, for example.

Without the IB program, Zepeda said getting accepted to attend Florida International likely would have been a pipe dream.

His writing and verbal skills in both English and Spanish have improved significantly, Zepeda said, and he’s now able to apply what he learns in one language to the other.

“It’s also helping me get a year advanced in my classes,” Zepeda said, adding that he’ll be heading straight into his major core classes when he enrolls in college.

“I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said of his classmates.

For Yvette Zamudio, who plans to study political science at either Georgia State University in Atlanta or the University of North Georgia in Gainesville, the heavy workload, which includes testing, language comprehension, excellence in the math, science, literature and the arts helped her become an independent learner.

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Yvette Zamudio - photo by Scott Rogers

And she believes this has readied her and “allowed me to see how much I needed the rigor for college.”

Yuliana Hernandez, who wants to double major in business administration and international business relations, perhaps at Georgia State University, said the long nights writing lengthy essays and the early morning study sessions with her peers have her brimming with confidence.

“I can knock them out of the park,” she said of the rigorous course requirements. “IB has really prepared me in every sense for college readiness.”

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Yuliana Hernandez - photo by Scott Rogers
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