Future of UGDSB International Baccalaureate program up in the air

Trustees, parents express strong, mixed opinions during board meeting

GUELPH – Students in Guelph and Wellington County can earn internationally-recognized diplomas through an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. 

But IB’s future in the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) is uncertain. 

The program “aims to develop well-rounded individuals by fostering academic excellence, personal growth and international mindedness,” according to UGDSB officials. 

“Students engage in challenging curriculum … emphasizing critical thinking, research skills and intercultural understanding.”

It’s offered at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute (GCVI) and Bishop Macdonnell Catholic High School, along with more than 5,000 other schools world-wide including at 18 public English-speaking school boards in Ontario. 

GCVI has offered the IB program for about 10 years, including Grade 9 and 10 prep courses and the IB diploma program in Grades 11 and 12.

Between 120 and 210 Grade 9 students are accepted each year, with about 10 per cent living in Wellington County. For the 2024 to 25 Grade 9 year, 135 students were accepted and 115 waitlisted.

About 50% of students who start the IB program in Grade 9 graduate with an IB diploma, with many leaving the program after Grade 10. This graduation rate is comparable with IB programs in other schools. Students who leave the IB program at GCVI return to their home schools.

Executive report 

“The IB coordinator, teaching staff and principal at GCVI believe strongly in the IB diploma program and its positive impact on students and on the school community,” states a June 4 report prepared by UGDSB superintendent Denise Heaslip, with information from an independent review completed by Sue Dunlop. 

This executive report recommended cutting the Grade 9 and 10 prep courses from GCVI’s IB program. 

“Starting the program in Grade 11 aligns with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s destreaming efforts, allowing students more time to explore and solidify their academic interests,” the report states. It also “addresses the high attrition rate before Grade 11, suggesting that students may benefit from making the IB commitment later in their academic journey.”

The report also recommended staff explore expanding the IB diploma program in Wellington and Dufferin.

IB prep

Parents and students delegated to trustees about the importance of IB prep during a June 25 board meeting.

Grade 12 student Alexander Lukens spoke to trustees, “unofficially representing many GCVI students that are concerned about the proposal to eliminate the pre-IB program from GCVI.

“IB prep does not limit students’ academic pathways in any way – it prepares us for academic challenges that can be applied across all academic pathways,” he said. 

Lukens completed the IB prep program at GCVI, but opted out of the diploma program to pursue his passion for geography instead. 

“My choice to leave the program is not a failure of IB at GCVI, it is a success,” Lucron said. “I was able to make that academic transition quite easily thanks to the high academic standards of the IB program.”

More time

Guelph parent Blakie Sahay delegated on behalf of “a massive group” of parents who “feel alone and not heard by our elected trustees.

“We actually feel like we are not talking to a partner advocating for our kids and their educational journey.”

She said more than 370 signatures were collected from “concerned community members,” asking trustees for “more time and research on this, more consultation, and more community involvement.”

She wants to see hard data regarding the impacts of cutting IB prep programs, noting IB prep in Ancaster was cut in 2021, and the diploma program there “is now at risk of completely collapsing.”

Lukens shared this concern: “I think it would, in the long run, necessitate the dissolution of the IB diploma.” 

Switching schools

If the IB prep program is cut, students will attend their home schools in Grades 9 and 10, switching to GCVI in Grade 11 for IB. 

Sahay, an occupational therapist, is concerned about how switching schools will impact students’ mental health.

And Lukens and Sahay are both concerned for athletes, who will not be allowed to participate on sports teams within the first year of transferring schools, due to Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations’ rules.

“In effect this would mean any student that wishes to participate in athletics would stay at their home school, unable to receive benefits that the IB diploma offers,” Lukens said.   

Expanding outside Guelph

Sahay advocated for the IB program to expand, or for transportation for out-of-area students. 

“Does the removal of IB prep mean there’d be actual expansion into rural areas?” she asked. “We’d like to see some data on that.”


“As a parent committee, we want to be actively involved in more equity across the entire region,” Sahay said. 

“You don’t solve accessibility and equity by cutting the IB prep. You are taking it from everyone then, and that is not equity.”

“Ending the IB program would only cause the IB diploma program to become less equitable and more elitist,” Lukens added.

“Students from outside GCVI’s catchment area would likely not attend the IB program – students will not leave their home schools after two years of forming community and friends.”  

And cutting IB prep would make the diploma program “only available to those who can afford private tutoring due to the large jump in difficulty” between regular Grade 10 courses and Grade 11 IB.

Trustees deferred the decision about cutting IB prep until  September.

“We have heard from parents and GCVI staff that they do not support these changes,” said trustee Jen Edwards. “I understand that we may not be able to just keep it as is. I do not want to vote just to eliminate it.”

“It would be nice to further the discussion more in depth” and explore some of the concerns, added vice chair Katherine Hauser. 

‘Not doing its job’

But trustee Robin Ross questioned, at length, the value of continuing the IB diploma program at all. 

“I do agree that anyone who is lucky enough to get into this program does get a great deal of benefit,” she said, but it’s not accessible to all and it’s not financially self-sustaining.

Ross said for 10 years, the UGDSB program has “lost money and not followed the rules that are expected of every other program.”

The initial hope for the program was for it to eventually become financially self-sustaining, and expand into Wellington and Dufferin county. 

Sahay noted parents want to support with finances.

“We want to work together with you to find ways to raise funds to cover the costs, through corporate donors, fundraising events, and donations from families,” she said. 

The program, though open to all UGDSB high school students to apply, is only offered in Guelph, meaning Wellington and Dufferin students have to commute to attend.

Transportation is not provided for students outside of GCVI’s catchment area.  

“Originally, 10 years ago, staff were asked to explore expansion of the program into other areas, and has been unable to do that,” Ross said. 

“We are being asked to continue a program that is not doing its job in reaching all of the students and providing benefits to all of the students in the Upper Grand.”

When staff provide further information in September, Ross wants that to include how the IB program “will be sustainable and available to every student in the board.  

“I have heard a lot about Guelph students not wanting to lose something and I understand that. Programs being lost in a school hurts a lot of people,” Ross said, but she feels there’s a double standard between Guelph schools and rural schools. 

“When the music programs disappear in north Wellington it hurts a lot of people,” she continued. 

“I think that we can do significantly better for all students in the Upper Grand, and the IB program has consistently shown that it cannot do what we are asking it to do.

“I do not believe that it is possible, because if it was, I think it would have happened by now.”

Trustee Irene Hanenberg said “I sincerely disagree with trustee Ross and I do believe that it is possible to turn this around.”

“The staff at Upper Grand are capable of some serious outside of the box thinking,” she added.   

As well as deferring the decision on cutting IB prep, trustees voted to direct staff to collect, review and provide information about expanding the IB diploma program into Wellington and Dufferin counties; the IB program’s alignment with UGDSB policies; and students who apply for the program, including those who are and are not accepted.