Intensive Program Helps Corcoran High Schoolers Buck Low-Graduation Trend

Aug 28, 2013

Syracuse's Corcoran High School is the only school in the region offering the intensive International Baccalaureate Program.
Credit SCSD

Many can tell you about poor graduation rates and behavioral problems at Syracuse high schools.  Here's a  look at what might be the most rigorous academic program in the Syracuse area.

Corcoran High School Physics teacher Debbie Panebianco finds that the students in the International Baccalaureate Program are more creative, rather than simply memorizing and regurgitating information.

The courses make you think. I find that in science, instead of doing labs where the teacher tells you what to do and you write things down, you design the labs, you draw very involved conclusions, you take things from beginning to end, and you really have to use your head. The other thing I notice is that there is a lot more reading and writing.


The International Baccalaureate program  is a pre-college curriculum that educates students at a higher level than even most A-P courses. The program is standardized across the globe; Corcoran Chemistry teacher Anne Day says it gives students a perspective they don’t receive anywhere else.

In history, there’s a course that’s called “History of the Americas”. Not American History, as in U.S., but an integrated history of the entire Western hemisphere. These are attitudes that don’t show up in normal curricula.

Unlike A-P, the I-B student must take advanced courses in every subject, helping them to break out of their comfort zone and develop a more well-rounded education. To be a candidate for the I-B diploma, each student must complete 150 hours of extracurricular activities. They also have to write a 15 page research paper to be graded overseas in multiple countries. Many colleges give special recognition to I-B students. In some cases Panebianco finds that the credits earned are equivalent to a full year of college.

One of my former students who just graduated is going to U-B with 29 college credits for this coming year and starting as a sophomore. We’ve had several students leave and start as sophomores. That’s amazing. Saves their parents a lot of money too.

But the service the program provides to students can run deeper than college loan savings. Corcoran is a school where many have deficiencies or weaknesses in learning. While last year’s overall graduation rate was only 61%, graduation within the I-B program was 100%. Furthermore, every single diploma candidate was accepted into a four year university. Chemistry teacher Anne Day says that I-B is an invaluable opportunity for borderline students.

What the I.B. program does is creates and identifies and points at a goal that those students may not think of themselves. Many students start out in I.B. classes. Maybe they don’t get the I.B. diploma, but they worked harder and learned more and learned how to learn better than they could have anywhere else.


District wide budget cuts have limited the range of I-B classes offered at Corcoran. However, any student who wishes to be a part of the program is still able to take the necessary courses.

Bailey Pfohl

Program graduate and current Syracuse University student Bailey Pfohl was originally accepted at Christian Brothers Academy, but begged her parents to let her go to Corcoran and be part of the I-B program instead; she says it is a decision she has never regretted.

I look back on high school, and things that I remember most fondly are the teachers and the program itself. They knew what they were talking about and they made you also interested in it. I’m an art history major with an education studies minor – that’s a lot of research and it’s definitely paying off for me now.

There are about 1400 schools nationwide to offer the International Baccalaureate program; Corcoran is the only one in Onondaga County.