Heather LaJoie’s high school math teacher, whom she had for three years of high school math, made her want to be a math teacher.
“She had a fabulous way of explaining things and gave me such a solid foundation,” said LaJoie, 43.
LaJoie did, in fact, become a math teacher, after earning a degree in math and religion from Wellesley College in 1991 and a Master of Arts in teaching from Duke University in 1992. She began her teaching career at East Mecklenburg High School in 1992, teaching Algebra 1 and 2, and has been there since.
LaJoie was there in 1997, when East Meck became certified as an International Baccalaureate school, and was involved in the extensive application process. She taught IB Math and Theory of Knowledge, part of the IB curriculum, and served as the Service Coordinator. She took over as the IB coordinator in 2005 and has seen the program grow from a handful of students to 660. “The IB program is the most rigorous course of study you can do in high school,” she said.
The program is divided into two parts, with the Middle Years Program covering grades six through 10 and the Diploma Program offered exclusively to juniors and seniors.
Students at East Meck used to be able to opt out of the Diploma Program and pursue a less-rigorous Certificate Program, but as of this year all IB students must enroll in the Diploma Program.
The Diploma Program includes IB levels of English, math, science, social studies and a world language, as well as Arts, PE, Technology, another elective and Theory of Knowledge – an IB-specific course designed to bring all of the other subject areas together and help students make connections. LaJoie sums up the program as “hard classes, hard exams, and lots of service hours.”
In addition to their rigorous coursework, which most teachers liken to college courses, Diploma IB students also must write an extended essay – an in-depth research paper graded by a professional in the subject area – and complete 150 hours of creativity, action and service. The 150 hours might include such efforts as tutoring younger students, participating in a team sport or cleaning up a stream.
The demands of the IB program produce students who, LaJoie says, “are incredibly well-prepared for college.”
LaJoie touts not only the level of work the students maintain but the maturity, self-discipline and time-management skills the IB program instills in them.
The international curriculum ensures graduates of the IB program “are well-rounded students.” The program attracts a diverse student body, so students are exposed to people of different cultures both in the classroom and in their course of study.
“The numbers in our magnet program look like the demographics of Charlotte,” said LaJoie.
As the IB coordinator, LaJoie is responsible for teacher training, ensuring they have what they need to implement the curriculum correctly. She also meets regularly with the students to resolve scheduling conflicts – a major drawback of the IB program is its inflexibility – and consults monthly with the district’s other IB coordinators to address common concerns.
Recruiting new students is also among LaJoie’s job duties.