• Cleveland IB Students Shine in Annual Showcase

    Ever wondered if dogs might be able to sniff out cancer? Or how Magic the Gathering is connected to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s? Or if your running watch might be gaslighting you?

    Seniors in the Cleveland High School International Baccalaureate (IB) program answered these questions – and many more – at the 15th annual Extended Essay Senior Showcase on February 21. The showcase gives IB students the opportunity to present the results of two years’ worth of research into academic topics of their choosing. The topics begin as inquiry questions, which students then investigate and eventually answer in the form of a 4000-word essay.

    The essay is a requirement for earning the International Baccalaureate Diploma, but the showcase is the brainchild of the 2009 IB Diploma cohort, who, with the help of Jennifer Owens, Cleveland’s International Baccalaureate Coordinator, wanted to create a public forum to present their research findings.

    “Students were very passionate about their topics and their research and they were producing excellent work, but the sole outcome is they would send their essays to an external expert in their subject area to be scored,” Owens said. “That was the end of the journey. They received a grade but no real feedback. We wanted to share this significant research with peers, friends and family.’”  So, in 2009, Cleveland held its first ever IB Extended Essay Showcase. Twenty-seven students participated. This year, the number of participants was sixty-five. 

    Eleanor Palandri was one of this year’s presenters. Her inquiry question was, “To what extent did the events of the 1824 election shape the two-party system in American politics?” She said,   “I knew I wanted to examine a political topic with current relevance, but I wanted my essay subject to be history. After a lot of workshopping with different Constitutional provisions and case law, I decided that political polarization was something that I would enjoy researching, and I was very motivated to uncover its origins.”

    Palandri was grateful for the chance to present her findings – “I think that it is very important for people to understand my topic,” she said – but her favorite part of the process was putting all her research into words on paper. “I really enjoy writing, so moving into that stage out of the research part of the process was very gratifying.”

    For Lauren Metcalf, the process of research, writing, and presenting her IB essay topic was a natural extension of her passion for environmental science and the impact of climate on societies around the world. Her inquiry question delved into how early an El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) warning system might mitigate the spread of vector-borne disease. 

    “I found it fascinating that this simple weather pattern located in one area of the Pacific Ocean can control the entire globe's weather patterns,” she said.

    Frances Springgate used her two years of research and writing to explore the antisemitic rhetoric in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It was the character of Meyer Wolfsheim who first ignited her interest. 

    “He’s nothing but an antisemitic caricature, from his job as a bootlegger to his 'tragic’ nose,” Springgate said.

    Adelaide Bracewell-Stokes, likewise, focused on literature when diving into her IB essay topic. After considering a paper on race and gender in the poems of Sylvia Plath, she pivoted to two Sally Rooney novels, thanks in large part to her teacher, Mary Rodeback, who pointed out that it might be a little more fun to spend the summer with Rooney than with Plath.

    Bracewell-Stokes’ inquiry question was, “How do Sally Rooney's Normal People and Conversations With Friends compare in their portrayal of the role of relationality in self-definition?” As she explained, “I came to the idea of relationality through some literary analysis articles about the books which referenced the work of writers/philosophers like Timothy Snyder, Judith Butler, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Relationality is basically a philosophical look at nurture over nature, arguing that our senses of self are interconnected and mutually constructed.”

    If all of these topics seem like those a college student – or even a graduate student – might write about, that’s because they are. The Cleveland IB students are asking the hard questions and unpacking the thorny issues of history, politics, science, art and culture. And the showcase is their time to shine, Owens said. 

    “I tell the students, on this night, you have an expertise that no one else in the room is going to have. This is a time to really enjoy it. The essay can be a bit onerous, but the showcase is fun and engaging. People are just blown away by the students’ research and knowledge. And it’s become a lovely tradition for our community. Older siblings who’ve presented before come to see younger siblings; freshmen, sophomores and juniors, come out to see what it’s all about. Families and teachers are there. It’s a wonderful event.”

    Springgate agreed. “After all of the hard work we've done, the showcase is more of a celebration than anything else,” she said. “It's a night dedicated to the exchange of ideas and recognizing hard work. In addition to the individual theses of the presentations, I hope people take away this simple idea: young people are engaged, motivated, and inspired.”