From high school to university

Karen Wong

Karen Wong, a former Pope John Paul II
Secondary School student, graduated with
the second highest average in the Toronto
Catholic District School Board.

For most students, getting through high school is hard enough, but transitioning into university and being able to maintain good grades sometimes seems like an unattainable feat.

But this was not an issue for Karen Wong. The former Pope John Paul II Secondary School student graduated high school with a 99 per cent average, the second highest in the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

She has been able to maintain an average of 92 per cent in her first year at the University of Waterloo in the biomedical sciences program and attributes her success to the training she received from an enriching program at her high school.

“I think in a lot of ways the IB programme kind of prepared me for the amount of work that could be expected in university,” Wong said.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a diploma program that provides international education with rigorous assessment which well-known universities around the world recognize, according to the IB website.

“The IB students are not afraid of the academic side of university,” said Tracey Robertson, co-ordinator of the IB Programme and history teacher at Pope John Paul II Secondary School.

Robertson said that, because of the amount of independent work these students have to do, they are familiar with university concepts such as tutorials, independent research, and writing exams. All of these skills contribute to an easy transition into university.

But these students still may have adjustment issues.

“They go from a very sheltered, structured environment where they’re in grade 12, they’re the top of the school, teachers know them and they have a real rapport, to this huge environment where they’re only a number,” Robertson said.

Wong said the IB class was a small group of 25 students who had the same classes together for four years.

“I miss the close-knit group of people to always be with,” she said.

But Wong was not bothered by the fact that people did not know about any of her past achievements once she entered university.

“For me, it was never really a big deal that people knew who I was or that I was supposedly a smart girl,” Wong said. “As far as professors go, it really didn’t bother me that they really didn’t know who I was. Eventually, they probably will.”

But back at her high school, Wong has set the bar for future students.

“She’s our ultimate peak,” Robertson chuckled as she mentioned that her name has become a type of acronym amongst teachers. “How great can our students be? Are they a Karen Wong?”

Robertson says Wong was the type of student who excelled at everything, and that a teacher gets a chance to teach this type of student only once or twice in their career.

“She’s one of those rare and wonderful opportunities a teacher gets,” Robertson said. “Just a natural brightness that really humbles you as a teacher.”