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Many parents turn to private schools to challenge their students academically. Though almost all private and independent schools are known for their enriched academics, some have Advanced Placement (AP) programs to give older students university-level practice and others, like Island Pacific School on Bowen Island, British Columbia, feature the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme.

As an educator of middle-school aged children, Island Pacific School uses academics to keep students engaged during this essential period of development. School head Michael Simmonds has seen countless students enter IPS in Grade 6 as children eager to please their teachers, and leave in Grade 9 as confident scholars and self-advocates.

This may be Grade 9 student Noah's first and last year at IPS, but he says he would have applied sooner if he knew about it. He has noticed a world of difference between the academics here and his former school. "IB isn't harder, it just asks you to delve deeper and ask tough questions. You put yourself in the subject instead of just memorizing everything. It's a lot more interesting and fun," Noah says.

At his old school Noah's grades were slightly below average, but since becoming more of a "thinking person" in the IB diploma program, he says his grades have drastically improved—so have his time management skills, as he balances his IB work with extracurricular activities and a large in-depth research project about the power of music in South Africa's anti-apartheid movement.

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