By Gerhard Schneibel

When Riverwood High School became Riverwood Charter International School on July 1, the change reflected the actual conditions in the school, educators and students say.

Riverwood has long been an international studies magnet school, and its student body includes people from 39 countries who speak 19 languages, ranging from Bosnian to Chinese and from Urdu to Romanian.

“We talk the talk about international studies, but in our hallways we walk the walk,” said assistant principal Kari Schrock, who administers the magnet program.

Riverwood graduates who leave with an International Baccalaureate diploma have a degree recognized worldwide, making them competitive for admission into foreign universities and more eligible for international employment.

Ridgeview Charter Middle School offers the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program and feeds into Riverwood, which means Sandy Springs students can complete a seamless education with a global focus from sixth to 12th grade. In the future, a local elementary school may offer the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, completing the cycle, Schrock said.

Although the school’s charter hasn’t had an immediate effect on the daily operations of the school, Principal Eddie Echols said he hopes to build “global connections” from which his students will benefit in the long term.

“We can actually look at cultural diversity and backgrounds as strengths and resources we have in the building,” he said.

Schrock said the school’s student body is a “real-world model” of today’s diverse world. As part of the charter program, the school will continue to offer students overseas experiences.

“All of these overseas programs — sort of outside the walls — is what Eddie has always called the Riverwood experience,” she said.

Some Riverwood students spent time in Europe this summer, and they said being there helped them learn about subjects they enjoyed studying in school.

Seniors Lora Schaeffer and Erin Meyer spent most of July at Oxford University in England.

“We got to actually live at St. Hughes College and live like actual students,” Lora said.

It was great, Erin said, “because you stay in one city for three weeks and really get a feel for the way British people live.”

When they weren’t exploring the area around Oxford, Erin studied the anatomy of the heart, and Lora studied British romantic poetry.

“Going there definitely reaffirmed my belief that I want to be a doctor,” Erin said.

For Lora, the “experience was really more about easing my fears about going to college,” and she gained confidence she will be able to make friends and find a place in academic life next year, she said.

Seniors Lexi Markowitz and Sara May attended an entrepreneurial conference in Balestrand, Norway, a rural town of about 1,500 people. To get there, they took a plane, two trains, two boats and a bus.

“It was really quiet and really pretty. It was like being in a storybook,” Lexi said. Norwegians “go about things in a different way. … It’s more quiet, and everything is laid-back.”

They participated in workshops and other activities and hiked on a glacier, Sarah said. “It felt like you where in a picture most of the time. The water was so clear.”

Junior Nicholas Imerman struck out across Europe with his cousin in search of places he studied in Advanced Placement history. They visited France, Spain and the Netherlands.

“World history gave me the impetus to see how the world lives and see the history of Europe,” Nicholas said.

Senior Jack Boger went to Spain in 2007 for a language class that he said inspired him to continue studying Spanish and to plan to study in Spain during college.

“I really gained an appreciation for all these other cultures that are out there, and they have so much to offer,” he said. “All cultures are worthy of respect, and no one culture is more worthy of respect than another.”