AP program sees expansion and spike in enrollment

Mia Silverio & Luci Bresette

Editor-in-chief and contributing writer

(April 16, 2015)  Nantucket High School guidance counselors and students alike suspect that enrollment in advanced placement classes will increase dramatically next year as a greater variety of APs are available to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Along with offering a greater variety of these high level classes, NHS administration is making clear that the school-wide recommended number of AP classes per year is three.

The new AP courses being introduced next year to NHS’ program of study include AP Seminar, AP Spanish, and AP Studio Art. So far, the teachers of these new courses are current English teacher Paige Martineau, Spanish teacher Kate Hickson, and ceramics teacher Kate Merlini, respectively. The decision to introduce these specific AP courses was made by the NHS departments, with the exception of AP Seminar, part of an experimental AP Capstone program.

The Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) grant that NHS received last year has provided the funding that has allowed for the expanding of the school’s AP course offerings. With the support of this grant, NHS has been able to offer nontraditional AP classes such as AP Statistics and AP Environmental Science.

“I think the wide range of course selection for APs is why for sure more students are signing up. I think that a lot of people are attracted to stats class or environmental science just because in my opinion, the hardest AP classes would be calculus, physics, or chemistry, and those are the ones that have always historically been offered, so now that opens up the doors for students with other strengths,” said NHS guidance counselor Courtney Foster.

NHS has instituted a recommended number of AP courses for a student to take in a given year in accordance with the general trend of the nation.

“Other schools definitely have that recommended number. I think it is even, not that I can really speak for all the high schools in Massachusetts or the country, but I think that the general trend was that all the really competitive high schools, the Wellesley’s, the Westins, they all bragged that their students took six APs a year. But now, what the conversations that Mr. Buckey has been having with a lot of these other principals is that they are starting to have a recommended number so that way their students aren’t getting totally bogged down,” said Foster.

Many students are knowingly exceeding the recommended number of AP classes this year and are planning on taking more than three next year. Current sophomores Evan Borzilleri and Fernando Young will take five and four AP’s next year respectively. Borzilleri will take AP physics, Spanish, Language and Composition, US History II, and Capstone Seminar. Young will take AP Spanish, Language and Composition, Physics and Statistics. The two did not express serious concern that the burden would be too heavy.

“Most of the teachers that I talked to said that I could handle four APs, only one said absolutely not and that was Mrs. Manch. Besides that everyone said that it was doable including my parents,” said Young.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a teacher say that I couldn’t do it except Mrs. Manchester, but they have said if there was anyone who could do it it would be you but it will just be a lot of work and a lot of time,” added Borzilleri. “I think it could honestly be too much but I am not going to know until I actually try it.”

Junior Irena Roggeveen has experienced the workload that four AP classes bring. Currently she is taking AP Physics, AP Language and Composition, AP US History II, and AP Statistics.

“Last year I was really worried about taking four this year but I decided to go for it anyway with the reassurance that I could always drop one if I needed to. Some days this year have been a struggle but overall I’m really happy I took the chance on myself and pushed the envelope a little…I think it’s really important for people to realize the commitment they are signing on for when they take AP classes. But I also think that it is a really healthy practice to push your boundaries and see what level of classes you can handle. I think people would be surprised about what they can handle, I know I was,” said Roggeveen. Next year she is signed up to take AP Chemistry, AP Calculus, AP Literature and Composition, and AP Psychology on VHS.

According to Foster, the most common response she gets when she warns a student that he or she may be taking too ambitious of a course load is, “But I thought that is what colleges wanted.”

“What is hard is that on one hand they are right,” said Foster. “You can’t lie and deny them that truth but on the other hand, like I said and Dr. Buckey has really followed through and done his homework on this that now a lot of colleges are starting to say that they just want well rounded students and they don’t want students to be completely stressed out and taking things just for the reason of impressing a college.”

Many students feel that there is tangible pressure to take AP classes to prepare a strong college application, while some argue that they take AP classes to stimulate their minds.

“College credit is just kind of an added benefit. I just want to take challenging courses in subjects I find interesting. That is just an added bonus,” said Borzilleri. “I think there is pressure to take APs because competitive colleges expect you to take the most challenging courses your school offers,” said sophomore Grace Bartlett. “In that sense I think its not as good to have more APs because its like Mrs. Manchester was saying, if it was only honors and honors was the highest level, then you could get into college with honors level courses. But because of having APs available, that is not possible.”

“My hope is that now that we are offering more APs students will take more of what they are interested in and not just for the AP distinction,” said Foster.

In addition to the added APs that NHS is able to offer as a result of the MMSI grant, NHS will join with the College Board in the unveiling of the newest AP class next year, AP Seminar. Advanced Placement Seminar, part of the AP Capstone program, provides a rewarding opportunity to students. NHS, being one of the 300 schools selected to participate in offering this experimental program, will be introducing in the 2015-2016 season this innovative course. The class is designed to teach students how to research at a college level and how to take that research and effectively compile it into a thesis paper. Its development stemmed from feedback to the College Board that freshmen were entering universities and colleges without knowing how to properly research a topic.The AP Capstone program is divided into two sections: AP Seminar, and AP Research. It is designed to be a two-part course taken in two years. In AP Seminar, students will “investigate real-world issues from multiple perspectives, gathering and analyzing information from various sources in order to develop credible and valid evidence based arguments” according to the College Board website. In the next section, AP Research, students will learn proper research techniques and the “discipline” necessary to write a convincing academic thesis. Students will have the opportunity to choose the topic that they research. Like conventional AP classes, the AP Capstone program is accompanied by an AP exam near the end of the course, and students are eligible for an AP Capstone diploma with a score of three or higher on the exam as well as four additional AP exams. Scores of three or higher on the AP Capstone exam that are not included with four other AP courses will earn the student an AP Seminar and Research Certificate. “The real attraction to this class is that students can really take and study whatever they want, whether its art of throwing the perfect baseball pitch or anything to a science fair project or marine life or something in a fashion industry. They can get down and deep into researching any subject that they want. The skill that they walk away from is the research skill and they get the info that they are interested in. So that is the one that we are trying to push sophomores to take,” said Foster. She reported that five or six students had already signed up. “I think people are afraid of the unknown and I think that they want to see how the class goes before they dive right in.”

English teacher Page Martineau will teach the course. AP Spanish will enhance Nantucket High School’s already rich language department, further escalating the level of Spanish available to students. Advanced Placement Spanish, requiring a background of Spanish levels one through five, will be a course conducted entirely in Spanish, with all the rigor and discipline required by AP classes, equipping students with the skills needed to complete the AP Spanish Language Examination in May. The course will cover global challenges, science and technology, contemporary life, personal and public identities, families and communities, and beauty and aesthetics.

AP Studio Art will be the most advanced art program at NHS, with a prerequisite of Art II to be eligible for the class. AP Studio Art is intended only for dedicated art students who are planning on pursuing a career or college in art or design. Throughout the duration of this course, students will compile a portfolio of at least 20 pieces to be submitted to the AP College Board, of a focus of their choice: either drawing, two dimensional design, or three dimensional design.

NHS principal John Buckey hopes students will gain more exposure to college level coursework with the expanding Advanced Placement program.

“Students should select AP courses that interest them,” Buckey advised. “They shouldn’t take too many. If their strength is in math and science, I would encourage them to take AP math and science courses. By increasing the diversity of AP classes, AP courses in areas such as languages and art allow students to expand on those if they prove to be their strengths.”

However, despite the growing AP offerings, many students still are eager for more AP classes in the school syllabus. “I wish they offered more specific. They offer the basic ones and you can’t really take anything else other than these,” said Borzilleri.

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