Kelloggsville — Senior Lillian Vandergeld admits she enjoys challenging herself. So when the high school expanded its advanced placement offerings, she decided to sign up for the new AP English Language and AP U.S. History courses.
“It is not hard work, but it is a lot of work,” Lillian said of the courses. “You definitely have to have good time management.”
Regardless of the work, Lillian said she is glad she had the opportunity to take the courses because, along with giving her the chance to earn college credit, it also provided her an opportunity to build on her skills.
“Strong English skills, you can use no matter what you go into,” she said.
Principal Nick Patin said school staff wanted to provide more academic opportunities along with challenging its students. That’s why this school year, the high school added four AP courses to its existing schedule, which already had AP Calculus, AP Civics, AP Chemistry and AP Biology. Three of the new courses are AP U.S. History, AP English Language and AP Spanish.
“The students filled up the sections so fast,” Patin said. “In fact, for our AP U.S. History, we had ended up creating a second section because we had so many students sign up for the course.”
The fourth new class is the AP seminar course that all 10th-grade students are required to take. The AP seminar is a yearlong English course that helps students explore careers and other areas of interest in order to build foundational writing, collaboration, research and presentation skills.
Building Self-Esteem and Confidence
Requiring the AP seminar course for sophomores gives students the opportunity to see what such a course is like and to build confidence that they can be successful in challenging courses, Patin said. He also noted the school will cover the costs for students taking any of the AP exams to earn college credits.
Many school districts that have implemented the AP seminar course at the 10th-grade level have seen an increase in passing rates; such is the case at Northview High School, one of the first in the nation to switch to the AP seminar program.
“You can see the confidence in the students as they go from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I can do this,’” said Dave Jimenez, a first-year teacher hired to teach the AP seminar course. “The students are enjoying the fact that they are being pushed beyond what they would have done on their own, and they are doing better for it.”
In a seminar-style approach, students build skills needed to succeed in high school and beyond, Jimenez said. The course focuses on three key skills: research, collaboration and communication. Students are able to select and investigate topics, write research-based essays and give presentations, he said.
By teaching the course, Jimenez says he has seen improvement in his own writing as he completes his teaching certification. Because of his own improvement, he is excited to see how and where the students excel as they move through high school, he said.
Pushed in the Right Direction
“I saw that our students really wanted to be challenged in English,” said Shannon Dahlquist, who teaches the AP English Language course. “We only offered a handful of AP courses and none in English, so our students did not have that opportunity.”
In the AP English Language class, the main goal is for students to learn about argument and composition. Students analyze nonfiction works from various sources such as science, historical documents and speeches. They also write essays that explain an idea, argue a point or focus on persuasion.
Dahlquist said she has seen excitement among her 22 students, especially during discussions, and hopes that excitement helps build other students’ interest in the course.
Senior Brailin Rojas, who is taking both AP Language and AP Civics, said he has found AP classes to be much more in-depth than others he’s taken; he also feels they have helped improve his critical thinking skills.
“I wanted to improve my academics at the high school, and I thought by taking the courses it would help me prepare more for college,” said Brailin, who plans to attend Grand Valley State University next fall.
Lisa Corrigan, who has been teaching AP Calculus for the past six years, said she believes the expanded AP options — especially the AP seminar course — show students they can handle a “little bit more rigor” in their classes.
“I think it is good that students are willing to challenge themselves,” Corrigan said. “I have also discovered that (with) students who surround themselves with other students who are academically strong, it pushes them in the right direction.”
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