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Government officials observe pioneering AP classes in action

Northview — Taking pre-AP and AP classes in ninth and 10th grade not only gave Northview High students Oscar Sanchez and Lydia Iverson the potential for college credits, it also has helped build confidence, improve reading skills and open doors to possible career paths.

“I used to be so scared to even ask an employee at Wal-Mart where something was, and now I’m comfortable talking in front of a ton of people,” said Oscar, a junior. “And before AP Seminar, I was never a reader. I did not like it, and I couldn’t focus … Then I started liking reading more and more. The book I’m reading now is about how to get one percent better every day toward an amazing goal.”

Lydia said that having done surprisingly well in those two early AP classes spurred her to take other AP classes as a junior and senior. 

“School is never something I felt like I was crazy good at … so (those) were really a game-changer for me,” she said. “This has helped me in choosing what I want to do (after graduation). I’ve decided I want to major in broadcasting and public relations, and I don’t think I would have come to that without those classes helping me push those boundaries.”

That kind of feedback was especially helpful to a group of officials from the U.S. Department of Defense’s International Education Division who visited the school earlier this week to observe its pre-AP classes and pioneering AP Seminar class for all sophomores.

The division plans to implement pre-AP English Language Arts classes for its ninth-graders and AP Seminar in its own 10th-grade classes for military families and civilian employees who work and live on bases worldwide.

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Michelle Howard-Brahaney, the division’s Europe director for student excellence who oversees 64 schools, said her team “observed students really driving their own instruction in some ways. (We saw) a lot of engagement, (students) making choices about their own reading and the message from their teachers that they are readers. 

“Another thing that struck us from the instant we walked into classrooms was how much the teachers care about the students. What that showed us was an environment where kids, who otherwise may not have taken academic risks or social-emotional risks, were willing to do that.”

Observing AP Seminar, Howard-Brahaney said, “showed us that students are expected to be quite mature about their learning … and ultimately, it becomes their responsibility to learn how to use their time.”

NHS Principal Mark Thomas pushed for implementation of AP Seminar seven years ago to replace English 10. He saw it as “a game-changer, in that it could both raise the academic bar and build academic momentum and self-esteem for more students,” he said, as well as present a better opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge by using assessments and projects that were more non-traditional.

So far, AP Seminar has now become the AP course with the highest passing rates among all Northview students.

Last January, a team of those who create and administer AP courses nationwide visited the school to see the classes in action. At the time, Northview High was the only school in the country where all sophomores participated in AP Seminar, a year-long English course that helps students explore careers and other areas of interest to them in order to build foundational writing, collaboration, research and presentation skills. 

Thomas said Rockford and East Kentwood high schools are in their first year of adopting Northview’s Seminar model, and Forest Hills Public Schools just completed two visits and plan to launch pilots next year. 

Read more from Northview: 
AP for all sophomores? This school is doing it
Preparing to hear ‘You’re hired’

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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