Tuesday, September 15, 2009
By CATHERINE BAUM
NORTHAMPTON - Northampton High School leads the region in Advanced Placement test results with a 59 percent increase in the number of AP students who qualified for college credit from last year - nearly 17 times the overall state average.
AP classes completed in high school are eligible for college credit on the condition a student passes the exam for any given AP subject.
"We have a lot of reasons to be proud of Northampton," Mayor Clare Higgins said Monday morning at a kickoff event for the Advanced Placement program at the high school.
Others in attendance Monday praised Northampton students for their confidence in themselves and Northampton teachers for their confidence in their students.
"There is a confidence and a competence in Northampton that you just don't find everywhere," said Charlotte Carlisle, math director for Mass Math and Science Initiative, a division of the Mass Insight Education & Research Institute. The boost in performance is widely credited to the initiative's AP Training and Awards Program, in which Northampton is taking part for the second year.
And this year, Easthampton High School will work with Northampton High School in the initiative, which provides teachers with training and expands AP offerings. Easthampton High offered AP calculus and U.S. history last year, and with the new grant in hand, the school has added AP chemistry, Grade 11 AP English and Grade 12 AP English this year.
Enrollment in the Advanced Placement program at Easthampton High is up from 12 seats last year to 63 seats this year. That number represents the number of seats combined in advanced placement offerings, not the number of students, because some students take multiple AP classes.
John Smolenski, director of advising for the initiative, said the program plans to add AP statistics and AP biology to Easthampton High School in the future.
"We think that Easthampton kids are fully capable of doing these courses and they just haven't had that opportunity because not all of the courses are running," Smolenski said. "The results in Easthampton should be similar to the results in Northampton."
In Northampton, participation in the high school's eight AP classes increased from 236 seats to 413 seats. Northampton High School is expected to have a two-year enrollment growth of 75 percent and adds two new sections of AP statistics this year. The trend of students taking up AP classes is increasing, with 53 percent of the entire junior and senior student body enrolled in AP English. Smolenski believes the Advanced Placement program can reach many more students.
Students seem to think more of their peers will jump on the AP bandwagon, too. Ben Weaver, 16, a junior at Northampton High, said he enrolled in AP modern European history last year because he wanted to challenge himself. An aspiring pre-med student, Weaver took on AP English and AP biology this year. While AP classes often entail difficult concepts, heavy homework and a lot of memorization, Weaver said, one common thread throughout them all is student support for success.
"We're a really close-knit community," Weaver said. "As a community, we drive each other."
Meanwhile, Northampton teachers will lead and support Easthampton teachers this school year, Smolenski said. Because the initiative crosses school district boundaries, it provides teachers with a variety of options in terms of opportunity for growth in subject instruction, he added.
"In most schools, there's only one AP calculus teacher," Smolenski said. "Where do they talk to other AP teachers? They can go on College Board's Web site and read blogs, but now you have teachers from the district next door that have been doing this, that have a proven track record of getting the kids to the finish line. The teacher is not an island - they have a support system."
In periodic meetings and frequent phone conversations, Northampton and Easthampton teachers will share supplies and discuss ideas related to education style, techniques and teaching methods to take back to the classroom, teachers say. Middle and high school teachers in the neighboring school districts will gather four times a year in teams to focus on consistency in middle and high school instruction.
"It's allowing us to mix and meet schools we normally wouldn't and compare notes," said Paul Marcinek, AP calculus teacher at Northampton High School.
The initiative provides teachers with training and classrooms with resources the school wouldn't otherwise be able to afford, Marcinek said. Each professional development session, Marcinek noted, is "completely different," whether the focus is hands-on student activities or strong content-based instruction.
Meanwhile, students have access to three Saturday sessions with a focus on their subjects at local universities. Student taking three AP classes may take up to nine Saturday sessions - three in each subject - to prepare them for the Advanced Placement exam at the end of the school year. Professors are available during the sessions, which give students exposure to the college campus, admissions department and dining areas. Last year, Northampton High School students went to UMass Amherst for Saturday sessions.
Easthampton is one of 12 high schools to join the program this year. The Mass Math & Science Initiative hopes to add more Hampshire County schools to its AP program next year, Smolenski said. The initiative was awarded a $13.2 million grant in 2007 from the National Math & Science Initiative, primarily funded by ExxonMobil, the Gates Foundation and the Dell Foundation. The initiative's long-term goal is to reach full-program implementation in 90 high schools - benefiting 1,200 teachers and 37,000 students - by 2013.
In the end, the program shows students "taking rigorous courses in high school can impact their ability to do well in college freshman year," Smolenski said.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.