By Steve Fryling, Vicksburg Schools Communications Director
Examine the vision or mission statement of most any school district in Michigan and it will be some play on the phrase, “get all students college- and career-ready.” Vicksburg Schools are no different. To make this vision happen, schools have to offer ways for students to “go beyond” regular classes. For some students, courses or training in different career fields (which in previous generations was called “vocational education”) is best. For others, having them take college courses, either at college or in the high school classroom, is the key. But for others, what is best is providing very challenging, high level versions of regular courses.
These courses are called “AP” or advanced placement courses. The courses are created by a national organization which writes the course guides, trains teachers and then creates and scores a test taken by students at the end. That test score, if high enough, is accepted by most colleges across the nation as credit for a college level course. That means if students take enough AP courses and test well enough in them, they can earn in some cases more than an entire freshman year of college credit, at very little cost and no student debt. This allows students to graduate from college in less time and with less debt than ever.
Vicksburg High School has been honored as a national leader in students taking AP courses. Last year 495 AP courses were taken at VHS; 51% of the students who took the exams earned a score high enough to get college credit. The challenge is to get even more students to take AP courses and for more of them to take the exam (which is optional) and to score well on it, said Keevin O’Neill, Vicksburg High School principal.
To encourage students and their families to take more AP classes and take and succeed on the exams, the district proposes to create a special diploma program called the “AP Capstone Diploma”. This diploma would show colleges that the student has spent time in more challenging classes and would give them a leg up in getting accepted to even the most prestigious colleges, with many of their basic credits already earned.
To earn this diploma, students would start early on, as sophomores. These students would take a special AP seminar class where the instructor would help them to improve their skills in analyzing issues, make strong arguments in writing, and to collect, analyze and present information accurately, using team presentations and projects to find out how well they have honed these skills.
The students would then take an AP research class in which they learn how to do the kinds of research they would be asked to do in college. They would learn how to pose a problem or question, investigate and gather the information needed to address the problem and then present what they found in a written and verbal form.
After these two foundation classes, students would then take the AP courses they chose in grades 11 and 12. If they take at least four AP classes and score high enough on the exams for each, they would be granted the AP Capstone Diploma.
It will take money and training to bring this to Vicksburg. One of the more pressing needs is financial support to allow students to take the exams, as each exam costs a student $94 to take. Another need: resources to train a current VHS teacher to be a capstone instructor, who would teach the seminar and research class and administer the program.
The Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation recently approved a request made by O’Neill and Superintendent Charlie Glaes for just over $10,000 for training so teacher selection and training could begin next school year and the program itself could start in the fall of 2019. Finding funds to help with exam costs may be considered by the foundation at a later time.
“Colleges are getting some very strong Vicksburg graduates and making them even stronger and more skilled. We asked ourselves how can we start building on the academic skills these young people have at an even younger age to give them an even greater advantage in college and careers. The AP Capstone Diploma is an effective vehicle to get these kids challenging themselves early and building skills well before college,” Glaes said.
“The Foundation will help us to put this into action without extra cost to the taxpayers, allowing us to use the money saved to support all of our students.” Glaes also added that general education funds are also going to fund other avenues for students’ success in life, such as career and arts training, college class enrollment (known as dual enrollment) and the Early Middle College program, which allows students a period of five years to graduate from high school with a community college diploma, through classes taught both at the high school and at KVCC.