By Debbie Bruell
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Since starting as principal of Roaring Fork High School in 2012, one of Drew Adams’ primary goals has been to enhance the rigor of every student’s educational experience at RFHS. As part of that effort, three new Advanced Placement (AP) courses were added to the curriculum this past school year, and three additional AP courses will be offered next fall.
Advanced Placement is a program created by a non-profit organization, The College Board, which designs the curriculum, and creates and grades the final exam for each AP course. Most colleges grant credit to students who receive a high score on the final AP Exam.
Roaring Fork is offering the following AP courses for the 2014-15 school year: Calculus, Literature, Spanish, Art, World History, and US Government & Politics.
“It’s about building the opportunity for kids to have a college experience while they’re still in high school,” Adams told The Sopris Sun. According to Adams, AP courses help students develop the skills they need to succeed in college.
Taking AP courses can also save a significant amount on college tuition costs. Most colleges offer about three college credits for each AP Exam on which a student receives a high score. Scoring well on the AP Spanish Exam is even more significant: Colorado University offers 11 credits to students receiving a top score on the AP Spanish Exam.
The school also offers a host of college-level courses, some within the high school and some at the CMC campus: cultural anthropology, biology, English composition, business, environmental science, political science and the politics of sustainability. According to RFHS college counselor Andrea Caruso, credit in these courses transfers to all colleges in Colorado and most private colleges around the country.
In addition to preparing students for college-level work and potentially saving money on students’ college costs, AP and college courses provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to challenge themselves which, according to Caruso, is essential for students hoping to be accepted into a selective college.
“Colleges prefer to see students getting a B in a challenging course than getting an A in an easy course,” Caruso told said.
About one third of all RFHS students recently attended an information session about next fall’s AP offerings. According to AP World History teacher Matt Wells, some students jumped at the opportunity to take his AP class this year and other students needed a little push. “Ninety percent of the time kids who are hesitant to take such a high level course will rise to the occasion,” Wells said.
What’s the difference between the AP World History course and other RFHS social studies classes? According to Wells, the AP course uses a college-level text, demands a much greater amount of reading and requires a more sophisticated level of historical, analytical and evaluative thinking, writing and discussing. Since AP courses are nationally-normed, Wells explained, he is forced to keep up the pace throughout the year.
Even if history is not a student’s main interest, Wells said, his course helps to “prepare kids for college as thinkers, enabling them to tackle complex problems regardless of what the subject is.” During one of his classes last month, students were divided into groups representing different countries involved in World War I and were asked to present that country’s demands and perspectives as they simulated the negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Versailles.
AP Art is equally rigorous. In place of an exam, students are required to submit an extensive portfolio including 12 pieces that demonstrate the “breadth” of a student’s skills (i.e., a wide variety of mediums) and 12 pieces that are connected by a personal theme. Students must also submit a written paper explaining how his or her theme evolved throughout the year.
AP Art teacher Cathleen McCourt explained that the AP course has really pushed her students to work hard and advance their artistic and critical thinking skills. Her AP students are required to create many more finished pieces of art than is required in a typical high school art class. They also must learn how to put together a portfolio and develop their skills at giving and receiving critical feedback on each others’ work. In addition, McCourt noted that the course has enhanced her students’ thinking about themselves as artists as they conceptualize the evolving theme underlying some of their work.
“Requiring students to develop a theme for a series of pieces is a very mature concept,” McCourt said, and one which she plans on using in other art classes as well. The themes that her AP students developed this year include: ebb & flow, innocence gone, natural magic, and my relationship with water.
“Not everyone in high school is ready for college level courses,” Caruso said, “but we want to have them available for all the students who are ready to take on that kind of challenge.”