Advance Placement, better known as AP courses aren't just for the elite academic achiever.
This school year, North Adams Public Schools and Lee Public Schools are working through a new unique partnership through the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative (MMSI) program to promote more student participation in math, science and English AP courses as a means of preparing for college and the workplace.
Through grants from MMSI and their own district's investment, Drury High School and Lee Middle and High School will be able to purchase new equipment, materials and textbooks, support teacher training and fund transportation for special Saturday study sessions for students. The schools also help to defray the costs of exams for low-income students; the fee is $89 per exam.
"We believe this program will be powerful for our students as we strive to have every graduate ready to take on the challenges of their futures," said Jason McCandless, superintendent of Lee Public Schools.
The school districts laid the groundwork and worked with MMSI to train teachers over the past year to present new course offerings this fall to juniors and seniors at Drury High School and Lee Middle and High School, respectively.
So far, the initiative has received a groundswell response among students.
Drury increased its course offerings from five to eight courses, and boosted enrollment from 81 to 229 students.
Lee previously offered about three AP courses each year. This year the school is offering five full AP classes.
In many cases at both schools, students are taking more than one AP course this year.
"I think there's a drastic change in mentality for school culture," said Tim Callahan, dean of curriculum and instruction for Drury High School.
"It used to be the expectation that AP courses were just for the elite few," said Callahan, noting that participation involved a higher GPA requirement.
As a former teacher of AP literature, Callahan said he saw that "a lot of students who may not have qualified to take AP may have thrived because of the challenge an AP course offers. Our goal as teachers should be not to dissuade people from challenging themselves."
Drury has since dropped the GPA requirement for AP course enrollment.
At Lee Middle and High School, math teacher Pam Briggs is teaching AP calculus for the first time and said she appreciates the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative.
"It's so exciting to be able to teach this course. Students want to be challenged. I want to be challenged. I'll admit that it's a lot of time and effort, but it's worth it," Briggs said.
In addition to buy-in from teachers, which included a five-day overnight summer training at Bentley University in Waltham, students have to commit to the rigors of weekly class work, as well as some Saturday sessions scheduled throughout the school year.
Lee senior Moriah McKenna says she is a unique student who has always sought to take honors courses. With the new AP program at Lee, she is taking AP calculus, literature and composition and biology, along with doing an independent study in AP U.S. history this year.
"I want to be ready for college and make sure I'm best prepared," McKenna said.
She described AP course content as being "more sophisticated," allowing for more independent and in-depth study of a
"It makes me really proud that my school would do this," she said.