Local high school educators are financially investing in students who challenge themselves in preparation for college.
Lee Middle and High School teachers, funded through the Mass Math + Science Initiative, (MMSI), are putting the pay received from the three-year, $8,700 grant back into the school's Advanced Placement courses. Students who pass AP exams are eligible for college credit in English, physics, biology, history and other studies.
"It's about getting more kids involved in AP courses and help pay for their tests," said Ginger Armstrong, president of the Lee Education Association. "Teachers realize it takes all resources in this building to educate kids."
Armstrong says the teachers union also agreed to reinvest the money to encourage more students to enroll in AP courses.
Since Lee High received the grant in 2012, the school has increased AP course offerings from three to nine-- seven which are funded by MMSI -- resulting in a boost from 13 to 133 students enrolled in at least one AP course.
AP English teacher Jane McEvoy says her 18 students are thrilled the school is pushing them through college-level courses. She said the AP Language and Composition course she teaches is as rigorous as a first-year college composition course.
"They get high-level skills," said McEvoy. "The kids taking AP tend to be more successful in college and are less likely to drop out."
Lee Middle and High School is one of three Berkshire County secondary schools participating in MMSI -- Drury High School in North Adams and Taconic High School in Pittsfield are the others -- along with 42 other schools across Massachusetts.
Similarly to Lee, Drury also dramatically increased student enrollment in AP courses, from 81 students in fall 2012 to 216 this academic year.
MMSI aims to work with teachers and administrators at its partner school sites to dramatically increase students' participation and performance in AP courses. It's a five-year, $30 million project organized by the Boston-based nonprofit Mass Insight Education, in partnership with the state and private funders.
MMSI is not affiliated with the College Board, which produces the rigorous AP courses. It does, however, train educators to use the curriculum and exams as tools to engage students, particularly among underserved populations, and helps prepare pupils for college and career success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Aside from teacher training, student enrollment and providing course materials and instructional equipment, MMSI and its partner schools also fund Saturday study sessions in specific subject areas to better help students navigate their coursework and prepare for final exams. Students get pizza, snacks and drinks during these sessions and also have the chance to win prizes like iPods, iPads and gift cards.