More Berkshire County public school students have the opportunity to enroll in college-level courses this fall due to an expanded in-state initiative that is designed to graduate more college-ready students.
Last year, Drury High School and Lee Middle and High School became the first schools in Berkshire County to pilot the Mass Math + Science Initiative (MMSI) approach to boosting student achievement.
This year, Taconic High School in Pittsfield is partnering with MMSI, while Hoosac Valley High School in Cheshire and Pittsfield High School have articulated plans to participate in the program next year.
MMSI aims to work with teachers and administrators at its partner schools to dramatically increase students' participation and performance in Advanced Placement (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, but trains educators to use the curriculum and exams as tools to engage students, particularly among underserved populations, and help prepare pupils for college and career success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
On Tuesday, MMSI representatives attended special events to kick off the new year of the program. They showed students, staff and community members data-based results from the first-year programs at Drury and Lee, and introduced benchmarks to Taconic.
"I think schools of the Berkshires have fully embraced this program and we applaud them for already showing great success," said John A. Smolenski, director of enrollment services for MMSI.
He said MMSI has three primary goals: to increase the number of students participating in AP STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and English language arts courses; to increase the rate of students earning college credit-qualifying AP exam scores of 3, 4 or the maximum score of 5; and to reach the long-term goal of having more students successfully matriculating to and graduating from college.
Already, Drury and Lee have seen successful enrollment results among students, who are mostly juniors and seniors.
Last academic year, for example, Drury increased its AP course offerings from five to eight courses, and boosted enrollment from 81 to 229 students.
Lee previously offered an average of three AP courses each year. In its first year with MMSI last year, the school offered five full AP classes and increased enrollment from 13 to 73 students. Thirty-seven students ultimately earned a qualifying score of 3 or greater on AP exams in 2013, compared to only three students who reached that level in 2012. This year, Lee is offering nine AP courses. Enrollment has jumped, as 133 students are enrolled in at least one AP course.
Last year, 131 Taconic students took at least one AP STEM or English course. The school's projected enrollment for students in AP courses this year is 211.
Aside from teacher training, providing course materials and instructional equipment, and getting students enrolled into the AP program, 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.
Though the above opportunities are provided, it is ultimately up to individual students to realize the purpose of the program and invest themselves into doing the work, which, some students from Lee say, is not easy.
Megan Cook, a Lee junior, is taking AP courses for the first time -- AP English language and composition and AP U.S. History.
Both courses required Cook to do homework over the summer to prepare for the start of classes.
"It seemed like a lot of work at first, but you get used to it," she said.
"You can't just breeze through this," said Lee senior Heamon Williams. Last year, he only took one AP course. This year, he's enrolled in an AP English course, two AP math course and is taking a psychology course through the dual enrollment program at Berkshire Community College.
Asked why he's taking such an industrious route to his studies, Williams said, "You get a lot of college credit for it. The way I see it, if you start now, the easier it will be in college. In that respect, any advantage I can get can help."
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