AP Courses Bring Brighter Tomorrows

Photography by proveided by Cincinnati Public Schools

Ask any recent high school graduate and they can attest that Advanced Placement courses are a great way for students to get acclimated to the challenges of a college-level class. Unfortunately, many schools have limited resources and are unable to offer the great experiences, knowledge and organizational skills that come along with AP courses to their students.

Cincinnati Public Schools has a solution.

As part of its My Tomorrow*ed initiative, CPS offers a new approach to AP learning that allows the district to reach more of its students. Through a Blended Learning Program, students who previously had no access to AP courses will be able to take them remotely and have them built into their school schedule.

This coming school year, 11 CPS schools are offering students AP courses that best fit their school. AP classes include Human Geography, Psychology, English Literature, Statistics and Environmental Science.

These college-level courses will allow CPS students to not only adjust their expectations of what will be expected of them when they enter into higher education, but passing an AP course will allow them to be exempt from some of their freshman-level classes. AP credit is accepted by colleges and universities throughout the country.

When students enroll in an offered AP class, those students will meet face-to-face with a teacher twice a week, and will be given assignments and course work to complete the other three school days.

“Schools weren’t able to offer AP courses in the past as there were only limited numbers of students who wanted to take on the rigor of the class,” explains Ms. Cindy Sanders, CPS’ English Language Arts Curriculum Manager. With the Blended Learning Program, Sanders says that the city’s school district can now accommodate those students while keeping the program financially viable.

“One teacher will be able to service three schools,” says Sanders. “The teacher could perhaps visit Western Hills High School during 1st bell, then Hughes STEM High School during 4th bell and travel to another school at the end of the day.”

Previously, 50 percent of CPS’ high schools offered AP courses and only 36 percent offered more than one course. The Blended Learning Program will expand to give roughly 500 qualified students the opportunity to enroll in an AP class for the first time.

AP students will also be more exposed to technological skills that will help them keep up in college and in the workplace. All CPS students in grades 8-12 will have a device that they can use at school, but the device must stay at school when they go home. For AP students, however, they can take the device with them which will give them access to the materials needed for their courses.

“Students need these 21st century skills with computers,” says Sanders, “But the computers don’t deliver the skills; it’s what you have kids do with the technology that matters.”

In order to help prepare students for the challenging year ahead in their AP class, CPS has offered two boot camps this summer – one at Miami University and one at the University of Cincinnati’s main campus.

Students will get hands-on experience with technology that they may not have had access to previously.

“All students are given a laptop and a Wi-Fi hotspot,” explains Ms. Debra Crawford, head of the Blended Learning Program. “These camps make sure students are ready for the level of rigor needed for an AP course.

“They have the technology, but we have to ask ‘what are we doing to get them ready academically?’”

During the week-long camps, students attend “Being an AP Student” sessions where they learn study skills like how to take notes, manage their study time effectively and work personal reflection times into their days.

Being on a college campus puts the idea of pursuing higher education in front of the campers, too.

“We also have sessions we call ‘A Day in the Life of a College Student,’” Crawford says. “Our high-schoolers go on a campus tour, listen to a panel of current college students and professors, and learn about college recruitment programs and financial aid requirements.”

The Blended Learning Program is just a piece of the bigger My Tomorrow*ed initiative.

My Tomorrow*ed aims to equip high school graduates with the skills needed for future success which includes becoming familiar with today’s technology, gaining real-world experiences and having higher expectations.

“We prepare all of our students for college,” says Crawford. “If they leave high school and are ready to go to college, we know they will be prepared for other options as well – whether that be apprenticeships, military service or joining the city’s workforce.”

This initiative is designed to benefit all Cincinnati Public high school students.

“[As a curriculum manager], I often ask myself ‘What resources can I put in teachers’ hands to help with student achievement?’” says Sanders. “AP courses not only help the students grow stronger academically, but they also make college admissions offices take a longer look at a student’s application.”

At the end of the school year, students will take an AP exam over the year’s material and will receive a score out of 5.

“Usually colleges will accept scores of 3, 4 or 5,” says Sanders, “and let students skip their freshman English class for example.

“Even if the student scores a 1 or a 2, research shows he/she is more likely to graduate high school and finish with a college degree. When you look at entrance exams like the ACT or SAT, students with AP classes perform better and earn more scholarship money. They are successful in college and can move on to thriving careers.” 

For more information about how to get involved with Cincinnati Public Schools, visit http://www.cps-k12.org/community/get-involved.