PARACHUTE – For most students, when they hear “advance placement classes,” they likely think “oh, that’s for the smart kids.”
At Grand Valley High School in Parachute, though, it applies to every student. And the school-wide approach is paying off, according to Principal Ryan Frink.
Advanced placement, or AP, is a program created by the College Board that offers college-level curriculum and examinations to high school students.
The Grand Valley program is modeled after a highly successful program in a Portland, Ore., school district that moved it from one of the bottom ten districts in that state to one of the top 10 districts in the U.S., according to Newsweek magazine, Frink said.
“Their high school is about the same size as ours and their superintendent has come out to visit and help us get it going,” he added.
Frink said the goal was a viable and stable curriculum that didn’t change due to yearly staff turnover. AP is nationally renowned and offers training for teachers and staff, he noted.
“It also helped take the lid off education, so students don’t feel stifled,” Frink said. “It’s really the right curriculum and the right system for us.”
Freshmen and sophomores at Grand Valley take English AP classes, juniors take AP English literature and seniors can add AP English composition I and II through Colorado Mountain College, Frink said.
“Next year, every social studies class will be an AP class,” he added.
That will be the third of a three-year AP implementation plan for Grand Valley, Frink noted.
The move to all-school AP classes was not done due to declining enrollment, Frink said, that has seen the school go from a high of 400 students a few years ago to 285 students this year.
“The issues are still there, no matter how many students we have,” he said.
“Perseverance and grit” are two words Frink used several times to describe what students get out of taking AP classes at Grand Valley.
“In high school, they have various support systems to help students achieve what they need to achieve,” he said. “When they graduate and either go to college or get a job, those resources may not be there any more. We think with AP, they’ll be much better suited to be positive, contributing members of whatever community they end up in because they know how to persevere and show some grit when things get rough.”
Last year, Frink said a freshman Grand Valley student achieved a qualifying AP score in environmental science. Also last year, the school’s average ACT test score was up 1.5 points, which he called “pretty significant.”
Grand Valley was also one of ten high schools in Colorado to receive a governor’s award for academic excellence, Frink added.
Recently, Grand Valley was one of 11 schools across the state to be chosen by the Colorado Legacy Foundation to participate in the Colorado Legacy Schools initiative.
The initiative supports students in both geographically and demographically diverse schools to increase accessibility and success in rigorous math, science and English AP courses, according to a news release. It provides funding for teacher training, student exam fees, classroom equipment and supplies, awards for those who excel and extra time on task for students during Saturday study sessions.
The 11 schools will receive help to increase the number and diversity of students succeeding in AP math, science and English courses for three school years, beginning in 2014-2015.