It is a brisk January morning in Rock Springs. The air is filled with frozen exhaust, ice crystals, and prayers for spring to come early. This is the time of year when registration for the following school year begins and students have difficult decisions to make. Do I register for an AP class or two? Should I take some classes at WWCC this upcoming year? Maybe one of the career academies is right for me…What is the best way for a student to make these decisions? Honestly, they need to make their choices based on accurate information and focus on where they see themselves going in the future.
AP curriculum is designed as college-level work and enhances the rigor for college bound students. As a former AP Biology teacher, I can tell you students who take AP courses are, in essence, college students while they are in the class. The expectations are high, the workload is intense, and the rewards from a AP course are much more than the AP exam at the end of road. Typically AP courses are taught in a more traditional manner, similar to what a student may expect at the collegiate level. Discussions are rich and go deep into many topics while some of the material that may be found on the AP exam in the spring won’t get covered due to the breadth of material expected in the class. Teachers at RSHS who have AP courses give students ‘homework’ over the summer to help offset the time crunch and further cover the material expected by the College Board (AP). AP courses are excellent for driving college readiness in students.
One class observation: AP Biology class – today I stopped into Mr. McCrann’s class for a quick informal observation. He was talking about the work of Gregor Mendel and how dominant and recessive genes manifest themselves in a variety of species. Students were discussing both complete and incomplete dominance and, rather than simply working out Punnett Squares in a wrote memory-type task, Mr. McCrann put the results on the screen and a discussion about each and how the ratio isn’t always enough information to understand how phenotypes and genotypes display in various organisms.
Career Academy programs are designed for students who have a variety of needs. Students in the academies may be focused on a specific career interest, such as the health field, law enforcement, first responder, or engineering. Likewise they may want to be part of the family environment that occurs naturally in the academy, due to the consistency of having the same teachers over time and building relationships with the teachers and their cohort peers. Students might also like how curriculum is woven into the career interests they have, increasing not only the rigor in the classes but the relevance students find in what they are learning. Career academy programs result in students who earn numerous, meaningful certifications (such as CNA, phlebotomy, H2S, OSHA, CPR, Red Card Fire Fighter, EMR and others) which students may use to work immediately upon graduation. This might allow a student to either go directly to work or, if college is their path, work at a much better paying job while in college. Finally, academy students have the unique opportunity to spend time with the professionals in the field. FLLA and HOCA students job shadow weekly as juniors and seniors, while ERA students go out once per quarter during the same years. These students also put in over 150 hours of community service during their high school careers. Academy programs result in students who are both career and college ready and who have a clear path for where they want to go in the future.
One class observation: FLLA AGES – yesterday I spent 6th hour with our Fire, Law, and Leadership eleventh grade students along with a reporter from the Rocket Miner. The purpose of our visit was to discuss HB 008, a student data privacy bill currently in committee with the Wyoming Legislature. Asking one or two questions of these knowledgeable students launched us into a 50 minute discussion about student privacy rights, district policy development, and the difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion. I was so impressed with the knowledge base of the academy students and their ability to formulate a strong argument or position on a topic.
WWCC courses have been developed through a great deal of work between RSHS and WWCC. Our students have the opportunity to take up to 10 hours of WWCC classes each semester throughout their high school careers at no cost to them or their parents. Many of the courses are taken at RSHS, considered concurrent courses, and are taught by RSHS teachers holding adjunct status with Western Wyoming. Classes taken either online or on the WWCC campus are considered dual enrollment courses and have students earning credits at the college with the option of adding them to their high school transcript (pending certain requirements). This is an excellent opportunity for students who are ready to take college classes and want to complete some of the freshman requirements while still in high school. We are working currently with WWCC to develop two different paths for RSHS students interested in college courses. One pathway would allow students with early college aspirations to start taking college courses online at RSHS while in their sophomore year. That would then move them into courses on the Western campus as early as their junior year and allow them to take courses in the pathway their have genuine interest. The second pathway would focus on our vocational education students, starting online college courses as sophomores as well but then heading toward the technology and industry wing for future courses. This might include classes in electricity, instrumentation, engineering, welding, and autos.
The choice is the student’s choice and I expect that all staff at RSHS are giving students accurate information. So, here are some FAQ’s…
Q. If I enter an academy, is it true I cannot take AP courses nor can I be the valedictorian or salutatorian?
A. False – while sophomore students in academies might have to choose relevant to the AP World History, academy students have taken that course in the past. Today’s visit to Mr. McCrann’s AP Biology is a great demonstration of this. Nearly 2/3 of the class I observed were career academy students. Two years ago the valedictorian and salutatorian were academy students, the year before both were as well.
Q. How successful are these programs?
A. Our AP programs have been awarded by making the AP Honor Roll two times, more than any other school in the state of Wyoming. Our career academy programs have been titled ‘An Island of Excellence’ by the US Department of Education and, after a recent visit by the Wyoming Dept of Education and the Chief Counsel of State School Officers (CCSSO) featured in a blog on the Huffington Post (see below)
Q. Am I guaranteed college credit by taking an AP course?
A. No you are not guaranteed the college credit. You will take an exam at the end of the year. Depending on the school you want to attend in college the score needed on the test will determine the credits you earn for the college.
Q. Does the WWCC course options create scheduling issues at the high school?
A. Yes, but typically our counselors have found creative ways to do what is best for the student.
Q. Does being in an academy or taking AP courses prohibit me from being in activities or sports?
A. Not at all – many of our AP and/or academy students are involved in multiple activities.
Q. Who can I ask if I have other questions about AP courses, career academies, or WWCC credits?
A. Counselors and administrators are your best bet. Mr. Peppard can probably answer nearly all those questions accurately. AP teachers can give you a great deal of AP information, academy questions should be asked of those teachers, and Mrs. Erickson in the career center has all the WWCC answers.
This is a time when students have decisions to make, and that is a good thing for kids. Students may not be able to take everything they want, given how a master schedule works. However, if questions arise on what each program is designed for, please ask…
None of these programs are better than the other. They are different and are designed to meet the needs of all kids at RSHS.
Enjoy your day and remember, the sun WILL come out and thaw the land eventually.