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Stepping up to the challenge at SEHS

POSTED: September 12, 2008 5:01 a.m.

South Effingham High School has seen its Advanced Placement courses increase by more than 200 percent in the last five years.

Roni Edenfield, former SEHS instructional supervisor, said there were five sections of AP courses in the 2003-04 school year, and this year there are 16 sections offered. The enrollment in the courses has increased significantly. In the 03-04 school year, there were 70 students enrolled in South Effingham’s AP classes.

“Right now, they have 301,” she said, noting a 330 percent growth.

She said there has also been an increase in the number of students taking and passing the exams. When a student makes a 3 or higher on the exam — grades go to 5 on the AP exams — the student receives college credit for the course.

“We have seen for instance the AP calculus program — and this is amazing to me — three years in a row 100 percent of the students have passed the AP exam, which is phenomenal,” she said.

Edenfield said she attended a workshop about growing the AP program to learn how to encourage students to take the more challenging courses. The goal was to offer more courses and encourage students to take the courses in the program “because it is consistently challenging.”

She said the program would not be possible if it were not of the willingness of the teachers to take on the extra demands involved with teaching AP courses.

“What it took to do this were the teachers who were willing to go to the training, which is very intensive. They have to give up a week of their summer,” she said. “They have to submit a syllabus to the College Board, which is very demanding.

“The College Board wants specific things they want to see instructionally. It has to meet their standards before the College Board will approve it. Each teacher who’s teaching a course has an approved syllabus or the new ones who have just come on board are working on getting their syllabus approved for this fall. It’s a very demanding process, so it requires a lot of them.”

She said the teachers have been instrumental in the growth of the program, and the number of courses now offered. Teachers Tina Crapse and Renee Hatcher each have three AP sections.

“My two AP English courses, AP English language and AP English literature, have grown from one class in each to three classes in each,” Edenfield said, “so we now offer a tremendous amount of English classes, which is unbelievable. When we started the program we just had one class of each, so children are choosing to go that route, which is phenomenal. Over 120 students are scheduled for those two AP courses.”

She said the courses are more intensive for teachers to teach.

“What they have to grade is more demanding, more rigorous. It’s hard stuff to grade — calculus work is difficult,” Edenfield said. “To grade some of the papers that they are required to write in U.S. history requires long essays, so the teachers kind of take on a huge responsibility when they agree to do this because it does require more of them than the traditional classroom setting. Teaching by its nature is already demanding, so this just requires that much more.”

Edenfield said the courses help students who want to go to competitive colleges because the standards of the AP courses are known nationwide.

“I think the nice thing that’s happened at (SEHS) is that we’ve seen tremendous growth, and our focus was not to have just one small group, but to open up to any child who’s willing,” she said. “If you’re willing to do the rigor of the work, we want you in there. And it might mean a child makes a B in AP, but that is still better because they got the challenging course work.”

Edenfield said she thinks students have chosen to take the more demanding courses because the teachers have provided rigorous work and enough support to the students.

“It really does take several years because the children, some were braver than others, as they get in there and they realize with this teacher’s help they can do this,” she said. “Even though it’s scary and it sounds hard I’ve even talked to AP calculus kids who were hesitant. I said just try it, and they get in there, and they realize ‘I can do this.’ It is hard, but it’s not unreasonably difficult. It’s really taking the commitment of a teacher who can raise that bar as high as they can, but also provide the support piece so the children know they can do it.”

Edenfield said the AP history teachers stay after school every week to help students prepare for the writing involved on the exam.

“I think it’s a lot on the teachers because they have to be a teacher who can really keep that bar as high as it can be,” she said, “but also help the children realize it’s a safe environment where they’ll be OK. That’s a hard balance sometimes for a teacher to be that rigorous, but make the child feel like it’s hard, but ‘I can do it,’ and really push the children. That’s what it takes. You have to really push them.”

She said it’s amazing to see what the students produce at the end of an AP course, and many have left with a lot of college credits when they graduate.

“That’s nice, and it’s accepted universally,” Edenfield said.  

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