School of the Month: AHS students up for a challenge

Published 7:26 am Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Of the 315 seniors at Austin High School, 98 are voluntarily enrolled in an AP (Advanced Placement) math class. That’s one-third of the grade.

“I think that says a lot about our kids,” principal Brad Bergstrom said. “That’s a ‘wow.’”

Only three years of math are required for graduation, but students at AHS are showing initiative and interest in taking more challenging classes.

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Pre-AP Language Arts 9

Pre-AP Language Arts 10

Pre-AP Biology

Pre-AP Chemistry*

AP English

AP U.S. History I

AP U.S. History II

AP Micro Economics

AP American Government

AP Human Geography

AP Calculus

AP Statistics*

*New for 2009-2010

Twelve pre-AP and AP courses are now available at AHS. New this year is pre-AP chemistry — now full with 64 students — which is taken mostly by juniors, and AP statistics, taken by seniors.

Students who complete AP courses must pass an AP test, scoring at least a 3 or better on a 5-point scale.

“Most colleges, if you score a 3, 4 or 5, you get college credit for that course,” Bergstrom said. Some students prefer college courses, while others prefer the AP ones.

“We have a delicate balance between the college classes and AP classes,” he said.

Three of the AP courses allow students to receive college credit, high school credit and AP credit.

“It’s really kind of a unique opportunity,” Bergstrom said.

AP teachers must complete a “significant amount of training,” which is unpaid and held during the summer, Bergstrom said. AHS now has 13 AP teachers.

Whether the district will add a new AP class is based on interest and need. For example, AP English requires prerequisite knowledge for students to be successful.

“When they get to take the AP course, there is a lot of background knowledge they have to have,” Bergstrom said.

Therefore, an honors English course became a pre-AP Language Arts class to accommodate that need.

“Then they have the foundation that’s necessary,” Bergstrom said.

The AP history test is one of the most difficult AP tests, so AHS made AP American History a two-part class that begins in ninth grade and continues in 10th grade for most students.

“It’s not about knowing facts, it’s about being able to write,” Bergstrom said. Most districts have it as an elective in 11th or 12th grades, rather than as an AP course in 10th grade, he said.

In Andrea Malo’s AP American History II, the second session of the class, she taught students Tuesday about the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. The students had reenacted President Lincoln’s assassination, with sophomore Lucas Nagle playing the president. Later this week, they will learn about sharecroppers and the post-Civil War Black Codes laws, and they will take a current events quiz Friday. Malo said the class uses college-level material and textbooks, covering the Reconstruction through the present era, with a “big focus on problem-solving with U.S. history.”

“It’s kind of a unique experience teaching this over two years,” Malo said. Twenty-five students are in her Tuesday morning class; 83 sophomores total are enrolled in AP U.S. History.

“I took this class because I love history,” said Shelby Oldenkamp, 15. “It’s just a challenge.”