Written by Mrs. Kim Vreeland, Advanced Placement Language and Composition Instructor
Recently, one of my students said to me, “It’s like a bubble, our own little world in this classroom; I don’t even recognize some of my classmates because everyone’s inner geek surfaces in our discussions.”
The bubble exists in room 32 seventh period – Advanced Placement Language and Composition.
Academy at the Lakes’ Upper Division offers Advanced Placement courses that run the gamut from language courses such as Chinese Language and Culture to technology courses such as Computer Science A.
Depending on one’s interest and aptitude, there’s likely an AP course that captures any Wildcat’s passion.
What is Advanced Placement (AP)?
Advanced Placement is about offering strong high school students college-level learning opportunities in the familiar setting of their own high school.
AP courses are the brainchild of the College Board, a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to opportunity. Founded in 1900, the College Board was created to expand access to higher education.
Academy College Counselor Debbie Pitcairn explained the process.
“In accepting students into AP courses, we take into consideration a wide range of factors.”
AP Acceptance Considerations
- Teacher recommendations
- Past and current performance in classes
- Test scores, such as the PSAT
- Intellectual potential
- Study habits
- Work ethic
- Interest level for the subject
- Parental support and understanding
While the notion that only the strongest survive in AP courses, much like Darwin’s “natural selection” or Spencer’s “survival of the fittest,” this is not the case.
Mrs. Pitcairn explained, “We also look for students, who, although they may not fit the perfect profile for an AP course, may benefit greatly from a rigorous academic experience and exposure to higher level work and expectations.
Perhaps they have not thought to take on such a challenge, but if encouraged they may and, therefore, stretch their abilities. We do not want to set students up for failure, but if we see students with potential, we hope to encourage them to reach further and develop college level skills. In such a case, the score on the final exam is not the most important outcome. The learning, the student’s ‘take-away’ from having had the rigorous experience is at least as important as the score.”
Why Take AP Classes?
The factors in making a decision to take an AP course are specific to each student and depend on the student’s future plans.
Said Mrs. Pitcairn, “From a counselor’s perspective, I urge students to challenge themselves to take the most rigorous courses they are capable of to stretch their abilities.
Colleges want to see students take advantage of the opportunities in their school, both academic and extra-curricular. A’s and B’s in AP courses will help students in the admissions process to selective schools. More importantly, these courses help them develop the skills they will need to be successful when they are in college.”
AP Develops College Skills
AP courses develop a skill set necessary for college, but the benefit is longer lasting since the courses promote a different approach in thinking about and viewing the world.
- Develop intellectual depth
- Promote critical and analytical thinking
- Enhance oral and written communication
- Strengthen research skills
In addition to evidencing necessary skills needed for college success, a passing score on an Advanced Placement exam can earn a student college credit or placement in specific courses; however, college policies vary in awarding credit and offering placement.
While many students enjoy the benefits of earning college credit or placement in higher-level college courses, the students’ true successes stem from the educational journey that Advanced Placement courses promote.
The Benefit of AP Classes According to Academy Teachers
AP students are not the only ones who reap rewards. Academy’s AP teachers enjoy the successes as well.
AP Calculus and Statistics teacher, Christine O’Laughlin
“One of the things I love about teaching AP Calculus is that the students have never worked at this level before.
Previously, they see math and functions as something very stagnant, non-moving. Then they enter Calculus and have to see math through an entirely new perspective…as movement.
It uses every skill they have ever learned and takes it to a new dynamic level. In the beginning of the year, the students are a little nervous; everything looks new and different and a little intimidating.
In AP Statistics, it isn’t so much about the math. It is about analyzing the world around us.”
AP European History teacher, Kelly Rodowsky
The knowledge students gain in AP courses extends beyond the classroom, not only because they view the world through a different lens, but in some cases, as in AP European History, they can explore first-hand what they have previously seen only in textbooks.
Mrs. Rodowsky created the opportunity for her AP Euro students to take a trip over spring break to London and Paris.
“When they encountered a location or piece of artwork that we had studied this year, there was a real connection. I watched my students marvel at the artwork in The Louvre and search for deceased scientists and poets in Westminster Abbey. I watched them grin from ear to ear when they entered The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.
That was really rewarding as their teacher. Being able to witness the light bulb, ‘Aha!’ moments in the actual location of where history took place; that’s what it is all about for me.”
AP Biology teacher Sheri Mahoney
Like Mrs. Rodowsky, Ms. Mahoney enjoys “Aha!” moments that often occur in an Advanced Placement course. One of her favorite memories occurred in her Advanced Placement Biology class.
“Aquaporins are these tiny holes in your cell membranes that allow water to flow freely between your cells and the cells around them. When I introduced my students to this word, they fell in love with it.
When I showed them a picture of these aquaporins, the students thought they were beautiful and became obsessed with aquaporins, so much so that we went well beyond our intended studies of aquaporins to research their beautiful structure, and the word still comes up frequently.
As these six scientists go into their future science classes and careers, every time they hear or see aquaporins, they will be connected back to their first period AP Biology class. That’s the beauty of Advanced Placement classes- we can go beyond the minutia of science and really give ourselves the opportunity to appreciate its complexity and beauty.”
AP English Literature and Composition teacher Susan Zalac
“I remember when a former student returned to Academy for a visit. When I asked him how he was enjoying his first semester in college, his response both surprised and touched me.
Being a business major and having received a 4 on his AP Literature and Composition Exam, he wasn’t required to take any English courses. He told me that he missed English class and the discussions and debates that we had.
I believe that with his newfound appreciation for the course, he began to question what he thought he already knew – which is exactly what the study of literature is meant to do: initiate the contemplation of who you are and what type of life you want to lead.
I love when life comes full circle since isn’t that what happens in the books?
Exploring Passions Leads to Success
Academy’s AP philosophy of diversity and inclusion has not compromised Academy’s AP exam scores, which reflect strong student success.
- 75-80% of our students pass with a score of 3 or higher on their AP exams, compared to 50-55% for Florida and about 60% nationally.
AP Courses offered at Academy
Some courses are offered every other year or when student needs dictate.
- English Literature and Composition
- English Language and Composition
- Spanish Language and Culture
- Spanish Literature and Composition
- Chinese Language and Culture
- US History
- European History
- Calculus AB
- Calculus BC
- Physics 1
- Physics 2
- Environmental Science
- Studio Art – 2D
- Computer Science A
Academy’s AP Aligns with our Mission
So, who is the student who described the bubble in room 32? Junior Pia Jones. Pia takes both AP Language and Composition, and AP European History, and likens her intense academic experiences to a physical one.
“Taking an AP class is like educational boot camp. They require late nights, mental agility, and a strong will. But the satisfaction gained when you storm through a difficult exam on a subject you never thought you’d know so much about with ease makes it all worth while.”
Academy’s AP courses serve our mission well by celebrating our students’ intellectual passions, their inner geek, and ensuring joy in their academic journey.
As a fully-accredited college preparatory school, Academy offers a challenging curriculum with a wide range of core and elective choices, including Advancement Placement and Honors tracks. Learn more or schedule a tour.