Grant boosts Moffat County High School’s AP effort | CraigDailyPress.com

Grant boosts Moffat County High School’s AP effort

Friends of Moffat County Education awards $9,570 grant for high school AP courses

Michael Neary

Moffat County High School English Teacher Amy Hansen helps student Kamron Ludgate with an assignment for an Advanced Placement English Language course.

— For Kamron Ludgate, taking an Advanced Placement English Language class lets him break away from some of the more conventional activities he's experienced in other classes.

"It really pushes me to get away from formula or from just trying to do the typical, normal stuff," said Ludgate, a 15-year-old sophomore. He added that the class helps a student "to think for yourself with a little more freedom."

The Moffat County School District is offering seven AP classes this year, up from two last school year, and three more are on tap for the 2016-17 school year. The district recently received a boost in its AP course effort with a $9,570 grant from Friends of Moffat County Education.

The AP courses are designed to give students a sense of the work they'll undertake in college, along with the chance to earn college credit. The courses are designed for the junior and senior levels — with Ludgate, who earned a spot in an AP class as a sophomore, serving as an exception.

Chris Jones, a board member for Friends of Moffat County Education, said a number of the nonprofit organization's board members are native Craig residents who perceive a need for AP courses.

"Going through school, we didn't have the opportunity of AP courses," Jones said, noting that they felt the absence of those classes once they entered college.

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A pre-college boost

Kelly McCormick, principal of Moffat County High School, told the Craig Daily Press in the fall that the AP courses help to "get kids used to the rigor" they'll face in college — something that Aryona Shaffer, a senior at the high school, noted this past week.

"We're working toward actually getting ready for college," said Shaffer, who's taking AP English Language. "I don't think it will be as much of a shock when we go up to that level."

Five thousand dollars of the grant money from Friends of Moffat County Education is designated to funding some of the AP testing fees. The exams students take at the end of the AP courses give them a chance to earn college credit, and those tests cost $92, or $53 for students eligible for free and reduced lunch. Students can tap the grant money to pay half the cost of one test.

"The students that are pushing themselves to take the AP courses may not have the financial means to take one of these tests," Jones said.

The rest of the grant money will be devoted to teacher training, materials and other costs associated with AP courses — including $1,200 for smart television equipment.

In addition to taking AP courses, Moffat County High School students also have a chance to earn college credit by enrolling in classes through Colorado Northwestern Community College under the concurrent enrollment program. That program is governed by state legislation, and it operates under a contract between the school district and the community college, said Julie Hoff, director of concurrent enrollment at CNCC.

Thinking independently

Karen Chaney, a social studies teacher at Moffat County High School, teaches an AP U.S. History class. She said students in the class think independently and critically about the books they read — and that includes scrutinizing the mood and tone of unusual work, such as a letter from a former slave, written to a former master during Reconstruction.

"There's a great deal more reading and writing involved in these classes, and more analysis," Chaney said.

Like the other teachers of AP classes, Chaney underwent training in Denver before taking on the class. She said teachers also pursue follow-up training.

On a recent afternoon in Amy Hansen's AP English Language class, students were using their iPads to annotate essays. Hansen said the course focuses on nonfiction reading and writing — and she said the students experience a freedom in the class that can be both invigorating and frustrating.

"Some students really like it because they get a chance to express their opinions, and their viewpoints are valued," Hansen said. "But I also think it can be frustrating for them because it's not simple. There aren't boxes they can check and formulas they can follow to do things perfectly. They have to be much more independent."

Students in the class talked about the additional rigor of the class, and also about the way they were called upon to look at the subtleties in other people's writings. As senior Kearn Gerber put it, "you want to say what they're meaning — not what they're saying, but what they're meaning."

A step toward professional expertise

This year the high school is offering AP classes in calculus, biology, English language, English literature, physics, statistics and U.S. history. Next school year, it will add classes in world history, government and computer science principles.

Joe Padon, a computer and business teacher, is slated to teach the computer science principles class next year. As he talked about the course, he emphasized the "principles" part, noting the importance of teaching students "how a computer actually works as opposed to just teaching them different software materials."

Padon spent four days this past summer at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., as part of a class he took through Harvard University to help prepare him to teach the AP class.

Padon said the jobs for people who understand how computers work — and who know how to program them — are "increasing exponentially," with far more jobs than for software engineers than qualified applicants.

"To say to get them ready for the workforce is just to teach them Excel is kind of outdated," he said.

Last spring, Padon taught a semester-long class similar to the one he's slated to teach next school year.

Chaney, who's teaching the AP social studies class, said the experience of teaching that class has enhanced her instruction in other courses.

"I think that I'm increasing the rigor in my other classes, as well," she said. "I'm thinking about how to create more rigorous and independent learning projects in those classes, too."