St. Vrain Valley Schools is on a mission to ensure that all students graduate with a rigorous academic experience, and the skills they need to be successful.
Advanced Placement® (AP) classes provide outstanding opportunities for students to engage in rigorous, college-level coursework preparing them for postsecondary education, while simultaneously earning college credit when they score a 3 or higher on an AP exam. AP coursework enables students to save on tuition and graduate college in less than four years.
St. Vrain is always seeking innovative ways to provide support for students so they can be successful now and in the future. Recently, St. Vrain Valley Schools was one of four Colorado school districts to make the College Board’s Annual AP District Honor Roll. The AP Honor Roll recognizes school districts committed to increasing access to AP courses for all students while maintaining or increasing the percentage of students who earn a score of 3 or higher on their AP Exams.
Overall enrollment in AP classes has increased by 50 percent since 2004, while minority enrollment has increased by approximately 80 percent. This year alone, Skyline High School has seen a significant increase in student participation in AP courses. “We have 797 student enrollments in AP classes (some students take more than one AP class), which is the highest we have ever had and a 55 percent increase from 2014,” shared Heidi Ringer, principal of Skyline High School. “For AP exams, we’ve also had an increase in exams taken and the pass rate has also increased. The school offers many resources to support students including practice exam opportunities and Saturday study sessions.”
During the 2018-2019 school year, Erie High School and Skyline High School collaborated to give students across the district an opportunity to participate in AP Saturday study sessions. Students learned new perspectives from their peers and teachers, and dove deeper into lessons they had already experienced. “The success from these sessions prove that as a district, we are committed to demonstrating that we believe our strength rests in everyone’s success as well as our own,” shared Kim Wiggins, assessment coordinator for St. Vrain.
Rigorous AP classes are offered at every high school and each school has an AP coordinator available to recruit students. The goal is for every student to have an AP course experience before they graduate.
Skyline High School recruits students in October for the following year and their AP coordinator visits all classes to talk about the course offerings. “Teachers discuss AP with all students and encourage them to challenge themselves to take at least one AP class,” shared Ringer. “There are no prerequisites for AP classes, so any student that wants to take an AP class can do so.”
In addition to the Saturday study sessions, both Erie and Skyline offer practice exam opportunities in an effort to continue providing the support and encouragement students need to feel confident and be successful. “When students take AP classes, they develop their academic potential and confidence to the highest levels by engaging in challenging, college-level curriculum while in high school,” shared Matt Buchler, principal at Erie High School. “This confidence and success will serve them well during high school and after graduation. AP classes also provide the added benefit of acquiring credits at a fraction of the cost of what a college or university charges students.”
Carolyn Root, AP Studio Art Drawing teacher at Skyline High School, knows the importance of student engagement in AP courses. “Students who take the AP drawing course become much more aware that as an artist they have a voice and a platform for their message. They begin to create with a purpose and think about how the choices they make in each artwork support that message or idea,” shared Root. “This realization often gives them confidence to share their thoughts in other ways, such as in writing or open discussion groups. It also prepares them for the rigors and challenges of college classes, as well as helping them develop skills in time management with projects and personal scheduling.”
When students take AP courses and exams, they demonstrate to colleges that they have sought out educational experiences that are rigorous and will prepare them for success not only in college, but beyond. “By taking AP classes, I’ve had the opportunity to challenge myself and broaden my worldview,” shared Cassie Mahakian, senior at Erie High School. “I’ve loved interacting with my classmates and teachers at a higher level, and by having these classes as an option, I have been able to expand both my skills and knowledge of the world.”
Investment in AP classes is part of St. Vrain’s overall strategy to provide students with multiple pathways that lead to career and college success. “We constantly speak about rigor and challenge in our classrooms,” shared Wiggins. “If students don’t experience mastery of challenges there, then AP sounds herculean. Our message is clear: the primary difference between AP and non-AP should only be that AP teaches standards beyond high school.”