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Local

Sterling High uses partnership to boost AP course participation

Survey used to identify students who are up to the challenge

STERLING – A team of administrators and faculty at Sterling High School has found dozens of missing kids this school year. Not in the literal sense, but rather kids who are missing out on fulfilling their potential.

Early in the school year, freshmen, sophomores and juniors were surveyed through the school’s first-year partnership with Equal Opportunity Schools, a Seattle-based company whose mission is to get more kids into Advanced Placement courses.

About 130 Sterling High students were identified as those who had the potential to challenge themselves more.

“These are kids who are already successful, but we’re going to challenge them to do more,” Principal Jason Austin said.

EOS challenges its partner schools to bring the demographic breakdown of students taking at least one AP course into alignment with the breakdown of the school’s total enrollment.

At Sterling High, 54 freshmen, sophomores and juniors are “missing” in AP classes, according to EOS analytics: 16 of 44 white/Asian low-income students, eight of 22 Hispanic students in medium- to high-income families, 27 of 53 Hispanic students from low-income families, and three of the 11 black students from low-income families.

EOS set a goal for Sterling High to get 70 students to take an AP class for the first time in the 2015-16 school year. Sterling’s EOS team, made up of three administrators, four counselors and 11 teachers, set the bar at 80.

The team will be adding AP test support both before and after school, as well as AP labs during the school day.

Throughout an initial meeting with students, then a parents forum, then more personalized meetings, students’ EOS profiles were updated. Those cards, both in digital form and in a manila folder put together for each student, contain information on things such as grade-point average, test scores and college plans, as well as students’ input on who they go to for help and what barriers they think have blocked their potential.

Those profiles have become living things, updated with every follow-up meeting. They’re not unlike a chart at the doctor’s office.

“That way, when I grab a folder, I see who the students have met with, what’s been discussed, what needs of theirs have been identified,” Austin said.

Studies have shown that the odds of minority and low-income students attending college spikes when they take an AP course; some studies find that the odds as much as quadruple. Similarly, a higher percentage of students who go to college after taking an AP course graduate in 5 years.

Each year, two to three AP courses are overhauled by the College Board to make sure they’re aligned with college curriculum. In turn, Sterling uses a 3-year state AP grant to send its AP teachers to training. Austin said the grant is for $17,000 to $20,000 per year.

The Sterling district had to meet specific criteria to be named an EOS partner, and the high school is visited periodically by an EOS representative who ensures the school is continuing to fulfill its commitment. Last spring, the school district secured a Google Global Impact grant, which picked up the bulk of the tab to participate in EOS.

During the parents meeting Feb. 3, Austin explained that the odds of enrolling in 4-year institution go up 171 percent if you merely sign up for an AP class. He also pointed out that college credits cost an average of more than $300 apiece, whereas those credits can be tackled in high school for $15, thanks to community fundraising that made taking AP exams more affordable.

Austin specifically handles the seniors at the school, while associate principal Dan Chouinard keys on the sophomores and juniors, and Janet Barnhardt the freshmen.

The key to maximizing success, Barnhardt said, is taking the first step of signing up for a class. There will be support going forward.

“It’s OK that it’s hard,” she said during the parents’ meeting.

“It’s not in our interest for our kids to fail,” Austin added. “We’ll help them every step of the way.”

STERLING HIGH DEMOGRAPHICS

The mission of Equal Opportunity Schools is for students' socioeconomic and ethnic demographic breakdowns to mirror those of students taking AP courses. Here is the breakdown of students at Sterling High School:

White: 60.5 percent

Hispanic: 32.2

Biracial: 3.4

Black: 3.1

Asian: 0.4

American Indian: 0.4

Low-income: 48.6

Source: illinoisreportcard.com

AP COURSES OFFERED AT STERLING HIGH

• AP language and composition

• AP literature and composition

• AP statistics

• AP calculus AB

• AB calculus BC

• AP chemistry

• AB biology

• AP human geography

• AP U.S. history

• AP American government and politics

• AP psychology

• AP 2-D design

• AP 3-D design

• AP drawing

* – Coming in fall 2017: AP music theory and AP computer science

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