December 8, 2011
Homer’s AP program makes honor roll
Increase in number of students taking advanced placement course leads to College Board award
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Advanced placement teacher Paula Jones teaches biology Wednesday in her room at Homer High School. From left are seniors Rebecca DeWitt, Ravneet Dhillon, Manseerat Dhami and Jessica McLaughlin.
HOMER — Senior Helen Dillingham has taken every advanced placement course Homer offers.
She takes the courses because she needs them to get into her top college choice — Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she said.
“I want to study nuclear engineering,” she said. “I won’t get in if I don’t take all the advanced courses.”
Dillingham is among a growing number of Homer students taking AP courses, leading to recognition for not only the students but the district itself.
Homer Central School District was named to the College Board’s Second Annual Advanced Placement Honor Roll last month for its achievements in Advanced Placement testing.
Homer is one of 367 school districts in the United States and Canada to receive the award and the only district in Central New York.
Pennsylvania led the nation with 34 districts on the honor roll, while New York and Massachusetts each had 30 districts chosen.
Superintendent of Schools Nancy Ruscio said the achievement shows exactly what the district is asked to accomplish.
“It’s a tremendous honor, a tremendous acknowledgment,” she said. “We want to challenge all our students, and colleges want to know that they’ve taken a rigorous path.”
Advanced Placement courses are college-level classes for high school students. Students take a final exam in May, and the test is scored from 0 to 5, with 5 being the best.
The majority of college and universities offer college credit to students who perform well on those tests.
To make the honor roll, a district must increase the number of students taking Advanced Placement tests, while maintaining the percentage of students who score a 3 or higher over the past three years, according to the award letter.
Doug VanEtten, Homer High School’s principal, said the school has worked to encourage more students to try Advanced Placement courses.
“We’re pretty excited,” he said. “We have a nice mix of course offerings and AP courses are a part of that.”
Homer offers AP courses in European and American history, Biology, English, U.S Politics & Government, Music and Calculus.
In 2008, 63 students sat for 70 exams. In 2011, Homer had 83 students take 99 exams. During that time, the average score for any exam was below a 3.0 just once. In that case, it was a course taken by only one student.
Having students who take more than one advanced course in a year is common, VanEtten said.
“These kids work so hard,” he said. “They’re very driven and very determined to do well.”
Doing well in the AP courses requires a lot of sacrifice because of the large amount of information in the course as well as the earlier test date compared to state tests, VanEtten said. Students often receive a packet with information and assignments over the summer.
“They lose about six weeks because they take the test in May,” VanEtten said. “Last year we had seniors get together and study the day after prom to make sure they were ready for the exam.”
Paula Jones has taught AP Biology for the past two years at Homer. Teaching those courses is fun, yet challenging, she said.
“You have to be on your game every day,” she said. “These kids are sharp and you have to have the answers.”
The courses challenge the students’ intellectual capabilities and time management skills, Jones said.
“The material is difficult and students taking their first one often struggle at first,” she said. “They have to stay on top of their reading and that can be tough since there isn’t a tangible reward.”
Ellen Wixted, a senior, said she takes AP classes because she’ll learn more than she would in a freshman course in college.
“In college you’ll be in a lecture hall with 100 other kids,” she said. “Here you get a lot more help and it is easier,” she said.
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