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Boot camp primes high school students for AP courses

TRINITY - Lydia Kinney's teammates figured the best way to get her through the mock spider web was to lift her and pass her to more teammates on the other side. Kinney, a 16-year-old Mitchell High School junior, was game, but a bit skeptical. "I was scared I was going to touch the wire," she said. "Everyone said, 'You can do it.'" The scheme worked, proving that a little planning and teamwork can pay off, a lesson that Advanced Placement teachers at Mitchell High hope students will take with them this year as they tackle demanding courses that can help them earn college credit.
About 380 Mitchell High students participated Thursday in the school's first AP Boot Camp, which focused on teamwork, communication, organization, critical reading and problem solving. "The five skills are what you need to survive in the world, not just AP classes," Assistant Principal Angie Murphy said. Throughout the day, the students competed in Hula Hoop relays, time management drills, a scavenger hunt and other activities that put those skills to the test. The spider web – actually ropes crisscrossing a frame of PVC pipes – was among the more physically demanding challenges. The students, divided into teams of more than 20, had to get from one side of the web to the other without touching a rope. The catch: Once two students used an opening in the giant web, that opening was considered off-limits. That's how Kinney, Natalie Figueroa,14, and several other students ended up being lifted and passed through the web by stouter peers, a perfect metaphor for one of the points teachers wanted to make. "In your classes, some people will be stronger," teacher Andrea Berry-Guth said. "You'll work as a team to get through it all." Mitchell High has Pasco County's largest AP program, offering 16 courses students can take from their freshman through senior years. The program's growth spurred the school to find ways, such as the boot camp, to help students tackle the demanding classes. "As we get more students in the program, we feel we need to provide them more support," Murphy said. The school has about 500 students enrolled in AP classes. Those who didn't attend the boot camp were given an alternative assignment – a 30-plus page packet – they could download from the school website. In planning the first boot camp, Murphy said the school researched similar events around the country, reeling in ideas. "Our whole goal is college readiness," she said. "College and career readiness, really." The effort won't end with the boot camp; the school plans a series of monthly AP Success Seminars. AP students can earn college credit by performing well on exams, which are scored on a 5-point scale, with 3 viewed as a passing score. Last year, 62 percent of Mitchell High students scored 3 or better. Nationally, the average is 60 percent, Murphy said. The AP program sets the bar high, teacher John Scott said. "You can't lower the bar," he said. "You have to bring the kids up." Donny Nguyen, 17, is signed up for three AP courses as he heads into his senior year. He hoped the boot camp would help him improve over his performance as a junior. "I procrastinated too much last year and it hurt me," he said. Teacher Karen Lawlor led a communications exercise that paired up students. One student could see shapes projected at the front of the room. The other drew the shapes based on a description from the first student. They performed the feat three times, with the rules changing each time. At first, the description could be only spoken. Then it was written only. Then it could be conveyed only with nonverbal clues, such as hand gestures. Lauren Romero, 17, a senior, said the last was the most difficult. "We were a little worried," she said. "But it got easier as we went along because we found out how to understand each other."

rblair@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7065

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