CLEARWATER — Advanced academic courses in Pinellas County high schools are notorious for their long wait lists, but hundreds of students could soon be among the first to earn a new academic distinction with no enrollment caps.
Boca Ciega High, Northeast High in St. Petersburg and Countryside High in Clearwater will join 19 schools in Florida and about 100 schools worldwide in an AP Capstone program created by the College Board next school year. High school students who take a full schedule of Advanced Placement courses will graduate with a special diploma and earn college credits. Armwood High, Hillsborough High and Spoto High in Hillsborough County also will offer the program.
In addition to regular AP courses, students in the AP Capstone program will work on collaborative research and writing projects that lead to a college thesis-like project before they graduate. The courses also are developed to increase students' chances at passing their year-end AP test, which determines whether they receive college credit for their work.
“The College Board carries a name that's very reputable and recognizable in colleges and universities across the country, so any programs that they sponsor, reputation-wise for our students, are very beneficial and carry great weight for college entrance,” Northeast High School principal Kevin Hendrick said.
The College Board administers the SAT college entrance exam. Through the AP Capstone program, the first high school diploma program the College Board has attempted, students who earn passing scores on four AP end-of-course exams of their choosing will receive an AP Capstone diploma, which is meant to increase their chances of acceptance at their desired university.
The University of Florida, University of South Florida, Florida State University and seven other Florida institutions are among the 111 that support the new program and diploma.
“Knowing full well that college admissions officers had a hand in developing the curriculum for the program and fully endorsed students coming out of those programs as viable candidates for their universities was really exciting to us,” said Judith Vigue, Pinellas County's director of advanced studies and academic excellence.
The program also includes two required courses, AP Seminar for juniors and AP Research for seniors. Juniors will start the AP Seminar course in fall 2014 and research class-chosen themes. The students will be expected to communicate and defend their points of view on their topics, and will be graded on an individual project, team project and year-end written exam.
In the AP Research course, students will use those skills to complete a yearlong research project with a faculty mentor on a topic of their choice. At the end of the class, they will be expected to synthesize their findings in a presentation and defend an argument, similar to a college thesis project.
The Capstone program fits well with the school districts' recent efforts to expand academic programs, Superintendent Michael Grego said. This school year, Largo High School added an International Baccalaureate program, becoming the third IB program in the school district, and three other high schools offer the Cambridge Pre-Advanced Certificate of International Education, an internationally recognized diploma, similar to an IB diploma, that counts for college credit.
AP Capstone is similar to the Cambridge program in that it allows students to choose the advanced courses they wish to take instead of being locked into a full schedule of all advanced courses, as the IB program does. The three schools that will pilot the AP Capstone program don't offer Cambridge or IB programs, and it could motivate more students to stick with their assigned school, Hendrick said.
For parents like Scott Sandorf and his son, who attended the AP Dual Enrollment Fair at Countryside on Wednesday night, the flexibility of the program is a big selling point that allows students to “play off their strengths.”
“It's a trade-off with electives, but it seems like a good way to get plugged into the AP program and get ready for college,” said Gordon Sandorf, a freshman at Countryside High.