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Cocoa and calculus: Saturday sessions teaching rigorous courses

When some people think of school on Saturday, an image of “The Breakfast Club” movie from 1985 might come to mind with students trying to get one over on their teacher while serving detention.

The new Saturday morning school program at Bradford Area High School, however, is anything but this with close to 90 students voluntarily participating in Advanced Placement programs that include art, U.S. history and AP Government, as well as math and science.

Enrichment teacher Janice Russell said the AP programs, offered on nine Saturdays this school year, are available thanks to a National Math and Science Initiative Grant awarded to the Bradford Area School District in an amount up to $585,000. Russell said the three-year grant partnership with NMSI will provide professional development opportunities for teachers in grades three through 12 in the subjects of science, math and English. In addition, the program “will help with vertical alignment of the curriculum by laying the foundation for future AP course work” for students in grades three through nine.

The program is also expected to increase the success of secondary students enrolled in AP courses by providing academic and financial support to the youngsters.  

“The primary focus of this grant is geared toward students enrolled in math and science courses such as AP Calculus, AP Biology, AP Environmental Science and AP English courses, such as AP Language and AP Literature,” Russell explained. She said AP study sessions will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on nine Saturdays throughout the school year. The first session was held Oct. 27 and some of the students were excited about it, she added.

Student responses on the Saturday program included “Well, that was actually fun,”  “I learned a lot,” and “It wasn’t as bad as I thought.”

Senior Michaela Terry added her thoughts on the NMSI experience, as well.

“I had no idea what to expect when I showed up for the Saturday study sessions,” Terry said. “Our teachers had told us we would learn something, but I was skeptical. However, much to my delight, I found the presenters were highly energetic and engaging. They didn’t lecture. We learned concepts that are on the AP exam, but in an interactive, fun way for a high school student.

“I left knowing I had a better understanding of the AP exam since this is my first AP class,” she continued. “I love my high school English teacher, but the presenters helped me to better understand the scoring system, which is very subjective. The materials we were given simplify and supplement what we are learning in school. It was an amazing experience and I will certainly be at the next” Saturday session.

Russell said the students’ comments were echoed by Superintendent Katharine Pude.  

“We are very fortunate to have this opportunity to work with the National Math and Science Initiative Program which benefits students, teachers, parents and also our community,” Pude said. “The funding provides strong professional development for teachers, which would otherwise be coming from our district’s budget, and it also saves parents and students in future tuition costs.”

In past years, the school district fully covered the cost for students taking AP exams, but this year, as part of the partnership, NMSI will help defray the cost of the exams, which is another bonus for the district.

“We are very pleased with the number of students choosing to participate in a more rigorous curriculum as it will only benefit them in their future endeavors,” Pude remarked.

Other benefits of the grant will include four full days of training each summer for the next three years for teacher-leaders, including AP instructors, in the school district. It also will provide two full days in both the spring and fall for professional development purposes, the assignment of a personal mentor and additional networking opportunities for teachers.

AP teachers at the high school will also have access to hundreds of lesson plans, mock tests and materials that can be used to prepare students to sit for AP exams, Russell added.

As for what the students gain from the program, Russell replied, “Content knowledge and confidence. Having participated in rigorous AP courses, these students will be college-ready. 
“They will have refined study skills and realize that hard work does pay off,” she commented. “And the hot cocoa and donuts (offered during the sessions) aren’t bad either.”