THS chosen for select AP program

By Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo High School next fall will launch a new program designed to push a select group of students to complete a college-level research project.

The school was among 359 high schools in the world selected by the College Board to participate in the new Advanced Placement Capstone program. THS was the only Mississippi school chosen, Principal Jason Harris said, and is among only a handful of participants in the Southeast.

“I’m excited,” Harris said, after presenting the program to the School Board on Tuesday. “This is the tradition of excellence Tupelo is used to seeing, with Tupelo High School being one of the few schools in the South selected for something as prestigious as this.”

Students who choose to participate will take two one-year courses. In the first, titled “AP Seminar,” they will work as a group to complete a project and make a presentation. They also will write a research-based essay and take an end-of-course exam.

During the second course, titled “AP Research,” they will continue their research, write an academic thesis paper of at least 5,000 words and make a public presentation and oral defense.

“It is our senior project on steroids,” Harris said. “…I think our students can step up to the challenge.”

Students who complete both courses will receive an AP Seminar and Research certificate. Those who earn a score of 3 or higher on the exam for each course and also score at least a 3 on four other AP exams will earn an AP Capstone diploma.

Advanced Placement classes are designed to more closely resemble college ones. At the end of the course, students can take an exam scored from 1 to 5, and typically a 3 or higher is needed for college credit.

“As many of our students apply for scholarships and to prestigious schools, they would be setting themselves apart,” Harris said. “They’ve shown they can be successful in rigorous classes…Our students will have an opportunity that no other community has in this state.”

The program was developed with input from higher education, Harris said. It is designed to teach skills valued by colleges and businesses, such as independent research, collaborative teamwork and communication.

The school was not told why its application was selected, Harris said. Its long tradition with a senior project likely helped, as did its history of providing a robust offering of AP courses, Harris said. This year, it is has 18 such courses, with 980 seats enrolled.

The school’s senior project is part of its English 4 curriculum and is required for graduation. Students must work in groups to complete a product that serves the community and to make a presentation about it.

The application process for the Capstone project also asked about student access to technology, Harris said, noting the district’s initiative of providing a laptop to all of its seventh- to 12th-grade students likely helped. He credited English teacher April Friar for aiding with the application.

“Our district embraced the AP program years ago, and we’ve always had a strong and viable AP program,” said Tupelo Superintendent Gearl Loden. “…It is exciting to offer this program and to be the first in Mississippi and one of the first in the Southeast to do so.”

The new class will be offered at the beginning of next school year. THS still is working out many details.

The program is being launched this year in 139 schools worldwide, and Harris plans to get input from them. THS will be among 220 schools to begin in 2015.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com