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Advanced Placement classes gain popularity among DeKalb County students

Sycamore senior Paige Phelps takes notes Tuesday during an Advanced Placement literature class. These college-level courses will begin their two weeks of nationwide testing Monday.
Sycamore senior Paige Phelps takes notes Tuesday during an Advanced Placement literature class. These college-level courses will begin their two weeks of nationwide testing Monday.

The students in Judy Stafstrom’s Advanced Placement comparative government and politics class always come eager to learn.

The DeKalb High School seniors have spent the semester in the college-level course studying the cultures, governments and political structures of six countries.

“In this class, you really get to understand what [governments] do and why they do it,” said Blake Bushue, one of Stafstrom’s students.

These types of advanced classes are becoming more popular with students in DeKalb and Sycamore high schools. A national program run by The College Board, Advanced Placement classes are designed to challenge high schoolers, teach them studying skills for college and give them a chance to earn college credit if they score well on a final exam.

The exams, which are scheduled and designed for each course, begin next week.

Many of Stafstrom’s students, including Sasha Ebrahimi, said this Advanced Placement course has benefits beyond the classroom.

“You can talk to other people about what you’re learning,” he said.

Comparative governments is one of 14 Advanced Placement classes offered at DeKalb High.

But Principal Tamra Ropeter said that number will increase as the demand for Advanced Placement among students continues to grow.

About 12 percent of the DeKalb High School’s 1,740 students were enrolled in at least one Advanced Placement course last school year. All of the students who took Stafstrom’s government class received a benchmark score of 3 or higher, making them eligible for college credit at most colleges.

Sycamore School District director of curriculum Kris Webster said the best part about the advanced placement offerings is that no student is turned away if they want to take a course.

“When kids want to challenge themselves at that level, we want to give them the opportunity,” she said.

Sycamore High School currently offers four advanced placement courses, but the program is growing at a healthy rate, Webster said.

District 424 recently received a national AP Honor Roll award for increasing advanced placement enrollment with a greater percentage of students achieving at least the benchmark score.

Although Sycamore High is increasing advanced placement enrollment, many of its students won’t actually be taking the tests next week.

Only five of Rich Majerus’ 21 advanced placement English literature students will take the course’s exam. He said this is because most of his students have already received college credit for the advanced placement language course, and many schools don’t grant credit for both.

“That’s something we really have to address,” he said. “My seniors are taking the test less and less.”

Despite the lack of testing participation, many of Majerus’ students said they have learned valuable tools that will prepare them for college and beyond.

“Analyzing literature has become second nature,” said senior David Emmert.

Though she highly encourages students take the tests, Stafstrom said advanced placement courses are a great opportunity for all students to challenge themselves, whether they take the tests or not.

“Just being in the AP class puts you at an advantage because of the rigor and demands and intellectual stimulation,” she said.

By the numbers

Sycamore High School 2012-13 school year

• 4 AP courses offered

• 198 students enrolled in AP classes this semester

• 87 students taking AP tests

• 249 students requested AP courses next year

Source: Sycamore High School Principal Tim Carlson

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