Houston schools snag $2.9 million grant for AP classes

jmink@macon.comMay 16, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- As a high school student, Emily Wallace knows how to convince other teenagers to take advanced courses. It takes top-notch teachers, high-tech equipment, available resources and extra study sessions. And, if all else fails, some financial incentives.

Thanks to a nearly $2.9 million grant, the Houston County school district is in store for each of those incentives. They include a $100 reward to students for each Advanced Placement test they pass in math, science and English.

“As a teenager, that’s attractive,” said Wallace, a junior at Warner Robins High School.

The school district, in partnership with Robins Air Force Base, recently snagged the three-year grant as part of the National Math and Science Initiative’s Advanced Placement program. It is the largest single grant the National Math and Science Initiative has doled out this year.

“This program is about you,” Dale Fleury, the initiative’s senior director of programs, told students Thursday during a news conference. Through AP courses, “you will position yourselves to be a leader in tomorrow’s global economy.”

The grant is aimed at increasing the number of students who take AP courses in math, science and English and the number of students who pass AP exams. Students get college credit for the class if they pass the AP test.

Currently, 890 students take AP classes in math, science and English in Houston County. With the help of the grant, the school system expects enrollment in those classes to increase 75.6 percent next year.

This year, students scored passing grades on 419 exams. The district expects that to increase by 127 percent over the next three years. Students may take an AP test in more than one subject.

“We always seek improvement,” Superintendent Robin Hines said.

The National Math and Science Initiative works to make those improvements possible by focusing on several factors, including teachers.

The funds will be used to provide extensive teacher training, give them additional classroom materials and offer them an incentive as well. Teachers will receive $100 for each AP exam passed in their classes. Additionally, teachers and schools who reach the district’s AP enrollment and pass-rate goals will get $1,000 each, according to the district.

Misty McAfee, an AP physics teacher at Veterans High School, was part of a similar National Math and Science Initiative program in Bibb County, which is still underway.

“NMSI truly changed the lives of some of my students,” she said. “It’s going to be great for our schools, but it’s truly going to be life-altering for our students.”

Administrators hope the district’s new resources will give students a boost of confidence, convincing students who ordinarily would not tackle AP courses to give such classes a chance.

It costs about $89 to take an AP exam, according to AP Central, and the grant pays for half of the first test a student takes after the program begins. Additionally, the grant funds extra tutoring sessions, an opportunity students, such as Erin Butikofer, will grasp.

“That is really exciting,” said Butikofer, a junior at Warner Robins High.

And then there is the reward. While the chance for $100 is not the only reason more students will take AP classes, it will definitely help, they say.

“It’s just the icing on the cake,” said Brendan Kennedy, a junior at Warner Robins High. “This is just that little, extra boost.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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