Olivia Gabel grabs a few test tubes from the clean pile beside the sink. “Let’s do a tap water sample,” she says.
Olivia knows she has a lot of college ahead of her because she wants to be a doctor. Knowing that, she was initially excited to take an AP course in Environmental Sciences at Decatur High School. “In this class, we learn a lot about how third-world countries struggle with AIDS and influenza, and I want to help with that,” she says.
AP classes are rigorous, college-level classes that prepare high school students specifically for classes in college, and by the end of the class, Olivia was not disappointed. In fact, Olivia says, “By the end of the class, I was even more excited that I had taken it.”
Skylar Summers, who took AP Environmental Sciences with Olivia, is also glad she accepted the challenge of a rigorous class.
Skylar is already a state-level award-winning author, and she wants to go to college to study writing and film. “So I’m not a sciencey-person, if you can’t tell,” Sklyar says with a smile. She carefully allows small drips to escape the tap and enter the test tube. “But after this class, I guess I have to admit that I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. Not because it was fun necessarily, but because it opened my eyes to politics, current trends, and topics like global warming.” As a writer, Skylar knows that she needs to be politically aware of what’s going on in her world and community.
Both Skylar and Olivia plan on attending college in one year after they graduate from Decatur High School in 2018. Olivia even has big dreams of attending Columbia University in New York to study medicine.
But one way that the girls never expected to benefit from this class was the way it supplemented their other two AP classes. “I’m very thankful I took AP Environment Sciences at the same time as AP Government and AP Language and Literature because it helped me pass those other exams,” Skylar says.
And it was rigorous, just like the course catalog warned. “Mrs. Coggins (teacher, AP Environmental Sciences) definitely helped us through her tests because she purposefully made them hard,” Olivia says.
Secondary Curriculum and Career Tech Director Dr. Tommy Davis says, “It’s not just about AP classes; it’s about a higher standard of learning and teaching. We place a large emphasis on pacing for teachers to make sure students are learning required skills.”
Jeanne Stroh, English chair at Austin High School teaches AP English Language and Composition, and she agrees that AP teachers are challenged to deliver meaty instruction in AP classes. “These students by their very nature demand to be taught,” Jeanne says. “They don't want ‘fluff’ work and they continually challenge the instructor.”
Jeanne spends countless hours beyond the bell just so she can deliver rigorous assignments to her students. “I never get caught up with the grading.”
The rigor in AP classes demands excellence from both teachers and students, but everyone agrees that the rigor is worth it. Jeanne says, “I’ve had multiple students return to tell me, ‘I can't believe how much better prepared I was than other students in my college classes.’"
So by the end of the class period, Skylar and Olivia had decided two things. The tap water at Decatur High School was safe to drink (thank goodness!) and the AP classes were just as recommendable.