When the final bell rang in a recent advanced-placement calculus class, teacher Emily Thornburg was taken by surprise.
“I said, oh no, I didn’t get to this part of the lesson,” Thornburg said. “And the kids said, ‘That’s OK. We’ll stay.’ That’s how these kids are.”
The advanced-placement courses at Carson High School allow students to simultaneously earn college credits for those who pass the exam at the end of the class.
Last school year, about one-quarter of all juniors and seniors took at least one AP exam, said Adam Whatley, language arts department chairman. Of the nearly 400 exams taken, he said, 234 received scores high enough to earn college credits.
“Given that each three-credit course at the University of Nevada, Reno would cost a student $575, Carson High School saved parents over a quarter million dollars in tuition charges,” Whatley said. “For example, 31 students took and passed the calculus class, and are eligible to receive eight college math credits.”
Samantha Lowe expects to have more than 20 credits under her belt before she graduates in the spring. In addition to the credits, the classes themselves look good on a college application.
“Sometimes, if you don’t take AP classes, (colleges) don’t even look at you,” she said.
Beyond the potential benefits in the future, Lowe said, the classes have value in the present.
“English and government are so enjoyable, you just look forward to going,” she said. “You’re bummed when the bell rings.”
While Carson High School is looking to expand the number of students who enroll in advanced-placement courses, Whatley said the students continue to outperform state and national averages.
“This year, 68 percent of students passed exams, compared to a national average of 61 percent and a Nevada average of 55 percent,” he said. “AP literature scored 31 percent above the national average.”
Abbey Dudley anticipates she will be better prepared for college next year, when she hopes to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
“The environment is so much more advanced than in other classes,” she said. “(AP literature teacher) Jason Macy is the best teacher I’ve ever had. My sisters who had him went on to college said he was even more advanced than their professors.”
She said the class discussions have helped open her mind.
“It makes me a better person,” Dudley said. “It makes me more aware of other people and their way of thinking.”
Joe Thornburg, advanced-placement English teacher, said there is a marked difference in the rigor required.
“It’s more difficult in its intellectual stimulation,” he said. “It makes them think about language entirely differently.”
It’s also puts a heavier workload on teachers.
“It is fun without a doubt teaching these classes,” Macy said. “However, it is difficult with the paper load. We read 12 novels in my literature class and I assign them an essay every week. I spend a lot of weekends grading papers.”
Sarah Christl, a senior aiming to earn 23 credits by graduation, can relate. She said students who take advanced-placement courses are often involved in sports and other school activities, making free time limited.
“It’s definitely well worth it,” she said. “Sleep is reserved for summer.”