Methuen High sees spike in AP enrollment
METHUEN — Kelsie Blouin is off to Hofstra University this fall to begin her freshman year, and she already has a full semester's worth of college credit under her belt.
The 2010 Methuen High School graduate was one of the students who participated in the school's new Advanced Placement program, which school officials say will grow next year.
The program allows students to obtain college credits, and even cash, if they score high enough on the AP exam.
In Blouin's case, she took three AP classes — two English classes and a calculus class. She received two 5s — the highest score — and a 4. She also took a summertime Introduction to Sociology class at Bunker Hill Community College and passed with an A.
Blouin and the other students in the Advanced Placement program had to juggle a heavy workload at school with the other rigors of teenage life, such as jobs, sports and school clubs.
"I've had dreams about homework," Blouin said.
But she was rewarded with 15 college credits for all of her hard work, the equivalent of five college courses.
As if the prospect of obtaining college credit for free while in high school isn't enough motivation, students receive $100 cash from the nonprofit that doles out the grant money every time they receive a 3 or higher on an AP exam.
Last school year, Methuen High began receiving $460,000 in grant money. The money from the Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative is being spread out over five years. The nonprofit group receives public and private funding to beef up AP offerings by giving teachers more training and supplies and helping students prepare for tests.
With the grant, Methuen teachers changed the way they recruit students for AP classes. Teachers used to recommend the cream of the crop for advanced classes, but now they not only recruit the usual suspects, they look at students' PSAT scores and find kids who scored well but weren't going above and beyond in the classroom, school officials said.
School officials sent letters to students who were "flying under the radar" to ask them to take AP classes, Methuen High Guidance Director Valerie Viscosi said.
"Anyone who wants to take AP can now," she said.
Fifty-nine students took the AP exam during the 2008-2009 school year, and 197 students took it during the 2009-2010 year, the first year of the grant. Three hundred students are signed up for the program next year, officials said.
To help the students, the school held daily study blocks in the school cafeteria where they worked together and with their teachers. Students had to attend at least three all-day Saturday sessions where they listened to guest speakers and took practice tests.
"If the kids are willing to do the work, kids can do great things," said Joseph Harb, the science curriculum coordinator for grades seven through 12. Harb is the coordinator for the grant. "It's like athletics. You have talent or you can develop talent."
Paul Carey, who graduated with Blouin this past June, contracted mononucleosis during the fourth term of his junior year and fell behind in his studies. He was in honors English at the time and received a D. Carey said he doesn't think we would have been a fit for AP classes during his senior year under the old circumstances.
"Because of the grant, I was able to take AP English and get a 5 on the exam," he said.
Carey took four AP classes during the fourth term of his senior year, and will attend the University of Massachusetts Lowell next year on a full scholarship.
The new AP program works, school officials said.
"It was interesting because the grades stayed up," said Jennifer Smith, the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Methuen schools.
From 2009 to 2010, the number of AP exams given almost tripled, and the number of exams that received scores of 3 or higher more than doubled, she said.
"It definitely gives you a little more confidence going into college — just the way you have to go about things and manage your time," said Katie Oskar, who just graduated and is heading to Boston College. Oskar took four AP courses during her senior year.
Jessica Lucey will enter her senior year at Methuen High this fall. She took AP psychology, AP English and AP U.S. History last year. It was rare to have a free weekend, she said.
Lucey's mother, Ranie, said she's amazed at how self-motivated her daughter is, and the hours she devoted to her homework.
"I would literally beg her, 'It's time to go to bed. Just pass it in,'" Ranie Lucey said. "One o'clock, 2 o'clock (a.m.), and I would keep begging her."
"Sleep is overrated," her daughter added.
The teen is in for another dose of hard work next year — she's signed up for AP European history, AP calculus and AP English.