Students get ahead with advanced courses

The first day of school is Monday for the Steamboat Springs School District

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— At times, the workload seemed too much for Jane Melvin to bear.

The two Advanced Placement courses she took during her senior year at Christian Heritage School were more demanding than any classes she took before, and with other responsibilities and activities to attend to, time was a valued commodity.

But like many area students, Melvin learned that the benefits of taking AP courses go beyond the walls of a high school classroom.

The Advanced Placement Program began in 1955 to provide high school students the opportunity to take college-level courses, and in many cases, earn university credit for completing the courses.

AP courses cover a wide range of subject areas, including foreign languages, sciences, history and music. All three Steamboat Springs secondary schools -- Steamboat Springs High School, The Lowell Whiteman School and Christian Heritage School -- offer a variety of AP classes to their students.

"I think they're great," Steamboat Springs High School Principal Dave Schmid said of AP courses. "They are rigorous classes that are intellectually challenging. I love to see more and more kids take them."

One-third of the high school's senior class is enrolled in an AP English course, Schmid said.

"Enrollment in AP courses has gone up immensely in the last few years," he said.

In addition to the opportunity to earn college credits, making oneself more attractive to a college or university also is a factor in many students' decisions to take demanding AP courses.

"(AP courses) give kids the opportunity to improve their transcripts in an increasingly competitive college entrance process," The Lowell Whiteman School Academic Dean Joanne Lasko said.

Twenty Lowell Whiteman students took AP exams in the spring, Lasko said.

Schools that offer AP classes must follow AP curriculum for each course, in part because college credit usually is earned by earning a passing score on an AP exam, an end-of-year, cumulative test on a specific subject.

The tests are designed to determine a student's ability to perform at a college level. A score of 5 -- the highest AP test score given -- means a student has demonstrated his or her ability to succeed in that specific subject and subject level in college.

Melvin, who fit AP calculus and AP biology into her busy senior year, scored well on her AP exams and will be rewarded with eight academic credits when she begins her freshman year at California's Westmont College this fall.

"I'll have more time to take different classes," Melvin said of the advantage of receiving college credit for AP courses. "I think AP classes really prepare us for what's going to come ahead. They demanded a large amount of time in school and out of school."

Vicky Johnson, Melvin's AP biology teacher at Christian Heritage School, said AP courses demand effort and results from students.

"It helps them be better prepared for college," she said. "It's a much higher demand in terms of course work. It's just a much more intense class."

Johnson said Christian Heritage School students excelled on this year's AP exams. All students who took the tests scored 4 or higher, and a majority scored 5.

"All of them will receive anywhere from three to eight college credits," Johnson said.

"You're talking about a tremendous effort on the part of these students."

The eight credits Melvin earned are well-deserved, she said.

"There were definitely times when I told myself, 'I can't do this -- there's no way,'" she said. "It was a very tough year."

As a pre-med major, chances are Melvin has at least a few more tough years ahead.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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