Many students may consider taking an Advanced Placement course daunting, a mentality more than 500 teachers in Colorado are trying to change.
“The biggest part of teaching an AP class is instilling the confidence that 'I can do this' in our students,” said Michele Gillis, an AP language and literature teacher at Cedaredge High School on the state's western slope.
Gillis was among the many who attended the Colorado Education Initiative's AP Summer Institute, which taught teachers from across the state, nation and more than 11 different countries how to recruit, support and retain students for Advanced Placement courses. The July 14-17 program took place on Metropolitan State University's Auraria Campus in downtown Denver.
Developed as an addendum to the initiative's Colorado Legacy Schools program in 2011, the institute helps teachers not only increase the number of Advanced Placement students inside the classroom but also gives them retention strategies and skills to help increase students' college readiness.
“We know students have an unfortunate tendency not to graduate college-ready from high school,” said Greg Hessee, director of the Colorado Legacy Schools program. “We're showing teachers strategies to recruit and retain historically underrepresented students … and we provide comprehensive professional development to help you figure it out.”
During the institute's first three days, teachers focused on content-specific methods taught by a master teacher who helped develop a syllabus and curriculum to meet student needs. On the final day, teachers attended individual breakout sessions centered on the needs within their school or district, such as communicating with English language learners, parent communication, retention and AP recruitment.
“For me, I have a little bit of a unique perspective,” said Kurt Hostetter, a former AP literature teacher at Arvada High School who attended this year's institute. “I've been a student sitting in the classroom of the AP Institute and a teacher helping others retain students … It's not like we dumbed it down but rather opened it up for all students.”
Teachers learned a variety of skills to help students succeed. From the breakdown of word choice and sentence structure in a classic text to applying real-world situations to the complex terminology of calculus, the institute provided educators with adaptable skills to enhance learning inside their classrooms.
“I'm leaving here with two notebooks full of teaching ideas,” Gillis said. “I'm so excited to read these really great books and to talk about them in a very sophisticated, college-level atmosphere ... because now I'm bringing in the skills for them to be able to do that.”
Just like many of their students will be in a few short weeks, the institute's teachers, such as Taylor Stephens of Harrison High School near Colorado Springs, were buzzing around the hallways of Metro State. Talking with friends and classmates about the skills they learned, teachers appeared to be ready and looking forward to the school year ahead.
“Simply being exposed to the rigor of the course and being pushed really helps them in the college experience,” Stephens said. “And AP is fun — it's really fun.”