This year, for example, there the 34 different students are taking exams in five different subjects, for a total of 67 exams. “Compare that to six years ago when the number of exams taken was zero,” Aspholm noted.
“Each year there seem to be more students taking AP classes at our school,” Aspholm said. “In the last three years the number of students enrolled in my AP Language and Composition class has increased. In 2010 there were 10, in 2011 three were 18 and in 2012 there are 23 students taking AP Language. I have seen next year’s list and 28 students are signed up for the class.”
Aspholm said he’s discovered, while attending AP workshops, that it’s unusual for schools as small as Liberty Bell to offer AP classes, because of the cost and the challenges of including AP classes in the school class schedule.
“The idea of Advanced Placement at a small rural school is in and of itself pretty amazing,” he said. “I don’t know of other small schools that offer AP classes.”
The idea for a grant-supported AP program at Liberty Bell goes back to 2006, when teachers approached then-president Jana Lone.
“They were unsure if this was possible because the district couldn’t pay all the expenses for the training, books and materials that were needed,” Lone recalled.
“It was so exciting for PSFA to step in with the additional funding needed,” Lone said. “We helped pay for teachers to attend two different summer AP institutes and purchased many of the required AP books and materials for the school, and over the years have supported the program with financial assistance for the AP test fees for students who can’t afford to pay the full amount.”
“It’s much more rigorous than the regular classroom,” said Rocky Kulsrud, who teaches AP U.S. History and AP Comparative Government.
“In AP there is a lot of material to cover in a short time. There is a lot more responsibility placed on the students. The textbook is a college text more than a high school text. For kids who are self-motivated and definitely college-bound, this is the way to go.”
Adam Kaufman, who taught the first AP course offered at Liberty Bell five years ago, said the AP Literature and Composition class helps his seniors develop analytical skills that they’ll need in college and beyond.
“One of the reasons I love teaching AP English Literature and Composition is because it is about engaging with a text and thinking critically. The test doesn’t measure encyclopedic knowledge as much as one’s ability to read for understanding and articulate one’s thoughts clearly,” Kaufman said.
“Yes, there is a list of literary terms, but knowing a handful well and being able to write about how an author uses them to convey meaning is much more important than knowing the difference between metonymy and synecdoche. Students in AP English Literature and Composition grapple with challenging texts and improve as writers by writing journal responses, analytical essays, and creative pieces in the style of the author we are studying.”
Prepping for the test
Juniors and seniors in the AP Language and Literature classes are doing “timed writes,” which require them to analyze and write about complex subjects quickly.
“The questions we use in the timed writes are questions given to English 101 classes at colleges and universities all over the country,” Aspholm said.
Liberty Bell junior Johnnie Duguay said students who sign up for AP know that more is expected of them and “work harder and think deeper” in those classes.
“We embrace the hard work, for the most part. We have insightful discussions about current news in History and about the books we read in English. I feel like I'll be better prepared to write college-level essays and participate in college-level history classes because I have the opportunity to take AP classes in high school. I felt like I needed to be challenged more to be able to keep up with my future college colleagues. AP classes help students like me who want to advance their knowledge and be competitive in the future.”