Morton High School AP Program Building Off Success

Morton East High School gave Esmeralda Mariscal an opportunity to grow academically and get a jump on college by taking Advanced Placement courses, and the Cicero teen ran with it.

“I took AP courses because I wanted a challenge, but also because the idea of being able to get college credit if I did well on the AP exams really appealed to me. I think that they did fairly well in preparing me for college, especially in relation with the work load and in getting a sense of just how important time management was going to be,” Mariscal said.

Mariscal was just one of the students who helped the J. Sterling Morton High School District 201 to be named a College Board Advanced Placement District of the Year among medium-sized school districts.

The district was given this national award for expanding access to AP classes  while simultaneously  increasing AP Exam scores of three or higher (three or higher is eligible for college credit) over a three-year period. 

“This achievement symbolizes all of the work our students and staff have done over the past several years to increase the rigor of our curriculum and prepare all students to be successful in college coursework,” Superintendent Michael Kuzniewski said.

The success achieved by staff and students alike has not been easy, they say, but it has been worthwhile.

According to Kuzniewski, the success of the AP program can be attributed in part to the staff and administration of the Morton schools for making the commitment to make Advanced Placement available to all students and providing them with the needed support.

From the top of the administration all way down to the students, everyone has played an important role in the districts success, he said.

“This includes counselors working with students to enroll in AP courses that suit their students’ interests and college plans, teachers working in teams to implement the College Board-approved curriculum with fidelity and with supports to help students master it and principals working with families to help them understand the importance and benefits of AP courses,” he said. “Last but not least, the students accepting the challenge to take on the most rigorous curriculum offered and putting in the time and effort to be successful.”

With this award now on the mantle, Morton students, administration and staff, now turn their attention to the future of the AP program.

“Morton currently offers 21 AP courses. In the future we will offer AP Chinese, as Mandarin will be offered for the first time to the class of 2021,” Kuzniewski said. “We are building off of this by encouraging every student to take at least one AP or dual enrollment course before they graduate from high school, and instilling in them the importance of postsecondary study to careers that offer opportunities for enhancement and the ability to care for their families well in the future.”

The teachers at the Morton schools play an important role in the growth of the AP program. While teachers are who teach AP courses are required to attend a full AP summer institute prior to teaching the course, they are also affected by the planning that is necessary for the course.

Teachers also play an important role after school hours where they stay to help any students in need with questions on coursework.

“I took a total of eight AP classes throughout high school. It was definitely difficult to juggle so much work, especially my senior year with so many AP classes, but I managed my time by prioritizing due dates and I stayed after school with my teachers if I ever felt like I needed more help,” Mariscal said, a Morton East High School class of 2015 graduate.

With the 2016 school year almost half way complete, the Morton school district looks to continue its hard work to provide students with the best education. There are now new goals in place that they will look to achieve.

According to Kuzniewski the goal is to meet the same criteria over the next three years as we they over the past three years to win AP District of the Year.

With this being the goal, there are still aspects that can be improved, three in particular.

Kuzniewski said: “One way the program can still improve is by attracting more students into AP courses that suit their interests and college and career goals. Another is to realize more significant increases in scores of three or higher on AP exams by continuing to hone our delivery of the curriculum and our work as a Professional Learning Community to ensure every student is ready for the rigor of Advanced Placement. A third is to keep working to ensure that our AP enrollment is truly representative of our student diversity in the school.”

Advanced Placement courses are difficult and there is pressure put on the shoulders of students. The growth of the AP program benefits students, but requires more of them as AP courses involve more work. Students though have responded positively to the courses and have reaped the benefits.

“I am majoring in psychology, with a minor in spanish minor, at Dominican University, and taking all those AP classes did pay off because not only did it help me get a feel for the work load that I would soon be dealing with, but all the credit I got from my AP scores got me a semester ahead at Dominican,” Mariscal said. “I am a freshman, but I am registering for the spring semester as a sophomore.”

By deciding to take AP classes, students show that they are invested in receiving a high quality education and that they want to learn, Kuzniewski said.

“Our students are invested in a high quality education and want to excel and compete when they leave us,” Kuzniewski said. “Students are taking more and more initiative each year to form study groups, engage in after-school or Saturday sessions with their teachers, and take advantage of online options like Khan Academy to help them prepare.”

Students and teachers alike are doing a great job. The results have shown their hard work and dedication to education, and the future looks very bright for J. Sterling Morton High School District 201.

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