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Proposed elimination of AP Chemistry at SHS draws parent, student concerns
Availability of in-person Advanced Placement courses varies among Bulloch’s high schools; Portal has none
Jolee Boyer, a Statesboro High School junior, speaks to the Bulloch County Board of Education about wanting the school to keep AP Chemistry as an in-person course.
Jolee Boyer, a Statesboro High School junior, speaks to the Bulloch County Board of Education about wanting the school to keep AP Chemistry as an in-person course. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

A number of students – especially high-achieving students, some interested in going to prestigious universities – and their parents are urging Statesboro High School not to drop Advanced Placement Chemistry as an on-campus course next school year after being told in December the course would not be available.

Two mothers and one SHS 11th-grader spoke to the Bulloch County Board of Education Thursday night during public participation at the board’s first meeting of the year. Interviewed afterward, Statesboro High School Principal Keith Wright said no final decision has been made on whether the course will be available next year.

Speaking to the board, Maggie Halaby, who has a son who is a freshman at the University of Georgia, said in that university’s current freshman class the average student had taken 10 AP courses. Her son took 11 while at Statesboro High but this included some online courses, she said. Under a plan in place last year and this, Statesboro High has eight on-campus AP courses in academic subjects, or nine with AP Chemistry previously slated to rotate with AP Biology next year, plus three specialized AP art classes.

“So in reality, SHS currently has eight AP course offerings for most students….,” Halaby said.  “My point with all of this is if SHS does not currently offer enough AP courses to meet the needs of the average incoming student at the state flagship, then why would the administration decide to cut AP courses instead of increasing the offerings that are available.”

On the UGA Undergraduate Admissions website, a statistic like the one she cited actually includes International Baccalaureate and dual-enrollment college classes, as well as AP courses. Among first-year students arriving in fall 2021, the middle 50% range was seven to 12 such courses completed, and the average was 10.

Halaby, who also has a daughter in 10th grade who was planning to take AP Chemistry next year, another daughter who is in eighth grade and another son who is a sophomore at Yale, suggested that AP courses are even more important for students planning to attend prestigious universities.

Over the past five years, Statesboro High has had graduates accepted at some of the most prestigious universities in the country, she noted. She counted students now attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins, Yale and two at Harvard. The Class of 2022 includes a student already admitted to Stanford.

“So I’m here to implore you to recognize that you have the opportunity to positively impact the academic futures of many gifted students and the opportunity to positively impact this community. …  You need to increase those offerings instead of decreasing them,” Halaby told the board. “Their future is in your hands.”

 

Courses vs. tests

Advanced Placement, or AP, courses are taught using content and standards created for the College Board, the same nonprofit organization responsible for the SAT college admissions test. AP courses are paired with AP tests in their subject matter, but passing an AP test is not required for high school credit in the courses. 

Instead, students may take the AP test at their or their parents’ expense, and depending on their scores, colleges or universities may award them course credits.  The tests are scored on a 1-5 scale, and universities having varying policies about whether they award credits for a “3,” a “4” or a “5.”

AP Chemistry has not always been taught at Statesboro High. The first time in several years was the previous school year, 2020-21, but that was after some parents made an agreement with previous SHS Principal Chad Prosser to have AP Biology and AP Chemistry offered in alternating years, said Halaby and the other parent who spoke.

Following that agreement, AP Chemistry is not being taught this year, but AP Biology is.  So, if AP Chemistry is eliminated from the schedule for 2022-2023, students who are now in 11th grade and planned to take it next year will have missed the opportunity for the on-campus course.

 

Student’s view

Jolee Boyer, 15, a Statesboro High junior who will complete her ninth AP course this year, is currently taking AP Biology and planned to take AP Chemistry next year.

“Other options for taking chemistry next year have been (offered), such as taking it online or at the university,” Boyer said. “However, there are drawbacks to both of these options. For example, online students do not tend to perform as well as in-person students, as the last two years have shown us.”

Taking it as a lab class at Georgia Southern would compete for time and probably interfere with her participation in athletics and extracurricular activities, she said.

She said the in-person class’s cancellation would be understandable if there were no qualified teacher, but she has had the teacher who previously taught if for another class and is confident of her ability. Boyer said she knows other students who have been  planning  to take the class “for years now”  and worries what  other advanced courses can be cut in the same way.

Speaking to the board, Varsha Patel  said she came representing her daughter who  is a Statesboro High junior, “along  with many other parents and students who cannot be here.” She said the school had cut the course from next year’s schedule without first informing students and parents.

“This concerns me because former parents and students fought so hard to bring this course back,” Patel said.

 

‘No firm decision’

No board members or administrators replied to the parents and student during the meeting. Interviewed afterward, Wright said the decision was not final.

“Right now we’re just looking through everything that we’re going to try to offer next year, so no firm, definitive decision has been made at this point,” he said. “The school has limited resources, so we’re trying to look at the resources we have and then try to make the best decision for Statesboro High.”

This is Wright’s first year as principal at SHS. He said he would also be talking the Prosser, the previous principal, as decisions about AP course offerings are made.

 

Dozen AP courses

In fact, Statesboro High has by far the most AP courses among the Bulloch County Schools’ three high schools. Statesboro High’s 12 AP courses are AP English Language, AP English Literature, AP Calculus, AP Government, US History, Economics, Studio Art: 2D, Studio Art: 3D, Studio Art: Drawing; AP Environmental Science, and – over two years with the rotation – AP Biology and AP Chemistry.

The proposal not to teach AP Chemistry next year came from the SHS science department teachers, and meanwhile, the math department has proposed adding AP Statistics next year, according to a chart provided by Hayley Greene, the Bulloch County Schools public relations director. That would keep the total number of courses the same.

Southeast Bulloch High School currently offers four AP Courses: AP Language and Composition, AP US History, AP Government and Politics and AP Biology. SEB High also has teachers qualified to teach AP calculus, art and chemistry classes, but deciding which can be offered requires careful consideration of resources and student interest, said counselor Lucy Brinson, the school’s AP coordinator.

Portal Middle High School currently has no on-campus AP courses.

But students at all three high schools have the option to take a wider variety of AP courses online through Georgia Virtual School, and the school district will pay for one course per year for each student. Otherwise, the courses cost $500. In certain situations the district pays for more than one course per year, exempting some classes from the one-course limit.

“And yes, the district would also pay for the AP Chemistry course through Georgia Virtual if the school decides to not offer it next year, and that won’t count against the one free course per year,” Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement Teresa Phillips said Friday.

Halaby said an in-person course, with school equipment, is much preferred for a lab class and she knows of roughly 20 students who want to take AP Chemistry next year.

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