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Students feel the pressure of Vernon Hills’ AP culture

Luc.Gudmundson

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Since its inception in 1955, national participation in the Advanced Placement program has gone from a mere 1200 to over 2 million participants. In the past 10 years, the number of Advanced Placement exams administered in a year has more than doubled: Advanced Placement classes have quickly become a major staple in the American education system.

AP courses come with many benefits, enough to entice more than two million students to participate in the program last year. Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Mr. O’Brien weighed in on why he thinks so many students are drawn to AP courses.

“The [AP] course itself leads to an exam and that exam can get you college credit. So long as that process remains unchanged, it is undeniably a part of students’ attraction to the courses,” Mr. O’Brien said.

By scoring well enough on the AP exam, many colleges will offer test-takers certain amounts of course credit at their school. The rationale is that by doing well on the exam, the student has proven his or her knowledge in the subject and does not have to re-learn that information while at college.

Katelyn Dohler (12) is currently taking five AP courses. She has been involved in the  Advanced Placement program because, among other reasons, she feels that taking them will pay off in the future.

“I take the classes partially in preparation for college. For example, I’m in AP Bio right now, and it’s helping me because I am going to want to take similar classes in college, so it’s kind of getting me used to the course load. Also, it boosts your GPA,” Dohler said with a laugh.

AP classes are designed to prepare students both mentally and academically for college. The College Board, the maker of the AP Curriculum, states as much in its mission statement, writing that their goal is to “connect students to college success and opportunity.” Just because this is the college board’s goal doesn’t mean that it is the only reason why students take AP classes.

“Based on our research from the Illinois Youth Survey from last year, students are not feeling pressured by their parents or the school or even their friends to take AP courses; it’s an internal pressure,” Ms. Dillon, the prevention and wellness program coordinator of VHHS, said.

The Illinois Youth Survey is given to Vernon Hills students every two years. The survey is administered all over the state, with students answering questions on topics ranging anywhere from social issues to substance abuse. Schools use the data collected in order to gauge what problems need to be addressed in the community.

According to the survey, 75 percent of VHHS students feel some sort of pressure to take AP courses, with the largest percentage of that pressure coming from the students themselves. Mr. O’Brien believes that internal pressure could be coming from a lot of different sources.

“The competitive pressures, the GPA pressures, the ‘I want to get into a specific college’ pressure… I don’t deny that those exist. Is that driving what we may call an ‘AP culture’? Maybe,” Mr. O’Brien said.

Many students feel compelled to take AP courses for the reasons mentioned by Mr. O’Brien. Zander Schwartz (10) is currently enrolled in two AP classes. He enjoys the benefits of AP classes, but still feels a pressure when it comes to taking them.

“Most of my friends are in AP, and I feel like if I don’t take certain classes, I might fall behind,” Schwartz said. “I feel like I wouldn’t be able to talk about some of the courses with them and share in some of those experiences.”

The tendency of freshmen to take AP classes is another indicator of a growing AP culture in the school. Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, AP courses began being offered to freshmen. Katelyn Dohler believes that since that year in particular is so formatively important, AP courses should not be offered to freshmen.

“I don’t think that freshmen should take AP courses because I think that it’s a big year just for getting involved in high school as it is, so I personally wouldn’t have that as an option for freshmen,” Dohler said.

Mia Soto (9) is taking AP Human Geography this year — one of two AP classes that are offered to freshmen. She was surprised by the difference between her AP class and her curriculum in middle school.

“[AP courses] are a lot more work, and I’ve definitely had to study harder and try harder in general,” Soto said. “[My stress levels] have definitely been higher because of the tests and quizzes.”

Even without being in the school, freshmen feel the same pressures as other students to enroll in AP classes. One reason that Soto chose to take AP Human Geography was because she wanted to live up to the standards that she had set for herself.

“I don’t think that people who don’t take AP classes are dumb, but for whatever reason, I just felt like if I didn’t take them, I would be,” Soto said.

Despite the pressures, students also understand and appreciate the benefits of AP courses. Schwartz likes the added challenge that the courses provide, and he also feels that the courses are helping to prepare him for college and his future.

“I think I definitely have felt that pressure, but I still think I would’ve chosen to take the classes even without it,” Schwartz said.

With the potential downsides to hard course loads in mind, the school has put in place resources to help students who feel stressed or overwhelmed. The administration hopes that students will use these resources in order to succeed both academically and mentally.

“Students can always come down to the LST,” Ms. Dillon said. “We have social workers, they can talk to their counselor, they can talk to me 一 there is always someone that can help.”

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