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Grant Aims to Expand Access to Advanced Placement Classes in Two Pittsburgh High Schools

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA

A new-to-Pennsylvania program is hoping to increase enrollment in advanced placement classes in two Pittsburgh high schools, with the ultimate goal to ensure more kids, especially kids of color, are prepared for higher education – whatever form that may take.

More than 100 students at Pittsburgh Brashear High School are currently enrolled in advanced placement, or AP, classes. Through a partnership with the National Math and Science Initiative, or NMSI, and a grant from the Heinz Endowments, work will get underway to increase that number.

School officials would like to see more minority students filling AP class seats.

“Right now our percentage is dismal," said Brashear Co-Principal Kimberly Safran. "We have very few black or brown students taking AP courses. We’re not sure exactly why, but hopefully by pushing more kids to take that rigorous course work, it’s going to pay off.”

The $930,637 grant will provide advanced placement teachers with intensive content training, which will allow them to give students more rigorous, project-based coursework. While students are a key component, the efforts of this NMSI project are teacher-focused.

“Because we at NMSI believe if the teacher is properly equipped and properly trained, the sky’s the limit for these young people,” said Dale Fleury, senior project director with NMSI.

Pittsburgh Public Schools is the first district in Pennsylvania to launch the project. Two schools are participating, Brashear and the Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy. Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane said in the coming days and weeks, students will be crossing one stage for high school graduation, but the ultimate goal is to have them cross another stage down the line.

“And that would be at a two- or four-year college program," she said. "So crossing two stages is what it’s all about, and that’s where this National Math and Science Initiative comes in."

Getting more kids enrolled in AP classes and helping them succeed is critical.

“We know that students that take AP classes are more likely to cross the second stage, and that is so incredibly important in today’s climate, economic and global competition," Lane said. "We want our children to be prepared and ready."

National Math and Science Initiative programs are currently in 278 school districts in 18 states, and in about 462 schools total. In many cases, they have been able to double AP participation.  

“Students who sit for an advanced placement exam and take an AP course do better in college, they have higher GPAs, they graduate on time, they graduate with higher GPAs, they are able to be more workforce-ready," Fleury said.

Organizers said the program is critical not only for the student, but also for communities and the country as a whole.

“Studies have shown that the United States, in the past 15 years, has lagged behind the rest of the world in terms of meeting the challenges of the global economy of the 21st century," Fleury said. "We want to close that gap and we believe we can do that."

This is a three-year grant initiative. After the three years, NMSI will meet with the schools and discuss a sustainability program. He said some schools that have participated have continued to see AP enrollment growth five or six years down the line.