History course is newest AP offering
Over the past three school years, a number of senior members of the Somerset High School teaching staff retired.
Several of those teachers taught advanced placement (AP) classes. The school administrative team has been busy rebuilding the AP offerings, adding AP classes last year and this year.
The latest addition to the advanced offerings is AP history, taught by Dennis Potter. Last year, AP composition and literature was added. It is taught by Cory Lindenberg. These go along with the AP Biology class that has been taught by Tom Sheffel for several years.
District Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Trish Sheridan said more AP classes are being explored.
"The goal for next year is an AP language and literature class," said Sheridan, who added that an AP statistics course is also being considered.
There is an extensive process involved bringing an AP course to fruition. First, a teacher must be found who will take on the extra work that is involved in teaching an AP class. Once a teacher is found, they must attend various workshops to find out the procedures for teaching a class of this intensity and rigor. The next step is to develop a curriculum for the class that will be submitted to the College Board. Only when a class is approved by the College Board can it be considered an AP class, with students eligible to earn college credit.
Sheridan said Potter is an ideal teacher for an AP class because of the students' respect for his teaching style.
"He's engaging, theatrical. The kids gravitate toward him," Sheridan said.
Potter said he was initially opposed to the idea of teaching an AP class when it was suggested by high school guidance counselor Jenna Evenson.
"I was leery, because I knew the work load involved," Potter said. "After a summer of soul searching, I was intrigued."
There were already two United States history courses being taught at the high school. One covers the pre-1900 history and the other covers from 1900 to the present. The AP course will cover the entire United States history, a daunting amount of information for students to learn in one class.
Potter said the "pace is breakneck. I realize I can't cover everything, so there's more responsibility on the students."
The students are ready. The class, made up entirely of seniors, said that they are looking for classes that are more challenging so they are better prepared for the demands they'll face in college.
The year-long class is part of the new seven-period day at the high school.
Potter geared the testing in the class to be the same as the students will face on the AP national test. There will be a mixture of multiple choice, document-based questions and free response questions.
The students will also take part in a number of debates during the school year. This is accomplished through primary document analysis, where the students are given historical documents with the purpose of proving a point.
"This tests higher level thinking skills. This class forces them to listen to both sides of an issue, then make a conclusion," Potter explained. "The challenge is to make it fun and interesting, but also rigorous and relevant. The students want the challenge."
Potter said the addition of the AP class is the first step in several possible changes being considered for the high school social studies curriculum. There currently is no world history course at the high school, but that could change in the near future. The American history courses could also be moved to the freshman level, with civics then becoming a class for juniors and seniors.