Starting next school year, Shoreham-Wading River High School students will have a new opportunity to set themselves apart.
Starting in the 2016-17 academic year, the district will become one of only five in Suffolk County to offer the growing AP Capstone program, allowing students to participate in a two-year progression of courses that focus on research and the practical application of knowledge.
Alan Meinster, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said the program will help students learn in a hands-on, application-based manner — something standardized tests do not do as well.
“[With AP Capstone], you get real-world experience in the area you’ve identified as something you’re passionate about, and you’re going to create something from that,” Mr. Meinster said. “That’s what you get assessed on — the product you create and the research you do rather than a standardized set of criteria.”
The AP Capstone program was launched in the 2014-15 school year. It consists of two courses: AP Seminar, which is typically offered for juniors, and AP Research, designed for seniors who have already taken the seminar course.
Shoreham-Wading River will begin by offering AP Seminar next year to both juniors and seniors. AP Research will then be offered in the 2017-18 academic year.
Currently, only six schools statewide offer AP Capstone, one of which — George W. Hewlett High School — is in Nassau County. Shoreham-Wading River will join fellow Suffolk County districts in East Islip, Islip, Sayville and Westhampton Beach in AP Capstone, a program representative said via email.
“For us as a district, this makes us forward thinkers,” said high school principal Daniel Holtzman. “It has forced us to look beyond the scope of what New York State is requiring us to do. It looks beyond the chatter about Common Core. We talk about authentic learning experiences for students, and I think this encapsulates that more than anything New York State has put out.”
Mr. Meinster said the school is still working to identify teachers to lead the program, though he knows several who have already demonstrated interest.
While other AP courses tend to focus on a specific topic, AP Seminar will be “interdisciplinary” and will synthesize academic and real-world topics as its content. Students will conduct research and develop “evidence-based arguments” in a classroom setting, according to the course’s webpage.
“The AP Seminar is an exploratory type of program,” Mr. Meinster said. “The kids are given opportunities on a smaller scale to explore different areas of interest to learn how the process works collaboratively with their peers so that they are ready to move on to an independent project.”
Once students move on to AP Research during their senior year, the work becomes more individualized. Each member of the class chooses a topic and, with the guidance of a mentor, conducts a year of “research-based investigation” into that topic, culminating in a long academic paper and an oral presentation, according to the course website.
Such work, Mr. Meinster said, will give students invaluable skills for success in college and beyond since it focuses on analysis and argument.
“If you’re working in a business or if you’re working in any kind of field, most of the tasks that you’re charged with require you to make something that will benefit your employer or your field,” he said. “It’s not going to be to write a four-page paper on the topic that you’re exploring at work.”
The district plans to offer one section of each course initially, though Mr. Meinster said the size of each will depend on student interest. He also said the courses are open to all interested students.
“We don’t want to limit this just to our top AP students,” he said. “We want to make this open to any student that has an aptitude and an interest … The goal here is to cast the broadest net.”
The AP Seminar course culminates in an exam and the AP Research course will use the final project as its exam. Both are graded on the traditional AP one-to-five scale.
Students who earn a score of three or higher in each of the courses will receive the AP Seminar and Research Certificate. Students who accomplish that and also score three or higher on four additional AP exams will earn an AP Capstone Diploma.