In the Classroom

Partnership merges high school AP courses, applied science

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Warren Township schools had to make cuts this year after a drop in federal poverty aid.

Should top students who are interested in both career technology fields, like engineering, and advanced academic courses, like physics, have to choose between them?

That’s what happens in a lot of high schools. Career technology is seen by some as a less academic track, but a new partnership of two top education groups that create high school courses wants to change that.

Choosing between career-oriented and academic electives isn’t easy, said Steve Rogers, chairman of the engineering and technology department at Warren Township’s Walker Career Center. Sometimes parents shy away from courses they aren’t sure will look challenging to a college or employer.

“But when you can have documentation for parents to say, you know, you should take both, then we won’t have stigma that engineering classes aren’t the same relevance as physics classes,” Rogers said.

That’s the idea behind a partnership between the College Board, creator of the SAT and Advanced Placement classes, and Project Lead The Way, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that develops curriculum for applied science and project-based classes.

The partnership would create new high school class sequences, or “pathways,” of both AP and Project Lead The Way classes and give students a certificate to show colleges they’ve completed a demanding course load.

“It is very much focused on pathways and helping kids not just do this once, but do this over time and invest in this and get the kind of preparation to build the confidence to find that this is the thing they are going to fall in love with,” said Anna Jones, senior vice president for Project Lead The Way.

Project Lead The Way moved its headquarters from upstate New York to Indianapolis in 2011. Its CEO, Vince Bertram, was named to the Indiana State Board of Education by Gov. Mike Pence earlier this week.

The organization seeks to encourage more students to study science and math by creating classwork that is rooted in problem-solving and applying the subjects to real life. Schools that participate pay a yearly fee for the curriculum, between $2,000 and $3,000. More than 400 schools in the state offer Project Lead The Way classes.

College Board is headquartered in New York and has been around for more than 100 years. The nonprofit writes tests, designs curriculum for Advanced Placement classes and offers resources for parents and students planning for college.

The partnership between the two would be fairly straightforward, Jones said.

The companies would take the existing Project Lead The Way programs — in engineering, biomedical science and computer science — and create options for how AP science and math classes could fit in. For example, a student might be on the Project Lead The Way engineering track and take introduction to engineering and principles of engineering as well as AP Physics.

Students who complete a combination of at least three AP and Project Lead The Way classes will earn the recognition certificate beginning in 2016. To be eligible, however, they must pass all the classes and earn a passing score of three, four or five out of five on an AP exam.

“This credential is designed to value the work that our students are doing that are participating in AP and Project Lead The Way,” Jones said. “So it really is building, frankly, the strength of both organizations.”

Showing the value of career tech classes

Rogers, who has worked as a Project Lead The Way teacher since 2003, said he likes that the pathways could be used to show parents how students could map out their classes during high school. That way, they might better understand what classes would help their kids succeed in college.

For many STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — professionals, that means both content-heavy AP classes and ones rooted in projects and problem solving like Project Lead The Way.

Oftentimes, Rogers said, it’s not clear to parents why students should forgo an AP or core academic class to try the Project Lead The Way classes. Universities typically count passing AP exam scores for college credit, but many don’t do the same for other courses. That means kids who take Project Lead The Way classes in engineering might be repeating basic skills classes in college.

“We have kids every year that take three, four, five (engineering) classes and go on to Purdue and Rose-Hulman (Institute of Technology) and really get no benefit,” Rogers said. “The class was a benefit, but nothing credit-wise to help the kids out.”

Edward Biedermann, with College Board, said the pathways might also help diversify both programs’ students.

“All too often we see some students think of themselves only as (career and technical education) students and not try to take AP, and other students may think of themselves as college-bound students who take AP and don’t focus on classes with applied learning,” Biedermann said. “This partnership is a way to get all types of students into an AP course that has the potential for college credit.”

Rogers said that though he’s just recently heard about the partnership, he thinks it has the potential to be mutually beneficial for students — AP kids can learn more about STEM careers they can pursue after high school, and Project Lead The Way kids focused on career and technical study, who might not be thinking of college, will be encouraged to earn college credit.

Plus, the new recognition might strike a chord with colleges and push them to cut repetitive introductory classes down the line, Rogers said, saving students time and money.

“It makes sense that we’re putting those courses together into more of a defined pathway because, let’s be honest, they need AP Physics, they need AP Chemistry,” Rogers said. “They might as well see it now when they’re in a class of 20 because they’ll take freshman chemistry in a lab, and it could be 200 kids at Purdue.”

the best

Indy counselors share secrets to get middle schoolers on track for college scholarships

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkebat
Students at Northwest Middle School

Indiana makes a promise to students from low-income families: maintain a 2.5 GPA and fulfill basic steps throughout high school, and the state will foot the bill for up to four years of college tuition.

But there’s a catch: For students to qualify for the aid, they must sign up for 21st Century Scholarships by the end of eighth grade, before many students even begin considering how to pay tuition. It falls on school counselors to let families know about the program, help them apply — and follow up relentlessly.

So it was a feat when counselors at Northwest Middle School in Indianapolis Public Schools were able to get nearly 100 percent of eligible students to register for the scholarships in 2017, the latest year with state data. That’s nearly double the signup rate across Marion County.

Now, the city is hoping that other educators can learn from Northwest and other successful schools. In May, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration launched Indy Achieves, a campaign to help more residents go to college or other post-high school training. One piece of the initiative is a coordinated effort to boost participation in 21st Century Scholars that includes a newly released toolkit for other guidance counselors.

The toolkit explains how educators can track which students have enrolled in the program, and it includes sample recruitment plans and letters to parents. It also offers practical tips, such as giving parents the paper worksheet instead of asking them to apply online and sending the form home with other permission slips. Finally, Indy Achieves offers administrative assistance submitting applications.

“I’m here today in no small measure because you all have this process figured out,” said Hogsett in a ceremony Monday.

At Northwest, the campaign to get students money for college had two prongs. First, it depended on getting students, teachers, and even counselors excited about the scholarships, staff say. Classes competed against each other to see who could get the most students signed up, with the promise of a pizza party for the winning class.

Last year, they upped the ante by offering ice cream and candy bars to students when they brought in their applications. When students saw others getting the rewards, it was a reminder to bring in their own forms, said counselor Vernita Robinson.

It was also important that teachers were enthusiastic about the effort, say the counselors who led the initiative. Even the counselors developed a spirit of competition as they tried to sign up as many students as possible.

“You just have to make it fun for the kids, and you have to make it fun for yourself,” said counselor Theresa Morning.  “I don’t know if we really changed any of our methods last year except for, we made a point to make sure last year that we had every child signed up.”

That dedication to getting students signed up is the second reason why educators at Northwest believe they were so successful. Beginning in September, they told parents about the scholarships, and for months afterward, they used a spreadsheet to track which students had applied. They sent home official letters telling families about the program. And as the year progressed, they called families to follow up.

“I think the key is to not stop at a handful of applicants,” said counselor Nicole Reid. “Just keep going until you have everyone on your roster that’s in eighth grade enrolled.”

All three counselors have left the school for other Indianapolis Public Schools campuses this year, following a districtwide high school reconfiguration that ultimately led Northwest to convert from a school serving grades seven through 12 to a dedicated middle school.

Indianapolis Public Schools interim superintendent Aleesia Johnson challenged the new students at the school to continue the success. “You all have to now carry on that legacy,” she said.

“We are all as a city committed to our students and our young people being able to go on and be successful,” Johnson said. “You do your part, and we commit to do ours.”

This Air Force veteran switched to teaching, but his military mindset still comes in handy

PHOTO: Ariel Skelley | Getty Images

Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in the series here.

Daniel Ganoza spent years in the U.S. Air Force before becoming a science teacher at Woodland Park High School west of Colorado Springs. Despite the career switch, he found the military mindset useful in the classroom.

“In the Air Force everyone is valuable to the mission,” he said. “You have no choice in training them the best you can. The mission depends on it and your reputation as a leader depends on your folks knowing their job.”

Ganoza, who won the 2018 Secondary Excellence in Teaching award from the Colorado Association of Science Teachers, talked about how the military mentality motivates students, why environmental science is so important for the current generation, and how vaping and marijuana are affecting his school.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Was there a moment when you decided to become a teacher?

PHOTO: Daniel Ganoza
Daniel Ganoza, right, flying with Iraqi troops on a C-130 aircraft, during his Air Force career.

I had selfish reasons for wanting to be a teacher. When I was in the Air Force I had been away from home so much. My oldest two daughters were born and graduated high school while I was still in the military and I’m afraid I missed much of their growing up.

But my youngest child, my son, was starting high school as I was set to leave the military. What a better way for me to try to connect with my son than to be a teacher at his school, to have him and his friends in class, and to coach their sports teams? And it worked. For my first four years of teaching my son was a student in my school. He graduated last year.

How has your experience in the Air Force shaped your approach to teaching?

Everyone in the Air Force was necessary to complete the mission and that is the same mindset I try to bring to the classroom. In the military, every person had value and their success influenced your success. If they failed, it made things harder on the whole organization.

Unfortunately, some kids fail my class and some kids drop out of school. But if I treat my students as if they are one of my troops in the military — if they feel like they are important to me and that I need them to do well, if they feel like my success depends on their success, if they feel like there is something unique and special about them that makes them valuable to me — then maybe for some kids that’s the difference it takes.

How do you get to know your students?

PHOTO: Daniel Ganoza
Teacher Daniel Ganoza, first row on left, with his students during their annual trip to Arches National Park.

We all get to know our students in the classroom. But those students I know the most are those students I see outside of the classroom. Whether it be weekend field trips or optional Saturday trainings or even the high school soccer and basketball teams I coach, those kids are the ones I get to know the best.

I suppose we all put in our time during the duty day, but when kids see you outside of those prescribed hours, when kids know you don’t have to be there, they appreciate that and let their guard down a little.

Tell us about a favorite lesson to teach. Where did the idea come from?

Not so much a favorite lesson, but my favorite course to teach is environmental science. To be honest, I don’t think I thought about environmental issues during my most of my life. But now that I teach it, the subject is everywhere.

There are some really life-altering environmental decisions that the generation of kids I teach is going to have to make someday (thanks to my generation and past generations). Without being too much of an alarmist, I need to make them aware. This is about as deep into math as I get. Scientists say the earth has enough resources for 10 billion to 12 billion people, and we are at around 7.5 billion now. We are adding 1 million people to our planet every five days.

We reach capacity when kids in this generation are in their prime. I don’t know the answer, but these kids are going to have to figure it out. I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist — that has had negative connotations most of my life. But I do find this topic fascinating, I appreciate the work that environmental scientists do, and I’m nervous about potential environmental outcomes if we as a people are not careful.

What object would you be helpless without during the school day?

Someone told me once, “Be like a duck — calm above the water while paddling frantically below.” I pretend that nothing rattles me or makes me feel helpless, although secretly there are many things that would — missing my notes for the day, my overhead projector, my thumb drive with my lesson plans, my student aides who help me in so many ways, and a functioning printer and copier. Oh yeah, and Coke Zero Vanilla.

What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your class?

Vaping. Our school is waging a war against vaping. The kids just don’t seem to understand how bad it is for you. It is so easy for them to get it in the community and then they bring it to school and some of them get caught and it just doesn’t register that vaping is bad.

Also marijuana. I have a few kids in class that reek of marijuana — because their parents smoke it legally in their homes or illegally in their cars. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that these students are not smoking it, but if they’re surrounded by marijuana fumes at home, it can’t be good. And their grades and motivation usually reflect it.

Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspective or approach.

A few years ago I was a member of our school’s attendance committee. If a student has 13 or more absences in a class in a semester they automatically fail that class (regardless of their grade) unless they submit an appeal to the attendance committee. Unless there is something medical going on, appeals are almost always rejected.

In one case, a young lady gave an appeal — she was a senior and needed the credits to graduate, but had been absent a considerable amount of time. Although there was nothing extraordinary about her story, we showed a little grace and we allowed her to graduate. I’m not sure why, it just felt right.

Recently, I ran into her in our little town where she was working at a Sonic restaurant. She remembered that I was part of the decision to allow her to graduate. She was very grateful and seemed excited to see me. She told me that she got pregnant toward the end of her senior year, but didn’t know it until after graduation. She is married now, her baby is healthy, and she is working hard to try to make ends meet. She’ll be fine, but she has a tough road in front of her.

I scare myself thinking now how much harder I would have made this young woman’s life if I would have followed our norms and denied her the credits she needed to graduate. Sometimes grace has a way of humbling you and reminding you that one of the best attributes you can have is kindness.

What part of your job is most difficult?

Some of the kids I teach have impossible home life situations. That’s the most difficult part of being a teacher — when something happens to a great kid that makes them jump into survival mode and justifies them putting academics as the lowest priority, and you are powerless to help. I don’t like being in that spot because I feel I should do something to help. I try, but often it’s just not enough, and then I feel like I’ve failed them.

What was your biggest misconception that you initially brought to teaching?

Before teaching I thought that every kid should be on a college-bound track. I brought that into my first year of teaching. But now I understand that some kids will go to college and some kids won’t, and there is nothing wrong with that. Although college is a fine path to take, going to a trade school or joining the military right out of high school might be the right choice for some.

What are you reading for enjoyment?

Right now, I’m reading “Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence” by Bill O’Reilly.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about teaching?

Kids just want someone to think they are important and care for them. I have to believe that because I’m short, stocky, bald, and slur my words when I talk. But I’ve done well for myself with these students because they see me as someone who cares about them and wants them to do well.

Sometimes, all it takes is for just one person to believe in you and you can do anything — you can do the impossible. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been that one person for any of my students, but I strive to be.