AP classes, exams bridge high school/college gap


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

This year, two diocesan high schools made the top 10 in the Iowa AP Index, which measures student participation in advanced placement courses. Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton placed fifth while Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City placed sixth.

AP Environmental Science students from Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton walk through the prairie at Syracuse Wildlife Area in Calamus, Iowa.

All high schools in the Diocese of Davenport currently offer advanced placement classes with an option of taking an exam at the conclusion of the course. High scores on AP tests can result in college credit, depending on the college’s requirements. This can help cut down on college costs down the road.

Taking AP courses and preparing for the exams can help bridge the gap between high school and college, according to Lynne Zoulek, junior/senior high counselor at Regina. “It gives them exposure to the workload and rigor of a college-level course, including the preparation leading up to the AP exam.  Students who are ready for college-level courses should not be held back or limited just because they are in high school. AP courses offered in high school allow students to challenge themselves while still remaining in the supportive high school environment.”


Generally, AP exams are optional. Regina and Prince of Peace weave them into the curriculum. Regina offers a weighted course grade to all students who take the AP exam at the end of a course. Prince of Peace uses the AP exam as the second-semester exam for most of its course offerings.

“We want our students to have every opportunity to get that college credit,” said Nancy Peart, principal of Prince of Peace. The Clinton school requires all students to take at least one AP class.

Zoulek said an average three-credit college course costs between $550 and $1,200, sometimes more. The cost to take an AP exam is $93.
Catholic school alumni have reaped the benefits of taking AP classes and getting college credit based on their exam scores. David Rudolph, a 2012 Regina graduate, said taking AP exams and receiving college credit allowed him the freedom to take more elective courses at the University of Oklahoma, as well as study abroad. Mia Boldt, a 2014 Regina graduate, was able to save money at the University of Michigan by being able to get the college credit while still in high school. Another Regina graduate, who recently returned to the school to speak to students, said she was able to double major and still be on track to graduate in four years.

Zoulek said AP courses look great on a transcript and can help set a student apart from other college applicants, even if their exam scores did not qualify for college credit.

Peart said of AP classes, “They help students understand what rigor means. They help students get experience for what that college class might be like. It’s one more way to encourage students to understand what’s required of them in order to do well in a class like that.”

AP class takes on prairie project

Katharine Atkinson, AP Environmental Science teacher at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton, participated in a summer internship with the Department of Natural Resources last year, learning about prairie and wetland habitat management. She is engaging her students in a Pollinator Prairie restoration project at the Syracuse Wildlife Area in Calamus, Iowa, about 30 miles from the school. The students have cleared rocks, cement blocks and logs out of the site and planted Little Bluestem seeds hand-harvested from a nearby grass prairie area. Over the next decade, the AP Environmental Science classes will monitor the Pollinator Prairie planting, documenting what grows.  Atkinson said, “We will have lists of desired plants seeded, as well as invasive plants that we hope will not thrive.  As a beautiful flowering prairie develops, students should build a personal connection to caring for the Earth and fulfilling the pope’s mandate” to care for the earth.

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