Offering AP classes locally is a struggle for some districts
As in many small school districts across the state, educators in Armstrong County struggle to offer advanced placement courses to gifted students.
The problems in offering such courses range from lack of staff, few eligible students to limited financial resources.
Larger districts in the region are usually able to offer a wide variety of advanced placement courses. For example, North Allegheny offers 17, North Hills offers 15 and Upper St. Clair offers 12.
“A smaller district always has those battles to face,” said Jim Budzelig, principal at Leechburg High School.
Currently, Leechburg does not offer advanced placement courses, but is working on a unique alternative to make those classes available for its gifted students.
Budzelig said plans are set to offer advanced placement offerings in the sciences, English and social studies through the Internet in cooperation with Freeport School District.
Stan Chapp, program director at Freeport, said his district will offer its English and social studies courses to Leechburg in exchange for the science courses. Freeport offers an advanced placement calculus course to its students.
“There’s a lot of different ways you can (offer advanced placement courses),” Chapp said. “As we want to expand those sorts of things, we’ll look at other options.”
The courses will allow students to take the course on the computer, but will still offer one-on-one time with the instructor as well, he said.
“I think it’s exciting, especially with the technology that’s out there,” Budzelig said.
Other smaller districts in western Pennsylvania are trying the same approach.
Clairton City School District this fall began offering advanced placement U.S. history over the Internet. The district is paying the tuition of $425 a semester per student plus the cost of a teacher monitor for 10 high school students.
In the Armstrong School District, three advanced placement courses are currently available to students – biology, calculus and English – according to Assistant Superintendent Frank Garritano.
District policy is to make all courses available for students at all its high schools, Garritano said.
“Kittanning High School is almost our gauge (for determining course offerings), because it is our largest high school,” he said.
The district does have the option of using distance learning, as was the case at Sto-Rox High School in McKees Rocks, where the advanced biology class was taught via satellite, video and Internet by a Ball State University instructor.
Armstrong, however, uses its own staff to teach courses, and Garritano said the district’s three advanced placement courses are currently being offered at all four of the district’s high schools.
“If there is enough students in each building (interested in taking an advanced class), we offer it right there in the building,” he said.
Both Freeport and Armstrong school districts offer another alternative for students looking to get a jump on college – courses that are worth actual college credits.
Garritano said computer science students can take an advanced computer programming course that gives them college credit at the University of Pittsburgh, for a fraction of what it would cost at Pitt.
Freeport offers math courses for college credit at Butler County Community College, Pitt, and Penn State University at New Kensington, Chapp said.
Chapp said agreements between school districts or between colleges and school districts will become more common as schools look to offer better education.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.