Summer chemistry class aims to increase representation in AP courses

From July 5 to August 4, PHS science teacher will be hosting a Chemistry I Accelerated course in order to get more economically-disadvantaged students to take AP Chemistry. photo by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Aaron/" title="View all of this person's work">"Aaron</a></span>

From July 5 to August 4, PHS science teacher will be hosting a Chemistry I Accelerated course in order to get more economically-disadvantaged students to take AP Chemistry.
photo by Aaron Wu

For five weeks this summer, from July 5 to August 4, PHS science teacher Dr. Robert Corell will be teaching the Princeton Public Schools Summer Enrichment for Equity and Diversity Accelerated Chemistry Class. The course, held at PHS, will allow students, particularly those of currently underrepresented minorities, to take AP Chemistry the following academic year.

The course, created after discussions between Corell and Princeton Public Schools Supervisor of Science, Dr. Edward Cohen, was approved by the Student Achievement Committee of the Board of Education on May 19. It is open to PHS students of all grades with recommendations from their teachers.

Rising juniors and seniors who took Chemistry I but want to take an accelerated chemistry course prior to AP Chemistry are also able to participate. However, the majority of the estimated 22 students for the course come from the rising sophomore class. Because many sophomores are interested in skipping directly from Biology I to AP Chemistry, some plan to take summer courses to skip Chemistry I at various alternative institutions.

“The problem we have is that [students] take [Chemistry I] at different learning centers, and we don’t have any idea as to the quality of the course that they [were enrolled in],” Corell said.

Implementation of the summer class will provide an opportunity for minority students who are currently underrepresented in accelerated and AP courses at PHS.

The class costs $1,200. However, scholarships are available to encourage economically disadvantaged students to attend the class.

“The course is less money compared to [courses offered at] Hun and Peddie which makes it easier to access for kids who want to skip [Chemistry I Accelerated],” said Srishti Khetan ’20.

The push to close the achievement gap comes in part from Science For All, an initiative under the Next Generation Science Standards, the content standard for K-12 science education that is being utilized in the district over the course of the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years. The new guidelines discuss practices to best support diverse members of the student body, such as using stories with historical backgrounds to help students contextualise science knowledge.

Cohen hopes the course will send a message that the district is continuing to support all its students.

“[The course is to help] underrepresented students [and] also students who want to accelerate, so it’s really just [helping] all kids [in] finding what they need to be to be successful,” said Cohen.

By conducting the course at PHS, Corell hopes that he will be able to teach students all necessary skills required for the course.

“One of the biggest things that you have as a science teacher is concern about lab safety,” said Corell. “For instance, I expected every kid who comes in [to know] how to light a bunsen burner, yet some of these summer courses don’t even do bunsen burner labs, they do alcohol burner labs. I want my kids to come in with a certain level of not only lab skills but also lab safety, [so that] they can be successful in AP Chemistry.”

Compressing a year-long course into a significantly shorter time frame has its advantages and disadvantages for students.

By offering a summer course, Corell hopes students will be able to pursue a higher level of study in chemistry, as before students can take a chemistry course at Princeton University, they must take all chemistry classes at the high school, including Organic Chemistry.

“There are certain things that just need to be memorized, [which] takes time and effort, [and the students will] have somewhere between three to four hours of homework a night in addition to the six hours of class,” said Corell. “But the advantage is [the students] are only focusing on one [task].”

Although there is support for the summer course, there was also some resistance due to the fear of encouraging students to increase their workload by allowing younger students to take more AP courses.

“At the same time [that we offer this course], we’re having discussions of how to reduce stress in the school, so the two ideas seem counter to each other, but we’re [creating] opportunities for the kids who would normally not have the resources or background to take the AP course,” said Corell. “There’s two goals: one, quality control in terms of the course the students are taking in the summer, but the second goal, and just as equal, goal, is to expand the representation of the groups that we have in AP courses.”

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