Numbers fly on the white board as two students gather input from their classmates to determine equilibrium in a chemistry equation.
In the class, eyes move from the board to papers on desks as everyone works on the task. Their teacher moves them toward the goal in excited fashion, offering praise as the peers piece the puzzle together.
“This is the same chemistry chemical engineering majors take in college. This is just plain nuts,” teacher Patrick Cassidy says. “This is the hardest class in the school. When you walk out, you’re not going to fall flat on your face. When you go to college, you’re ready.”
Higley Unified School District’s Higley and Williams Field High Schools offer more than 20 titles of Advanced Placement classes to students, where they receive college-level rigor and the possibility of college credit. The two schools also offer dozens of dual-enrollment opportunities, making it possible for students to complete their first, second or even third-semester of college as they finish high school. Dual enrollment options range from AP Chemistry and other AP English, AP math and AP foreign language courses to art, engineering and sports medicine.
Higley High and Williams Field High were named to the 2015 Washington Post “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” list for their efforts to make rigorous, relevant classes available to students. Both also saw numerous students earn honors as state and national AP Scholars.
Senior Madeline Miley, 17, will attend Barnard College of Columbia University, an all-female school in New York City, in the fall.
Her high school course load included AP Chemistry, AP Calculus, AP Literature and AP Government, as well as Honors Biotechnology. She believes the strength of her classes gave her a step above other candidates who applied to the liberal arts college.
“I’ve taken a lot of science. It set me a part from a lot of the other women candidates,” she said. “I’ve taken every hard class there is … You’re getting exposed to the same topics you’ll be getting in a fast-paced college class.”
Across campus, senior Hailey Walters takes a seat in J. Scott Shields’ AP Literature class.
“Welcome scholars,” he says, his common greeting to students each day.
Taking a break from a discussion on the Jazz Age, Walters talks about the numerous AP, honors and dual enrollment classes she’s taken over the past four years. By the time she graduates high school in May, she estimates she could have 40 college credits complete.
“I wanted all of my classes to be weighted,” she says. “I wanted to be surrounded by people who care about what they’re learning.”
The advantages of taking an AP course go beyond preparing students for future English college courses, Shields says. The AP Literature course prepares students to be better writers, better thinkers and better readers, Shields says.
“Students come back who have taken this course and tell others that their 101 and 102 (college) courses were a piece of cake compared to this. The expectations are very high in the AP classes,” he said.