STEM education expands

More Advanced Placement classes at rural high schools

Andrea Johnson/MDN Nedrose High School principal Matthew Norby speaks during a press conference at Nedrose High School Thursday about expanded AP offerings for rural high schools. At left are Nedrose sophomore Megan Sutter and Nedrose senior Mindee Boyce.

Two students at Nedrose High School are excited to be taking an advanced placement biology class this fall.

Mindee Boyce, a senior, and Megan Sutter, a sophomore, are among 100 students across the state who are taking the courses through the National Math and Science Initiative partnership, called the Blended College Readiness Program, which is offered free to any high school in the state that requests it, according to a press release.

A press conference was held Thursday at the rural high school to announce the initiative.

Thirteen high schools in the state are taking part in the program this school year, including Enderlin, Ellendale, Hebron, Kulm, Larimore, Linton, Litchville-Marion, Wilton, Montpelier, Nedrose, Richland, Rolette, and Trenton.

Another 16 take part in the College Readiness Program, with AP classes taught by a teacher in person. Districts in that program include Bismarck High, Bismarck Century, Bismarck Legacy, Turtle Mountain Community High School in Belcourt, Devils Lake, Fargo North, Fargo South, Grand Forks Central, Grand Forks Red River, Mandan, Minot High School-Magic City Campus, Northern Cass, Watford City, West Fargo High, West Fargo Sheyenne, and Williston.

AP classes are offered through the partnership in calculus, biology, statistics and English. The online classes in the Blended College Readiness Program are offered through Florida Virtual High School, said Michelle Stie, vice president of teaching and learning for the National Science and Math Initiative, which is a nonprofit based in Dallas. Students who pass an Advanced Placement exam have the opportunity to earn college credit, which can save their parents money on college tuition. Students who complete the courses and earn a 3 or higher on the course’s AP exam will also receive a $100 award from the NMSI. The North Dakota State Legislature also provided funding so that each North Dakota high school student can take one AP exam free of charge. Students from low income families can take up to four AP exams free of charge, said Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of public instruction.

Boyce, who is interested in pursuing a career in agronomy, said she has taken all of the other science and math related classes available at the high school and marched into her principal’s office to sign up for the AP biology course as soon as she heard it was available. She received her own laptop computer and will be able to take advantage of mentors and small groups. Sutter said she likes the AP biology class because it lets students work at their own pace and will help students at rural high schools gain access to classes that are traditionally more available at larger high schools.

Their principal, Matthew Norby, said he has been looking for a way to expand educational opportunities for students at the rural high school for some time. The school did not have the budget for a full-time AP teacher. This is a way to expand what is available for students like Boyce and Sutter.

The classes and materials are offered free of charge for students taking the AP courses. NMSI supporter XTO Energy Inc., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corp., has committed $13 million for the project, which also includes summer professional development programs for teachers, according to the press release.

Stie said the National Science and Math Initiative hopes to get the same results from the Blended College Readiness Program as it has from the face-to-face program at the larger high schools and ensure that students receive the same high level of education. Eventually, the nonprofit hopes to expand the program throughout North Dakota and also use it as a model for expanding the program in other states.

Baesler said students have been asking for years for the opportunity to take more rigorous coursework.

“It is more difficult for our rural North Dakota schools to offer advanced classes, particularly in math and science,” she said in the press release. “This helps to close our ‘opportunity gap,’ and expand the academic options available for our rural students.’ “

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.