The AP Capstone and Liberal Arts College prep program is already going strong at Alexander High School. The school just needs the official nod from the Douglas County Board of Education Oct. 5 to make it official as a magnet school beginning with the 2016-17 school year.

Because of the time and careful planning for Alexander to become a magnet high school as the county’s other four high schools have done, board approval is really only the final step necessary for the magnet program to move forward.

Alexander Principal Nathan Hand and Assistant Principal Stephen Beatty gave a presentation to the board last Monday night about the time and steps taken to build a strong foundation of academically challenging classes that offer a unique contrast to what the other four high schools are offering in their magnet programs.

“We are really full blown at this time,” Hand said. ”Everything is in place and we’re good to go.”

“We’ve been working toward this and looking at the different magnets for five years and liberal arts for three,” said Hand. “We felt an extreme responsibility to give more time and talk to stakeholders about what they would like to see at Alexander High School.” 

And the winner was liberal arts. 

“With the wealth of knowledge and face of technology we have today, more and more people are looking at a liberal arts education,” said Hand.

Why liberal arts?

Hand explained during his presentation to the school board that “a liberal arts education provides a strong background in all academic areas. The curriculum includes in-depth studies in mathematics, sciences, languages, literature, social studies and the fine arts, as well as opportunities to explore technology and career concentrations.”

“The old school comprehensive high school is liberal arts,” said Hand. 

As the final high school in Douglas County to become a magnet school, Alexander High School offers students some amenities that the other high schools do not, said Hand.

“We want to celebrate and show everyone that we are offering a variety beyond what the other schools are offering,” said Hand. “Our stakeholders and teacher leadership team began looking at who we are and what we do best. We recognized that we could excel in a variety of disciplines.”

How liberal arts is different

He said that a liberal arts education offers students the opportunity to become more “well-rounded,” something that more and more businesses and industries are looking for in an employee.

Hand was inspired by a quote by the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs:

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.”

“I wanted to give students a change to study the humanities,” said Hand. “All of our functions are human.”

Pathways unique to AHS

There are a number of “pathways” unique to Alexander High School, including agriculture, finance, information technology and transportation, according to Hand. Alexander is the only school in the county that has an automotive technology program, for example. Pair this with the only AP Music Theory class, also unique to Alexander.

He said that this magnet offers students a great deal of flexibility, yet does not inhibit students from participating in work-based learning, the College and Career Institute (CCI) or dual enrollment. 

Alexander’s student participation in Advanced Placement (AP) classes has grown significantly over the last few years, and the school already boasts about 23 different AP class offerings.

Students are given a great deal of flexibility by choosing a concentration they wish to explore, as opposed to pre-set course requirements. These include Math, Science, Accounting and Computer Science Concentration, Modern Languages Concentration, Communicative Arts Concentration, Fine Arts Concentration, Science Concentration, Social Studies Concentration and the Advanced Placement (AP) Capstone Concentration.

AP Capstone

Alexander was approached by the College Board to apply to pilot the AP Capstone program, and is the only public high school in Georgia and one of only 125 schools worldwide selected to implement the program,

AP Capstone consists of a two-course sequence — AP Seminar and AP Research, according to Hand. Both classes last the entire school year and “provides students with an opportunity to engage in rigorous, scholarly practice of the core academic skills necessary for college completion,” according to the College Board.

Two seminar classes were offered last year to approximately 50 students and this year, a research class has been added.

Students who pass both classes and four other AP classes with grades of at least a 3 on a 1 to 5 scale will receive a special College Board AP Capstone diploma, in addition to their regular diploma.

During an AP Capstone Research class at Alexander on Friday, teacher Debbie Rager explained that her students, made up of juniors and seniors, were working on their research projects. The students attend the class every day, all year for a 45-minute period. They are graded on their research project, which makes up 75 percent of their grade, and oral defense before a panel — not unlike a dissertation — that makes up the other 25 percent.

In the research class, students are using research methodology, employing ethical research practices and accessing, analyzing and synthesizing information.

“These students are our scholar-athletes,” said Hand

‘Money and Me’

Financial literacy, or as it is better known as “Money and Me,” is another class that is unique to Alexander High School. Julie Chapman, who teaches the class, said that the class is “all about things money and teaches life skills, budgeting, investing, payroll taxes and insurance.”

The class has grown from one class to five, Chapman explained, since she changed the name to “Money and Me.”

“The students can identify with that,” she said.

Hand explained that the class falls under two pathways and is part of two concentrations, Math, Finance, Accounting and Computer Science and Social Studies and Leadership. 

Chapman is working with the state in hopes of making the Financial Literacy class a requirement for high school students across the state.

“I believe it should be a requirement for all high school students,” she said.

Magnet application process

Alexander High School will be accepting 50 out-of-district freshman through an application process, explained Hand.

Upon approval from the school board to become a magnet school on Oct. 5, Alexander High School will hold an informational meeting on Nov. 12 in the gymnasium for parents and students who will be entering ninth grade next year and are interested in enrolling in the magnet program. Applications will be accepted until Dec. 14 and interviews will be conducted between Dec. 17 and Jan. 16. Notification of selection of students will be on Feb. 10 and commitment letters will be due by Feb. 19.

To find out more information about the AP Capstone/Liberal Arts College Preparatory Magnet program at Alexander High School, contact Valli Robinson at valli.robinson@douglas.k12.ga.us.

Contact Liz Marino by email at liz@douglascountysentinel.com or by phone at 770-942-6571 ext. 233.

© 2015 Douglas County Sentinel. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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