MSU, new partners help facilitate access to AP classes for rural Mississippi school districts

Jamaiya Fears (left) and Jala Scott, both Aberdeen High School students, make vector graphs of a “mine field” they created on MSU’s Drill Field as part of the AP physics summer preparatory academy. (Photo by Megan Bean)

Contact: James Carskadon

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University is helping facilitate a program that will allow students in rural Mississippi school districts to take Advanced Placement courses from leading American scholars.

Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, the Mississippi Public School Consortium for Educational Access is implementing a pilot program to teach Advanced Placement subject matter in select rural and low-income school districts which currently do not offer the courses. As part of the program, over 20 students from seven participating school districts are taking part in a two-week preparatory summer academy for AP physics at MSU.

When the students return to school in August, they will take an AP physics course taught by Meg Urry of Yale College, an internationally renowned astrophysicist and director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The AP classes this school year will be taught in a “blended” style, combining online and in-person instruction from teachers within the students’ schools and from Urry. The Yale professor will visit with students in-person while they are at MSU. Murrah High School and Yale graduate Travis Reginal also will meet with students.

With private support, including a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the consortium is able to provide the preparatory summer academy and the advanced courses to students free of charge. The academy helps students who have the aptitude and work ethic needed to succeed at a high level reach their full potential. MSU faculty members and researchers, with input from local high school math and physics teachers, designed the curriculum for the preparatory academy. The students are taught math and science methods in the morning and get to see practical applications of the lessons in the afternoon. Program participants were selected by the participating school districts, which include Aberdeen, Booneville, Coahoma County, Holmes County, Pontotoc County, Quitman County and Scott County.

“Low-income, rural students can help build a better and more prosperous future for our country, and they deserve the same opportunities as other students to get a good education and go as far as their abilities take them,” said Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy in a release announcing a $200,000 grant for the consortium. “Talented students, regardless of their geographic location and family income, need to be supported so they can reach their fullest potential.”

The Mississippi Public School Consortium for Educational Access is working in partnership with the Global Teaching Project, which has a mission of providing “a platform for great teachers from great schools around the world to bring high-level instruction to students everywhere.” Both groups are hoping to use this year’s pilot program to scale and grow their efforts, which would continue to enhance educational opportunities for Mississippi students.

According to the College Board, approximately 85 percent of selective colleges report that a student’s AP experience favorably impacts admissions decisions, and millions of students have been able to graduate from college more quickly and at significantly lower costs because of colleges and universities awarding credit for AP scores. Additionally, AP courses help prepare students for higher education by providing access to rigorous college-level work.

“We want these students to think about themselves differently, revise their ambitions accordingly and begin to transform their communities,” Global Teaching Project CEO Matthew J. Dolan said.

The residential physics summer academy at MSU is providing students with intensive training in math and science. The students are receiving instruction both at MSU and in their AP physics classes from experts at MSU, Yale and Stanford University. While at MSU, the high school students are visiting the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems and Raspet Flight Research Laboratory.

“We’re trying to show the kids how what they learn is applied to the real world,” said Christina McDaniel, summer academy coordinator and an MSU instructor in secondary science education. “We want them to see how it is relevant.”

A pre-assessment and post-assessment test will be administered at the summer academy to identify strengths and weaknesses in the students’ physics knowledge. Once the students have completed the course, MSU researchers will examine their scores on the AP physics exam to test the effectiveness of the instruction.

For more on the Mississippi Public School Consortium for Educational Access, visit www.educationaccessms.org.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.