By LINDA LOBECK

Staff Writer

KINGSFORD - Students attending Kingsford High School have the chance to place themselves in an unique position when they begin college.

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Kingsford High School teacher John Kriegl instructs the students in his AP Calculus class — one of nine Advanced Placement classes offered at the school. Students can take the AP exams in May and by scoring a 3 or higher, can get college credit.

Through an Advanced Placement (AP) classes, they can enter their freshmen year with college credit under their belts.

KHS has been offering a number of AP classes for many years, and during the past five years that number has grown to now include nine different curriculum areas.

Along with taking the classes, students are eligible to take the AP exams, and if they earn a pre-set score, can gain college credit. These are college credits that carry no fee to the student, and students won't have to pay the credit-hour fee for that class when they get to college.

The classes are offered each year based on the number of students interested in taking them.

KHS Principal Lyle Smithson said they need between 10-12 students to have the class offered that year.

This year, for example, out of the nine possible classes, five are being offered.

In 2013, students at KHS took AP exams in seven different subject areas. This year, the school is offering AP classes in Calculus AB, Chemistry, English Literature & Composition, Statistics and United States History.

The remaining AP classes - Biology, Computer Science A, Physics, and Psychology - did not have enough student interest to warrant a class this year.

"We also have students take AP courses online through the Michigan Virtual High School and they can also take the AP exam for that course," Smithson added.

In the past five years, from 2009-2013, 61-79 percent of the KHS students tested have earned an AP score of 3 or better. The average across Michigan is 66 percent and the global average is 60 percent, Smithson noted.

According to Kendalynn Sutton, who teaches AP Literature & Competition, students who obtain a 3 or better on the AP exam in May, get college credit.

"The number of students getting these scores at KHS are quite high. And for those students who don't get that score, they are still ahead going on to college. They come back later on and tell me how much the class helped them prepare to do well in college," Sutton added.

The AP classes offered by KHS are taught inhouse at the school and meet on a daily basis.

"The teachers are all trained and AP course certified, which happens after they attend summer institutes and become highly qualified to teach the AP classes," Smithson said.

John Kriegl, who teaches the AP Calculus class, said he is impressed with the students who are in his classes.

"It's a challenge for the upper level students. They are pretty motivated to begin with, and this gives them the extra boost they need. With the smaller number in class, you also get more participation and everyone is pretty competitive. They challenge each other. It's an amazing experience for a teacher," Kriegl said.

Sutton is also impressed with the caliber of students she's had in her AP class.

"They interact so well together," she said. "You see the students in class motivating and learning from each other."

Kriegl agreed. "They also learn to work collaboratively and that's pretty impressive to see happen."

One of the newer AP classes at KHS is AP Chemistry, which is taught by Joe Kriegl. There are a total of 30 kids enrolled in the class this year, so they needed to have two sections.

"It's a great opportunity to give these students a challenge - curriculum-wise beyond the regular offerings," Kriegl said.

With taking AP classes, Sutton has noticed that these students work hard and do well in their non AP classes. "They learn how to budget their time, which is an invaluable skill. Last year, the students I had taking the AP test did well - out of 18 students, 15 scored a 3 or higher."

"This year alone, 83 percent of the students taking exams were afforded the opportunity to be awarded college credit for scoring this well," Smithson said.

In 2010, 2011 and 2013, all students taking the AP Computer Science A exam scored a 3 or higher.

And in 2011, 12 students took the AP Psychology exam with 11 students earning a 3 or higher score. That accounts for 92 percent of the students taking the Psychology exam eligible to be awarded college credit, he added.

Kriegl has seem similar success with is students in AP Calculus. Twenty students took the test last year and 18 scored a 3 or higher with most scoring a 5, which is a perfect score, or 4.25 average.

"The kids are self-motivated and really rise to the occasion during class as well as the exam. The majority of the students show up when they need to study for the test or extra help. And they will come to weekend sessions and after school, too," Kriegl said.

Sutton has also seen this type of commitment with her students coming in and taking timed tests to practice for the final test.

While the AP courses are a great benefit for students at KHS, Sutton added that it's also the same for the teachers.

"It's as much as an opportunity for us. We are excited about teaching these classes - it's very powerful," she said.

"The reward is having students come back and tell you how much this has helped them or hear that they had success in getting a job after college. It's a great compliment to receive as a teacher," Kriegl said.

Smithson added that with taking the AP classes offered, some of the KHS students have been able to enter college with sophomore status. One student, he recalled, left KHS with 27 college credits through the AP class offerings.

Both Sutton and Kriegl added that the students they have taking AP classes are well-rounded and involved in many different activities at school.

"They are the heart of our school and very involved in everything going on. And because of that, they have really learned how to budget their time. That's an invaluable skill for them to take to college," Sutton said.

The AP exams are given the first week in May and administered at school. A student has to take all the AP tests in that one day.

"It's quite taxing to go through this testing and it says something about our students when they do so well. The kids are all very motivated," Kriegl said.

When planning to take AP classes in high school, Smithson added, it's important for the students to talk this over with their guidance counselor. They need to see where they are at in taking the prerequisite classes before being allowed to enroll in an AP class. "Our philosophy is that we have an open door for the courses we offer."

Smithson added that if a teacher requests that a new AP course be offered, as Joe Kriegl did for AP Chemistry, it goes to the curriculum committee of the school board after being brought to the administration.

"It's important that we have a teacher who is willing to get the training necessary to teach this class at the AP level. Once it reaches the curriculum committee for a recommendation, it goes to the full board for approval. The course can only be offered in the school once the instructor has been certified and trained to teach it," Smithson noted.

Kriegl added that the syllabus for the AP class has to be audited and the course certified in order to teach it.

"It's a compliment to our staff that they have come to us with these requests, and it then allows us to offer such a wide range of AP classes for our students. You need to have someone willing to step up and get the training needed and we have staff ready to do this," Smithson said.

"I'm proud of our students and for a school this size, that we have such a quality of AP classes to offer. It means a lot to me that the student body is so interested in these classes," Kriegl added.

Smithson said that for the AP classes, the students receive a weighted grade on a five point rather than four point scale.

"What they are getting is university credit for a class they are taking in high school. The classes are taught at that level of rigor and the credit is appropriate," Smithson said.

Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is llobeck@ironmountaindailynews.com.