Alicandri, right, talks about his experience in the courses.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Drury High School has seen a "seismic shift" in the number of students taking one or more high-level courses over the past decade.
Drury has gone from offering four Advanced Placement courses to 13 and added on two college-level courses; from 35 seats in these courses filled in 2010 to 276 seats in 2020.
"We have fewer students now than we did in 2010 with the declining enrollment in the public schools," high school Principal Timothy Callahan told the School Committee on Tuesday. "That is a seismic shift in how we've decided to do school at Drury, and it's a major factor in our philosophy of engaging students in higher-order thinking and supporting students to excel academically."
The School Committee has asked each principal to present a project specific to his or her school. The elementaries have already presented and Tuesday night was Drury's turn.
Callahan had been involved in the AP courses at Drury as director of curriculum and one of the instructors at the time.
"I wanted to present our advanced coursework because it's one of the accountability factors, but it's also something that we're really proud of at Drury," he said.
Stephanie Kopola, current director of curriculum and instruction, teaches a college-level world history course at Drury in collaboration with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and students Francisco Alicandri, Jackson Sullivan-Bol and Molly Wojnicki also spoke to the committee about their experiences.
The statistics were offered in "seats" as students could be taking more than one course. That showed in the last slide of his presentation that had 119 percent taking advanced coursework.
"But look at what it was in 2010, that wasn't that long ago, so 10 years ago," Callahan said. "It was 7 percent of the students at Drury were taking any kind of advanced coursework."
In 2010 two students were taking dual enrollment classes at MCLA, he said. "This year, we have 77 students, in addition to all the students taking Advanced Placement classes, and that doesn't even count students who take courses over the summer school year."
Mass Insight, a non-profit organization that aids public schools in preparing students for higher education and careers, was working with Drury High School through Advanced Placement training and tutoring sessions in the first years.
The high school is now partnering with MCLA after being the only school in Berkshire County to earn an Early College planning grant.
"We're still in the process of applying for the implementation part and the designation, but we've been awarded the planning grant, which allows us to partner with MCLA and think about what it might look like," Callahan said.
At the moment, Drury is offering college-level world history and anatomy that come with college credits and MCLA and Williams College are allowing students to take some of their classes. The school is also partnered with Harvard University this year and Kopola took training at Harvard and brought that into her world history class.
"The Harvard piece was a huge aspect of getting me to understand history," said Wojnicki, feeling history had not been her strong suit. "Harvard really laid it out in a way that like was pretty easy to understand and you're sitting there in class you're like, wow, I'm like learning what Harvard students are learning."
She showed a presentation she had done for the course. She's also been concerned about doing that but she was able to pick a project — contaminated water — that she felt was linked to her interest in health or forensic sciences.
"It definitely helps with your critical thinking, like what's most important," she said. "What can happen or how can we combine two categories make them into one and so that the overall message comes across."
Sullivan-Bol said the principal had approached him in 10th grade about taking an advanced course.
"Not even being old enough to drive and sitting in a college class was like mind boggling," he said. "The crazier part is how well I was able to gel with the rest of my class and apply it because when I went in as 10th-grader. ... I've been able to graduate a year early because of those. I've taken three college classes in total, I've taken about seven AP courses, and those cumulatively allowed me to advance through my junior year into my senior year."
Alicandri said one of the main reasons he attended Drury was because of the access to advanced coursework.
"I really had tried to take full advantage of this ninth grade and went in gungho," he said, adding it was a little disorienting. "But I really think that environment to prepare for college and to just be surrounded by peers who are actually dedicated to learn really ... It can be shown through just the statistics that more and more people are willing to challenge themselves to take that first step to actually go and push themselves."
Callahan said there are challenges in getting students involved, and one was a perception of excessive homework. Wojnicki agreed that some of her classmates were worried that it could eat into sports and volunteering but Sullivan-Bol joked that he didn't think he'd done more than 10 hours of homework.
The principal said that was because there was an effort to pull back on loading students up with work outside of class.
"We really reduced that outside expectation and saw that our performance went up and our scores went up because that barrier was preventing students from engaging," he said. "And the reality is we have a lot of time in class to get the important work done if the hard part is thinking and wrapping your head around it."
Alicandri offered that transportation was also an issue for students taking courses at MCLA or Williams. Callahan agreed and said there is some transportation money in the Early College planning grant but it was more efficient to add another six dual-enrollment courses at Drury so students don't have to travel. Instead, those funds could be used to take students to special events or labs at the colleges.
Callahan is also hoping to change the perception of Drury within the community, noting that parents of children in the public schools probably graduated from Drury prior to 2010.
"Most of our parents who went to Drury would have graduated in 2010 or earlier. So their kind of awareness of the expectations of Drury High School, are not the reality of Drury High School now," he said. "Which is why it's really important to get the message out about how we do school now and what we believe, because it was very different as recently as 10 years ago."
Mayor Thomas Bernard, chairman of the School Committee, thanked the faculty and administrators for their work and said he wanted to pick up on something the students had said.
"You need to have the motivation and the willingness to do the work, but you also have to have educators who are willing to invite a student into a course, to challenge them, to recognize the presentation skills are important, to give students the tools to do the hard work and we have that in he North Adams Public Schools," he said.
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