The 2017-2018 school year marked the first full year of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School’s participation in the University of Notre Dame’s Teacher Investment Program (TIP). The school has received a three-year grant to support its teachers’ participation in the program. The ND-TIP program provides in-depth training for teachers of Advanced Placement courses, with goals of increasing student enrollment and achievement in those courses. The program focuses specifically on science, math, and English courses and the training began with a week-long intensive workshop in the summer. Teachers received curricular materials, support in developing a syllabus, and other resources, in addition to a mentor from Notre Dame who provided guidance throughout the year. OLSH teachers also attended workshops in the fall and spring, were visited by professionals from the ND-TIP team, and held video-conferences with instructors. Students took mock exams in the spring to prepare for the official exams, and teachers used their training to score the exams, providing valuable information on the students’ strengths and weaknesses in testing ability and content knowledge.
The intensive training has been rewarding for the teachers involved. Mrs. Susan Rusnak, who teaches AP Physics I appreciated the support of her mentor, Maureen McGrail, commenting, “This was my first time teaching AP Physics I, and the resources provided were invaluable to me. My mentor understood where students have problems, what labs are the best use of my time, how to get the most from assessments, and what to focus class time on.” AP Calculus teacher Mr. Mike Schuster agreed, “The main thrust of the program for teachers is in identifying and communicating the best practices available for teaching the material to maximum effectiveness.”
The boost in confidence for teachers has translated to the students, with a 25% increase in enrollment in current AP courses for the 2018-2019 school year; and when factoring in the addition of AP Environmental Science, and AP Government and Politics courses, the boost in enrollment in AP courses jumps to 81%, surpassing the ND-TIP program goal of a 10% increase. Student participation in AP courses provides benefits beyond the content knowledge learned. As English teacher, Mrs. Erica Hollabaugh shares, “AP courses assist students in becoming advanced thinkers, establishing independence, and growing as learners overall. I hope that they will take these skills with them as they further their education or career.” OLSH recently learned that 63.6% of students taking AP exams earned qualifying scores of 3, 4, or 5. The greater number of students enrolling in AP courses coupled with the high level of success on the exams demonstrates the immense value the implementation of this program has brought to the school for both faculty and students.
Beyond the scope of the Notre Dame program, the OLSH AP Advantage Program, the only kind of its nature in the U.S., also affords students with the opportunity to enroll in a host of online AP courses offered by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. These courses expose students to online learning, preparing them for that style of learning at the college level. Research has shown that the experience of taking even just one AP course in high school leads to greater success in college and increases the likelihood of graduating from a four year college up to 50%.
As students are encouraged to challenge themselves with higher level courses, OLSH has also made sure appropriate support systems are in place for learners of all abilities. The OLSH Writing and Learning Center supports student writing across the curriculum in the style of a university-level writing center; the Advanced Learning and Leadership Initiative (ALLI) program in conjunction with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit provides extra support for students in general non-subject based skills; and the OLSH After School Tutoring Program provides supervised individualized tutoring services at no cost to families. The implementation of these new academic programs and support systems adds another layer of student-centered opportunities for the young men and women who attend OLSH.