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A successful (A)cademic (P)ush

May 20, 2019 GMT

STERLING – Some Sterling High School freshmen had answered lots of history questions this year, all while becoming history answers themselves.

The school offered an Advanced Placement class in human geography this year, and made it available to freshman for the first time.

Typically, AP classes are geared toward the mindset of high school seniors in preparation for college-level academics, but 28 freshmen in Dan Pafuve’s third-hour class have learned more than cultures, demographics, world religions, industrialization and city structures – they also learned what it takes to deal with college learning.

“You have to study a lot to know the material in time,” said Tori Arduini, 15. “It’s a very fast-paced class, and you have to learn a lot before the end-of-the-year exam.”

Students took their final exam Tuesday, and were thrown some surprise geography questions that they never thought would be on it.

“It’s a lot of having to teach yourself,” said Lizbeth Valdivia, 15. “A lot of the things on the test are things we may never go over in class, so you feel like you have to spend more time going over anything and everything.”

Paufve doesn’t entirely design the class; the material and study structure is constructed by The College Board, a nonprofit organization based in New York made up of top academic professionals from across the country.

He’s learning along with his students; it’s his first AP class, and he also didn’t take any AP history class before he graduated from Sterling in 2004.

“There are stats that say that if you give an AP class early, they’ll do better,” Paufve said. “We just wanted the exposure of AP early for our students so they can get a feel for it.”

The decision to see if freshmen can handle the rigors of AP classes has turned out to be a successful one, said Sterling Principal Jason Austin.

“It just shows that if you provide the support, have the right teacher, and have an environment where kids can be successful, you can do this at any age.”

Struggles came early to some students. Paufve said that some students had lower grades than they are used to having toward the end of the semester. Such situations can cause a panic mode in some students, he said, and dealing with a sort of adversity was something students learned about as well.

Tori sensed some of that before signing up for the class. She had initially backed out of the class before the year, but had a change of heart.

“I didn’t want the extra stress, but I knew that I would regret not taking it,” Tori said. “It definitely can boost my GPA.”

An ‘A’ grade in an AP class carries a grade-point average of 5.0, it’s 4.0 in regular classes.

“I’m glad I took it,” Tori added. “I’m doing good in the class right now. It was a lot of work outside of school, and it did cause me some stress, but it turned out good in the end.”

Reiley Austin, 15, son of the principal, enjoyed learning the differences between developed and undeveloped countries. 

“I wanted to take the class so that I could be more prepared for the next AP tests that I can take,” Reiley said. “It’ll prepare me for those, and I don’t think I’ll have much of a workload the next couple of years.”

Lizbeth, Reiley and Tori plan to take an AP United States history class next year; Lizbeth and Tori also plan to take AP classes in biology, and Lizbeth wants to take an AP Spanish class if it will be offered.

“It’s a class that I can apply to real life more than some of my other classes,” Tori said. “Throughout the year, I was always realizing that everything really has a reason to how it is; the makeup of cities, why we’re here and why we speak what we speak.”

“If you’re not real willing to put in the work outside of the classroom, you should probably rethink taking the class,” Lizbeth added. 

Tori considered the class time consuming and felt like she had to study a lot more and take more time to do it outside of school. Lizbeth found it to be a lesson in time management, figuring out when and what to study at the right time.

“The biggest takeaway for these kids, content or otherwise, was knowing how to be a college-level student your first year in high school,” Paufve said. “I can’t wait to see how they do next year in AP classes. They’ll know the ropes a little bit and there won’t be that learning curve.”

Paufve will teach the class next year, and it will remain the only freshman-based AP class. He’ll remember this current group of students, but like them, he’ll look forward to a better second go-around with teaching a college course to freshman students.

“They were awesome. I will always remember this group because they just worked harder,” he said. “I told them before they took the exam to not put their self-worth on what grade they get on the exam. You’ve done something that no one has ever done before, and you’ve worked hard. It was a great success.”