New high school programs to improve AP classes, support students at risk of dropping out

Jan 29, 2019

Dartmouth High School officials will revamp its Advanced Placement programs and help support students at risk of dropping out of school through two new programs.

Dartmouth High Principal Ross Thibault and school administrators are developing a new program to help support students at risk of dropping out, called the Flexible Learning and Individualized Pathway program. It is a credit recovery program, although Thibault noted the “FLIP” name helps alleviate the stereotypes and negative connotations of such a program.

“It’s about students who have not yet met success in the traditional high school system after several tries,” Thibault said. “These students could become high school dropouts, not just in Dartmouth but nationwide.”

Currently, the main option students have is attending evening classes in New Bedford, but Thibault saw the need for a flexible and local option.

Students in the program will receive extra in-person instruction through after-school classroom time, and online learning using the Edgenuity platform. Students will also have a customized learning plan developed by Dartmouth High School coordinators to help get them back on the path to graduation.

Thibault said 21 students have been identified who could benefit from the program.

The school is also partnering with Mass Insight Education and Research, a Boston-based consulting firm, to bring more students into Advanced Placement classes. The School Committee voted unanimously to begin the program this year.

“One of the things we’re looking for is to create more access, more opportunities for our students, this is really what this is about,” said Superintendent Bonny Gifford. “At the same time to create a systemic improvement in the entire school.”

The public-private partnership offers programs, workshops, and training to increase participation and performance in AP classes, and college success.

Representative Sally Guardango said the company partners with 82 public high schools in Massachusetts. The partnership is carried out over three years, designed to build up the school’s AP English, science, and engineering programs.

At Dartmouth High, students took 234 AP exams in 2018, and 160 of those exams earned qualifying scores. Guardango projected that by 2021, the partnership could result in 288 qualifying scores.

The partnership will focus on four key areas: academic support, including workshops and teacher training; student support, including mock exams and Saturday student study sessions; program management, including assessments and recommendations; and college success.

School Committee member Shannon Jenkins said she supported the program, but felt it was lacking inventive for other AP teachers in subjects like the arts and social sciences. The program includes stipends for teachers attending programming outside the school day.

Thibault noted teachers have access to professional development funds through contractual  reimbursements and the high school’s professional development allocation.