Power of 15 offer college credit for students, varied curriculum for teachers
By Megan Provost
In the words of Mercedes Herrera, senior, “college is really expensive these days.” Fortunately, last year, as students began to design and develop their class schedules for this school year, incoming seniors were offered the option of taking Power of 15 classes, dual-credit classes offered at WHS through Harper College. Beginning this year, students have the opportunity to challenge themselves with college-level classes and earn college credit for them while still in high school.
“It’s a layer between the AP and just regular senior electives, so it gives students a chance to take a course that will give them college credit, but not necessarily have the stress of the AP exam or students who maybe took AP language and composition and didn’t get that three, four, or five, or did but really struggled in the class, to still be able to take a class that’s going to give them the college credit, but not be necessarily another AP class where they might be at a level where they’re not feeling they can perform,” Ms. Angela Sisi, principal, said.
English 101 and Math 103 currently serve as the two running Power of 15 classes this school year. English 101 is a year-long class taught by Ms. Laura Wagner and Ms. Christine Pacyk, English teachers.
“This class is unique because we’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of Harper professors, so we met with them multiple times at the end of the school year and over the summer, and they shared their materials,” Ms. Wagner said.
According to Ms. Wagner, English 101 is primarily about “finding voice,” whereas English 102 focuses on research. However, both elements will be incorporated into the English 101 class as students find voice through narratives and poetry first semester, and later bring in research and argumentation during second semester.
“It’s interesting because it’s so free, and even the Harper teachers shared their syllabi with us…and their advice was ‘follow what the teacher’s passionate about, because then they will make students more interested,” Ms. Wagner said. “You take two people who love teaching creative writing, love teaching poetry, and sadly creative writing is not on the books this year, but we’re able to bring a lot of the elements into English 101.”
Although school has only been in session for a few weeks, students also seem to be taking to the open-ended curriculum.
“English 101 is different because it’s a class more focused on creating your own voice and not being so formal and technical,” Nicole Diaz, senior, said. Diaz took American Lit last year. Javika Shah, senior, another veteran of American Lit, also opted to take English 101 this year for the college credit.
“It’s similar (to other English classes) because we work on the same concepts…and we have similar grading, however, it’s also very different because it’s very focused on writing and the material we write has to be at a much higher level than previous classes,” Shah said.
Many previous AP English Language and Composition (APLAC) students also opted for the English 101 class this year, such as Brian Doktorczyk, senior. Taking English 101 after the next AP English class didn’t fit in his schedule, Doktorczyk likes the heavy focus on writing and looks forward to seeing his writing improve throughout the year.
“The added benefit for our students is that they get it all year long, so we’re practicing writing every single day, and they’re going to get better. Hands down, they’re going to get better,” Ms. Pacyk said.
The new Power of 15 math class, Math 103, is taught by Ms. Kate Weber, math and physics teacher. The class took the place of the previously-offered senior pre-calculus class, and follows the track of freshman algebra one, sophomore geometry, and junior algebra two.
“It’s more like the beginning of Pre-Calculus, so it’s more functions than college algebra, so the difficulty level of some of the skills we’re doing is more difficult, but we know they’re going to find a lot of repeating of stuff they’ve seen before.”
Unlike the pre-calculus class, which covered both functions and trigonometry, Math 103 focuses primarily on functions. The trigonometry is covered by a non-credit unit at the end of the year.
The class is also unique in its lack of a textbook: students use the program Math XL for their homework, classwork, and assessments.
“The program we’re using is really helpful, because the lessons are on there and it shows you examples and videos on how to do, like, certain math equations and all that stuff,” Herrera said.
Due to their use of the program, the Math 103 class relies heavily on the use of the iPads, which, according to both Ms. Weber and Herrera, is both a blessing and a curse.
“The iPads, I’d say, half the time they’re beneficial, and the other half I kind of just want to throw it cause the WiFi drops or something happens with the actual program we’re using. That’s a problem with it,” Herrera said.
According to Ms. Weber, problems also arise with students struggling to complete assignments on the program.
“We’re really struggling because we’re following Harper’s requests for how they do homework, and students have to have 80 percent of their homework done before they can take a test or quiz, and that’s really hard for a lot of students, because they’re not always used to getting all their homework done,” Ms. Weber said. “Hopefully through the year…they’re going to develop habits of completing the work and trying to understand it versus just completing the work to just get it done…we just need to communicate with Harper and find out what their policy is on students that don’t finish it.”
English 101 has also had its fair share of iPad issues as seniors get used to and struggle with turning in assignments online and on time.
Regardless of technology struggles, both Power of 15 classes benefit from being able to take a college class, which would typically meet only 10 to 15 times for a semester, for an entire academic year. Both teachers and students foresee the classes fulfilling their intended purpose: to prepare students for college.
“I think they will be better prepared taking it here than they would elsewhere. Not that those other professors would do a bad job, but by virtue of time,” Ms. Pacyk said.
The year-long class also allows teachers more freedom in their curriculum.
“Because a college class only meets maybe 10 to 15 times and a high school class meets 180 times, we have a little bit more freedom to do some more creative things than in a college class what would be like lecture, write a paper, lecture, write a paper,” Ms. Wagner said.
While only two new Power of 15 classes are being taught this school year, five classes were offered to students during scheduling last year: Math 103, English 101, Science, Speech, and Art. However, Science, Speech, and Art did not run due to lack of enrollment.
“It’s harder to say ‘I’m going to take this class’ when there are other classes you need for graduation or maybe to get into the college you want to get into,” Mrs. Angela Sisi, principal, said of the low enrollment. While some students opted to take the Speech class at Harper over the summer, all three classes will be re-offered for the 2016-2017 school year.