Troy High School student Sara Micale gives her final presentation as part of the school district’s AP Capstone Diploma program.

Troy High School student Sara Micale gives her final presentation as part of the school district’s AP Capstone Diploma program.

Photo provided by Susan Syme

AP Capstone program allows high school students unique opportunities

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published September 10, 2021


TROY — High school students in the Troy School District who want to go above and beyond have an extra option: the Advanced Placement Capstone program.

Advanced Placement classes are taken by students who want to learn at a higher level in certain subjects and earn early college credit for those classes.

“The AP Capstone program is two classes that students take: AP Seminar and AP Research, and I teach Research,” explained teacher Meg Riddock. “Students take both courses, and if they pass both, which is earning a three out of five or higher on the final exam, and pass four other AP classes, they get what is called a Capstone Diploma.”

Earning the diploma is a feather in the cap of students applying to colleges and universities, but it also means they have learned some valuable skills most students don’t learn until they reach the collegiate level.

“I actually think it was one of the AP classes that prepared me the most, since it helped me learn time management,” said Troy High School graduate Kennedy Singleton. “At college, you are given a topic or assignment that might be due in weeks. A lot of classmates I have will wait until the last minute, while I think I’ve been able to manage my time, which is what I learned from these two classes.”

Singleton took the classes as a sophomore and junior and said the discipline, research and presentation skills she learned have been invaluable at Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

“A lot of the hardest parts of the classes had to do with self-motivation,” she said. “You have to motivate yourself even though something might not be due. You would much rather sleep in or hang out with friends, but these classes taught me to get excited about what I was writing about.”

The AP Capstone program was first offered in the Troy School District eight years ago, the second year after the program was created by the College Board organization, which oversees AP certification and exams such as the SAT. The two classes at the heart of the program are available to students at both Troy and Troy Athens high schools.

“(Seminar is) a skills-based class with the purpose of tying together all of the other AP classes they are taking,” said AP Seminar teacher Sue Syme. “College Board noticed that they saw that a lot of students were coming into college knowing a lot of content but not knowing what to do with that content. They created this program as a means to teach them the skills to supplement the content they are learning as they prepare for college.”

“AP Research consists of students finding a current gap in academic research and then making an attempt to fill it,” added Riddock.

Both educators said that one of the goals of the AP Capstone program is to take education off the usual rails and make it more freeform and driven by what the students want to learn and study.

“Most college classes require written papers and presentations, so this teaches them the best practices and gives them the skills to do that,” said Syme. “We had five kids last year who were properly published for their research. …  It also pushes them out of their comfort zone and makes them write or get up in front of their peers and speak. There is no textbook, it’s learning skills and applying them.”

“Most classes are driven by a curriculum, state standards or a test that they are gearing toward at the end of the semester, but this is geared toward allowing students to explore, think deeper and decide what they want to dive into,” added Riddock. “A student going down the medical field last year wrote on virtual reality and physical therapy methods, for example. A student in my first year studied forest fires and tied that into global warming and how it’s all putting firefighters in danger. She said that we should be using drones and relaying that information with firefighter teams, and she went to college for this topic and she is now implementing that as an intern at University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab.”

The AP Research class, which is always taken second, concludes with a presentation by the students on a subject that hasn’t been covered by experts or which has a facet that has yet to be formally discussed.

“I chose how positive subliminal messages in kids’ cartoons can positively impact them socially,” said Singleton. “I was taking an AP psychology class the year before and this was something we were learning about. It just drew me in.”

“I did my project on parenting classes and how the studies performed on parenting classes have statistical issues that prevent them from being completely reliable,” said fellow AP Capstone Diploma recipient Alex Matthews. “I focused on parenting classes because I find parenting a really interesting subject. I was originally interested in covering something about divorce, since my parents are divorced, but as I researched more I found this topic and I thought it was very fascinating.”

More than 2,000 schools participated in the AP Capstone Diploma program last year; 26 high school students at Troy High and Athens earned the AP Capstone Diploma in the 2020-21 school year.

“Finishing AP Research was one of my biggest achievements in high school. I was so proud I got to study in an area I was interested in,” said Capstone Diploma recipient Allison Liu. “I researched into breastfeeding in prison and created a qualitative and quantitative study into what states provide mothers behind bars.”

Students and teachers all said that the program provides resources and lessons that students would otherwise never get from a high school education.

“I learned a lot. It’s a lot like college, where you choose a senior thesis, but you do it in high school,” Liu said. “It shows how to go around to adapt to problems and walls that pop up in your path. That learning process is really great. I did it because the concept sounded really interesting and it allowed me to take all of the knowledge in other classes I had taken and combine it into something bigger.”