PEABODY — A new program at Peabody High School designed to increase participation and achievement in college-level Advanced Placement courses has worked beyond almost everyone's most optimistic expectations.
"Unbelievable. Just off the charts," is how John Smolenski, director of enrollment services at Mass Math and Science Initiative, described the results to a few hundred students gathered in the Peabody High auditorium yesterday morning.
The school has more than tripled the number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses and significantly boosted performance in the year since it was awarded a five-year grant worth at least $650,000 from the Boston-based Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative. The school says 378 students are enrolled in AP courses this year, up from 99 students in 2009, the year before the program was introduced. The number of students passing the college-level courses by scoring a 3 or better on a five-point scale has jumped from 66 last year to 134.
"They're talking about us and looking at us because we are the man!" Peabody Principal Ed Sapienza announced to cheers from the students.
"We're really very proud of all the people here," Peabody School Committee member Beverley Ann Griffin Dunne said in an interview. "Both students and staff have put in a lot of effort to have such significant success in such a short period of time."
Peabody is now beginning the second year of its grant, which pays for extra staff, training and supplies; covers portions of the cost to take the tests; and pays incentives to students and teachers for good results. Peabody is one of 46 schools across Massachusetts that participate in the program. Salem started this year.
The program is funded with a $30 million statewide grant from the National Math and Science Initiative. That organization, bankrolled by ExxonMobil, Bill and Melinda Gates, and others, has given six states money with the aim of reversing the widening gap in math and science between U.S. students and the rest of the world.