If there is any upside to the recent college acceptance scandal, perhaps it is that the scandal drew our attention to the crisis of equity in today’s educational system. While we don’t know how widespread full-out cheating is, we do know that the system is tilted toward students whose parents can provide them with tutors, expensive extra-curricular activities, and private school privileges. Access to college is not a level playing field.
Where does that leave students who don’t have these advantages, and what can we all do? This is an issue we take seriously at The Franklin School of Innovation. When the school was formed, part of its purpose was to provide a tuition-free, college-bound educational option for any student in our community. As our high school has grown and developed, we have worked thoughtfully to design a program that makes college a true option for every student.
What elements of our program directly address the equity issue, and help make our program truly college-bound?
1. Equal access to high quality teachers and curriculum for all students.
In many schools, students are highly tracked based on their prior educational achievement. At FSI, while all high school classes are available at an honors level, classes are integrated to make sure that all students are exposed to the same quality of teaching and curriculum. This commitment to equity is reflected in the way we design our schedule, and the way we place students in classes. It’s integral to every decision.
2. Full-time College & Career Counselor
While College Counselors are standard at most private high schools, counselors in our local district schools serve many students and wear many hats. They are responsible for social and emotional needs of students, as well as providing academic counseling. Having a dedicated College Counselor ensures that all students are supported through the college exploration, application, and enrollment process. The Counselor’s work is extended through the high school Crew program, with curriculum and activities to support students in the college readiness process.
3. Selection and Balancing of AP Courses
We are very excited about the continued growth of our Advanced Placement (AP) courses. We currently offer the following AP courses:
- AP Language (this course can be taken instead of English III)
- AP Literature (this course can be taken instead of English IV)
- AP Government & Politics
- AP European History
- AP Calculus
For 2019-2020 school year, we are adding AP Studio Art. For this art course, students choose their medium and create a portfolio of work, which is scored instead of an end-of-year exam. We are excited to offer an AP level course in the arts, and love that this course allows for student choice, and that students are scored on the body of work they produce, rather than a single test.
We are also very excited to have been approved to offer the AP Capstone Program, a diploma program that includes two yearlong AP courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. Unlike other AP courses, which focus on subject-specific content, these two courses develop students’ skills in research, analysis, collaboration, writing, and presentation. Students who complete the two-year program are recognized with either a Capstone certificate, or a Capstone Diploma, recognized as a high distinction by colleges across the United States and around the world. We love that the Capstone courses reflect our school’s focus on engaging students in real research and collaborative work, while allowing students to choose topics of deep interest. Learn more about this program here: AP Capstone Program.
The Capstone program gives students the opportunity to show a high level of achievement, while balancing a reasonable number of AP courses. We think it is a great fit for our school. As one of the first school’s in this area to provide this program, it will help set our students apart.
Finally, we are expanding our Computer Science courses for next year, offering an Introduction to Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles. We received a grant from Amazon to help provide the curriculum for these courses. These courses are part of our efforts to expand student access to coding and computer science curriculum throughout our school.
4. Access to college-level courses through AB Tech and UNC Asheville
We work closely with the Career College Promise program at AB Tech. Over 30% of our juniors and seniors complete at least one college-level course before they graduate from high school, with no tuition costs. This year, we have also partnered with UNC Asheville. Students can enroll in UNCA courses, earn high school and college credit, at a discounted tuition rate.
5. Preparation for ACT college entrance exam
All students in North Carolina take the ACT exam during their junior (11th grade) year. It is no secret that students who take the test more than one time, and who have access to test prep tutoring, have an advantage over students who only take the test one time, without any preparation. This year, all 11th grade students took a full-length practice ACT exam. Teachers shared the results of the practice exam with students. Students had time and support in class to do targeted test preparation, with the goal of helping them increase their scores on the ACT exam. While our school will never be a “test prep” school, helping students prepare for college entrance exams, like the ACT, is an important action we can take toward our goal of 100% college acceptance. These tests are also an important factor in access to scholarship funds, further supporting students from acceptance to actual enrollment in college.
6. Senior Project and Internship
In their senior year, all students select a topic of interest and complete a research paper, a 40-hour student internship, and 20 hours of related community service. This project culminates in a multimedia presentation to a panel made up of fellow students, teachers, school administrators, and community members. This project requires students to hone their research, writing, and presentation skills, as well as gain real-world work experience. Students have completed internships in a wide range of interests, from blacksmithing to sound design and everything between.
Our program continues to grow and evolve with our students and faculty. We are excited to see what our graduates become!