Decatur High students Lucy Sedlak, Kate Bouchillon and Neelie Miller started their college plans two years ago when Decatur City Schools became part of the A+ College Ready network.
The first part of the plan was to take classes that would be as rigorous as college classes, something the trio said they accomplished.
Secondly, they wanted to take and pass classes that would earn them college credit. This, too, they accomplished.
Beginning in August when school resumes, the same classes that challenged Sedlak, Bouchillon and Miller will be available to every public school student in Morgan County.
West Morgan and Danville — the only schools not in the network — are joining the A+ program, which started with a $13.2 million grant in 2008 and gives students an opportunity to take classes that will count toward college credit if they achieve a qualifying score.
“This will be a game-changer for many of our students and something we have worked hard to make available for them,” said Morgan County Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr.
Hartselle City was the first school system in Morgan County to join the program almost a decade ago, and students have earned college credits valued at more than $2 million, said Superintendent Dee Dee Jones.
Decatur and Austin were among 20 high schools statewide to join the A+ College Ready Program in 2017. More than 50 percent of the high school students in Decatur City Schools are now enrolled in at least one AP class.
The Decatur school system’s immediate success with the program is one of the reasons A+ made Decatur High a summer training ground for teachers statewide.
On Tuesday, more than 800 teachers and 100 administrators from every corner of the state came for what A+ calls E3 training, which is designed to equip, empower and expect more of teachers, said Tammy Dunn, vice president of academic affairs for A+.
Every room at Decatur High and five classrooms at Decatur Middle were occupied as A+ provided training for teachers in grades 6-11 in math and grades 6-10 in science, English, social studies and computer science.
Decatur High principal Johnny Berry, who first learned about the benefits of A+ when he worked in Hartselle City Schools, participated in the training and shared Decatur’s success with the program.
This past year, he said, Decatur offered AP World History to ninth-grade students for the first time and 13 of the 25 freshmen in the class earned qualifying scores on the AP exam, which is a four-hour test. He said they will receive college credit for the scores.
“We have 13 kids with college credit before they have their driver’s license,” Berry said.
Students in Decatur’s AP Computer Science classes also reached new heights. Berry said 25 of the 36 students earned qualifying scores.
Computer science teacher Karen Stephenson believes students can do better, and that is one of the reasons she signed up for this week’s training.
“A+ has equipped me with the support I need to be a better teacher,” she said, adding that someone with A+ is available anytime she needs them.
Berry said AP qualifying scores are not the only benefit Decatur High has seen. When Decatur City Schools joined A+, the district dropped its honors program, which offered classes tougher than students on the standard diploma track, but not as tough as AP classes.
Berry said A+ helped identify students who should have been enrolled in tougher AP classes.
“We’re challenging our students,” he said. “All of them.”
Sedlak, a junior, and seniors Bouchillon and Miller started when Decatur had the honors program in middle and high school. They prefer A+ classes because they are a challenge and require more in-depth work, Bouchillon said.
“I feel like I’m better prepared for college,” she said.
For the upcoming school year, Sedlak said she’s enrolled in AP statistics, environmental science, English and history, classes that are part of the University of Alabama’s early college program.
“I plan to attend Alabama, but I’m preparing now,” Sedlak said.
Miller, who is also enrolled in four AP classes next year and plans to attend Troy University when she graduates in 2020, has already made qualifying scores on two AP exams.
Dunn said A+ pays $60 of the $94 cost to take AP exams and gives students $100 for each AP exam they pass.
“We want every child going to college to take at least one AP class so they will have at least a taste of what to expect in college,” she said.