Sunday, September 1, 2013

10 Tips for AP Parents

The start of the school year is upon us, and for parents of Advanced Placement (AP) students this means helping your children gear up for a challenging and exciting year of rigorous coursework. Whether new to the AP program or not, many parents of AP students wonder how best to support their students' efforts in order to promote success. This post will provide some suggestions.

We share this list of 10 Tips for AP Parents with families at our school's annual AP Night in January, and I think they provide a great framework for understanding the challenges unique to parents of AP students. Although some of the pieces of advice concern decisions made when registering for classes, which the timing of our yearly event is intended to address, they are worth reviewing at the start of the school year as well. I've detailed these tips below, and added my own experiences to the conversation.

  1. Park the Helicopter & Encourage Personal Responsibility
If your child is enrolling in an AP class, he or she should be ready to handle time management, organizational skills, and negotiations with teachers about most grade- and homework-related issues on his or her own. This sort of self-advocacy and responsibility for one’s own learning is necessary for college success, and it is learned through practice. Of course, AP teachers will be happy to meet with you if needed and to respond to your legitimate concerns just like other teachers. But before you pick up the phone or begin composing an email to solve a problem for your student, make sure he/she has attempted to solve it FIRST. College-bound juniors and seniors need to become comfortable approaching their instructors for the help that they need, and you can support that process by sitting on your hands for a while as your student troubleshoots and adjusts to the new workload.

You might be worried that letting your sometimes unreliable teenager manage on his own will result in a low grade (on a test or report card) that will doom his chances for future success in college, and this is understandable. However, if it is your constant intervention and monitoring is ultimately what ends up getting your child admitted to college, when he arrives there completely unprepared to manage his own time and to handle conflicts or setbacks independently, his adjustment will be far more painful than if it had been made years earlier in that AP class. So, please, trust the process! 

  1. It is Your Child’s Schedule, Not Yours
You may think an AP Biology course would be amazingly fun, and I’m sure it would be…for you. If your child could care less about biology then that is NOT the class for him/her. They will be the one doing all the assignments and readings, so their interests and goals should be the driving force in decision-making about which AP classes to take.

  1. Be Prepared for Considerable Homework, even during “Breaks”
AP courses require students to complete considerably more reading and homework outside of class than regular high school classes. They will likely have work every night. Because of the sheer amount of content being presented, it will not be uncommon for students to have work during “vacations” or “breaks”. Some classes have required summer reading assignments before the course even begins. Many classes offer open labs or study sessions on evenings or weekends, too. It probably goes without saying that if there is stuff to do even when school is not in session, being present when school is in session is absolutely necessary. Missing class in an AP course is just like missing a college class: you can get notes or try to "make-up" lost time, but it will be much harder to do well on tests regardless of your efforts to catch up. As a parent, you can ease the burden by avoiding scheduling vacations or unnecessary trips that force your student to miss class. Save those for scheduled breaks or for the summer time.

  1. Accept that a “B” or “C” is Not a Sign of Your Child’s Failure (or Your Own)
Of course, most AP students aim for A’s, which is an appropriate goal. However, because of the rigor of AP classes, former “A-students” often encounter their first B’s or C’s. Be sure to remind your student (and yourself) that a hard-earned ‘B’ probably represents more understanding and knowledge than an easy ‘A’ and is something to be proud of as well. Working hard, no matter what, should be encouraged.

  1. Budget for AP Exam Fees
Even though those AP Exam scores represent huge college savings in the long run, it can be quite a wallet-buster to pay for several AP exams all at once. Exam fees are usually due in February/March of the exam year, so have some funds set aside for that purpose.  If your student will be responsible for covering the cost, make sure he/she is aware of that before enrolling.

  1. Take Advantage of Financial Assistance Programs
Many schools have programs to cover costs of AP exam fees for students participating in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. If you are eligible for such assistance, use it.

  1. Push for Quality, not Quantity
It is better to take two AP classes and do well in them than to take six AP classes and do poorly while sacrificing sleep, nutrition and sanity. Each student has his/her own limit. Respect it.

  1. Be the Voice of Reason During Enrollment
After hearing about all of the course offerings in AP (and the numerous other exciting and challenging courses offered at Chi-Hi), your child might be tempted to bite off more than she can chew. She wants to be in Harmonics, Gymnastics, Student Council, LIFE Team, Marching Band, Track, get a job AND take five AP classes? Such a plan will likely end in disaster. Encourage your student to realistically account for the time it will take to succeed in an AP class (and other activities). Consider including a study hall in his/her schedule, especially if athletics or music activities factor heavily in their plans. Also, consider the value of that after-school job: if the purpose of it is to make money for college, weigh the potential earnings against the potential savings of passing a couple of AP classes.

  1. Encourage Adequate Nutrition & Sleep
Just as in any class, being alert and ready to learn is critical in AP classes. The whole year over this is true, but it is of heightened importance during “AP Week” – the two-week period in May during which exams are administered. Space out the studying and be sure to get enough shut-eye.

  1. Understand the Power of a 2
Brace yourself for the arrival of that score report in July. It could be a moment of jubilation—all those hours paid off in the form of a passing score—or a moment of disappointment if a goal is not met. However, even if your child’s considerable efforts do not result in a passing score, much has been gained. Even students who fail AP Exams benefit from the experience of a rigorous course and do better in college than their non-AP peers. They very likely learned a great deal, pushed their own limits, and will benefit in the long run.

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