Advanced courses expanding in Acadiana

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- From right, Comeaux High School students Sydney Durham, Melissa Simon and Layne Hardy take an Advanced Placement statistics class over the computer at the school recently from a teacher at Lafayette High School.
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- From right, Comeaux High School students Sydney Durham, Melissa Simon and Layne Hardy take an Advanced Placement statistics class over the computer at the school recently from a teacher at Lafayette High School.

Lafayette High math teacher Claire Arabie starts her day teaching an Advanced Placement statistics course — to an empty classroom.

Her audience is actually on another campus about 5 miles away at Comeaux High School, where Comeaux seniors Layne Hardy, Sydney Durham and Melissa Simon wait every day to hear Arabie’s greeting of “Good morning,” and for the teacher to appear on their computer monitors via Skype.

Through screen-sharing software, students follow along as Arabie begins an introduction to binomial random variables.

Arabie’s online Advance Placement course, launched this school year, has served as a test for the school system as it seeks ways to grow its AP course options for students, said Randy Bernard, academic specialist for Lafayette Parish Schools.

AP courses are recognized as more rigorous and offer high school students the opportunity to earn college credits.

Because the state lags in the number of students who earn AP credit, the state Department of Education mandated school districts to increase AP opportunities. Beginning this school year, districts must offer at least two AP courses and an additional course each year over the next three years until at least five courses are available to students.

“Everybody is making plans for expansion,” Bernard said.

The district plans to continue to expand AP options for students, Bernard said.

This school year, 322 Lafayette Parish high school students enrolled in AP courses, up from last year’s 196 and the previous year’s enrollment of 254 students, according to figures provided by Bernard.

Course offerings this year include English literature and composition; calculus; statistics; French; and U.S. government and politics.

“We are in the process now of identifying potential courses and student populations who might be well served in a distance learning setting,” Bernard stated in an email response to questions.

School principals and their instructional strategists are also planning what courses to offer in the coming year and are identifying teachers who will be trained over the summer to instruct the AP courses, he added.

Arabie was the only teacher in the district qualified to teach the AP statistics course. The course was offered to all schools, but only the Comeaux students expressed interest, she said.

She teaches the same course in a traditional, face-to-face setting to 18 seniors at Lafayette High.

Arabie said she’s had to tweak her teaching style in the online component.

“In a face-to-face class, you’re there to see and help them every day,” she said.

Arabie said she maximizes the time her online students have together by uploading notes, and often video lessons, on the content they’ll go over the next day.

Students access the notes and videos on an online course management system. She also uses a wireless tablet or whiteboard technology to work out problems with students, which they see in real-time with screen-sharing technology.

Technology bridges the distance, Hardy said.

“She uses Skype to make it like she’s here teaching us face-to-face,” Hardy said. “She also uses the (whiteboard) like we’re used to.”

Students communicate with Arabie during class via Skype and out of class via email. The teacher has even welcomed students to visit her at Lafayette High if they need extra help, students said. Simon and Durham said they prefer a face-to-face connection and were unsure if they’d take another online course.

“I miss not having the luxury of talking to her anytime,” Simon said.

Simon and Durham both said Arabie is responsive to their questions, and the small class setting enables them to stop her and pose questions during a class.

Simon said she chose the course because she had fulfilled her high school math requirements.

“I didn’t have any math left to take and I wanted a challenging class because you use math in everyday life,” Simon said.

Durham plans to major in nursing and already has earned nine college credits through dual enrollment courses in biology, psychology and math. She could earn three additional credits for her AP statistics course. Students take exams in May to assess their skills. Their scores will determine whether they receive college credit.

Durham said the statistics course requires students to be more independent in their studies.

“It’s more like college,” Durham said.