Continuing Studies’ AP Summer Institute celebrates 20th anniversary

For the past 20 years, while many universities have settled into a quiet mode as students head home for the summer, Rice University has remained active, with teachers taking on the role of students. This month, more than 2,100 educators from around the U.S. and the world are attending Rice’s 20th annual Advanced Placement Summer Institute (APSI), endorsed by the College Board and administered by Rice’s Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.

Robert Dennison

Robert Dennison, who has taught in the AP Summer Institute for 19 years, led a AP biology for new teachers lab at Anderson Biological Laboratory July 24. The teachers learned about cellular respiration in multicellular organisms. Photo by Jeff Fitlow

The APSI began in 1995 as a one-week program offering 12 courses for new and experienced Advanced Placement (AP) teachers. Since then, it has expanded into a two- and now a three-week program offering 80 courses for new and experienced AP and pre-AP teachers. The APSI was the first teacher professional development offering in what would eventually become the Glasscock School’s Center for College Readiness, a department that educated more than 8,000 students and teachers in the 2013-14 academic year.

“(The APSI) really is a rite of passage for teachers who are teaching advanced academics,” said Jennifer Gigliotti-Labay, associate dean of the Glasscock School and executive director of the Center for College Readiness. “It is the expectation, particularly in the city of Houston, that they’re going to go to Rice to get trained before they go in and teach those classes. Many of those teachers come back multiple times.”

While the majority of the attendees come from Texas, 27 other states and several faraway countries are represented this year, including Qatar, Nicaragua, South Korea and Taiwan. To date, the institute has trained more than 50,000 educators and students from all 50 states and 53 countries.

AP courses allow high school students to earn college credit. With AP courses becoming increasingly popular in high schools around the globe, the demand for AP-trained teachers is also increasing, Gigliotti-Labay said. Because of that, Rice has taken action and expanded the offerings of the summer institute, making it one of the largest in the country, with four-day courses in English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, social studies, art and music.

Joseph Carmichael, an AP U.S. history teacher at Cypress Springs High School, has attended the APSI six times. He said the institute courses provide real growth in his area of study. “In the end, the ultimate goal is if we’re growing academically, it’s going to benefit our students,” Carmichael said. “It allows us to connect with our students and teach them the things they need to be successful.”

Courses are led by experienced College Board-endorsed consultants from around the country who have a broad range of knowledge and proven ability presenting to their peers. Rice also taps esteemed local professors to lead advanced-topic academies for veteran teachers who seek deeper content knowledge.

Waltrip High School’s Kirstie Barbee, an AP teacher of U.S. history, attended an AP U.S. history academy course session focusing on Indian removal and slavery and their connection to other historical events. She said the session, led by Rice Associate Professor of History Fay Yarbrough, provided inspiration for her teaching. “I can take political cartoons shown in the course as a springboard for a discussion about what it meant to be an abolitionist,” Barbee said. She credits the institute for helping her earn her master’s degree. “It sort of snowballed. I started doing this (the APSI), got involved in other things and through a connection of events was able to get a scholarship to get my master’s.”

Jim Smith, who taught in a public high school in Las Cruces, N.M., for 30 years, has taught AP U.S. history at the Rice APSI 13 times. “I lead APSI’s at several universities, but Rice has long been one of my favorites — a well-run program that takes good care of its AP consultants,” Smith said. “I love working with the people at the Glasscock School and appreciate all the opportunities they have given me to lead AP workshops, serve as the master teacher for the Glasscock School’s Department of Education Teaching American History grant program and create a MOOC (massive open online course) as one of Rice’s Coursera offerings. I also love coming to Rice because I get to work with so many talented and dedicated teachers from the Houston area.”

Gigliotti-Labay said there is a large body of research indicating that students who participate in AP courses at the secondary level are better prepared for college, stay enrolled through their academic career and graduate in higher numbers. For example, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education found that the rigor of high school course work is more important than parent education level, family income and race/ethnicity in predicting whether a student will earn a postsecondary degree.

“We know that when the teachers are coming to Rice and getting this training, they are translating that knowledge back into their classrooms and increasing the level of rigor in their courses,” Gigliotti-Labay said. “We also know from surveys of college admissions counselors that the top two factors affecting college admissions decisions are students’ grades in college preparatory courses and the strength of their high school curriculum. They like to see that students are challenging themselves in the AP classroom.”

For more information about the APSI, visit http://collegeready.rice.edu/ap-summer-institute.

About Jeff Falk