Putting a ‘Cap’ on AP Education

English teachers Reed Buckstead and Carolyn Alvarez lead the nascent AP Capstone course at PHS

Kiana Paulino, Reporter

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AP Capstone is a reasonably new program to the Poinciana High School campus, starting just last year. Poinciana High School English teacher Reed Buckstead was tasked to head up the program alone, teaching AP Seminar. This year, another English teacher, Carolyn Alvarez joined forces with Buckstead to teach the other half – AP Research.
Buckstead was approached by Erica Walters, Assistant Principal of Instruction about the idea of the AP program. After a week or two of evaluating if he should take on the program, he decided it was worth the challenge.
The AP Capstone diploma program was designed to compete with the well-known International Baccalaureate, or IB, program. The AP Capstone program requires you to take 4 other AP classes and pass them with at least a 3 on the AP test. It is a two-year long program, the first year consisting of AP Seminar and the second year of AP Research. Passing both courses with a three or higher, coupled with acquiring all the pre-requisites allows the student to acquire the AP Capstone diploma.
“One of the biggest challenges in teaching this class is to make the course engaging,” Buckstead stated.
AP Seminar is a very independent course. In AP Seminar students complete a team project, presentation, an individual research-based essay and presentation with an oral defense, as well as taking a written end-of-course exam. These components will contribute to the overall AP Seminar score.
Alvarez described it as a “good bookend” because of how the ASCEND program started with last year’s freshmen, which would mean they would then have her as a senior for the AP Research portion. Since the program itself is only about 5 years old, there are of course many challenges to teaching and learning it.
“The beauty of teaching a program so young is that almost nobody knows everything, and we are all still trying to find our way,” Alvarez expressed.
For the AP Research class, Alvarez went to a five-day training at the Advanced Placement Summer Institute. It is five intense days of learning methodology or how to guide the students on how to write their own thesis papers and research papers.
“It is a lot of work for the students, it is a lot of work for me and it is a lot of individualized motivation on their part,” Alvarez acknowledged.
The AP Research “test” consists of students completing a 5,000 to 6,000-word academic paper on a research question that the student has investigated and attempted to answer. The second part is a 15-to 20-minute presentation with an oral defense. There is no end-of-course exam for this part of the program.
Peers in the AP Capstone program are very heavily involved. They are expected to give feedback, constructed criticism and give insight to help guide the student. With this program it is not a competition with other people, it is a competition with yourself.
The most challenging part of AP Research for the students is choosing their research topic. How it works is from starting school in August until November you are focused on choosing a topic, once you have chosen, you must submit your topic to College Board and will not be able to change it.
At the end of these long two years of hard work and dedication, there are many benefits. One being how the diploma stands out during your college application process and develop key academic skills they can use in college and beyond college. The program is a nationwide program that 1,100+ schools are involved with.

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