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Cottonwood Heights Journal

First AP Capstone students at Brighton expected to graduate this spring

Nov 21, 2019 05:37PM ● By Julie Slama

Brighton Bengals can enter the AP Capstone program, which challenges and showcases top academic learners. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This spring, 20 Brighton High seniors may have an asterisk next to their names in the commencement program.

These aren’t students who have yet to complete a required course for graduation, but those who are candidates to receive an AP Capstone diploma. They also may be distinguished from their peers with a cord, sash or medal, Principal Tom Sherwood said.

“This is a feather in their hat,” he said. “It’s a high accomplishment where they undertook extra learning and will have a leg up on their peers. We have a tremendous number of students who take a high load of AP courses and this is a way to showcase these top academic learners.”

The AP Capstone diploma program was introduced to Brighton High last fall after a year-long application and approval process at the suggestion of Assistant Principal Matt Shelby. 

Through the AP seminar and research courses, students learn skills in research, analysis, evidence-based arguments, collaboration, writing and presenting, said Jim Hodges, who teaches sophomores AP Seminar along with AP European History. 

Students can earn the AP Capstone diploma when they score a three or higher in AP Seminar and AP Research and on four additional AP exams of their choosing, or they can receive the AP Seminar and Research Certificate when they earn scores of a three or higher in AP Seminar and AP Research, but not on the four additional AP exams.

“The more we looked into AP Capstone, we saw it was a good program and applied to be part of it,” Hodges said. “Last year was our inaugural year for AP Seminar and we opened it up to sophomores and juniors. Now, as seniors, 20 students are taking AP Research in its inaugural year.”

Hodges said that once he learned more about the program, he jumped at the chance to be part of it.

“These students are learning skills that are valuable in preparation for college,” he said. “They become critical thinkers, self-confident, and problem-solvers and they present publicly in front of people. AP Capstone is an excellent preparation for college and is a complement to those students seeking to achieve more, but it isn’t an option for every student. We don’t put any limits on it, but we do let kids know the rigor and stress of the program.”

At Brighton, the AP Seminar course now is open to sophomores, who look at issues from multiple perspectives, identify credible sources, evaluate strengths and weaknesses of arguments and make logical, evidence-based recommendations in a paper and presentation as well as complete a team project. 

Hodges said students investigate a variety of topics through various viewpoints.

“They look at sources — if they’re valuable and how to differentiate those that are from those that aren’t. They look at bias and points of view; they look from outside of a narrow perspective that may represent only an individual or group,” he said.

The paper, presentation, group project and their written end-of-course exam contribute to the overall AP Seminar score. 

The junior year is dedicated to students enrolling in additional AP courses from about 20 offered at the high school, such as human geography, government and politics, biology, chemistry, physics, English language and composition, Chinese, Spanish, French, calculus, statistics, psychology, photography, drawing and American history. 

As seniors, they enroll in AP Research, taught by Jennifer Mattson, who also instructs AP English Literature and Composition.

The AP Research course allows students to come up with a topic, problem or issue and even conduct their own research. Then students will use this material to complete an independent research project. The papers are sent worldwide to other AP Capstone schools for scoring. The AP Research score is based on the paper itself as well as the presentation, which should defend the students’ research findings.

“It’s obviously a lot more than just a big paper,” Hodges said. “Some of the papers I saw students doing are comparable to what I did in grad school.”

Brighton is the only public high school in Salt Lake County that offers the AP Capstone program, Hodges said. 

Juan Diego Catholic High in Draper was the first high school in Utah to offer the AP Capstone program, introducing it in 2016. Fourteen Juan Diego students have received their AP Capstone diplomas in 2018 and 2019, and there are 17 students on track to graduate in the program this school year.