When Monica Vega moved from Mexico to Dalton she felt “lost” because she didn’t speak a word of English.
Ten years later, she’s an honor student who speaks English fluently.
“I moved here when I was 7, so I started first grade without knowing how to talk to my teachers,” Vega said. “That first year was really hard. In Mexico, I was making good grades. When I got here, I felt really alone.”
Now, Vega is “very proud” of her academics, “passing” two Advanced Placement (AP) tests in her sophomore year and taking two more AP classes as a junior. AP tests are scored from 1 to 5. Most colleges give credit to students who place a 3 or higher.
“I got 4s on both my exams,” Vega said with a smile. “There aren’t a lot of high schools where I would feel this challenged. Dalton (High) has really pushed me and made me confident about taking these exams.”
Officials with College Board, a nationwide nonprofit organization that manages AP curriculum and testing, seem to agree.
Dalton High School was named one of 424 AP Honors Schools for 2013 by State Superintendent John Barge recently as part of a report from College Board officials. Dalton High was recognized in four of the five categories: AP Merit School, AP STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) School, AP STEM Achievement School and AP Access and Support School.
“It feels good to be recognized because we set those standards and goals,” said Karen Chenard, an AP psychology teacher. “Our hard work pays off. It just shows that we have a system-wide commitment ... that introduces a higher level of achievement before students even get to high school ... Being an AP teacher is like teaching college to high school students and I have the best caliber students of any place I can imagine.”
Senior Cole Calfree is one of those students.
“I took AP psychology last year,” Calfree said. “I took some of these classes because I heard about them ... (some classes) are highly regarded. As a freshman and even in middle school, you hear about these classes. So I had a goal for myself going into high school to try these classes. It looks really good to colleges and it feels good (to pass AP exams).”
Word of mouth is what gets students into AP classes, Chenard said.
“And students who take these classes don’t go to college and become aimless,” she said. “They know what they want and what they don’t want. Even though students who take AP classes don’t all pass, they get the rigor of college ... even if they don’t consider themselves AP kids, to a certain degree you can create a student to be an AP student. Most of it is based on their interest and what draws them to AP classes in the first place.”
What drew junior Leslie Herrera to take AP U.S. History and AP Languages was “the benefit.”
“I don’t think I would have learned as much if I took the easy way,” she said. “It forced me to think about things harder. We go more in-depth. We read more and write more essays, which helps develop our skills.”
Senior Kara Pendley agrees.
“I’m doing dual enrollment at Dalton State College,” she said. “I have those classes in the morning and then come here to class ... I’m taking college classes and those are a piece of cake compared to the classes I’m taking here. That’s how I know it’s the best possible teaching I could have, the best education, and the honor represents that. The teachers here have taught me how to read a textbook and study in a way that works in college. I would not trade it for anything.”
That’s good news to Principal Debbie Freeman, who is retiring in June.
“I’m just so excited to see continuous improvement at the school,” she said. “We always have high goals, but we don’t always reach them. When we do reach them, it causes us to reflect on the work and to set even higher goals. And that’s an ongoing practice for us and our teachers. One I hope continues (after I leave).”
Dalton High School was recognized recently for the following:
• AP Merit Schools: Schools with at least 20 percent of the student population taking AP exams and at least 50 percent of all AP exams earning scores of 3 or higher.
• AP STEM Schools: Schools with students testing in at least two AP math courses and two AP science courses.
• AP STEM Achievement Schools: Schools with students testing in at least two AP math courses and two AP science courses and at least 40 percent of the exam scores on AP math and AP science exams earning scores of 3 or higher.
• AP Access and Support Schools: Schools with at least 30 percent of their AP exams taken by students who identified themselves as African-American and/or Hispanic and 30 percent of all AP exams earning scores of 3 or higher.