By Glorianna Nichols.

   Thanks to the students from last year’s AP Seminar class, the Capstone course recorded a 100% pass rate for the first time in school history.

“We typically have a high pass rate, but we’ve always been just short of that 100%,” James McGee, teacher who introduced the Capstone program to Abilene High and AISD, said. “So, whenever I saw that we had finally hit that 100%, I was excited. We just followed the rubric really, really well and the students did a great job of focusing on their writing skills.”

College Board, a non-profit organization seeking to expand access to higher education, created the Capstone Program in 2014 because students were arriving to various universities without deep research abilities and writing skills. The program lasts for 2 years and contains AP Seminar and AP Research. The AP Seminar course prepares students for AP Research by teaching students how to investigate and write essays on a college level.

“This class is definitely the most helpful class that I’ve taken at Abilene High,” Alan Mercer, a senior who completed the AP Seminar course last year, said. “Mr. McGee teaches us how to use our skills and we have so much practice. We’re constantly writing and we’re constantly learning and putting these skills to use so that way we don’t lose them.”

Mercer is currently taking AP Research, where students use their knowledge from the previous course to write a 4,000-word essay about a certain topic. They work on the essay for the entire year.

 “I’m writing about how COVID-19 affected high schoolers’ decisions to choose jobs over postgraduate education, or college,” Mercer said. “College enrollment is at a decline, but employment rates are at an incline, so there’s a gap there that doesn’t make much sense. I’m wondering how COVID-19, since that’s a big reason for both of those things, is affecting that factor.”

Mercer said that Capstone helped him “tremendously” with his writing and not just in his English classes.

 “Sometimes when I’m in physics, we have to write a conclusion that needs to be a paragraph long,” Mercer said. “So, this class helps me with phrasing.”

Even though Mercer participates in Concert Choir, another choir class called Pure Gold, and after school practice for his golf team, he’s able to get his coursework finished.

“This class is not over-burdening,” Mercer said. “Sometimes, there would be quite a bit of homework, but it’s like that for every class.”

Senior Victoria Gao completed AP Seminar and currently takes AP Research. She believes that the Capstone program is important because it “fills their gaps in knowledge,” and teaches skills that are needed for college.

“You have to write research essays that are more independent, and the format is the same as what you have to do in college,” Gao said. “This course really teaches you to evaluate current research, bias, and legitimacy. I’ve already gotten a lot of college skills out of this course just from writing papers and doing presentations.”

The Capstone classes contain a small number of students, but Gao thinks that since there are fewer students, McGee is able to give each student enough attention in helping them decide their research topic.

 “Mr. McGee always says that we start out with a topic, and we can expand it or narrow it down as we go on,” Gao said. “Right now, my topic is how current culture affects the approach to environmentalism, but that’s just the rough draft.”

Gao and Mercer both had similar things to say about their teacher.

 “He’s definitely the best teacher I’ve ever had,” Mercer said. “He jokes with us, he’s funny, and he knows exactly what he’s talking about. He helps us in any way that we need.”

McGee recognizes that Capstone has a reputation for being a “difficult course”, but he believes that students shouldn’t be discouraged from taking the classes.

 “There is some difficulty with it, but we have our fun as well,” McGee said. “I think it’s useful because not only is it a college preparation course, but it also prepares students for every other discipline. It really doesn’t fall neatly into anything specific, so it’s a course that applies to every course.”