Sophomores Meet the Challenge of AP Capstone

Sophomores Meet the Challenge of AP Capstone

The 2018-2019 school year featured the debut of a rigorous, challenging new program for the high school’s students. A total of 31 sophomores are enrolled in AP Seminar, taught by ENL/ELA teacher Joe Buscarino. The course is part of the College Board’s vaunted AP Capstone program, which serves as excellent project-based learning, helping students prepare for a college environment where they will be working not just by themselves, but with a group or team trying to solve a problem.

“As a district, we are always looking to expose our students to opportunities to get college ready,” said Jeanne Kozlowsky, district administrator for secondary curriculum and instruction. “When AP Capstone became available, we came together as an administrative team to look at it and thought it would be a wonderful option for our high school students. We are developing a college-level course for high schoolers that will prepare them in research and methods of identifying proper sources and arguing based on different economic, political or cultural interpretive lenses.”

“It’s really a great chance for those students who want to challenge themselves, to surpass what they think their limits might be and push the envelope a bit,” said Michelle Kwon, the district’s curriculum associate for ELA, reading and library. “It’s also important that as a district, we support the fact that on college applications, AP Capstone is now a check-off box, so we wanted to give our students the ability to list it.”

Deer Park made the decision to offer Seminar to 10th graders on the honors track, through the English department, as the first section of the AP Capstone program. In the fall of 2019, the school will offer the second Capstone segment, AP Research, to juniors and seniors through the science department.

“I’m glad we decided to offer Seminar to sophomores, because it enables them to use those research skills throughout all content areas and gives them time in high school to practice those skills before college,” Kwon said.

Buscarino’s Seminar curriculum analyzes and interprets nonfiction and fiction sources; utilizing T.S. Eliot's "Notes Toward the Definition of Culture", the class explores different cultural views of the individual, the group or class, and then the larger society as a whole. The literature corresponds to this organization and reviews different interpretive lenses to expound and elicit knowledge from the students. In order to develop the course,

Buscarino and Kwon attended a mandatory seminar in Maryland last summer, undergoing extensive training for five days.

“They really gave us the tools to create this course, which isn’t typically set in stone – the teacher develops what they need as far as curriculum goes,” Buscarino said. “They gave us 75 or 76 different skills that need to be taught during the course, and however you get to those skills is up to you.”

“It’s not a traditional classroom setting with a teacher up at the board,” Kozlowsky explained. “The students decide what issues that they are passionate about and really want to learn more about. Every time you pass by Mr. Buscarino’s classroom, you see his students working collaboratively, and assessing some challenging topics and real-world issues.”

“The students are very proud that they’re in the class,” Kwon said. “They always say that their brain hurts when they come out of class, but in a good way. It’s an environment that’s supportive but challenging at the same time. There’s a formula to the course, but because of student choice, there’s also a lot of flexibility. In this class, the skills are a priority, so how the students want to use and apply and manipulate those skills is based on student interest. It’s an interesting challenge even for the teacher, because there are moments when they can only give so much support, and it’s up to the students to support and critique each other.” 

Buscarino has proven up to the challenge, and continues to hone his vision for the course by collaborating and sharing ideas with a network of other Capstone teachers from around Long Island, as well as with teachers and administrators from all over the country and world.

One major difference between AP Seminar and typical AP courses is that Seminar does not feature just one final exam. Parts of the exam are completed throughout the school year, including a group assignment and presentation, an individual research and essay, and an individual presentation with oral defense. The final portion is just a percentage, affirming the course’s representation of the idea of process and multiple ways of assessing students.

“It’s challenging in that you really have to get the students prepared much earlier than in a traditional AP class, but it really is more than just taking a test,” Kwon said. “It is a truer test of mastery of skill.”

“If I had to rename this course, I’d call it Research 101, just because it’s really taking a look at finding your own sources and then developing or synthesizing ideas based on those sources,” Buscarino said. “It’s critical thinking.”