Equal Opportunity Schools program increases Prince William student access to advanced coursework

This article was published on InsideNova on March 29, 2024.

By Emily Seymour

The Equal Opportunity Schools and Prince William County Public Schools partnership has proven itself successful at increasing high school students’ access to advanced coursework, according to a news release from the school division.

The partnership is designed to increase all students’ access and opportunity to participate in rigorous academic environments such as Advanced International Certificate of Education, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge courses.

“In Fall 2022, EOS began working with 11 of the 13 PWCS high schools. In grades 10-11, 6,364 students were identified and placed on the outreach list for advanced courses. As a result, 3,581 students registered for at least one AICE, AP or IB course for Fall 2023, achieving an overall 9% increase in the participation rate change, a full 5 percentage points higher than the set target goal of 4%,” Charmelle Ackins, acting chief equity officer for the school division, said in the release.

The program is open to all Prince William County students, with a particular interest in targeting underrepresented students.

This school year, the partnership was expanded to include all 13 high schools.

The high schools conducted surveys to evaluate student participation in advanced courses and measure their sense of inclusion with these classes. The survey also included questions to identify potential barriers to enrollment in advanced courses, such as availability of peer support, study partnerships and previous invitations to enroll in such courses.

From the survey responses, the Equal Opportunity Schools program generated insight cards to uncover students’ college and career aspirations, concerns and fears regarding taking advanced courses, identified trusted adults at the school and more.

The insight cards are meant to help educators better provide the resources students need to be successful.

Students were also asked to name at least one adult at the school they trust and/or can go to for study support. The trusted adult in the program is an adult in the building the student is comfortable talking to and who is familiar with the student’s profile from their survey responses.

The ‘adult builds a relationship and has conversations with the student to explore what advanced courses interest them and what they will consider registering for in the upcoming school year. Once enrolled in an advanced course, that adult continues to have conversations with the student to help them grow and mature.

“We will continue to follow the students throughout the year, because it’s not just enrolling them for advanced courses, but making sure they stay successful within the programs,” said Jessica Doiron, coordinator of specialty programs and advanced academics at Freedom High School.

Each school has an Equal Opportunity Schools partnership representative who helps schools track student success. Once students identified through the programs outreach list enroll in advanced courses, the data analysis and academic support models are implemented to ensure students succeed.

“Taking advanced classes in your field of interest helps you get an understanding of what you can expect in the future and, as I see it, it is a chance to know if this is the field you want to pursue in life,” said Betsabe Cravioto Ambriz, a junior at Freedom High School, of the opportunity the program presents to take advanced courses.

In response to survey findings, the high schools are implementing innovative solutions to address identified barriers.

For example, with about 28% of C.D. Hylton High School students needing more course information, co-site leads Christy Genova and Christine Terenchin are planning outreach events to inform students and parents about available courses.

Katherine Hodgson, International Baccalaureate and specialty programs coordinator at Unity Reed High School, said that she found a prevalent, but invisible, barrier is the expectation or assumption that students have the self-advocacy skills needed to enroll in advanced courses or seek out help.

“Instead of relying on students to demonstrate this self-management upfront, we see it as an important skill to build within our classrooms,” Hodgson said.

The partnership will last through the 2026-27 school year, according to Ackins.

“Once the partnership concludes, schools will be equipped with the tools and resources to sustain supporting all students with access to rigorous courses and reaching their maximum potential,” Ackins said.

Read the article on InsideNova here.