COTTONWOOD - Mingus Union High School is one of only 388 public school districts in the United States, and one of only six in Arizona, recently honored by the College Board as an AP Achievement District. According to the College Board, placement of Mingus Union on the list comes for significant gains in Advanced Placement access and student performance.
A letter to Superintendent Tim Foist from the College Board Western Regional Office states: "From 2008 to 2010, your district has increased the number of students participating in AP from 56 to 82, while improving the percentage of students earning AP exam scores of 3 or higher, the score typically needed to earn college credit, from 61 percent to 77 percent in 2010."
AP courses enable high school students to pursue college credits that will transfer anywhere. The College Board oversees the AP program at the high school level.
Mingus offers six AP courses: AP calculus, taught by Craig Mai; AP U.S. History, by Robert Barnes; AP language, by Alyssa Majewski; AP literature, by Laura Logsdon; AP chemistry, by Michael Westcott; and AP studio art, by Tyler Novak.
"This national award is proof that MUHS staff and leadership are dedicated to creating a culture of rigor focused on college readiness," said Foist.
Principal Tamara Addis agrees. "This award validates our teachers' instructional rigor and puts us on the map nationally," she said.
Addis explained that at the end of the AP course, students may elect to take a test for college credit.
"We have a great percentage of students who take the test," said Novak. He said it is an honor to get to work with the best students.
To have a course approved by the College Board for AP credit requires a lot of work by the teachers, who receive no extra pay for teaching AP.
"We have to submit a syllabus," said Mai. He said the development of an AP course takes a great amount of work and preparation.
The students also are challenged and must commit a lot of time and effort to doing well in an AP course. But these are students who welcome the challenge.
"The students are highly involved in leadership and drama and so many other activities," Mai said.
Logsdon said it is a really rewarding experience for the AP teachers to work with these students.
Mai said the other teachers in the AP teachers' departments deserve a lot of credit for the school's AP success because they are preparing the students to handle the work involved in AP.
Novak thinks the teachers get a payoff by working with AP students. He said he has found that teaching AP classes improves his ability to teach all of his students.
The students not only enjoy the challenge of AP courses but also like being able to earn college credit while still in high school.
Senior Megan Martinez said that although math is her favorite subject, she took the AP history class for the college credits. She also took AP calculus.
Chloe Kramer, a senior, has taken AP chemistry, U.S. History and art. "The environment at Mingus supports AP students," she said. "There is no stigma involved with being in AP. It's respected."
Senior Logan Kitchen has taken AP calculus, chemistry and U.S. History. He said that regular chemistry wasn't that hard for him, but AP chemistry is a significant challenge.
Former Mingus AP student Danielle Bonfig is now enrolled at the Clarkdale campus of Yavapai College. She said the AP classes in high school have helped her greatly in college.
"By taking the AP classes at Mingus, I was trained early on in critical thinking and time management," Danielle said. She said the AP courses have helped her to analyze material, form arguments, and articulate those arguments. "I can honestly say that the essay writing skills I obtained from my AP classes have, for lack of a better phrase, saved my butt on multiple occasions."
There are other benefits to AP courses that mean a lot to Danielle.
"As for the actual AP credits I earned, they have allowed me to speed through my courses at the college," Danielle said. "Because of my credits from AP history, I was able to skip two courses (History 131 and 132) which saved me about $220."
Danielle said that her AP literature credits at Mingus have allowed her to take courses she otherwise wouldn't have been able to take as early in college. "As a result, I'm closer to obtaining my associate's degree and moving on to a university than if I had not taken my three AP courses."
But there seems to be something more than college credits to this AP thing, something intangible. Sitting and talking with these AP students and their teachers one soon realizes there is a bond between them.
Logsdon explained that the students work together frequently and often help each other. "I encourage them to work together," she said.
"It's a group effort," Chloe said.
Novak said it is more than a group effort. "It's a family," he said, "even for the instructors."