Almost 14 years ago, I started going on bicycle rides with my dad. While we tried out a few different places and bike rides, in the end, we decided the Hope Ride in Hope, Indiana, would be our father-daughter tradition.

So, for one Saturday out of the year, for the past 14 years (exempting two -- one for a thunderstorm and the other because the ocean got in the way of me being in the U.S.), I spent some time at Hauser Jr. Sr. High School and rode my bike through the streets of Hope. Even though this small town is an hour and a half away from my stomping grounds along the Ohio River, it was placed in my pathway before I started teaching here. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say… everything happens for a reason.

When I started teaching at Hauser last year, I had just returned from a year-long postgraduate program at King’s College London. I was still wrapping up the loose ends of my thesis, trying to make my apartment look a little more home-like, juggling the daunting task of teaching four different classes (three of which I had never taught before), and trying to phase out words like “cheeky” and “cheers” from my vocabulary. Stephanie Tom, the AP U.S. history (APUSH) teacher, asked me if I would have any interest in attending the Advanced Placement (AP) Retreat that she had planned for Hauser APUSH students.

All of the students enrolled in my AP Literature and Composition course were simultaneously enrolled in APUSH. I tentatively said, “Yes…” That was the start of it. And, so, “I went out into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (Thoreau).

No, not really, I went out into the woods of Trafalgar, Indiana (the FFA Youth Leadership Cabin), to try and set rigorous academic expectations for students attending the AP Retreat, to learn more about this high-achieving group of students, and to develop cross-curricular and interdisciplinary pedagogical approaches. At the time, I didn’t know that I was about to embark on an awesome journey with Hauser faculty and students.

Hauser Jr. Sr. High School is an anomaly in a lot of ways. We have a phenomenal group of teachers who truly go above and beyond (underscore, boldface, italicize) for our students. We have an administrative team and school board that continuously supports teachers and our visions for our students. Most importantly, we have a truly remarkable group of students. In response to the increased number of AP courses at Hauser in the 2018-2019 academic year, Stephanie Tom originally had the idea for an AP Retreat to really break down barriers between highly competitive and academically inclined students.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, Hauser Jr. Sr. High School went from offering one course (taught as a regular course but with an opportunity to sit for the AP exam in physics) to offering six AP courses for our students -- AP world history taught by Erin Brown; AP U.S. history taught by Stephanie Tom; AP literature & composition and AP language & composition taught by yours truly; AP studio art taught by Elizabeth Sexton, and AP physics taught by Brent Strong. This year, AP computer science (taught by Deb Gaff) was added as a course option.

For anyone who is not familiar with AP courses and their significance, AP courses (through College Board) are college-level courses taught to high school students. Students can potentially earn transferable college credit while in high school through their performance on an examination in May each year. Students with scores of 3, 4, or 5 receive transferable college credit to most universities.

AP courses and exams are notoriously challenging and time-consuming. While Hauser teachers are still building, strengthening, and perfecting our AP program, we think this is a great opportunity for our students to specialize, focus on a subject area of interest, grow and challenge themselves as scholars, and prepare for the rigor of university studies. It takes roughly three years to establish an AP course to its full potential. However, even in our first year within the humanities, we maintained (or exceeded) averages at the state level.

For example:

  • AP U.S. history -- The Indiana average score on the exam was a 2.39 (out of 5). Hauser students scored an average of 2.60. While only 53.7% of Indiana students passed the exam, 60% of Hauser students passed the exam.
  • AP literature & composition -- The Indiana average score on the exam was a 2.51 (out of 5). Hauser's cohort scored a group average of 2.55. 45.5% of Hauser's students passed this exam, while 44.9% of Indiana students passed the exam.
  • AP language & composition -- The Indiana average score on the exam was a 2.60 (out of 5). Hauser's cohort scored a group average of 2.25 (lower than the state's average). Nevertheless, the pass rate for Indiana students was 47.7%, while half (50%) of Hauser students passed the exam.

As we planned the AP Retreat this year and last year, we focused in on three target areas:

(1) scaffolding academic edge and preparing for the academic rigor of AP courses

(2) creating a space for effective team-building and team-bonding situations;

(3) offering strategies and techniques for stress management.

Kelli Hoeflinger, the Hauser Guidance Counselor, led team-building activities and taught students how to cope with intense workloads and stressful situations. Stephanie Tom helped students organize thesis statements using the Irish thesis model and worked on leading students in the synthesis of information to write a strong and effective document-based analysis. I helped students with close-reading skills (and annotation techniques) and multiple-choice test-taking strategies. 

The AP Retreat is just one example of the ways Hauser Jr. Sr. High School stands out. In a society that is quickly revolutionizing pedagogical approaches as well as expectations for students and teachers alike, the AP Retreat and the dedication of students and faculty to create such opportunities for students exemplifies our commitment to excellence.