The Implementation of the AP Capstone Diploma Program at Yorktown

Fiona Shepherd, Sentry Reporter

On Tuesday, November 9, Yorktown administrators will hold a parent information session to discuss the Advanced Placement (AP) Capstone program and its implementation at our school. The AP Capstone program is a pathway to an advanced diploma, and has been offered by College Board, a national nonprofit founded to facilitate access to higher education, since 2014. It is currently in place in more than 2,000 schools across the country. 

Just as College Board designed AP classes to prepare students for specific academic studies beyond high school, the AP Capstone program is meant to equip students with skills they can use in a university and professional setting. 

“[Students were lacking] the ability to do high-level research as well as collaborating in groups, giving presentations in a clear and academic manner and being able to synthesize tons of information and make a cohesive argument. Therefore, College Board decided to come up with the AP Capstone program,” John Stewart, an AP Seminar teacher and the AP Coordinator for Wakefield High School, said. 

This program offers a different approach to learning, with its main focus being two AP courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. These AP classes, taken consecutively over two years in high school, are meant to complement each other in a way that builds important academic skills. Aside from these two courses, students participating in the AP Capstone program are required to take four other AP courses throughout their time in high school. 

“Our students learn various research and presentation skills throughout their courses at Yorktown. We think that adding these AP Capstone courses would provide comprehensive year-long opportunities to practice and strengthen these skills along with collaboration, communication and creative and critical thinking,” Assistant Principal Suzanne Evans said. 

AP Seminar involves dissecting and synthesizing various pieces of information, including primary sources and research papers. Students taking AP Seminar learn to evaluate information accurately and formulate strong arguments based on the information. 

AP Research is taken the following year, and consists of a year-long research project that is created by students and mentored by teachers. Students pick a topic at the beginning of the year, research it extensively and write an academic paper surrounding that topic. 

The AP Capstone program ultimately attempts to teach academic techniques that will provide a solid foundation for college studies, as well as strengthen students’ collaboration, comprehension and research abilities.  

Here at Yorktown, administrators value these skills and hope to provide and strengthen them through the AP Capstone program. Administrators believe that the skills-based AP classes the program emphasizes will better prepare students for life in and after high school. 

The proposed start date for the program is fall of 2022 or fall of 2023, and it would be offered to sophomores and juniors per the current program of studies. Students considering taking the AP Capstone program would have to plan considering schedule space.

“If we add the AP Capstone courses, students will need to plan carefully in terms of all their courses to make sure that they are meeting high school graduation requirements, considering how to balance challenge versus workload in their courses, and choosing what areas of academic study are of most interest to them,” Evans said. 

Yorktown administration intends to best fit the program in with the graduation requirements of students, as well as timelines for the college application process. Being sanctioned by College Board, the AP Capstone program provides significant advantages in college applications. Though College Board is not officially affiliated with universities across the country, hundreds of colleges recognize and acknowledge AP Capstone participants when considering applications. 

Colleges look for rigor and dedication within applicant’s academic careers, and the AP Capstone program certainly provides that. However, the same rigor that makes students attractive to colleges can be detrimental to individual health and well being. 

An example of the impacts of the AP Capstone program is provided at Wakefield High School. The AP Capstone program has been in place at Wakefield for four years, and Wakefield is the only school within the Arlington Public School (APS) system that offers the program. Teachers of both the AP Research and AP Seminar courses have witnessed how the program functions within a school setting and its impact on students. Sean Tracy, an AP Research teacher at Wakefield, attests to the rigor of the program. 

“Research is a very fast-paced course. The pace is something that kind of blindsides people,” Tracy said. 

Many students at our school and in Arlington are no strangers to placing undue stress and pressure on themselves for the sake of college applications and academic competition. This raises the question of whether the AP Capstone program would do more harm than good. 

“There is more stress involved.… reading peer review articles is hard and takes more time for a novice. There are [students] that are stressed,” Dr. Nisha Sensharma, an AP Research teacher at Wakefield, said. 

Furthermore, teachers at Wakefield have witnessed some difficulties with the transition from AP Seminar to AP Research. 

“I do feel that the seminar year could be used a lot better. I think there’s a lot more that could go into the seminar year that could better prepare students for the research year,” Sensharma said. 

“The students coming out of that are not always as prepared for their own independent research study. I think College Board needs to streamline those two a little better,” Tracy said. 

Conversely, Wakefield and other schools across the country have seen  positive results from the AP Capstone program. High school graduates who entered the world of college academia after taking the AP Capstone program attested to an easier transition. 

“We’ve graduated students that are now juniors in college, and when they come back they self-report that some of the things that some of the professors ask them to do in college are much easier to tackle than some of their peers that weren’t exposed to this stuff early on,” Stewart said. 

Though the AP Capstone program and its impacts are appealing to administration, they are looking for the input of Yorktown community members so that the program can best suit our school. On Friday, November 19, a survey will be sent out to Yorktown students, parents and staff members where they will have an opportunity to share their thoughts about the program.