NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – An eavesdropper at Northbridge High School on Saturday would have been surprised to hear the subject matter being discussed.
The visitor would have heard students in one class being asked to find the "square root of the variance'' in a lesson on biology statistics and graph making.
In another class they would have learned that answering "temperature" as one of six things that affect a plant's transpiration rate would be marked as incorrect in a college-level test. In advance placement testing, very specific answers are required, students were told. The correct answer would be "high temperature.''
The students, more than 200 from four Blackstone Valley high schools, are taking advance placement classes at their respective schools, and over the weekend they took on the topic of cellular respiration and statistics in biology, equilibria and kinetics in chemistry, and quantitative and field work in environmental science.
Northbridge, Douglas, Uxbridge and Bellingham high schools are among 53 Massachusetts public schools participating in the Mass Math + Science Initiative through the Mass Insight Initiative.
Northbridge is in the second of a three-year grant from MMSI, and this year 194 students are enrolled in English, science and math advance placement classes. The hope is to continue the program in some fashion when the grant expires, said NHS guidance counselor Aaron Katz.
The initiative encourages all students, not just those with better-than-average grades, to take advance placement classes in math, science and English.
That’s where jobs of the future lie, and the goal of the initiative is to interest as many students as possible in those fields.
The courses challenge students in the short-term and also prepare them for the rigors of acquiring a college education. In addition, students who achieve a passing grade earn $100 through the initiative.
Students are given the same tests at the same time as college students, John Smolenski, enrolling director for MMSI, explained at a meeting last year in Northbridge.
At that meeting, Northbridge students received $8,200 in rewards for their test performance in the first year of the program.
NHS Principal Michael Gauthier said some students take just one AP class, others two or three. Each English, science and math course includes three Saturday tutoring sessions, so students commit a significant amount of their free time to the endeavor.
Gauthier noted that prior to the MMSI grant, 59 students took advance placement courses. That number jumped to 156 last year and 194 this year.
In a report to the Northbridge School Committee last spring, Smolenski said the interest and performance of the students in the program was "remarkable.''
A 2011 MMSI report in Northbridge is attached.