By Cary Dingel
“My worms are alive!” says Aiden Powers, a student in Mr. McMorrow’s Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) class at Quincy Junior Senior High School (QJSHS), holding aloft a handful of wriggling worms. Every year, students in APES take on the challenge of creating a Bio Bottle — a closed ecosystem that aims to keep its living occupants alive for a series of days.
After researching different models, students build their biomes out of recycled plastic bottles, choosing configurations they think will be the most successful. Then, they fill the bottles with water, dirt, rocks, plants, and a creature or two — possibly a spider, snail, cricket, or earthworm. The systems are sealed to be air- and water-tight.
A few days later, students take the bottles outside and carefully unseal them, releasing some very strong aromas, to the students’ dismay. Some earthworms are still wriggling, and a fish is determined to be alive. Most plant life survived, although there were a few very brown sludgy experiments as well.
Back in the classroom, the contents of each Bio Bottle are carefully weighed to compare with their original weight taken at the beginning of the experiment. Most students agree that a successful ecosystem is very complex and difficult to keep in balance.
APES is an example of the kind of in-depth learning that takes place in an Advanced Placement Program (AP) class. For over 20 years, students at Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) have had the opportunity to take AP classes in high school with the opportunity to earn college credit, advanced placement, or both — while still in high school. Through AP courses, each culminating in a challenging exam, students learn to think critically, construct solid arguments, and see many sides of an issue — skills that prepare them for college and beyond.
Taking AP courses opens doors for students both academically and personally. Successfully completing AP exams gives students the chance to start college with some class credits, so they are ahead and able to finish their degree earlier or take more classes that may contribute to a minor or a double major, both of which can have long term positive effects on earning power.
AP courses can expose students to subjects they may not have considered. Just taking AP Computer Science Principles in tenth grade can change the trajectory of a student’s career path, as they are three times more likely to major in computer science in college. Former students of Mr. McMorrow’s APES class have gone on to establish rewarding careers in the environmental field. Graduates of Mr. Womack’s AP math classes at Portola Jr/Sr High School are currently working in engineering and computer science.