Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education Awards VHS Learning $8.5 Million Grant to Serve Students Underrepresented in Advanced STEM Courses

VHS Learning

First allocation of five-year grant will fund a minimum of 1,500 Massachusetts students and help them prepare for Advanced Placement STEM courses

Nonprofit VHS Learning has partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA DESE) to create the STEM Advanced Placement Access Expansion Opportunity (SAPAO). A statewide initiative designed to increase Massachusetts students’ participation in advanced coursework, SAPAO will provide select high schools with access to up to seven AP® STEM courses free of charge.

VHS Learning will provide students with enrollment in:

  • AP® Calculus AB
  • AP® Statistics
  • AP® Computer Science Principles
  • AP® Biology
  • AP® Chemistry
  • AP® Physics 1: Algebra-Based
  • AP® Environmental Science

“SAPAO’s goal is to create greater equity in STEM AP® course-taking,” said Carol DeFuria, President & CEO of VHS Learning.“This important initiative will prepare students for postsecondary education and STEM professions vital to the Massachusetts economy. We’re excited to provide a statewide virtual platform that enables students to engage in the coursework at no additional cost to their families, schools or districts.”

The highest priority schools eligible to participate in the first iteration of SAPAO are those that have not had the capacity or resources to offer AP® STEM subjects and which enroll Black, Latino, and/or Economically Disadvantaged students at rates that are above the state average.  Specifically, the new program will serve schools in which low numbers of students engage in AP® STEM courses despite demonstrating appropriate skill levels as measured by their MCAS Math or Science performances. Enrollment will also be provided to schools where fewer than five students in a subgroup participate in AP® STEM coursework. The goal of this partnership is to build a network of schools that can use the statewide virtual platform to drive their long term strategy to increase capacity to offer AP® STEM courses to more students each year.

DESE will allocate at least 1,500 enrollments in VHS Learning’s AP® STEM courses through April 2021.  In May 2021, any remaining seats will be distributed to non-eligible schools by lottery. During the summer, the grant includes VHS Learning teachers to provide academic support and course preparation for participating students. The students will begin full-year Advanced Placement coursework in September.

VHS Learning will also train site coordinators at participating schools to enroll and support students and monitor their progress. In addition, local site coordinators will ensure any course-based accommodations for students are implemented, including coordination with special education staff.

This initiative is funded by a five-year grant of more than $9 million that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received from the U.S. Education Department’s Expanding Access to Well-Rounded Courses Demonstration Grants Program.

“Data from the Student Longitudinal Database System also shows that students who take AP® coursework are more likely to enroll in college,” said DeFuria. “The numbers are significant: 86% of high school students who take at least one AP® course attend college as do 92% of those who take two or more AP® courses. But only 63% of those who do not take an AP® course go to college. And state data shows that there are significant gaps in AP® course-taking between certain racial or ethnic and income subgroups of Massachusetts high school students. SAPAO’s aim is to address those inequities and truly create opportunities for all.”

For more information about SAPAO, visit VHS Learning

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

Current issue of Equity & Access:

Equity & Access - Issue 27

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