Third annual AP Palooza concert raises funds for North County High exams

Palooza pic of the CHS SingerSongwriters Guild. Photo by mcneelyStudents from North Monterey County High School and the Carmel High School Singer-Songwriters’ Guild came together in harmony the night of March 1 to put on the third annual AP Palooza, a benefit concert to raise money for NMC students required to pay for their own AP tests.

Musicians, dancers and comedians from NMC took the stage to support the program and, more importantly, to support their own education. This year, the event raised more than $8,000 and was a success.

CHS musicians have been involved with the event since 2011, and this year, the concert featured performance by the Singer-Songwriters’ band and a duet consisting of seniors Jared Liebmiller and Justin DePalatis.

“AP Palooza is a really great opportunity to help out a less financially fortunate district,” says DePalatis, who played cello in the show. “In Carmel, we have the funds to pay for big multi-million dollar theaters and AP tests for everyone, but I can forget that most other districts don’t have those resources. It’s also a lot of fun.”

Last year, CHS paid for 370 students to take 710 AP exams, a cost totaling upwards of $50,000, according to the counseling department. At NMC, however, students are required to pay for their own AP tests, rather than having their school cover the cost.

Shawn Parker, the creator and coordinator of the event, has taught at NMC for the past 21 years, and currently teaches two of the nine AP social studies classes offered, in addition to the mainstream versions of these classes.

“I remember the exact moment the idea came up,” Parker says. “I was talking with [CHS math teacher] Mike Deckelmann about the plight of our school and how many hurdles it takes to go from Castroville to being a good student to taking AP classes to getting into the college of your choice. It just seemed like this was one hurdle we could take down. We can’t do everything to make life better for everyone, but this is one thing that we can do.”

The NMC district has been identified as a “program improvement” district for the past eight years. Nevertheless, seven of the nine AP classes at NMC repeatedly exceed national averages for AP scores.

“We AP folk are very proud of this,” Parker says.

According to Parker, the first AP Palooza in 2011 raised about $6,000 and enabled 35 students to take 79 tests, and in 2012 it raised $9,000, paying for 69 students taking 141 tests. The event has been able to help everyone who has applied for the Whitney Grummon Scholarship, named after Parker’s CHS English teacher wife.

“In the past two years that we have done it, I have gotten full scholarships for all my tests,” says NMC senior Megan Hayes, who is currently enrolled in four AP classes.

NMC senior Jason Braegger also notes the program’s success.

“I’ve been involved in AP Palooza all three years, and I think it’s fantastic,” he says. “A lot of kids just can’t pay for the test. They cost $87 each. That’s a lot of money for some of these kids. Three or four tests could be the cost of meals for a month.”

The students aren’t the only ones benefitting from the program. Susan Fitch, an AP Palooza volunteer and mother of a NMC senior, explains that the program has raised enough money for all of her son’s AP tests thus far and hopes that it will cover the cost of his four tests this year.

“The interaction between the students is absolutely wonderful,” Fitch says.

When Parker started the program, he had three goals: to raise money for the test, to create a music scene at NMC by providing a space for bands to practice in that they otherwise would not have and to have fun night.

“And it’s really worked out that way,” Parker says. “Every year I do less and the kids do more. We also have such generous donators, and I’m very grateful.”

“My goal this year was just to have fun,” adds Deckelmann, who taught with Parker at NMC before transferring to CHS. “There is no point in playing music if you’re not having fun.”

Parker attributes much of the program’s personality and success to Deckelmann.

“Without Mike Deckelmann, this AP Palooza thing would not work,” Parker says.

The experience has CHS students involved a chance to experience the culture and lifestyle of another high school.

“Participating in AP Palooza has given me perspective in that I now understand better that Carmel students are especially privileged to go to a school that can do more than just provide a quality education,” DePalatis says. “I’m grateful.”

-MOLLY McNEELY