AP Human Geography section added to reduce ballooning class size

By: ALEX POLETTI

Carmel Unified School District administration approved funding for a third section of AP Human Geography on Aug. 24, reducing the average section size of the course to below 30 students.

This change occurred unusually late in the school year, with most changes in the academic master calendar taking place before the high school’s Aug. 8 start date.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be making changes that affected student schedules in the third week of school, but it’s certainly better than the fourth week of school,” CHS principal Rick Lopez says.

Lopez credits the change’s necessity to the increase in AP Human Geography’s enrollment; the freshman course has been gaining popularity since its inception four years ago, reaching a total of 64 students last year across two class periods. Averaging 32 students per section, AP Human Geography surpassed the district’s goal of 29 students per class.

The fact that the class is freshman-exclusive also entered into Lopez’s decision to push for a new section. Because of the importance of a ninth grader’s assimilation into the high school system, creating a less overwhelming class size is more of a priority for freshmen than it is for upperclassmen, the principal says.

Although most decisions of this sort are made during the spring of the prior school year, according to Lopez, the flux of enrollment from the 2017 spring term to the start of the 2017-18 school year was cause for concern; over the course of the summer, AP Human Geography sizes ballooned from two sections of 27 to two sections of 33.

Larger class numbers can cause problems for AP teachers, especially when seminar-based learning is integral to the curriculum, as is the case with the freshmen geography class.

“It’s hard to give students individual, personal attention,” AP Human Geography teacher Bill Schrier says of classes over 30 students.

Although a section addition this far into the first semester is rare, changes of this sort are not entirely uncommon, Lopez says.

In order to add a section, a teacher must forgo a prep period, adding an addition .2, or 20 percent workload, to their schedule. A teacher with five classes has a full schedule. With the aforementioned schedule addition, Schrier’s course load increased from a 1.0 to a 1.2, meaning he only has one period off in a day to prep, plan, grade papers and tend to other teaching responsibilities.

Out of the Advanced Placement courses on campus, Geography seemed to be the anomaly in terms of average class size; most courses maintain an average at or below the paradigmatic 29, AP teachers report. This is not to say class size will not be a problem in the future, as increasing enrollment in Carmel schools and a seemingly greater interest in taking AP courses, class averages may again rise above a more ideal number.

“This year between the two visual arts instructors, we have as many students taking AP Studio Art classes as other large AP classes taught in core subject areas,” art teacher Steven Russell says. “The program of visual arts is only getting bigger from the perspective of AP.”

Russell does find himself in an interesting position. His AP Studio Drawing classes share the same periods with his Art 2/3 classes. While enrollment for the APs is capped at 20, there may still be up to 35 students in the period, according to the art teacher.

Lopez says this type of late-August remediation is not likely to be employed by administrators again.