SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
An education success story here in Alabama - in the past eight years, advanced placement exam scores for math, science and English have grown more than any other state in this country. And that's thanks to a partnership between the Alabama State Department of Education and a program called A+ College Ready. Its president, Mary Boehm, joins us now. Thanks very much for being with us.
MARY BOEHM: Scott, thank you so much. We are really proud to be number one in something other than football - education achievement.
SIMON: And that's why I want to have a whole separate introduction and, if I may, an ovation for an A+ College Ready superstar, a senior from Leeds High School here in the Birmingham area, Vanessa Layfield. Thanks so much for being with us.
VANESSA LAYFIELD: It's a pleasure to be here.
SIMON: How did this initiative come about, Mary?
LAYFIELD: So in 2008, Alabama received a $13.2 million dollar grant from the National Math and Science Initiative. And A+ College Ready was established as a part of the A+ education partnership. And we really have four missions. One is to encourage and entice schools and districts to step up to higher levels of rigor. The second is everything we can do to support them while they do that for three years.
Third is deep support for teachers. We're really a teacher training and support program. We build curriculum and help them. We have teachers - master teachers that support them. And then fourth, just keep the state government, the national government and others on task with policy and support to keep this work going forward.
SIMON: Vanessa, may I call you Vanessa? What classes - what AP class did you take?
LAYFIELD: Junior year, I took AP U.S. history and AP language and composition. This past year, I took AP literature and composition, AP biology and AP calculus AB.
SIMON: Aced them?
LAYFIELD: I hope so.
BOEHM: She has two 5s already under her belt.
SIMON: Oh, mercy. And you're going - I understand you're going to be going to Auburn in the fall, right?
SIMON: Sorry about that, Bama.
SIMON: Tell us a little about your family.
LAYFIELD: Well, my mom is disabled. And my dad works as a mechanic. I have two sisters - Kate (ph) and Alicia (ph) - and an older brother, Michael (ph).
SIMON: Anybody in your family go to college before?
LAYFIELD: My mom did a few semesters. But she's not really very academic. So she went on to train to be a rescue worker. And that's about it. It's just me.
SIMON: I think you're quite enough.
LAYFIELD: Thank you.
SIMON: I bet they're quite - they're mighty proud of you. Mary, is this an expensive program?
BOEHM: Well, so I want to tell you about Leeds High School, where Vanessa goes to school, and give you a sense of that. We're spending about $85,000 a year for the next three years to support Leeds High School in doing this. This is a school that has a 58 percent free and reduced lunch population - about 35 percent minority, 10 percent Hispanic - kind of mirrors Alabama's demographics. And the things we do are - do cost money. So money matters here.
We - 10 days of training for brand new AP teachers - right? - that have never had this experience. Vanessa's teachers had never taught AP. And yet, they got her to two 5s just last year. So that was very remarkable and, partly, because 10 days of training is important and curricular materials. We had Saturday study sessions for the students. We put equipment in place. We helped pay for exams. So there are things that we do to help make this happen - everything we can to support a school. And, yes, it does cost money.
SIMON: Any anxiety that that money will go away?
BOEHM: Not - in Alabama, we have bipartisan support. The national resources that we have gotten in the past could be at risk, I think.
SIMON: What - Mary, what do you think you've got that a lot of other programs have missed?
BOEHM: So what we got is that when schools and teachers are given the chance to step up to this level of rigor, they do it. We can get this done. So the - the data shows that just - that's the main thing we do is support and help teachers do what they know they can do and students to step up.
Vanessa's English teacher didn't think she could do it. But we helped her. And she got 15 5s. We also gave them some incentives for doing that, by the way, Vanessa and her teachers. So, you know, that's a little controversy. But we feel like it's important to do that.
SIMON: Vanessa, what do you want to do at Auburn? Where do you want to go in life?
LAYFIELD: I'm studying anthropology as my undergraduate. And I hope to study forensic anthropology as, like, a graduate degree.
SIMON: Well, thanks so much for being with Vanessa Layfield and Mary Boehm. Thanks so much.
BOEHM: Thanks, Scott.
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