Past the Classroom, Are AP Classes Teaching Life Skills?

Upcoming sophomores, juniors, and seniors that want a challenge can apply for Advanced Placement classes next year. These classes, with varying degrees of difficulty, have students immersed in a plethora of content. But how much of this content is really teaching students valuable life skills that can be useful outside of the classroom? Before that can be answered, it must first be understood what an AP class exactly is.

“AP stands for Advanced Placement and these are courses provided to us by the College Board,” AP Environmental Science teacher Miss Passarella said. “The idea is that you’re getting college level curriculum and then you are able to get college credit if you’re able to score high enough on their exam in May.”

With this college level caliber, it’s evident that more content is packed into these courses.

“In content because it is college level, meaning that compared to the high school courses, we go more in depth into topics,” Miss Passarella said. “Where in Earth Science you may learn about wind, in AP Environmental Science, we learn why winds exist, how they exist, where they exist, and what happens with the winds.”

However, with all this content, are students utilizing it outside of class? Senior Yongton Chen states he hasn’t throughout his high school years.

“I have hardly applied any AP knowledge in my personal life,” Chen stated. “Two APs that I would argue to be useful would be AP World History and AP US History. Those two APs helped me understand history a little more and provided me context when I visited a museum or a historical monument.”

When 42 students were asked, 28 said that AP classes do not teach them valuable life skills. However, sophomore Alexi Woo, who takes both AP World History: Modern and AP Seminar, says otherwise.

“Some concepts in AP Seminar, we learned how to research about different problems or situations that are occurring in the world right now and we get to learn about these problems and we try to find a solution to them,” Woo said. “And by us doing that, we’re more aware of what’s happening in the world and what’s currently going on so we know how to be more cautious.”

Miss Passarella agrees, with similar circumstances in her AP Environmental Science class.

“I think especially in today’s climate, no pun intended, we are seeing a climate crisis and environmental problems happening right before our eyes and especially your generation of students is seeing this happening and is not okay with it and wants to take a stand,” Miss Passarella said. “I think the concepts from my class absolutely correlate to daily life and we learn things of course on the global scale, but we also learn things on the local scale.” 

In AP Environmental Science, the math in the course is related to financing such as finding out how much money one can save by buying an ENERGY STAR machine, according to Miss Passarella. Woo agrees with her. 

“When you’re older and you’re trying to hassle with different activities as well as your work life then I think you could be prepared with that balance,” Woo said.

However, teachers play a role in the AP experience. Woo states that her AP Seminar teacher provides “reality checks” and focuses on student independence. Miss Passarella makes sure her students experience that as well.

“It’s less of the constant assistance from the teacher and more of, ‘I’m giving you the lab, you have to design the experiment, you have to perform the experiment, and you have to draw your conclusions,’ instead of, ‘Here is your lab, let me tell you how to do it every step,’” Miss Passarella said.

However, even as a teacher, Miss Passarella takes inspiration from her AP teachers from her high school years.

“My AP teachers in high school were some of the best teachers I’ve ever had in my whole life and so I try to emulate them as a teacher because they were so knowledgeable and so informative and so caring,” Miss Passarella said. “I definitely take their teaching styles into my style.”

She mentioned her AP Calculus teacher who would, “go into these dramatic outbursts to really help [the students] connect with something as out there as calculus,” something she takes into her own teaching style. Moreover, AP classes have also influenced students’ work habits. 

I do think that AP classes have helped form better working or studying habits,” senior Camilla Thompson stated. “Previously, I would not look at my notes after taking them until right before a test. With AP classes, I would often review my notes in order to check for understanding and see what I still need to work on. I also would add additional information to my notes after class making me feel more prepared for each test than before I took AP tests.”

Just taking a glimpse at the College Board’s sample syllabus for AP English Language and Composition, the course teaches conventional writing but also opens “opportunities for students to write essays that proceed through multiple stages or drafts, including opportunities for conferring and collaborating with teacher and/or peers.” This is not just in AP English Language and Composition however. 

“[AP Seminar] really teaches people how to work with a team and how to be more open to stuff that people point out,” Woo said. “If someone says , ‘Oh, I don’t believe that this is entirely correct,’ then you have to be more open to criticism because in the end the teacher is not the one giving you the advice, it’s more your peers so you have to learn to be more open to criticism and how to work with a team.”

It can be concluded that AP classes do provide some form of valuable life lessons. On the other hand, some students may miss them and get tangled in the work.

“When you’re the student sitting in the chair, it sometimes hard to make those correlations to your daily life when you’re so worried about that AP test or that quiz coming up,” Miss Passarella said. “It’s hard to see the bigger picture. So I definitely understand that and I think it’s important for teachers to remind students as they are learning the curriculum, the real life application of it all and I try to do that in my class.”