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Our family's experiences with AP Online with PA Homeschoolers-- and with other course providers
Brita Kilgore, 2/1/2010

Editor's Note from Susan Richman: We plan to post articles regularly from parents whose teens have taken part in our extensive AP (Advanced Placement) online courses-- I know that families new to the high school years and to AP will really appreciate this personal look at how these classes operate, and what the benefits can be for both students and parents. So, here is our first parent's look, from Brita Kilgore, who will also be sharing in future articles about some of the excellent math contests and competitions available for students (homeschoolers always welcome!), and more: 

            When I began homeschooling my young sons, I had no trouble finding books, curriculum, and resources for them.  Although I often spent a lot of time searching, I could usually find exactly what I wanted (or at least something easily modifiable).  I was an avid user of catalogs, the internet, and homeschool fairs to preview and locate resources.  As my older son approached the high school years, however, I noticed that the number of resources was dwindling.  I began to worry because his high school courses had to serve the dual purpose of representing him on his college transcript and preparing him for college.  I needed to find material that was both rigorous and interesting that allowed my son to grow as a person and demonstrate his excellence as a student.  Luckily, I didn't have to search to hard to find an excellent choice: the PA Homeschoolers AP Online Classes.

            Many years ago, I had the good fortune to hear Howard Richman speak about the PA Homeschoolers AP Online Classes.  I was intrigued, and I filed away the information until I was searching for quality high school classes.  Several years ago, my son took his first AP Online class, AP European History.  We began with trepidation.  Would the class be too easy?  Would it be too hard?  While we didn't know what to expect, I can say without hesitation that it was one of the best educational experiences of my son's life.  In addition to learning about European History, he learned how to write; how to manage his time; how to prepare for a large, important exam; and how to interact with interesting students from all over the country.  The course was an unqualified success!  Last year he took AP US History, and this year he is taking AP US Government and AP English Language and Composition.  Our experiences with PA Homeschoolers AP Online classes keep getting better and better.

            All of the courses share the following characteristics that I believe lead to their success: teacher dedication, superior course content, and student interaction.  Teacher dedication refers to the amazing amount of time and energy the teachers put into each course.  Each course has been extremely well organized and my son has received detailed and rigorous feedback from his instructors.  Closely related is the superior course content that was chosen by the dedicated teachers.  In an AP course, you must not only cover the material thoroughly, but you also must prepare for the AP test.  You can be an expert in a subject and still not do well on the test if you do not know what to expect.  All of my son's  PA Homeschoolers AP courses, have provided excellent college-level content combined with thorough test preparation.  He has become very knowledgeable on every subject and has also done very well on the AP tests.  Finally, each course has created what Howard Richman refers to as a “community of scholars.”  My son has had the opportunity to interact with bright students from all over the country.  The interactions are both social and academic, and he enjoys this portion of his classes immensely.  All of these forces combine to make PA Homeschoolers AP Online courses truly exceptional academic experiences.

            I realize that I may be describing courses that sound too good to be true, but I feel qualified to sing the praises of  PA Homeschoolers AP courses—my son has participated in other AP courses.  First, I created an AP Calculus course for him.  While math is my passion, it was difficult to create a course.  It took a huge effort to select the proper text and test preparation materials; it was very expensive to buy these materials from the publishers; and it took a lot of time to correct all of his class work and tests.  Also, until I saw his AP score, I spent a lot of time worrying that I had done enough to prepare him adequately.  I am very happy not to have to create another AP course for my son.  The very reasonable prices of the PA Homeschoolers courses are not much more than I spent purchasing all the materials myself (if you think textbooks are expensive, you'll be shocked when you see how much the teacher's materials cost).  In addition to a mom-created AP  course, my son has also taken online courses from two different providers.

              Our first experience with on-line courses was with the Johns Hopkins CTY  (http://www.cty.jhu.edu/) program.  I am a big fan of CTY courses.  My son has taken both writing and science courses.  They are very good, and I highly recommend their non-AP courses.  In comparison, however, CTY courses do not offer the interaction with either the instructor or peers that PA Homeschoolers provide.  I was especially disappointed with the AP test preparation that was provided by my son's AP Chemistry course.  The content of the course was excellent, but it did not offer adequate preparation for the AP test, and my son had to do quite a bit of last minute test preparation on his own.  CTY courses are also rather expensive.  This year, my son is taking AP Physics  C (a course not offered by PA Homeschoolers) through VHS (http://www.govhs.org/website.nsf) .  VHS (Virtual High School) is an organization that specializes in providing online courses to both public and private schools.  It is not feasible for some schools to offer certain courses because they only have a few students who are interested or they don't have a  qualified teacher.  In addition to providing courses for these schools, VHS is very homeschool-friendly.  Their prices are reasonable and they provide the textbook (they mail you the textbook at the beginning of the course and you mail it back at the end of the course).  I've been very pleased with the course, but, again, there has not been in-depth teacher interaction and not much in the way of student interaction.  Even though my son is required to do group work with other students in the class, he finds that the other students barely participate.  I can't comment on AP preparation yet, but, so far, I think my son will have to do some work on his own.

            I believe it is the dedication of the teachers and community of scholars that makes PA Homeschoolers AP courses stand out.  My son's experiences have been incredibly rich.  His instructors have provided the material and feedback to allow him to take his work to a higher level.  His peers have offered support and suggestions for developing new ideas and talents as well as valuing my son's support and suggestions for their ideas and talents.  It is a wonderful combination that I firmly believe is preparing my son for college and life.  He is eagerly anticipating taking more courses next year, his final year of high school.  I know that as we begin to search for a college, we will be looking for a place that will allow my son to continue his passion for learning among a community of scholars in the tradition of PA Homeschoolers AP Online Classes.  


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