A Look at the Advanced Scholars Program

Graduates from the Class of 2017 sporting their coveted ASP stoles. A stole and a sweatshirt earned senior year are two big motivators that will keep students in the program for four years. Picture Credit to Delaney Griffin.

If you’re a Franklin student who’s not a part of the Advanced Scholars Program, you may have been met with some wide eyes when informing others of this. “Why not?” your friends may ask. It seems ridiculous not to take part in a program where, if you simply take a few AP classes here and there, you get a free sweatshirt your senior year and a nice stole to wear at graduation. This seems like an easy opportunity to take advantage of, but the Advanced Scholars Program (ASP) is meant to be an involved academic program, not a simple resume-booster. While in theory ASP encourages students to challenge themselves academically and see themselves as college-bound individuals, that is not quite how it has worked in reality.

ASP is a program that started at Franklin and has been adopted by other high schools in Portland Public Schools (PPS). It puts participating students into groups and assigns them a staff member who is responsible for being their mentor throughout the school year. These mentors are supposed to guide their mentees on class choice, extracurricular involvement, and goal-setting, while also providing college-readiness help and academic support. According to the Franklin ASP website, “the Franklin Advanced Scholars Program is a nationally recognized and rigorous academic and enrichment colloquium offered to students at Franklin High School.” This implies that students who are in ASP are all hard workers who are up for a challenge. There is an attempt to enforce that: with a minimum GPA requirement of 2.75 and required completion of at least four Advanced Placement (AP) courses before graduation, many students are eligible to participate in ASP.

But are all of these well-meaning goals actually being worked toward in practice? The simple answer is no. The Franklin Advanced Scholars Program has the potential to be helpful to students, but many students do not feel that it has benefitted them. Anna York, the Franklin ASP coordinator said that the program is in place to “help [students] figure out what classes to take, what extracurricular activities would be beneficial, and other steps that they need to take in order to apply to college, get into college, and hopefully pay for it.” This seems like a great idea, however help like this is rarely given in ASP meetings. While the ASP website states that mentorship groups are supposed to meet once a month, it is not rare to find a student who says that their group has only met once or twice the whole year. Many of those meetings are attended by only a small number of the mentees in a group, and many meetings don’t last longer than thirty minutes. Even if that’s not the case for all mentorship groups, how are the students in the groups that only meet for maybe 60 minutes per school year supposed to take anything away from their ASP experience?

The Advanced Scholars Program was initially created to help underrepresented students get on track for college. “I think the original intention was to provide a place for kids who hadn’t taken [AP] courses, or didn’t consider themselves to be college-bound or particularly academic, to have some additional support,” said Sandra Childs, Franklin Librarian, Media Specialist, and ASP mentor. However, according to Childs, many of the students who choose to participate in and benefit from the program are not the ones it was originally intended for. “It’s often the kids who aren’t completely ‘plugged in’ who need more support, but the ones who are proactive, respond to the notes [about meeting dates], and reach out to their mentors are the ones receiving the benefits,” said Childs. Over two-thirds of the students in ASP have at least one parent who completed college, and it is typical that students with college graduate parents are expected by their families to also earn a college degree. Since the majority of students in ASP most likely viewed themselves as college-bound before joining, it may be intimidating for students to join if they don’t view themselves that way or have that expectation for themselves. Even though assisting the self-motivated, high-achieving students at Franklin wasn’t the original goal of the Advanced Scholars program, it is advertised as a program that is helpful and vital to all students. Students who can confidently say that ASP does everything it sets out to do in assisting the student body are far and few between.

Although the Advanced Scholars Program is not perfect, every program has its faults and not any one group or individual is to blame for ASP’s. The program is not as well funded at Franklin as it was when it first began in 2008 because as other PPS high schools adopted the program, the district had to parse out the available funds. In previous years, Franklin ASP was also sponsored by Nike, but has not been in more recent years. As the student body at Franklin continues to grow, so does the Advanced Scholars Program, making it increasingly difficult for mentors to make a connection with all of their mentees while still keeping up with the students in their regular classes. “[Teachers] have already got [a large number] of kids that they’re responsible for and trying to track down,” said Childs. Students can also do their part to make ASP live up to its full potential by taking it more seriously, focusing on the academic resources and support it offers, and making showing up to meetings a priority. All in all, the Franklin Advanced Scholars Program has many fantastic goals that simply aren’t being worked towards for one reason or another, but this means that it has lots of room to improve and grow in the coming years.

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