STARKVILLE – From her office in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University physics professor Meg Urry lectured about black holes and the formulas that define them. She explained how the sun is not the center of our galaxy and the best ways to defend earth against an asteroid. Then she answered questions about the physical impossibility of a flat earth and future careers for physics majors.
The full classroom listening along did not consist of Ivy Leaguers or even college students. Instead, 33 high schoolers from seven of Mississippi’s school districts were following along with the world-class astronomer through a video conference.
The students are preparing to take the Advanced Placement Physics I course this upcoming school year. This camp and the AP class are made possible by the Global Teaching Project – a resource that provides access to advanced course work to students from rural school districts. Through the experience, high school students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to AP classes gain confidence in their ability to handle college-level work.
“I expected the material to be really hard because it’s an AP physics camp. AP of course sounded intimidating, but it’s been easier than I thought,” said Tanzi McAllister, a rising senior at Aberdeen High School. “My confidence for the class this fall is most definitely much higher now. If I had just taken the class or just regular physics and not had this camp, I would have felt like I was walking in blind.”
Students are in their second week on the Mississippi State campus. In addition to Urry’s lecture and physics lessons from high school teachers, they learn about study skills and the college admissions process. The Global Teaching Project held a similar camp over spring break at the University of Mississippi.
Once the school year starts, students will continue to take lectures from Urry. In addition, a teacher from their high school will help navigate the curriculum, and tutors who are physics majors at schools like Yale, Stanford and the University of Virginia will be available to help students through concepts.
“This relieves some pressure and doubts I had about going to college,” said Ennis Matthews, a rising senior at Aberdeen High School. “It’s not going to be as difficult as I thought. It will be doable.”
GTP is in its second summer at Mississippi State. Last school year, it increased the number of public schools in Mississippi that offer AP Physics I by 30 percent. In each of the four school districts it reached in its first year, GTP helped students become the first from their high schools to take the AP Physics exam. In most cases, the GTP program is the only AP class offered at the high school.
A 2015 study at the University of New Hampshire found that 47.2 percent of rural school districts in the United States had zero students enrolled in an AP course.
“Our goal is to address the disparity in access to advanced high school courses,” GTP founder Matt Dolan said. “These are smart kids, and with this opportunity we have begun to see these students and their schools embrace and understand the notion of academic rigor.”