Something to celebrate

Juneau-Douglas High School holds first Academic Achievement Celebration

Posted: Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The more than 400 Juneau-Douglas High School students invited to the schools inaugural Academic Achievement Celebration Tuesday evening are all high achievers. But event speaker and Alaska Commissioner of the Department of Education and Early Development Larry LeDoux had a question for them.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"What grade would you give yourself if you were grading yourself?" he asked. "Do you follow your curiosity? Do you go beyond what is expected of you? ... Step out into the unknown."

"We want to encourage students to believe in themselves, that they can be academically successful, that they are capable and that they're on the right path," said JDHS Principal Jim Kuhlmann.

The students at the event are Advanced Placement (AP) students, students who made the honor roll last semester (with a grade-point average of 3.5 or above) or who were deemed AP potential, whether through their preliminary SAT scores or a teacher nomination.

Out of 910 JDHS students, 120 take AP classes and 280 made the honor roll last semester.

The event also honored the arts and showcased students talent in theater and visual art.

Parent group member and organizer Larri Spengler said the event was intended to advertise all the advanced academic opportunities available for all different kinds of intelligence.

JDHS Guidance Counselor Frank Coenraad said the school has held events for honor roll students before, but at irregular intervals. Tuesday's event is intended to be the first of many, held annually after the fall semester.

This is our first attempt to really bring people together and showcase our kids, Coenraad said.

"I have a message for you," said Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich. "We need you. We need you to do everything you can to learn as much as you can and to apply that learning."

Students at the event had a clear interest in learning and some had suggestions for the event and for honors programs in general.

"I don't see a very clear future of what they're doing with it," said sophomore and honor roll student Evan Gross. "I would like to see more classes offered."

Of particular concern to Gross, who is interested in the sciences, is that AP Chemistry, offered in the past, isn't offered this year.

Kuhlmann said, however, that as long as the school manages to get an AP Chemistry teacher, Chemistry and potentially even more AP classes will be offered in the coming school year.

Student input is a huge part of this, he said.

This is not based on what the teachers want. This is based on what the kids want, he said.

JDHS offers eight AP classes this year, counting Calculus, which comes in two sections, as one.

Kuhlmann said the next year's AP classes are determined each February and March by a combination of student input and the school's budget. The School Board is currently in budget meetings.

Gross' mother, parent group member Monica Gross, emphasized that the event is an optimistic event intended both to identify and recruit potential AP students, and to support AP programs in general.

I think its a good idea, said sophomore Sid Browning of the celebration, who was identified as having AP potential for her high GPA and teacher recommendation.

Senior Dawson Walker said he sees the school staffs effort to involve AP classes in school events. Walker, a student of AP studio art and English, had classmates with art on display.

"I would like to see more of that," he said. "Sharing what students have done is a better way of honoring them, celebrating and honoring students' actual work."

Sophomore Devon Searles, a student of advanced World Literature and World History, said "I think it's pretty cool they're recognizing students that put their brains to the test."

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at or 523-2276.

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