While it may not be as headline-grabbing as the Mustangs’ athletic successes, the academic programs at St. Rita High School are every bit as worthy of a top-billing. In recent years St. Rita has added significant electives, expanded its Advanced Placement (AP) program offerings, and taken a more comprehensive approach to ensuring the success of all students—and current Ritamen and graduates are reaping the rewards.
At St. Rita, we realize that in academics, one size does not fit all. When a student enters St. Rita as a freshman, he is placed into a course of studies that is designed specifically with his needs in mind. The Admissions and Placement Team considers carefully the entrance test scores in Reading, English, Math, Science and Writing, but we also look at several other factors in deciding which classes a freshman will take: 7th grade test scores, 7th and 8th grade grades, recommendations of grade school principals and teachers, and parental input.
By taking all these factors into consideration, we are able to be responsive to the needs of the individual student. That way the student who is strong in one or two subjects but struggles in another one can be placed according to his strengths. He can take some honors courses but is not forced into all honors. His performance in the classroom each year then determines which honors and AP courses he can take the following year, and which should be non-honors college prep courses.
For example, let’s take a look at one of our current sophomores (Class of 2015, name withheld), who had struggled in a South Side Catholic grade school with reading and math. His teachers there indicated that he wanted to be successful but wasn’t sure how to do that, so he was placed into an algebra class that met twice a day. He has learned how to be a math student, gone to tutoring before and after school as needed, earned
a B and an A for his semester grades in Algebra, and has a B+/A- average in his freshman year for all his classes. He is a real example of how correct placement, extra care and help and hard work combine to create a success story that is repeated over and over at St. Rita. If he continues on this trajectory, he will qualify for honors and AP courses in his junior and senior years.
Sometimes a student with extraordinarily high test scores and seemingly limitless potential finds that the adjustment to high school is more challenging than he expected. One such student is another unnamed sophomore who took all honors classes in his freshman year. He did fairly well as a freshman honors student, but his grades simply did not match the potential he showed when he was accepted. Through the combined efforts of his teachers, counselor, parents, administrators, and his input, we made a joint decision to limit his honors courses as a sophomore to two (he had four as a freshman)—and this year is off to a great start! And, he can earn his way back into more honors and AP courses as a junior and senior.
A couple of years ago, the St. Rita faculty were presented with a challenge: propose your dream course to teach. A few parameters were put on them—the course had to be appropriately challenging, fit into our Augustinian philosophy, and be designed to prepare our students for college and for life. Since then, close to 25 new courses have been proposed, and as a result our juniors and seniors have over 30 electives to choose from, including Forensic Science, 20th Century American War Experience, Chicago Authors, Sports Medicine, and a Senior Honors Theology Seminar called “Augustine for Today.” As they register for classes each spring, they are excited about the choices they have as they prepare for college.
Over the last 5 years, we have more than tripled the number of students taking AP classes and more than tripled the number taking the optional AP Exams and scoring a 3, 4 or 5 (the highest score) on the exams. In the 2012-13 school year alone, AP classes see 436 students every day.
This has not happened by mere coincidence. As a school, we have doubled the number of AP offerings to 16 classes during that time, and we have made sure that every one of our AP classes is approved by the College Board, which governs the AP Program. (See https://apcourseaudit.epiconline.org/ledger/school.php). Our students understand the value of rigorous classes: exciting teaching, classes with motivated students and preparation for college and beyond.
The tight-knit atmosphere of being a smaller, Augustinian school also contributes to the academic success of our students. They know their teachers and their teachers know them, and our parents are interested and involved in their sons’ success. Counselors are fully aware of students’ progress as they shepherd them from their first day as freshmen until the day they graduate, including the college counseling and scholarship application process. With our last 3 classes of 498 graduates combined earning over $36 million in college scholarships, and two-thirds of Class of 2012 earning academic scholarships, our graduates have been averaging over $72,000 in scholarships per graduate. The headlines now should read “Mustang Excellence on Athletic and Academic Fronts.”