Advanced Placement Biology Classes Blossom at John F. Kennedy High School

October 30, 2000
In the past, Advanced Placement biology was not a class that too many students at John F. Kennedy High School chose to take. But that was before teacher Jill Garrison Dean arrived little more than two years ago.

"She's just a miracle worker," Kennedy principal Sheila Dobbins said of Dean, who is credited for increasing AP biology from one class that was offered every other year to five double-period AP biology classes serving about 160 students this year.

Dean, who has always wanted to be a teacher, graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in December 1997 with a major in biology education. When she came to Kennedy in fall 1998, she was chosen to teach the school's one AP biology class.

Dean's first goal was to encourage enough students so the school could offer an AP biology class each year. After achieving that goal, she set her sights on teaching two sections of the class. So last year, she gathered her AP class together, and they went to every science class in the school to talk with students about taking AP biology.

"Actually, the AP students themselves did the most effective recruiting," Dean recalled. "I made sure they enjoyed the class at the same time they were learning. I think that is the key to a successful AP program-when the students are interested in the material, they are so much more productive."

Dean's students also worked on interesting projects throughout the year. "Other students would see them working on these intricate projects," she said, "and they, too, wanted to be part of the action."

Her students, in fact, generated so much interest in AP biology that 170 other students signed up for the class this year, resulting in five double-period sections. (Dean teaches two of them.)

In her classes, Dean uses the Campbell textbook and AP laboratory experiments. She also tries to incorporate as much biotechnology as possible. "I participated in the Howard Hughes internship program at NIH in summer 1999, and that taught me a lot about using technology in the classroom," she said.

Because this is the first AP class that many of the students have ever taken, extra support, in the form of after-school tutoring sessions, is being offered. And in addition to her classes and tutoring, Dean also finds the time to coach cross country, indoor track and outdoor track.

"She's an exceptional teacher," principal Sheila Dobbins said of Dean. "She has a passion for her subject matter. She engages students in the learning process from Day 1."

The combination of hands-on, experiential learning and a willingness to use every kind of instructional strategy that motivates students is making a difference for these students at Kennedy.

As for her own future, Dean hopes to teach at least two sections of AP biology next year. And as for the future of Kennedy AP students, she foresees an increase in the number of graduates going into science-related careers.

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