The explosion of Advanced Placement Chemistry at Payton

By Isabelle Ravanas, Staff Writer

The “Chemistry The Central Sciencebook is the AP Chemistry book at Payton and has become synonymous with the class.

With the changing atmosphere, AP Chemistry at Payton has seen a huge shift. Normally, the class consists of around 60 students, mostly sophomores; however, nothing is normal this year, including this elemental class. 

The College Board was created in 1899 and officially titled “The College Entrance Examination Board.” The non-profit’s goal was to increase access to higher education for students across the country bringing along the renowned SAT in 1926 and other programs and exams such as CLEP, AP, SAT subject tests, and PSAT/NMSQT. AP exams have been around since the ‘50s but it wasn’t until 1961 that the first AP Chemistry class was established and the culminating exam took place. The class was first offered at Payton three years after its inauguration in 2000, with Mr. Kinderman as its only teacher. At the time, the class was composed of around 14 students, even though the school had a little under 700 students. Over the last eight years, the average number of students enrolled in the class each year hovered around 60. Last year, there were 32 students signed up for the AP Chem exam. This year, there are about 90. 

With a historic number of students committed to studying introductory college level chemistry,  Payton decided to split up the class into 4 double-period groups, newly incorporating Science Department veteran Ms. Figenshu or “Ms. Fig” to work alongside the class’ engendrer. Ms. Figenshu was hired at Payton in 2015 and taught Honors Physics and Chemistry classes. However, in the summer of 2020, she discovered that she would be teaching two AP Chemistry classes for the first time. To fill her spot, Ms. Moroney was hired. Ms. Moroney now teaches two Honors Chemistry classes and three Honors Physics classes.

The class itself has been altered substantially because of two main factors: online schooling and the increase of students. Students say it seems as though the amount of work has gone down over the years as group work has been encouraged and stressful practices repealed. “I remember going to the AP Chemistry enrichment last year and being told that the lab reports were individual, now they are in groups of three or four,” says Calliope Silverberg ‘23.

Why was enrollment so high, and is this a trend only in AP Chemistry? “It wasn’t exactly a surprise,” Mr. Kinderman said. “AP Science enrollment numbers have been going up every year,” Ms. Figenshu said. She further postulated that this increase is due to the increased interest in STEM fields. It is true that the number of students graduating with STEM-related degrees has been on a rise over the past over the past 15 years or so. 

“We’ll have a high year, then a medium one, then a low one, then they jump back up,”  Ms. Figenshu said, “It depends on the class, like the entire grade, and on the class that comes before them since they are the ones ‘selling’ the course to the younger grades.” AP Chemistry seems to have a cyclic enrollment; however, statistics show an increase in the percent of the student population taking AP Chemistry each year no matter the cycle. In 2003, the percentage of the student body taking the class was approximately 2.1% while in a low year such as 2019, the percentage was almost 3%. This increase, though slight, is still there and is outweighed by the fact that about 7.4% of the student body took the class in 2020. 

So, there is a steady rise in AP Chemistry enrollment at Payton. However, this rise is due to a combination of factors such as the change in the coursework and the increased interest in STEM. 

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