MERIDEN — Ryan Ruiz and Ryan Rosario were huddled in front of a standalone dry erase board at Maloney High School Tuesday morning, drawing out formulas used to calculate different expenses.
“So we’re doing math in the short run and long run aspects of business expenses and we’re just working through the mathematical side of this,” Rosario explained.
Ruiz and Rosario, both seniors, were in a study hall preparing for a microeconomics quiz that day, joined by more than a dozen peers, all of whom are enrolled in college level courses.
The room, with its Maloney green tinted walls, is filled with furniture, including high top tables with charging stations, egg shaped chairs and footrests. It more closely resembles a student lounge or center on a college campus than a typical study hall classroom. Educators have dubbed it the “AP Lounge.”
Platt High School now boasts a similar lounge, awash in the school’s blue and gold color scheme, for students taking advanced level classes. The lounges opened in January — the beginning of the second semester. Increase in advanced course offerings
The school district now offers 27 college level courses at both Maloney and Platt. They include Advanced Placement courses, along with other Early College Experience courses offered through the University of Connecticut and other universities.
Enrollment has grown more than fivefold. More than a decade ago, during the 2010-2011 school year, 184 students at Platt and Maloney were enrolled in college level courses. Among those students, 40 qualified for free and reduced price lunch. And even fewer students enrolled in those advanced level courses were Latino or students of color, or were students with disabilities.
During the current school year, 1,099 students now take such classes. The overall demographics of those students more closely resembles the student body as a whole. For example, the majority of students currently taking advanced courses come from low-income families. A third of students taking those courses are Latino. Another 10% are Black.
Maloney Assistant Principal James Flynn said expanding enrollment in college and career courses is intentional.
“All the research shows when students have access to one AP class, regardless of what they get on their exam, they’re more likely to finish their first year of college and go back for their second year,” he said.
How students are referred to advanced courses has shifted. Enrollment is no longer based on whether students are recommended. It’s based on students’ interest, Flynn explained.
In addition to the lounge, students have other supports, including after-school academies, summer AP boot camps and online tutoring outside of the school day, Flynn said.
School Superintendent Mark Benigni said as enrollment in advanced courses continues to grow, so does the need to support students.
The lounges represent one way of carving out that support.
“So for these students, rather than being in a traditional study hall in a larger environment, let’s create a study hall specifically for them — so they can be with other peers taking high level courses,” Benigni said.
And that study hall would have a dedicated staff member tasked with maintaining a supportive environment. College-like
“Obviously we can't recreate a full student center but we can create a space that will get them used to being in a college setting,” Benigni said. “We wanted them to be relaxed and comfortable, but we wanted it to be a spot where students are truly committed and focused on their learning, felt comfortable and had support.”
The lounges at Maloney and Platt have similar furniture and layouts.
Lori Frederick, a longtime school climate specialist for the Meriden Public Schools, oversees Maloney’s AP Lounge. She explained that even students who are excelling academically need support along the way.
So she is there, coordinating with teachers to ensure students are up to date on assignments, and to provide other academic, social and emotional support, which may include connecting students with tutors.
“Sometimes they get lost in the shuffle because they're always doing what they're supposed to be doing. So this is a nice little bonus for them,” Frederick said. “We wanted them to have a little taste of college too.”
In fact, Frederick said, the lounge reminds her of the student center at Central Connecticut State University, her alma mater. Upon entering, students get straight to work.
“We have kids working on assignments, some kids working on extra credit and we have some kids in the back corner working on their college applications and some scholarship packets. Everything is going on in here at times,” Frederick said. Place for quiet study and work
Jirian Figueroa, a sophomore, sat at a table with her laptop computer open, reviewing her AP U.S. History assignment.
“It’s cool,” Figueroa said of the environment. “It’s quiet.”
Anthony Valerie, a Maloney junior, sat a couple of tables away from Figueroa, where he was finishing up an assignment for his AP Environmental class.
“It’s nice,” Valerie said of the lounge’s setup. It was a little noisier than usual that morning because of the visitors. But most of the time, the room is quiet, making it easy to complete work, he said. And he is surrounded by students enrolled in some of the same classes he’s taking.
“When I'm stuck on something, I can always get help in here,” Valerie said. “I’m around a lot of people who can help me if I need it, or I can help them depending on what I do.”
Maloney senior Dev Patel was working on a module with his classmates in AP Psychology. They had a quiz later that morning. Patel said he enjoys the fact the lounge is quieter than a traditional study hall.
“So it's really nice to have this place where we can study and do our work,” Patel said.
The day’s visitors included the Record-Journal, school officials and Board of Education President Rob Kosienski Jr.
Kosienski said when the board was approached by the district’s administration to establish the lounge, using COVID-19 relief funds, it was a no-brainer. “This is an incredible opportunity for both schools,” he said. For the students, he said, “it’s an opportunity for them to do some serious work … with some like minded students.”
Meriden Federation of Teachers President Lauren Mancini-Averitt is not currently teaching advanced courses. But she appreciates the opportunity afforded to students with the lounge.
Mancini-Averitt said it allows for a bit more camaraderie and companionship in an environment free of stress.
“There's a lot of research that says if you can teach something to someone else you learn better. So this back and forth allows students to teach each other and therefore learn better,” Mancini-Averitt said.
Chad Cardillo, a social studies teacher who teaches three sections of AP Psychology, said learning how to collaborate is an important skill for students to acquire in making the transition from high school to college. Having a place for students to collaborate and to receive targeted support is important. — “because a lot of students are going outside of their comfort zone to take some of these courses and it's great for them,” Cardillo said. “They're stretching themselves.”