Students at Mesa’s ASU Preparatory Academy don’t just attend high school on a college campus; they attend classes where college professors deliver guest lectures, and they rub elbows with university students during campus service projects.
ASU Preparatory Academy High School is in its second year. It opened at ASU Polytechnic in a former exercise sciences building on the south side of campus, close to science labs and a recreation complex under construction.
On a Friday morning, many of the students wear gold shirts — the school has a uniform policy — to match the campus-wide “gold day” theme.
“The idea is to treat them like university students,” principal Mark Duplissis said. Duplissis also oversees ASU Preparatory Academy’s fifth-through-eighth grade middle school, which is just down the street on the ASU campus. The school’s elementary campus is located on Power Road, just north of Warner Road.
The ASU-affiliated charter schools, which also have campuses in Phoenix, opened as University Public Schools. But the name was changed a few years ago to reflect just what Duplissis indicated: a smooth kindergarten through college transition (boosted by ASU President Michael Crow’s support).
At the Mesa high school, students take classes in “block” scheduling, meaning they’re in their studies for longer periods at a time. While this year’s freshmen are studying world literature, this year’s sophomores are student American literature. The same is true for history classes. Math I is a combined algebra and geometry class. Students can choose from Spanish or Chinese for their foreign language requirement.
The school uses the internationally recognized Cambridge Curriculum. Students will be eligible to take the Cambridge exams in the spring. The entire campus is on the “Move on When Ready” track, which means students could complete all their state-required high school studies as soon as the spring of the sophomore year. At ASU Preparatory Academy, they may then take classes — at their high school campus — from college professors their junior year. Duplissis said those details are still being worked out.
In the morning, students check out iPads. Teachers use the “Socratic method” when teaching, which means there’s lots of discussion and debate.
And each student works on a “capstone” project during the year: Pick a topic, study it, research it, and write about it to present in late fall to teachers, family members and university staff. In the spring, they do a project based on their research.
“We’re really hoping to effectively reinvent some of the educational experiences,” Duplissis said.
And with the students, there is no question about college.
“That is not an option. They will go onto college and university,” he said. “The mission is to have all our students earn a college degree. We want them to be able to contribute to the world.”
But it’s not just an academic school. The students can join soccer, cross country, girls volleyball, basketball, baseball and golf teams, as well as spirit line, depending on the time of the year. “Club week” just took place, with students signing up for robotics, yearbook, chess and more.
While juniors will be added to the campus next year, there are still a few spots available for the underclassmen this year. Typically, there’s such an interest in the ASU schools that there’s a lottery required for enrollment.
“We have shared university space. We have state-of-the-art facilities here,” Duplissis said. “It’s pretty neat to be a part of.”
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