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Local high schools among few that offer AP Studio Art class

Melissa Knesek found a way to combine her interest in photography with a prospective career in biology and receive college credit.

The North Central High School senior took photos through a microscope – an art form called microscopy. The result will be part of her final portfolio for Advanced Placement Studio Art 2-D, one of the newest Advanced Placement classes offered at the school. North Central first offered AP studio art in 2008 and only six students submitted portfolios – the course’s final exam – that year, said instructor Amy Sinisterra. That exploded to 39 students last year, and 51 are preparing for the exam this year.

The class is new this year to Rogers High School, where 55 students are preparing for the exam and nearly 400 have requested the course for 2010-11.

“Digital photography is sort of exciting to everyone, and they get to see the results right away,” said Richard Bech, a Rogers photography teacher.

“Part of it, of course, is modern-day kids’ obsession with digital media,” Sinisterra said. “That helps to get them here.”

Despite its popularity, the AP course is sparsely offered. Only 71 teachers statewide are certified to teach the class, according to the College Board, a national nonprofit organization that governs AP programs. Four of those teach in Spokane Public Schools; the only other authorized teachers in Eastern Washington are at St. George’s School and Gonzaga Prep.

The course covers the history of photography, the basics of developing film, how to work with Photoshop, photo editing, composition and elements of design and art.

Students take on several photo projects; one might be pictures that show emotion. “I chose children because they show their true feelings,” said North Central senior Blake Yirak.

Students’ work is often displayed around the school. “Other students see their peers creating a lot of really professional looking stuff, and that’s exciting,” Bech said.

The student’s best work is used in the portfolios, which the College Board grades on a scale of one to six. Scores of three and above typically earn students college credit.

Sinisterra said the price of the exam – $86 – keeps some students from submitting their work. Scholarships are available to qualifying families.

But North Central students do well on the test, according to the College Board. Compared with students taking the test nationally, 22 percent more students scored fours at North Central and 10 percent more scored fives.

Bech said he believes Rogers students will likewise do well, and that’s a confidence booster. “One of the hurdles is them thinking they can’t do college-level work,” Bech said. “This class helps them realize that they can.”