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Virginia Advanced Study Strategies program tops in state

Virginia Advanced Study Strategies (VASS), part of the non-profit National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) headquartered at the SVHEC in South Boston, received the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Excellence in Virginia Government Award during a luncheon held Thursday in Richmond.

Sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University, the award celebrates the accomplishments of Virginians who have made distinctive contributions to the practice of government and to the well-being of communities and its citizens.
Accepting the award on behalf of VASS President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Nichols III was W. W. “Ted” Bennett Jr., founding director of VASS.

The statewide center for the VASS program, located in Halifax County, is funded over a six-year period by a $13.2 million

national Exxon Mobil grant that is being matched by contributions from local and state businesses, Bennett explained.

Since its inception VASS has raised $17.2 million including the $13.2 million grant from Exxon Mobil.

Bennett cited the Halifax Educational Foundation, Dominion Power and Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, Altria and the Virginia Tobacco Commission as entities who have made large donations to VASS.

The purpose of the initiative is to establish and support Advanced Placement (AP) programs benefitting 42 high schools throughout Virginia with 15 more schools expected to join the program in 2011, Bennett said Thursday.

Halifax County High School was one of 27 schools that originally applied for inclusion in the program in the spring of 2008 and became one of 14 schools accepted to participate in the initial launch of the VASS program.

HCHS officially began its AP program in the fall of 2008.

Since joining the program, HCHS’s participation has allowed the school to receive teacher training, financial incentives, new equipment and materials and ongoing support services from VASS’s math, science and English specialists.

VASS has provided incentives for both students and teachers including paying for test registration fees and a financial reward for a qualifying score of 3 or higher on AP tests.

In the AP program, a student must take an AP examination at a cost of $84. Scoring of the exam is on a scale of 1-5, and most colleges require a score of 3 or higher to award college credit to the student. At some schools, the minimum score to receive credit is 4.

At the time of its implementation two years ago, the initiative was billed as “very important to move the AP program to our underserved areas of Virginia,” according to the VASS president who pointed out VASS is the only program that specifically targets rural school divisions with which to work.

When accepting the award on Thursday, Bennett commended VASS for placing emphasis on high minority and high poverty school districts.

“The initial 14 schools participating in the launch of the program have enjoyed a 115 percent increase in the number of students taking AP classes and more than 74 percent increase in qualifying scores on AP exams compared to a 5.7 percent increase nationally,” Bennett said.

“Paul Nichols and staff have led the effort in these enormous increases in participation, and recognition by VCU and the Wilder School is a tremendous testimony to their success,” he added.

The shared goal of VASS and the College Board is to provide Virginia’s students with the skills and knowledge needed to compete in the 21st Century global economy.

Virginia is one of seven states to receive funding from the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) to assist in training and incentive programs for AP and pre-AP courses.