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No cruise control for their year

These 2 GHS seniors taking all Advanced Placement courses

Greenfield High School seniors Mike Duclos and Josh Brandl are each taking five advanced placement courses this year. (Recorder/Chris Shores)

Greenfield High School seniors Mike Duclos and Josh Brandl are each taking five advanced placement courses this year. (Recorder/Chris Shores)

Like many high school seniors, Greenfield residents Mike Duclos and Josh Brandl are each taking five different classes this school year.

But unlike most, every single one of those classes is at an advanced placement level.

From the time they arrive at school until they leave, with the exception of a physical education class, the two students are consumed by work in their AP courses. Facilitated by The College Board organization, students can sometimes place out of AP classes in college if they score high enough on the end-of-the-year tests in early May.

That’s the main reason Duclos and Brandl — who are also three-season school athletes — took on the challenge. When they were selecting classes last spring, they chose “pretty much the hardest ones we could,” said Brandl.

“I took them because of college credits and just wanting to ... get ahead,” said Duclos. “(It’s) a chance to graduate early in college.”

They are two of 79 students taking 10 different AP courses at Greenfield High School this year, said Principal Donna Woodcock. About half of the juniors and half of the seniors are taking at least one AP class, said Superintendent Susan Hollins.

Both Brandl and Duclos are taking environmental science, English and French. Since they’re the only two students in an advanced French class, they take it at the same time as lower-level students and then come into school early every Wednesday for additional instruction.

Brandl’s schedule also includes European history and calculus. He came into this year with three on his plate: United States history, physics and a second English class.

Duclos is taking physics and statistics this year. He took physics and the second English class as a junior and enrolled in United States history as a sophomore.

They said they have on average about two hours of homework each night, some of which they can finish during an end-of-the-day study hall.

After that, it gets trickier to find the time around long practices and games. Hockey season was especially difficult, the pair said. And baseball season’s three games a week is also a challenge.

“I remember some nights getting four, five hours of sleep,” said Duclos. His worst day was when he had an exam in every single subject.

And this is their senior year. The fall brought college applications. Spring comes with scholarship form after scholarship form.

Still, they have enjoyed the experience. While some AP classes have 20-25 students, others they’re in are much smaller. Teachers take a different approach, they said, because there’s an understanding that the students want to be there to learn the material.

To get more help, they routinely attend special Saturday sessions at sites around western Massachusetts.

The AP exams are hour-long affairs that occur in early May. Students are scored on a 1-5 scale, with a three or higher considered passing. Most colleges will only honor a 4 or 5 if students want to place out of a required class.

In 2012, Greenfield High School students took 156 tests and passed 48 of them (30.8 percent).

Neighboring Franklin County high schools all fared better percentage wise — ranging from a 56.3 percent passing rate at Pioneer Valley Regional to a 70.2 percent mark at Mohawk Trail Regional.

But none of the schools came close to Greenfield’s attendance numbers on testing days. Pioneer, Mohawk, Frontier Regional and Ralph C. Mahar Regional — which all had higher enrollments than Greenfield last year, according to state data — took from one-fifth to one-half the number of tests.

If smaller Turners Falls High School had been the same size as Greenfield High School (it is about 60 percent as large) it still would not have been likely to reached triple digits in tests.

As for Brandl and Duclos, they have set their sights on fours and fives this year. Brandl scored a three on each of his previous tests. Duclos got a four on English and a five in calculus.

And what does next year hold? Brandl plans on heading to Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. to study some type of computer science.

And Duclos will study robotic engineering or mechanical engineering at one of four schools: Florida Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and University of Massachusetts.

The college workload will be easier to handle now, said Brandl, now that they have taken on five challenging classes and three sports and lived to tell the tale.

Duclos agreed.

“It’s hard, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “But in a couple of years from now when I’m graduating a semester early ... I’m definitely going to look back and say, ‘I’m glad I did this.’”

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