Freshmen end months of college-level preparation

COSTA MESA — Fourteen Costa Mesa High School freshmen rolled out of bed Friday morning and, fueled by chocolate-chip pancakes, accomplished a rare academic feat.

Teacher JoMarie Hayes said that these students in her Advanced Placement human geography class were the only ninth-graders taking the AP test in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. AP tests are usually given to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Almost 40 students signed up for Hayes' class, but only 14 took the test. The national pass rate on the exam is 46%, "but I haven't told them that," she said.

AP tests are College Board exams that give high school students a chance to gain a competitive edge and earn college credit. Costa Mesa High this year offered the human geography class and test to freshmen for the first time.

"These are kids who have amazing schedules," Hayes said. "They're in band, they're in sports, they take other honors classes. They've really made this a priority. I'm so proud of them."

The students spent the fall semester studying elements of geography, economics, history and environmental studies.

A sample question on the AP test asks about the world's major manufacturing regions, while another asks about the architecture of Hindu temples.

Weekend practice tests and Monday-night study sessions helped prepare Hayes' students for the exam.

Early Friday morning, the students were treated to pancakes, orange juice and fruit in a school science lab as they nervously crammed in last-minute studying.

"I'm feeling good, feeling strong," said Loralee Sepsey, 15, as she flipped through a thick stack of multicolored flashcards.

Sepsey said she will be taking two AP classes next year, so she hoped the test would help her prepare.

McKenna Patton, 14, took it all in stride.

"Even if I don't pass, it's not going to affect me," Patton said. "I feel like it's a great experience either way."

Before sending the students off to the timed test, Hayes offered gentle advice: Wear a watch, eat a protein-rich snack (string cheese) and double-check all answers.

"We're hoping they all pass, but even if they don't, it's a big win," she said.

After the two-hour exam, the students were relieved.

"It was easier than I had expected, to be honest," said Geoff Fulkerson, 15, who said he wants to be a chef. "Being done with the test is really relieving."

Sepsey said the test was not what she expected.

"It was challenging, but it exercised my knowledge of the class," she said. "I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel so accomplished!"

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