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Formula for Success: Mathematics Students Score High

This was no simple equation.

A group of 29 St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) math students has set a high bar.

The students wrote the Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus AB test in May. The results were released in July.

SMCS students handily surpassed the average results recorded by fellow students across Ontario and around the world within their cohort and category.

SMCS students writing on board | AP Calculus exam

On scores of three (passing grade) or higher, SMCS students bettered the Ontario average by 3.9 per cent and eclipsed the global average by 16.7 per cent.

"I am very proud of our students," says John Vella ’85, Department Head of Mathematics. "They performed to a high standard even though they knew their score had no bearing on their university acceptance."

The results were released by the College Board, a 122-year-old institution, "created to expand access to higher education," by connecting "students to college success and opportunity," according to their website.

John Vella, Department Head of Mathematics at SMCS
John Vella ’85 is the Department Head of Mathematics at St. Michael’s College School.

Vella along with fellow math teacher Michael Ross ’86 taught the 29 Grade 12 students, leading up to the AP Calculus AB exam in early May.

"I am very happy to see our AP results, but I can’t say I was surprised," says Ross, who has been teaching math for 30 years. "We have great students here, who have gone through four or six years of a rigorous and challenging academic programme. Their talents and hard work have paid off!"

Among 1,034 students in Ontario, and on scores of three or higher, SMCS students averaged 72.4 per cent versus 68.5 per cent for all Ontario students.

SMCS students working on math | AP Calculus

On a global scale, more than 268,000 students wrote the exam, with a mean average of 55.7 per cent on scores of three and higher.

"For the most part, SMCS students don’t take AP Calculus because they want to bypass a first-year post-secondary math course," says Vella, who has taught math at SMCS for 27 years. "They take AP because they want to supplement their university application, or they want ‘to get ahead in math’ to gain the knowledge to be ‘ahead of the curve’ in their post-secondary pre-medicine or engineering programme."

Michael Ross, math teacher at SMCS
Michael Ross ’86 has been teaching mathematics at St. Michael’s College School for 30 years.

Ross, who teaches both Grade 11 and 12 math adds, "We have very smart and capable students that have been well-taught. The Math Department, as all departments at the school, has instilled discipline and challenged these young men, preparing them for academic success and this has been shown in their AP results. As a teacher, whether it be in my AP classes or in any other, it is my job to challenge my students and let them discover all of what they are capable. It is why I went into teaching and why I am grateful to be back at St. Mike’s where my teachers instilled the love of learning in me and pushed me to be my best. Hopefully, I am continuing the tradition and doing the same for my students."  

The Department Head of Mathematics since 2019, Vella leads a 10-member team.

He attributes this recent success in large part to, "the support we received from SMCS as teachers and students during the pandemic. SMCS provided us with the technologies, hardware, and software to teach and learn successfully in both remote and hybrid environments."

Further proof that this accomplishment was no small feat.

SMCS student working on math problems

"It takes a love of learning and a lot of discipline to choose to take a much harder math programme in Grade 12," adds Vella. "AP Calculus students cover the substantial AP curriculum in addition to the required MCV4U and MHF4U Ontario curriculum. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to teach the best and the brightest at SMCS. I owe it to them to make the course fun, interesting, and worthwhile. As I near the end of my teaching career, having the privilege to work with these boys is ‘like a shot of adrenaline’!"

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