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Mainland Regional High School plays the Cedar Creek boys basketball team, in Linwood, Monday Jan. 20, 2020. (VERNON OGRODNEK / For The Press)

Local schools using AP Capstone program to help students prepare for college-level research

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Vicky Zheng said she was intimidated when she learned about a new Advanced Placement program being implemented in her high school, but decided, despite the rigor, that it would be worth it.

“It actually really helps with my writing skills, argumentative skills and public speaking skills,” said Zheng, 17, a senior at Egg Harbor Township High School.

Teaching students how to be good analytical thinkers, researchers and writers are the reasons why the College Board launched the AP Capstone Diploma program in 2014, a skill that the organization found students in higher education were lacking, and local schools are getting on board.

In the Capstone program, students take one year of the seminar class developing the skills needed to become effective researchers, and one year of the research class, where they put those skills to work on a yearlong research project that they develop.

The program, designed to introduce high school students to college-level academic research, has grown tremendously in the five years it’s been in existence, according to AP Capstone Program executive director Rushi Sheth.

Since its implementation, participation has grown from 164 schools and 5,288 students across the country in its first year to 1,870 schools and 81,000 students this year.

“For these students, AP Seminar and AP Research offer an opportunity to explore personally motivating topics while learning essential research and collaboration skills along the way,” Sheth said.

The program is in its second year at Egg Harbor Township High School. Only two other area schools offer it: Lower Cape May Regional High School and Vineland High School, according to the AP website.

“The whole point of the College Board implementing this was a lot of students were getting to college and they weren’t great at doing effective research or knowing what that means,” Egg Harbor Township English teacher Kevin Murphy said. “There’s some real obvious value in implementing something like this. It creates more informed citizens.”

Sheth said the College Board is measuring success through participation rates, equity and access among underrepresented minority and low-income student participation, student assessment performance, research and feedback.

Through surveys, the College Board has found that AP Capstone students are more likely than similarly qualified non-AP students to earn higher first-year college GPAs, have higher second-year retention and participate in “college richness” activities such as honors college, academic research and internships.

“Early feedback from college enrollment leaders and faculty is positive,” Sheth said. “Enrollment officers are impressed when they learn about students’ AP Seminar and AP Research projects. While any student can share an academic interest in admissions interviews or essays, AP Capstone students can show both potential and performance through the work they did in AP Seminar and AP Research. “

The four Egg Harbor Township High School students currently taking the Research class have spent the last five months putting what they learned into action. In a few months, the students will present and defend a year’s worth of individual research to a panel of evaluators as part of a project-based Advanced Placement final assessment.

The students who earn a score of 3 or higher may earn college credit for the course. However, the students who are taking the course say it offers greater advantages, especially in self-improvement.

“Most of the kids in my (grade) were like ‘no way, I can’t have a whole class where I’m just writing research papers,’ and I did more research on the class, and I thought it could improve the way I write my papers, and also my public speaking skills,” said junior Ayotoye “Toye” Oguntuase, 15.

Toye said he has already begun implementing research and analytical skills he learned in seminar in his other classes.

Senior Eddie Chen, 17, is analyzing the effects of music on stress for his research project. He was interested in the class because it was a chance to do research on a topic that interested him personally instead of what the teacher assigned.

“It’s really cool that you can explore your passions before college,” Eddie said.

Vicky said being part of the first AP Capstone cohort in Egg Harbor Township has been a challenge, but also made the class work harder.

“We’re setting a precedent for upcoming classes,” she said.

Murphy said as an educator, it was fascinating to watch the students improve over the year.

“Its pretty rare in English to chart success from September to June, but in Seminar, one of the biggest eye-opening things was I could see the improvements over the course of the year in a way that I never really experienced before,” Murphy said. “I learned a lot from them, which is one of the great joys of being a teacher, getting to see them embrace their passions and pursue something they want to pursue.”

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Local actor Leonard Dozier embodies Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 'The Mountaintop'

ATLANTIC CITY — While Leonard Dozier attended Pleasantville High School as a sophomore, his introduction to acting came through his recitation of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s groundbreaking “I Have A Dream” speech.

Now a professional actor, Dozier, 40, of Egg Harbor City, returns to the South Jersey stage to perform “The Mountaintop” at 8 p.m. Friday at the Celebrity Theater of the Claridge Hotel, 123 S. Indiana Ave.

“The Mountaintop” is a play by Katori Hall that evokes King’s final hours before his assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. Friday will be only Dozier’s second time ever performing in the role.

An Olivier award-winning play, “The Mountaintop” premiered in London. It opened on Broadway in 2011 featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.

The “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech is the greatest of King’s speeches for Ralph Hunter, the founder of the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey. Hunter takes away from the speech the importance of sacrifice and holding onto what you have.

“After you get to The Mountaintop, it is difficult to stay there,” said Hunter, who added his grandfather was one of the founding members of the Mason Temple where the speech was delivered. “How do we maintain our position at The Mountaintop?... It is a story of strength and understanding.”

Dozier first became familiar with the play in 2013 when another actor told him that there is a play for him, and he should read “The Mountaintop.”

“I auditioned for it a couple of times (in 2015 and 2016) on the regional theater circuit,” said Dozier, who added he was cast as King one time in a production that never came to fruition. “I finally said, ‘You know what, I’m going to do this with my own production company.’”

Dozier’s version of “The Mountaintop” starts with Dozier as King reciting a section of the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech on videotape.

After seeing Dozier on the screen as King, he strides into the stage as King. The entire play takes place right after the speech is delivered and is contained to that night.

Torez Mosley, a Philadelphia actress, plays the fictional character, Camae, a maid in the motel where he was shot.

Dozier, a former student at the Weist-Barron-Ryan Acting Workshops when it was here, started to think about mounting his own version of “The Mountaintop,” with his Cineplay Productions company last year.

Dozier does voice work for the NFL, NBA, NASCAR and others, but he has a home studio and thought he would be in town between the holiday season and the King birthday weekend.

“I had a visceral feeling that it was time to get into producing again,” Dozier said. “It’s not really wise to produce and star in a show.”

The version of King that audience will see in “The Mountaintop” is as much about King the man as it is King the institution, Dozier said. Hall wrote a portrait of King that 40 percent of the crowd will be surprised to see on stage, he said.

“She does take care of King, but she also humanizes him,” said Dozier, who adds for instance he smoked cigarettes in real life and will be seen on stage smoking.

An aspect that makes Dozier’s production of “The Mountaintop” unique is he was able to make use of the costuming services of Harold Crawford, a history maker in his own right.

At age 20, Crawford became one of the very first African-Americans to work behind the scenes in the entertainment industry, starting with seven years at Universal Studios.

Crawford worked with many prominent black actors during his career. He also costumed “King,” an American television miniseries that ran for three consecutive nights on NBC in 1978. The late Paul Winfield starred as King, Cicely Tyson was the late Coretta Scott King.

Dozier met Crawford’s wife when heading to a gym in Cleveland, Ohio, while out of town on business. Crawford’s wife’s grandfather’s was also named Leonard Dozier. She told him you have to meet my husband. They became friends.

“When I started to think about this show, he was one of the first people I called. I said, ‘Harold, what is it going to take to get you?’”

Crawford flew to South Jersey to costume Dozier in his King suit and left Friday.

Dozier’s will take “The Mountaintop” on a February tour. An invitation-only performance Feb. 12 will be attended by Pleasantville High School students and others.

King was 39 when was assassinated. Dozier is now one year older than when King was murdered.

“As a man, as a human being, the play has a lot to do with mortality,” Dozier said. “From my perspective, I am probably at the halfway point of my life. You start to think about what is behind and ahead of you.”

Pleasantville march promotes educational equality in the name of King

PLEASANTVILLE — When he began planning a march with some of his congregation, the Rev. Willie François was hoping to fill the pews of Mount Zion Baptist Church and the streets of Pleasantville with a message of educational equality in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

On Monday, he did just that, bringing together community members from his church and others, various local organizations, officials, and residents of neighboring towns for the city’s first Martin Luther King Day March, which followed the annual service at the church.

The Rev. Taurean J. Webb was the keynote speaker at the church service and called upon the congregation to keep an open mind when it comes to achieving equality, because the path there will look different in different communities.

“Freedom does not always look the same way to everybody, equity does not always look the same way to everybody,” Webb said. “Equity work cannot be cookie cutter.”

He said that the work has to be context specific.

The event was held in an effort to promote educational equality and improve outcomes, specifically in Pleasantville.

“King said intelligence alone, it will not do,” Webb said. “This is why we fight tooth and nail to make sure every child has access to all the things education claims to offer.”

Webb told the crowd they would now “turn our attention to the streets, readying yourselves to step backward into a long tradition” of marching.

Olivia Caldwell, president of the Mainland Chapter of the NAACP said Pleasantville is fortunate to have a leader like François so in touch with the needs of the community to organize the march.

“Public education is so key and people who live here need to be more invested in what’s happening in our schools,” Caldwell said.

Joan Vera, 14, a freshman at Pleasantville High School and a member of the student council, was marching Monday with members of the afterschool program on Bayview Avenue called Future Leaders Organization.

“To me, I feel like it’s great that we’re all coming together for the schools,” he said, adding it will improve society.

The marchers chanted and held signs reading “Our students are worth it” and “We will not get justice if we’re quiet” as they marched toward City Hall, where several speakers addressed the crowd.

“It’s not just about ‘I have a dream,’” said Council President Judy Ward. “I like the way we are talking about education, which is so important in this city.”

Pleasantville School Interim Superintendent Dennis Andersen, who was among the walkers, told the crowd they should strive for educational equality, but also “pray for kindness, understanding, equity, love and peace.”

“Our students are worth it, and that’s what it’s all about,” Andersen said.

Some students shared personal experiences of inequity in the school and called for action inside the schools.

One of the event’s organizers, Ernestine Smith, who works in the high school, said that the event and the turnout made her proud and brought tears to her eyes.

“Can we do it together? As a village, yes we can,” Smith said.

Woodbine's mayor heads off to White House meeting, grant requests in hand

WOODBINE — Mayor William Pikolycky may represent a small borough, but on Friday he will be among fewer than 100 mayors — most from big cities — in a White House meeting with President Donald Trump.

“It’s by invitation only. So you really get the chance one-on-one to talk to the president,” his secretaries of departments like Housing and Urban Development, and aides of all types, Pikolycky said. “I’m able to talk to them and put in their hands my interests or concerns; what I’m applying for and what assistance is needed.”

It’s his third annual visit with Trump, he said, coinciding with the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C. Pikolycky got invited, he said, even though he doesn’t usually attend the conference meeting, which is more geared to urban areas.

“For a little community we have a lot going on as far as projects and so forth. I was communicating on projects three years ago about our sewer expansion and water expansion project with White House staff for a grant application,” Pikolycky said. “The guy said, ‘You are so persistent, I’m going to invite you to the White House for a Trump roundtable with mayors.’”

That started off a good dialogue with the White House, said Pikolycky, who is also on the board of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and chair of the Pinelands Commission Municipal Council.

“I’ve been invited back every year,” the Republican said.

Since Trump has been in office, Woodbine has been successful with federal grants, Pikolycky said.

“Every year, we average $3 million to $5 million in grants for infrastructure and so forth,” Pikolycky said. “For such a small little municipality in the Pinelands, we really do well.”

The 8-square-mile borough has a population of 2,490, according to the Census Bureau.

“He has always been a fair individual. He has always supported Woodbine’s positions when in the Assembly, Senate, and Congress,” Pikolycky said.

Now that U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew has become a Republican and is being embraced by Trump, Pikolycky is hoping the region benefits even more.

“I’ve been around a while in politics. He’s been around longer,” Van Drew said. “We’ve worked a lot with him on grants ... whether at the state level or federal level. He’s always on top of us as well. He doesn’t sleep — if it’s for Woodbine, he’s fighting for it.”

This year Pikolycky expects only one other New Jersey mayor to be at the White House meeting — Tim McDonough of Hope Township, a small community in Warren County.

The towns have another thing in common. Pikolycky and McDonough are former presidents of the New Jersey Conference of Mayors.

This year, Pikolycky plans to talk with Trump, department heads and staffs about improvements Piklolycky wants to make to the Woodbine Airport, and about federal funding that may help him clean up the last large former factory site in town.

“Hopefully we can secure $1 million … (to clean up) a former hat factory and rubber factory,” Pikolycky said. “It’s pollution not going into the ground, just staying on top. In order to get the property back on the tax rolls, we have to clean it up.”

Few people know that Woodbine was once a thriving industrial community, with seven factories making clothing and other products that employed people from the tri-county area, he said.

“Trains came right into town, and delivered products, took products,” Pikolycky said. “There was passenger and freight service.”

But first the factories, moved south, and then overseas.

“A lot of properties went into foreclosure. … We were stuck with them,” Pikolycky said.

He said the factory site is the last to be cleaned up in town, along with the landfill, now undergoing cleanup.