Pioneering the New Advanced Placement Capstone Program

Education and learn concept: pixelated words knowledge is power

Simi Valley High School was selected to be one of about 400 schools across the country to trial the new Advanced Placement (AP) Capstone program.

The program “provides students with an opportunity to engage in rigorous scholarly practice of the core academic skills necessary for successful college completion,” according to the College Board, which manages all AP programs.

Students taking AP classes earn college credit by passing nationally standardized tests in each of the AP classes they take. Students also receive 5, 4, 3 or 2 points associated with their Grade Point Average (GPA) for an A, B, C or D versus the 4, 3, 2, 1 GPA scale when taking a regular course. Because of this, many students taking multiple AP courses graduate with GPAs above 4.0.

Nationally, there are 37 AP classes offered across the major academic disciplines. Simi Valley High School offers 18 different AP classes, which is consistent with AP offerings at other high schools in the area. For a complete list of SVHS’ AP offerings, go to

AP Capstone

In its pilot stage, AP Capstone has two purposes. First, it offers students interested in learning more about AP courses the chance to learn the skills and academic regimen required to take almost any rigorous academic course successfully. Second, it allows students who have taken several AP courses the ability to demonstrate their readiness for completing high-level college work by writing an advanced research paper.

Two courses make up AP Capstone: AP Seminar and AP Research. AP Seminar is designed to “complement and enhance the in-depth, discipline-specific study experienced in other AP courses,” according to the College Board. It focuses on independent research, detailed analysis of specific issues, collaborative teamwork and developing communication skills. Students will investigate real-world issues from different points of view, gather and analyze information from various sources to develop credible and valid evidence-based arguments.

In AP Research, students refine the skills learned in AP Seminar by conducting independent research in an area of the students’ own interest and by writing a 5,000-word research paper. Students who take three AP courses receive a certificate of completion for AP Capstone, and students who take more than three AP courses receive an AP Capstone diploma.

The Benefits

There are four major benefits for AP Capstone. First, students who have never taken an AP course will be well prepared to take additional AP classes by successfully completing AP Seminar. The primary difference between AP classes and regular classes is not the difficulty of the material, but the skills and discipline needed to cover the increased amount of material in an AP class. By completing the AP Seminar class, students should be ready to take AP level courses.

Second, students successfully completing three or more AP courses will prove their ability to do high-level college work to their prospective colleges. Also, because the AP Research report results in a 5,000 word mini-thesis, these students will have a tangible result that can help them get into a top-level school, a graduate program or land their first post-college job.

Third, AP Capstone students will learn what it means to think critically. The AP Seminar course is essentially a college-level course in critical thinking. The course has five units:

  • Question and Explore
  • Understand and Analyze Arguments
  • Evaluate Multiple Perspectives
  • Synthesize Ideas
  • Team, Transform, and Transmit

As students go through the units, they complete what the College Board considers to be a QUEST associated with learning how to think critically. Usually they do this by choosing their own topics, which leads to the final benefit.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the most motivated students will have the opportunity to explore topics they are most interested in and to take responsibility for a project from inception to completion. This helps to build self-confidence in their abilities as well as a real satisfaction in doing a job well done. This shouldn’t be underestimated. Students often say that they feel regimented in courses they’ve been forced to study, and that the material boring or irrelevant to their lives. AP Capstone will let them choose areas that interest them, which should lead to increased satisfaction in high school.

Who Is It For?

AP Capstone is great for:

  • College bound students interested in taking their first AP Class;
  • College bound students who plan a comprehensive AP program; and
  • Students in career pathways interested in doing their own in-depth career-related research.

Finally, AP Capstone has one unintended benefit. It fits beautifully into the increasing focus on Career Technical Education (CTE), which has gone way beyond its former focus on technical and trade-oriented careers. CTE today encompasses 15 different major career areas and, quite literally, hundreds of separate career pathways. The overwhelming majority of these pathways leads directly to college, not into a technical or trade training program. For more information on CTE, see our career website:

When Does It Start?

AP Capstone will start next fall with at least two sections. It will be taught by Loren Dacanay, who currently teaches Chemistry, and Stephen Caswell, who currently teaches Intro to Business, Business Law, Computer Applications and the freshman MAP class. The program is ideal for students interested in any academic discipline or career pathways.

-Our sincere thanks go to Stephen Caswell who wrote this article for us on AP Capstone. 

Drop. Cover. Hold On. The Great California Shake Out At Our Schools


On Thursday morning, the loudspeaker at Katherine Elementary School airs a recorded message telling the staff and students that an earthquake drill has begun.

With the sounds of shaking and crashing in the background, the voice asks everyone to, “Drop, cover and hold on.”

Part of the Great California Shakeout, the earthquake drill was repeated at every campus in Simi Valley, and is one of several types of emergency drills staff and students routinely conduct during the school year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Drills are an essential part of campus safety. The more prepared and practiced the school community is during a simulated emergency, the better they will navigate a real crisis, which could include brush fires, earthquakes, criminal activity requiring a campus lock down and other scenarios.

Every Simi campus has an Emergency Operations Plan and every staff member undergoes regular training in the plan’s procedures. The complete plans are housed in the schools’ offices in binders, and each classroom has a flip chart for immediate emergency procedures.

“Every adult is on this campus for them and their safety,” said teacher Lynette LeBlanc as she looked at her Katherine Elementary third-graders during Thursday’s drill.

Besides regular drills, each school has a seatrain, a secure storage area where all emergency supplies are kept. These supplies are inventoried at least annually. Many elementary schools also prepare go-bags for their younger students, which will have drinks, snacks and comfort items. At some schools, parents are given the option to pay a small amount of money at the beginning of the year for the students’ go-bags. Others give parents the option of putting together a go-bag with a specific list of items. At some schools, the PTA supplements the cost of the go-bags when parents can’t afford them.

Even though the middle and high schools accommodate many more students, they also stock a two-to-three day supply of water and rations.

All emergencies are monitored and coordinated with the district office. The district’s senior staff collaborates with emergency service agencies (police, sheriff, fire) during emergencies, and maintain emergency communications systems. Regular training through FEMA and other agencies is required and the district holds drills, too.

One of the biggest concerns for parents during an emergency is getting to their children at a school site. It’s important to remember that a school’s staff will do everything possible to protect their students. Here are some tips for handling a crisis during school hours:

  • PLEASE REMAIN CALM! Every staff member at every campus regularly trains in emergency procedures for numerous scenarios. They will do everything possible to keep your child(ren) safe, and they are prepared and equipped to stay on the campus for several days if needed.
  • PLEASE DON’T CALL THE SCHOOL. The phone lines need to be kept open for emergency calls. In some types of emergencies, like earthquakes, phones lines are often “shut down” in order to ease emergency communications. The district’s website,, will post emergency information on its home page for all of the schools. The local media will also be updated with status changes. The city of Simi Valley maintains an emergency radio station, 530 AM, where damage reports and updates are reported. Please also know that students will be asked to turn off their cells phones until the principal or lead administrator at the school sites advise otherwise. As soon as it is safe, students will be able to contact parents through text messages or calls.
  • PLEASE DON’T IMMEDIATELY DRIVE TO THE SCHOOL. The extra traffic can impede the ability of emergency vehicles to get to the school, and, in certain types of emergencies, can place you in danger. Please stay at home or at work until you are given instructions from the school.
  • REMEMBER THAT YOUR CHILD(REN) WILL ONLY BE RELEASED TO THE ADULTS YOU LISTED ON YOUR EMERGENCY CONTACT LIST! It’s important to update this information through Aeries each year. Whoever comes to the school to remove your child(ren) will be asked for identification and will have to sign the child out. Never take your child from the school without signing out with the staff member in charge! School staff are constantly counting heads to make sure they have all of their students with them.

As of this year, all students in Simi Valley schools are required to have their information updated through Aeries, the districtwide computer system for managing student information and grades. At the beginning of the school year, parents were asked to log on to Aeries to complete the permission forms and Acceptable Use Policy for tech devices, to update insurance and medical information, and to designate emergency contacts for each student.

The medical and emergency contact people are especially important to have updated each year in case there is a crisis event. Each school site has staff on-hand to help any parent or guardian who might have trouble using Aeries, or who doesn’t have access to the Internet. Having each student’s information in Aeries allows faster access to a student’s information during an emergency. It’s that important.

The district is currently revising its Parent Emergency Information pamphlet and will soon release it to school sites and post it on the district’s website and school websites.

Students Combat Drunk Driving at Every 15 Minutes

Kenny Dougherty knew better than to drink shots of vodka with his friend Nick Boomhower. After all, hadn’t he always been taught that you don’t drink and drive? But it was prom night and you only live once.

After getting their dates, Kenny took off speeding down Stow Street in Simi Valley and ended the run in a head-on collision with another car. Sarah Baxter, 18, was dead at the scene. Nick, 18, would later die at Simi Valley Hospital. And Kenny, when he sobered up enough to be aware, found himself in jail, facing criminal charges that could send him to prison for many years.

Kenny Dougherty is being taken to jail while first responders remove Sarah Baxter's body from the car's windshield.
Kenny Dougherty is being taken to jail while first responders wait for the funeral home to remove Sarah Baxter’s body from the scene.

No, this did not really happen. But it could have, because the students at Simi Valley High School worked hard to create the illusion of a drunk driving accident as part of the annual Every 15 Minutes program on April 8 and 9.

“It’s a really good program,” said Madisen Richards, 17. “It gives you a whole new outlook on the subject.”

Sponsored through grants and donations of time, money and materials from numerous local agencies, businesses and organizations, Every 15 Minutes seeks to teach teens real life consequences of driving under the influence without the real life trauma.

In Simi Valley, Royal High School and Simi Valley High School alternate the production of Every 15 Minutes each year. At each school, all juniors and seniors participate in the two-day program, ensuring that every student at the two schools is reached during their high school years.

Students are nominated to participate in the program, and their participation is kept secret until the event begins with an announcement over the school’s loudspeaker that every 15 minutes in the U.S. someone dies in a drunk driving related accident. Then, the “deaths” of the participating students are announced every 15 minutes. The effect on the entire campus is somber and chilling.

The students standing behind the crash scene represent the "Living Dead." Their names were called out on the school's loudspeaker throughout the morning.
The students standing behind the crash scene represent the “Living Dead.” Their names were called out on the school’s loudspeaker throughout the morning.

Sixteen Simi High students participated in this year’s program. But Every 15 Minutes is not just contained to the students and campus. Every participating student’s family is integrated into the program, creating a powerful circle of tragic experience through the recreation of the accident, arrest, hospital scene, court case and funeral.

For instance, while participating students were being made up for their roles by students from the Simi Valley Cosmetology School, police and police chaplains drove around the city notifying families of their child’s “death.”

Sarah Baxter’s fatal back injury is being created by students from the Simi Valley Cosmetology School.
The final result...
The final result…

Even though each family knew that the accident wasn’t real, the impact of opening their front doors on what should have been a normal morning only to be faced with their lives never being the same again, was emotional and sad.

The Hernandez family have just been notified that their oldest son, Alan, has just been "killed" in a drunk driving accident.
The Hernandez family have just been notified that their oldest son, Alan, has just been “killed” in a drunk driving accident.

Families also wrote good-bye letters to their children, which the students read on the night after the crash recreation during an overnight retreat. Students also wrote their own good-bye letters to their families and friends.

On Day Two, an assembly brought together the participants, families and Simi High’s juniors and seniors in the school’s gym. Students tearfully read their good-bye letters and listened to the guest speaker, Corey Reed, share about his own DUI accident in 2005.

Day two's assembly.
Day two’s assembly.

A Royal High School graduate in 2001, Reed played it straight while in school. But in the years following graduation, his partying—drinking, drugging and recklessness—became excessive.

Corey Reed shares his experience from a drunk driving accident that left him blind and without his right leg.
Corey Reed shares his experience from a drunk driving accident that left him blind and without his right leg.

On the night of his life-changing accident, his friend was driving into Simi from a club. Both young men were drunk and after reaching speeds up to 101 mph, the Chevy Tahoe they were in crashed into some trees on Sequoia Avenue. Corey lost his right leg and his eyesight in the accident. He was 23 years old. His friend landed in jail.

“We were both victims of our lifestyle choices we made that night,” Reed said.



  • Simi Valley High School PTSA
  • California Highway Patrol
  • Simi Valley Police Department
  • Ventura County Fire Department
  • American Medical Response
  • Simi Valley Hospital & Healthcare Services
  • Dave’s Towing
  • Reardon Simi Valley Funeral Home
  • Ventura County Superior Court
  • Best Western Posada Royale
  • Simi Valley Police Foundation
  • Simi Valley Education Foundation
  • Rotary Club of Simi Sunset
  • Rotary Club of Simi Valley
  • Kopy King
  • Rancho Simi Recreation & Parks District
  • O’Connor Brothers Photography
  • SVHS students, faculty and staff
  • Dave High Ink
  • Robert Arabian
  • Corey Reed
  • Susan Cohen


Video of crash and assembly:

Every 15 Minutes-National website:

As covered by the Ventura County Star:

On Facebook: