Massapequa High School senior Sarah Popeck, with her exemplary performance on the Advanced Placement Research exam, earned a distinction shared by only a few hundred other students across the globe. Popeck not only received the top score of 5, but she was also one of only 375 students in the world to earn every possible point.
AP Research is the second course in the College Board’s AP Capstone program. She took the introductory class, AP Seminar, as a sophomore with teachers Nicole Junjulas and David Summers before moving on to the more advanced research class as a junior with Valerie Domenech.
In AP Research, students select topics of personal interest and work on the project for the duration of the school year. Their goal is to identify knowledge gaps and contribute new information on a subject. Popeck’s topic was the impact of social studies teachers on the advocacy and civic engagement of high school students. She conducted a survey of students from multiple high schools and then analyzed her data.
Popeck said she learned that when teachers foster intellectual discussions and make strong connections between historical events and the present day, students are more likely to be active citizens. She is very active herself, serving as the Northeast regional technologist for a nonprofit organization aimed at gun violence prevention and said her involvement is the result of having very engaging social studies teachers.
“I loved discovering something that wasn’t known yet,” she said. “Research is so important because we can close that gap of knowledge. All the work that I was putting in over the year has paid off.”
While projects are done independently, students do have guidance along the way. Teacher Dana Robbins served as her expert adviser and Christopher Diehl provided mentorship for statistical analysis.
Popeck earned every possible point on both her paper, which was scored by the College Board, and her oral defense, which was presented in front of a panel of Massapequa educators. Social Studies Curriculum Associate Dr. Brian Trapani, who oversees the AP Capstone program, said that the oral defense is extremely challenging because students not only have to prepare a strong presentation but they also have to answer follow-up questions from the panel.
Beyond high school, Popeck hopes to continue to be involved in research and said the AP Capstone program has prepared her well for the future. At Massapequa High School, she is president of the history club, secretary of mathletes and a member of the French, National and Tri-M Music honor societies.
—Submitted by the Massapequa School District