SacCity alters PACE Program to include AP Capstone diploma program



Hailey Luistro, John F. Kennedy High School

The Sacramento City Unified School District is moving to change the PACE Program at John. F Kennedy High School to include the Advanced Placement Capstone Diploma Program.

PACE, which stands for Program in American and Californian Exploration, is a specialty program provided at JFK that offers students a four-year advanced academic plan. 

PACE students take rigorous college-prep curriculums (including AP English, history, math, science, and foreign language), as well as uniquely designed English and History courses. AP Capstone is a diploma program developed by the College Board that’s based on two year-long AP courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. SCUSD has decided to make some changes with the program by incorporating the AP Capstone Diploma Program into PACE. 

Lofing offered her assessment of how the addition of AP Capstone will benefit students.

“As we have returned from these last years of the pandemic, and everything that has meant for education, it seemed a good time to bring something new to JFK and to align it within the parts of PACE (the acronym will now stand for: Program in Advanced Curricular Explorations) that continue to be meaningful to the greater JFK community …,” said Kari Lofing, the Gifted and Talented/Advanced Placement coordinator for the district.

Lofing offered her assessment of how the addition of AP Capstone will benefit students.

“The inclusion of AP Capstone to the PACE experience ensures that students will engage in self-selected research projects, will analyze cross-curricular issues from multiple perspectives, and will be able to deliver presentations on important issues,” said Lofing.

Those pushing for the transition are hoping the new program will attract interest from more students by offering more college preparation and an advantage that’s special to JFK.

“AP Capstone will be unique to JFK in Sac City; no other SCUSD high school offers students this opportunity,” Lofing said. “The learning embedded in the AP Capstone experience – self-selected research, argumentation and communication skills – are at the heart of college readiness and being a life-long learner.” 

Some teachers agreed AP Capstone will help give JFK more appeal, considering how old and outdated PACE has started to feel.

“Almost all the features of PACE that made it desirable to students and parents have been eliminated over the past five or six years for various reasons,” said Todd Whalen, an AP U.S. History teacher at JFK. “It didn’t make sense to continue the program with so many components missing. A decision had to be made as to terminate the program or reinvent it.  SCUSD decided to reinvent it.”

Though this transition may seem like an intense change for PACE, it’s only adding courses that can give students more choices. 

“Students who apply to be in the PACE cohort as ninth graders will be guaranteed cohorting in ninth and 10th grades for English, history/social science and in ninth grade biology,” Lofing said. “They will still take PACE English 9, PACE Geography & Ethnic Studies and PACE Honors English 10. They will also still take AP History/Social Science classes in grades 10-12. 

“So from that perspective, there aren’t any changes to PACE. Rather, this is expanding what it means to be in PACE in 11th & 12th grades with the addition of AP Seminar (11th grade) and AP Research (12th grade).”

Proponents say the revamped program will provide greater opportunities for students and allow them to stand out more when applying for colleges. They note completion of the AP Capstone program is valued by colleges across the U.S. and around the world.

“AP Capstone was developed by the College Board in partnership with college professors,” Whalen said. “The goal of AP Capstone is to prepare students for college-type work and to be successful in college. … AP Capstone is a nationally recognized program governed by the College Board. PACE was not. Since the UCs and CSUs no longer look at SAT scores, an AP Capstone certificate or diploma can help a student stand out when applying to those schools or any other college.”

Students seem enthusiastic about the change

“I think that the switch is a good change as it brings two new AP courses that Kennedy has not seen before and provides more options for students,” said Tim Zhen, a JFK PACE junior who is taking several AP classes. “I think that AP Capstones will be more beneficial for students as it offers two curriculums that focus on real-world topics and critical-thinking skills, which are very different (from) the other standard school subjects.”