Investing in education
Blanchard Fund helps 19 students pass 51 AP exams
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Marshfield High School (MHS) students have saved thousands of dollars and stand to save much more as they enter college because of the generosity of an MHS alumnus.
Marshfield native Derek Blanchard started the Blanchard AP Scholarship Fund in late 2014 with the goal of helping Marshfield students afford to take advanced placement (AP) exams, which can be costly.
Data from the 2015-2016 school year has been released, and the results show that Blanchard’s idea has had a major positive impact on students. Nineteen students were able to access the fund during the 2015-2016 school year. That group took 57 exams and earned a passing grade of three or higher on 51 of the tests taken, according to numbers provided by the Marshfield Area Community Foundation (MACF).
Passing an AP test gives college credit to high school students, thus saving them future time and money at the university level. In addition, students benefiting from the fund save money upfront by not having to pay the entire AP exams fees.
In total, students were granted $3,237 from the Blanchard Fund in the past school year. Nearly all of that money, save for a couple of other donors, came from Blanchard himself, according to Amber Leifheit, who is both a school board member and the MACF executive director.
Students who qualify for free and reduced lunches automatically have AP exam fees waived, Leifheit said. The Blanchard Fund helps students who do not quite qualify for free and reduced lunches but may still struggle to afford an AP exam, which typically costs about $91. Guidance counselors and teachers, Leifheit said, work to determine which students, of those who have indicated a need, should receive money and how much.
MHS AP Data Specialist and AP European History teacher Dan Dargenio said students coming from a home where the parents combine to make just enough to exempt their children from free and reduced lunches could still be significantly burdened by the cost of AP exams.
“Paying for $500 or $600 of AP exams, especially if (families) have one, two, or three students at the high school, $1,500 to a family (in that situation) is really kind of impossible,” Dargenio said.
Leifheit said that Blanchard’s investment in students creates a massive, positive economic ripple effect.
“For an average of $63.47/test (the amount of money granted divided by the number of exams passed), students were able to get three college credits, sometimes more. Three credits at UW-Madison would cost $1,340 (on average). This means students may be able to recoup $68,340 (exams passed times the cost of three credits at UW-Madison) in tuition from (the) $3,237 investment,” Leifheit wrote in an email to Hub City Times.
Dargenio said that as word has spread about the Blanchard Fund, the amount of students hoping to access it has grown.
“(Blanchard) wants to make sure that any kid that goes through Marshfield High School and wants to be a part of the AP program and wants to take the test is able to, and it’s been remarkable. It’s grown — the amount of kids that are using the fund,” Dargenio said.
“Anyone who wants to take an AP class and try is welcome to,” Leifheit said. “As our numbers (of students taking AP tests) have expanded, our percent passage hasn’t gone down, so that’s really amazing too. I think that’s a real testament to good teaching and good teachers.”
Dargenio is hopeful that more MHS alumni will see the impact Blanchard has made and in turn contribute to the Blanchard Fund. The AP playing field is made more level by the Blanchard Fund for students with less means than the affluent, Dargenio said. He added that the Blanchard Fund may encourage students to take AP classes or enroll in more AP classes than they normally would, knowing there is a mechanism in place to help them take the final exams.
“The fact that (nearly) $70,000 has been saved (by) Marshfield families from one (about) $3,000 investment, … that’s just crazy,” Dargenio said.
Blanchard, who now lives in Fargo, North Dakota, where he works as a credit officer at American Federal Bank, said he was “overwhelmed” with the success of the fund.
“When we started this scholarship, my goal was to one day reach a point where students were collectively earning the equivalent of a full four-year education (120 credits) each year through tests funded by the scholarship. I never imagined that this goal would be surpassed in year two. I knew when we started this scholarship program that the financial impact on these students’ lives could be extremely powerful, but it appears I underestimated just how big the impact could really be,” Blanchard said.
He continued, “The most impressive part of this year’s results is the test scores. A 90 percent pass rate is unbelievable. This is a credit to the dedication and hard work put in by these students and their AP teachers.”
When Blanchard started the fund in 2014, he said, “My wife and I both were heavily involved in the AP programs when we were in high school, and we were both able to graduate a year early from college because of what that program did for us.”
The AP program opened doors for Blanchard. Now Blanchard is opening doors for many young minds at his alma mater.
To donate to the Blanchard AP Scholarship Fund, send a check to the Marshfield Area Community Foundation at P.O. Box 456, Marshfield, WI 54449 with “Blanchard AP Scholarship Fund” written on the memo line. You may also donate online at marshfieldareacommunityfoundation.org.