"Good luck AP test takers" scrolled across Costa Mesa High School's electronic marquee Friday morning.
At Newport-Mesa Unified high schools this week, Advanced Placement classes culminated with exams that will determine whether students receive college credit for their efforts.
Almost 100 students were prepping for that academic milestone with pancakes at 7 a.m. Friday in Mesa's cafeteria.
"During the AP season these kids are working their tails off," Principal Phil D'Agostino said a few minutes before a class of 93 freshman and one sophomore headed to their test.
For the last three years, Mesa has offered an AP Human Geography course, but it has an oddity, teacher JoMarie Hayes said.
It's offered specifically to freshman. In its first year, 14 freshman signed up.
"It was an experiment," Hayes said.
But it quickly grew to 55 students the following year, and now the class has outgrown its normal room. Students take the AP test in Mesa's library and an overflow room.
Starting in AP Human Geography's first year, D'Agostino brought over a tradition he'd started as a teacher.
He cooked a batch of pancakes at home and served them to the 14 students at campus to make sure they headed into the exam on a full stomach and with a little extra moral support.
"I know how nervous you guys are as a former AP teacher myself," D'Agostino said during a short pep talk before volunteers handed out the pancakes and bacon.
Parents and other volunteers stepped up to do the cooking this year after D'Agostino spent hours cooking for last year's dozens of students, Hayes said.
D'Agostino told the freshmen that it was a huge achievement to even take a college-level class during their first year of high school, regardless of whether they pass the exam.
"There's no downside once they've taken the test," Hayes said.
In her first year teaching the class, 43% of her students passed. The next year it was down to 24%.
But this year, she predicts they'll beat the national average rate of 48%, she said.
Half a dozen students laughing, talking and eating said they weren't nervous.
"You can't stress any more," Connor Nguyen said.
Melanie Kisler explained that she's the type of student who only does worse on a test if she worries.
"I'm just tired and kind of numb," she said.
The breakfast, they said, didn't hurt.
"Free pancakes, man," Melanie said.