|Township High School District 211
This process is complicated and everyone needs to be open to change. As adults (teachers, administrators, support staff, etc.) we frequently believe that we know what our students are thinking. We believe we can explain why students act, think and react the way that they do based on our own personal experiences in similar situations. The results of the EOS student survey exposed we had underestimated the impact that “Grit” and a “Growth Mindset” can have on a student’s academic tenacity and ability to achieve. When adults in the building talk with targeted students they quickly learn they have the raw ability and desire to achieve at the AP level, but do not know have the personal experience to do so without the understanding and help of a trusted adult. Respect and trust the information not only your current AP students are telling you but also your identified new AP students. As a school leader, you will learn more about student learning and growth. Students moving to AP after identification through the EOS process not only need academic support, but also social emotional support. Everyone must be “all in” and committed to changing the AP environment within the school community. It does not mean changing the rigor of the course but instead the supports for students and teachers along with knowing how to create a sense of belonging.
Who Benefits Most
The goal of partnering with Equal Opportunity Schools was to eliminate equity gaps and eliminate the barriers that economically disadvantaged students have in gaining exposure to Advanced Placement courses. The greatest benefactors of this partnership have been the students currently taking an AP course for the first time during the 2017-2018 school year. These students have been exposed to an increased level of rigor in their courses and now have the opportunity to gain college credit through AP tests this spring. The District AP Program has benefited from the creation of additional supports and resources for AP students. One such example is the implementation of an AP lab, a place where first time AP students can receive targeted interventions for reading comprehension, analytical mathematical skills, and expository writing in a communal space. A junior student came into the program with the thought that she did not belong in an AP course. A staff mentor in the AP lab worked with her constantly to build her academic skills and instill within her a feeling of belonging in AP Language and Composition. At the end of first semester, this student proudly earned a B and she is increasing in confidence as she approaches the May AP testing date. The staff is also benefiting through professional learning opportunities on creating a sense of belonging, developing grit and a growth mindset not only within students but also within the teachers.
Our Reason for Tackling AP/IB Equity Work
High School District 211 is committed to providing extraordinary opportunities to all students, including access to rigorous coursework aligned with each student’s interest and readiness. One of the District’s goals is that students will demonstrate increased enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) courses. AP coursework offers college-level curricula and the ability to earn college credit through the AP examinations. While the overall percentage of students enrolled in AP courses in the District continues to grow, we were aware that an enrollment gap continued to exist among student demographic groups. Understanding the significance of student exposure to more rigorous coursework, and potentially earning college credit, the District began its partnership with EOS to focus on closing the enrollment gap.
The Most Inspiring Aspect of the Work
The most inspirational and moving aspect of the work is exemplified through the relationships and communities that have developed throughout the buildings because of the partnership. Through our work with Equal Opportunity Schools, our faculty has been particularly impacted by the feedback received from students on concerns related to the welcome barrier and the idea of the sense of belonging in our building and our AP classrooms started to problem solve how to address the students’ concerns. Equity Team meetings, Problem-Solving Team meetings, and full Faculty meetings have engaged faculty in a variety of activities over the course of the past two years to identify opportunities for growth through the EOS resources such as the EOS Equity Pathways Report, and review of individual Student Survey responses.
Faculty and staff focused on developing supports that not only positively affect first-time AP students’ academic success in rigorous courses, but also help to build meaningful connections for these students, and all AP students, within the larger school community. Faculty and staff worked to connect students to their self-identified trusted adults through outreach activities, to provide students with additional times and spaces to seek out academic support outside the traditional school day, and have created for students an extra-curricular opportunity that helps AP students to develop non-academic traits and characteristics that will support their work across AP classrooms. Because of our work with Equal Opportunity Schools, we have developed creative responses to students’ honest concerns related to their sense of belonging in our AP courses and community. It is our hope that these supports will not only affect our students’ immediate success in their AP courses, but will also provide them with experiences and skills that will positively reverberate beyond their high school years.
Numerous supports in place for both students and teachers have significantly improved our enrollment retention in AP courses. Prior to the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, our Equity Team developed an AP Student Support Plan. If an AP student is struggling and/or considering dropping an AP class, the AP Student Support Plan is initiated to identify what supports are needed for student success. Students will work through a series of reflective questions to help them discover what they can do to improve their success in the class. Dialogue between the student, the teacher, the Department Chair, the student’s counselor, and the student’s parents/guardians assists in the development of the plan. All stakeholders take ownership in supports identified and implemented before consideration of dropping the course. In addition, an AP Resource Room was developed and implemented to provide a place of study for AP students before, during, and after school. Equipped with collaborative furniture and technology, the AP Resource Room is an effective space free for students to seek additional help, collaborate with peers, and seek out peer tutors for AP coursework. AP Community is a new club for all AP students facilitated by two AP teachers. Every Friday morning students meet before school. Each meeting includes a topic that will assist the students in success. Topics include developing academic skills along with how to ask your teacher for assistance, time and stress management and any additional topics the students want to discuss. In addition, a site created for students to share ideas, post questions, problem-solve and collaborate has fostered a mentoring program. Students who previously took a course are mentoring new students enrolled in the course. Originally, this was not the intention of the club, but it will be next year. The mentoring is also happening during the Friday morning sessions. Professional development AP teachers receive to support and retain AP students has created a culture of learning and supported the initiative. Throughout this school year, teachers have engaged in round table discussions and focus groups on topics such as teaching students of poverty; developing a sense of belonging in the classroom; and strategies for student team-building.
Partnership with EOS
The partnership director is a valuable asset in this work. Laurie has kept our District focused on the work that needs to be completed. She has provided resources for professional learning opportunities and connections to other school leaders engaged in this important work. The reports EOS creates gives students and staff a voice in a way we had not previously explored. The reports provided a starting place for conversation and action to strengthen the District’s AP program.