Catalina, 11th Grader, Chicago Metro HS

“I’m glad I took an AP class because I got to meet new people from different countries.”



As a 10th grader, Catalina had primarily only heard negative things about Advanced Placement (AP) courses at this Chicagoland high school. Even with over a 4.0 GPA and test scores similar to the top AP students, she felt intimidated, a feeling shared by over 30% of her schoolmates.

“You hear the course is hard, you get a lot of homework, and you stay up stressing all night doing your homework. Tests will be hard” reflects Catalina on what she’s heard most about AP classes.”

 

Catalina was open to considering higher-level courses but hadn’t enrolled in prior years because she was worried about not receiving academic support, being successful in the classes, and that her GPA would be affected.

Within the first few weeks of her sophomore year, Catalina already had 2 teachers recommending that she enroll in an AP class. She had demonstrated several learning mindsets, including “Grit”- the ability to persevere through challenges, and “Purpose of Learning”- An academic goal that is motivated both by an opportunity to benefit the self and the potential to have some effect on or connection to the world beyond the self.

However, she had several barriers impeding her from enrolling. Catalina wasn’t sure of the benefits of taking AP. She also wasn’t sure how to enroll in an AP course. And she reported not having much adult encouragement to enroll in an AP course, a barrier faced by 64% of students like Catalina at her high school.

After attending a meeting held by her school, designed to teach students about course selection, the enrollment process, and the benefits of AP courses, Catalina did enroll for AP classes. One motivating aspiration of hers was is to attend a four-year college and major in Criminal Justice.

Catalina recognized that, “It will just look good if you’ve taken any AP classes.” She knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but the benefits would make it worth the risk.

“At first, I thought AP classes weren’t for me because I have heard very negative things about it, it’s really hard, but then I decided to challenge myself and take an AP. The bright side about taking an AP class is that you can get college credit.”

 

Now Catalina feels comfortable and confident as she finishes out her first AP course as a junior. Though she is shy, she reflects how much help and support she’s gotten from her teacher and AP peers. Like her, more than 3 in 4 students of color taking AP for the first-time at least somewhat agree that they feel comfortable asking their teachers and peers for support, and that their teachers want them to succeed. Catalina also reports that she no longer has the barriers to enrollment she did before. “If you need help, others will help you. It is not hard if you pay attention…”

One of the most enjoyable parts of her first-year experience was meeting new people and working through problems and projects together.

“I’m glad I took an AP class because I got to meet new people from different countries. I met a girl from Cuba and another one from the Dominican Republic. And you just learn about different cultures and it’s very interesting. You work together on group projects and it helps you understand it better. If you don’t get something, maybe your partner gets it and then share ideas.”

 

This year, Catalina was inducted into La Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica – The Spanish Honor Society in her district and she plans on continuing AP during her final high school year.

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*Per FERPA, names and images have been changed to protect students’ identities.