Elliana, 11th Grade, Northern IL High School
“Someone came in to school [and] talked with us about AP classes. She showed me the apple on my profile…[where] a teacher said they thought I could take it [an AP class]…that was the point where I was like, ‘If they think I can take it, maybe I can’, and that’s what got me to sign-up.”
Over a two-year span, this Northern Illinois High School, in partnership with Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), expanded their AP program by 20%. Most of this program growth reflected students of color and low-income students. Without the intentional equity work of the partnership, Elliana would have been one of many students who would have missed the opportunity to enroll and benefit an AP experience.
Elliana entered 10th grade at this Northern IL High School with a 2.89 GPA, career interests in medicine and aspirations to go to a 4-year college. At this point in her high school career, she expressed concern that her current courses weren’t challenging and was interested in taking upper-level courses. Elliana believed that her grades didn’t reflect her full potential. She had heard of Advanced Placement (AP) classes, but she didn’t know how to go about enrolling in AP and didn’t feel like staff at her high school provided her with enough information about AP. She also reported not feeling welcome in AP.
The EOS/high school partnership provided the encouragement that Elliana needed. In fall of 10th grade, she reported mindsets and skills that hinted at her potential — a strong purpose for learning, an ability to focus on academic tasks when needed, and leadership experience developed through ongoing work in her community. In addition, a staff member recommended Elliana for an AP class. These assets showed up on her student insight card (SIC) that was used in outreach conversations. When asked about how she ended up deciding to take AP, she pointed to this outreach conversation and to the teacher recommendation:
“Someone came in to school, I think it was two ladies that talked with us about AP classes. She showed me the apple on my profile or something like that, that a teacher said that they thought that I could take it and I think it was that point where I was like, “If they think I can take it, maybe I can”, and that’s what really got me to actually sign up.”
Elliana signed up for AP US History in 11th grade, a course aligned with her interest in history. While encouragement and interest were key for getting Elliana to sign up for the class, she still had doubts about whether the experience was for her:
“The first semester, when I walked into my AP class, there were only two Hispanics and it was intimidating. None of my friends were there, so I was kind of uncomfortable…I guess kids that take a lot of AP classes, they obviously move as a group, because they’re all taking the same AP classes. So, when there’s someone like myself that takes one AP class it’s like, “Oh, they all know each other, it’s just me…I guess it was more you felt like you aren’t supposed to be there. “Why are you here? This isn’t for you…”
And after the first test, she was inclined to agree. But four experiences helped her persist and succeed in AP US History.
The first was an encouraging, caring teacher:
- “Overall, I believe that the encouragement that was given helped me a lot, especially because it was my first AP class. The moment you feel like you do not belong or that you can’t do the class, is when you start to feel like you shouldn’t take AP classes…I think for me it was the welcome part, feeling welcome and encouraged and not discouraged…I don’t know, [my teacher] he didn’t have, I guess, a favorite student so it made you feel– I don’t know, I don’t know how to say it… Made you feel welcome.”
A teacher that respected her ways of participating:
- “Some kids aren’t comfortable with speaking. I know my teacher respected that. I don’t really like speaking. But he really did respect that. I guess he knew, because I never really raised my hand or stuff like that. He knew, he really paid attention to stuff like that.”
Projects that were fun and interactive:
- “One of my favorites was a 1920s dress-up activity. I didn’t think we would do projects like that. Someone might think AP classes, “Oh, it’s hard work, it’s a lot of homework”, it’s in your head, so when you go into the AP class and you see projects like that, that are fun and stuff like that, you think, “Wow, no one told me that there was going to be projects like this.”
And critical and encouraging feedback for improvement:
- “Critical feedback on our tests and quizzes was really beneficial because apart from making mistakes you learn from them and do better next time. Last year in history class I got my test back, I never got the why I got this wrong, why I made this mistake and how to improve. I don’t remember getting feedback. In my AP class I did get feedback, every single test, every single essay, I always got feedback.”
Elliana described her first AP experience as a success and plans to continue AP in 12th grade.
“I have learned why it is important to do well in school to be prepared for college…I am glad I took AP. I found myself signing up for an AP course this year, which I never thought I would do. I didn’t really think I was going to have the opportunity to take more AP classes, but since I already experienced one AP class, I know now what it’s like.”