Samuel, 10th Grade, North Carolina High School
“AP is a lot of work, but it does help you in a lot of ways too — you feel safe, you feel much safer for your future, you feel more comfortable knowing that if you do this and you accomplish it, that it’s going to be easier in the future.”
Over the past two years, this North Carolina high school has worked with Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS) to expand AP access to its predominantly Latino/a student population (92%). Over those two years, access has expanded considerably. The schools first year, 1 in 3 Latino/a students (33%) participated in at least one AP class. During their second year, over 2 in 5 (42%) participated in at least one AP class.
Program quality has been stable and 88% of first-time AP Latino/a students passed their AP courses at the end of the first semester. Samuel’s story highlights the ways that peer connections, a positive teacher-student relationship, and the motivation provided by a clear understanding of long-term benefits can combine to help students who are often overlooked reap the rewards of an AP experience.
Samuel entered 9th grade with a 3.0 GPA, career interests in finance and aspirations to attain an advanced degree. He had heard about AP through his family and was interested in signing up during his 10th grade year.
“My brother came to this school as well. He said he took AP and he wanted me to try AP. “You know, you should take this.” He told me it’s a lot of work, but I thought he was exaggerating…so I tried AP.”
When asked why he planned to take AP, Samuel highlighted the potential for getting college credit and for improving his chances for getting into college. He entered the class with a number of self-reported mindsets and skills for success – determination, focus, confidence in his academic abilities, and a commitment to use his learning to make a positive impact on the world. Despite his college and career aspirations, his understanding of the benefits of AP, and the strengths that he brought to his academic work, he did not initially feel that students like him were welcome in AP classes.
Samuel had been designated as a student with special education needs and stereotypes around who should be in AP often limit the participation of students in special education courses. While Samuel believes that false messages from staff and other students can be strong deterrents, he signed up for AP World History anyway.
“They’ll be just like, ‘Oh, you have to stay up late, you have to do this, you have all this work.” But they don’t hear how it benefits you at the end a lot. Teachers explain that better; they say it helps you get ahead, but they don’t say, “If you take this class, in college you won’t have to take it.’ They don’t explain the details of the class. I would want other students to know that it was a good way to learn new things. There was a lot of good parts of it and I want them to know how it was difficult, yet it teaches you and gives you a lot of knowledge and it gives a lot of confidence so that you feel better about it. It’s like you feel, ‘Oh, I overcame this, and it wasn’t that bad.’ There are times in our mind when we were doing it, we felt like, ‘Oh.’ We overthink, and we think it’s worse than it actually is but it’s not that bad.”
The beginning of the first AP class can be challenging.
“Students are not prepared for it and they don’t know anything about it. They don’t know what to do. It’s just crashes onto them, so they over stress about it and they just over think it. They sound like — feeling like she said, you can’t handle it — there’s too much for them, you know.”
Looking back now Samuel wishes he could have had more help developing his expectations and skills for the class ahead.
“I wish we could have had more tips on how to succeed in the class, like time management courses, help me on what’s in the class, what needs to be studied, being guided. They say, ‘Oh, we’re going to be reading this book, these chapters’, so I could read them in the summer and go over it…It should prepare them before, give them tips, help them out before because a lot of times when I first entered AP, I learn something new, so in the beginning I was like, ‘Oh, wow, it’s pretty difficult’, so I felt it would have helped me out I would have understood them more and maybe it would have been a better situation.”
Samuel believed the transition into AP was easier for him than it is for many other students because he had friends in the class going in and a supportive teacher who offered students opportunities to learn from their mistakes.
“I had a couple students who took it with me, so I felt like I was able to like — I wasn’t really alone with them, like the students were taking it together. It wasn’t just a class where I just go, I do my thing, and then I leave. I got to laugh, have some fun. In the class that I was in, there were a lot of positive vibes going. There were always people who would be laughing, even the teacher made some jokes. It wouldn’t really — even if we messed up, 10 minutes later, we’d be joking instead…There’s a lot of teachers…They don’t really explain who they are to you. Like my teacher, she would show us pictures of her going on trips. I think if teachers did that, kids feel more confident. They’re like, ‘Oh, we don’t just know her as a teacher. We know about her besides just being my teacher.’”
On doing test corrections with other students.
“I liked it. if you do it by yourself, you don’t catch the things that other people catch, you don’t have the ideas they have, so sometimes the more ideas you have, the more open your mind is into more like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know that, I didn’t even think of it as answer A’ but this person had great explanations about this.”
Samuel passed AP World History and looks back on his first AP class as a positive experience.
“I was glad I took AP because for me, the way [my teacher] talks, I had no idea at first what she was saying. As you catch on, as you’d practice more, you start understanding it more and it’s something unique you know. I just learned something, this new word, that no one else knows. I like that. I was slow at it so I just have to read it twice, but it helped me because in the beginning I was like, “It’s not as easy as I thought”, but at the end of it when I went to the study sessions, techniques and the practices that the teachers would teach for us and use for us it really helped me improve and it made me feel better for the future so I feel more comfortable, like, ‘Oh, you know, if I can do this, then I can do other things’. It made me feel like that at the end of it I gained a lot of knowledge and like the vocabulary because it was like different, really different compared to honors, especially the way the teacher talks and it’s just like a whole different thing, so I liked that.”