Masen, 12th Grader

“At the time, I played football and one of the guys [on the AP student panel], played football too. I looked up to [and] knew he wouldn’t lead me in the wrong direction. So, I told myself, ‘You know what, why don’t we take a leap.’ That’s where it all started. I took that leap of faith because of my counselor and my friends.”

During his freshman year at a Ventura County District, Mason was invited to a meeting about Advanced Placement classes. At the meeting, current junior and senior AP students were panelists sharing their experiences and benefits of enrolling in AP classes. Despite having previously heard negative comments about the workload involved, Mason was convinced to sign up for an AP class because of the encouragement he received from both a trusted administrator and from the student panelists who he respected.

For Mason, seeing his friends in the AP Informational meeting—both on the experienced AP student panel and in the crowd of students invited to the meeting—helped him imagine himself as a part of this student community.

Everyone [that] goes to these meetings, there’s something about them—[the] people [who] want to sign up for AP and IB classes, and that’s the people you want to be surrounded by. I told myself, ‘A lot of these people are my friends, these are a great group of friends and the peers that are up there, I look up to these people’, and that’s what just got me started, just being in that right surrounding.

The range of AP course offerings allowed Mason to select courses that aligned with his developing career interests in Engineering and his success in Math and Science courses built up his sense of personal efficacy. Confident in his ability to achieve in this field, Mason was already strategizing on how to prioritize his high school AP courses to correspond to his college major.

I chose the field of mechanics and engineering. I’m good in Math and Science. Right now, my top priority is AP Calculus and AP Physics, because what I want to major in requires those subjects.

Upon graduating, Mason said his only regret was not having taken more AP courses.

I’ve taken nine APs and I wish I could have taken more…what stands out is the way that teachers connect the content with students’ lives outside of school. During grad night, my friends and I were standing in line and talking about physics. We ended up talking about roller coasters, gravity and the acceleration and all that. It’s just because my teacher made it relatable to our lives and exciting.

Despite this, his experience in AP wasn’t always easy. Even after two years of participating in AP courses, Mason still had concerns at the end of his junior year about whether he belonged in AP, fit in with the other AP students, or even belonged in college.

I’ve taken AP classes every single year and there’s always that one AP class [where] you sit down and after your first couple lectures, you look to the guy to your right and to your left, they’re sitting there with a blank face. You talk to them. They’re like, ‘No, I don’t think this is for me man, this is a little rough.’ AP physics was that way this year. I have a good friend in my AP physics class, at 06:45 in the morning and we’re sitting there two weeks in and I remember looking back at him like, ‘Bro, I don’t think I can handle this.

There were a couple key things Mason’s teachers did to help him and other students push past that recurring feeling of not belonging. They depersonalized the struggle and challenge of AP and emphasized gradual improvement.

My AP physics and AP calculus teacher understands that those are two of the hardest subjects and he knows that it can be difficult. He tells us that every year he gets the same blank stares for a month straight, no one is understanding what’s going on but he can see the difference from us in the beginning versus now. He told us it’s like anything else you do in life, if you’re training you just got to get better and better understanding.

Peer support networks were also significant for Mason.

You have a couple of friends, even if it’s just one or two in a class, and encourage each other to stay in the class, help each other out to get the work done and that’s what keeps you going. If you’re by yourself, you don’t know anyone, it makes it a little harder…but when you got your friend next to you and you’re talking, you can’t back out. He’s telling you, ‘You can’t back out’, [next thing] you know you’re a year in and you made it the entire year now.

This Ventura County district partnered with Equal Opportunity Schools to expand their AP outreach and impact, ensuring their students of color and low-income students were equitably represented in the AP program. In their first year of partnership, 64 more students of color and low-income students enrolled in AP/IB courses. The AP/IB participation rate of students of color and low-income students increased by 20%, from 26% to 46%. This past fall 2016, Mason was one of the students on the experienced AP student panel, encouraging other students to imagine themselves as a part of the AP community.