Where are the Black and Brown Boys? How Brooklyn Educator Shannah Henderson-Amare became a catalyst for innovative advanced coursework spreading across the nation
Shannah Henderson-Amare helped pave the way for the College Board’s rapidly-growing AP African American Studies program, and is working with EOS to increase access to advanced courses like it at her Brooklyn High School
Shannah Henderson-Amare has been a trailblazer in education for years, and she’s now getting much-deserved national media recognition for her role in paving the way for the College Board’s nascent AP African American Studies course that is spreading to schools across the country.
In Spring 2020, Henderson-Amare, along with her students and staff, launched a petition calling on the College Board to add AP African American Studies and African Civilizations to their course offerings. The petition was backed by the AP for All initiative of the New York City Department of Education, and garnered nearly 30,000 signatures.
Two years later, Brooklyn Prep joined 59 schools across the country in piloting the new course, and almost one-third of its students expressed interest in enrolling. The following school year, 48 schools in New York City, and almost 700 schools nationwide, followed the school’s lead.
African American Studies is just one of the advanced courses Henderson-Amare has introduced to Brooklyn Prep over the past decade, courses which go beyond AP curriculum.
“Sometimes college and career readiness is not just about taking AP classes or traditional college preparation; it’s also about students finding out who they are and what they’re interested in,” she said. “So, we’ve added to a lot of unconventional things like entrepreneurship and financial literacy classes – anything that the students care about, we try to incorporate, and we know what they care about based on the EOS insight cards.”
Henderson-Amare has also focused on expanding access to Brooklyn Prep’s advanced course offerings, and has used EOS data to help her find hidden gaps in enrollment.
At the beginning of the EOS partnership, she felt confident that enrollment numbers in Brooklyn Prep’s AP classes were strong across demographic lines. However, upon looking over comprehensive enrollment data provided by EOS, a significant gap came to light.
“It took me a couple of minutes to realize that, while we had a lot of students in AP classes, they were mostly girls. We did not have any Black and Brown boys in AP classes – maybe 10% of our AP classes had boys in it.”
Using the information provided about student aspirations and concerns on their insight cards, Henderson-Amare and her team began a “concentrated” effort to engage male Black and Brown students and match them with the AP classes that best suited their interests and future goals.
“What our work with EOS has allowed us to do is really be cognizant and make systematic school-wide shifts, focusing on our boys,” she said. “And first, we had to know what their story was. So looking at the EOS data, it was not just about numbers, but what the students saw in themselves and what they wanted us to know about them. And that helped to transform our AP classroom culture.”
She also worked to deconstruct the walls being placed around the AP track in her school, which she said carried tinges of “elitism” at times. This involved helping shift teachers’ mindsets about which students they believed belonged in AP classrooms, and helping them adapt their teaching strategies.
Henderson-Amare recalls one teacher who, upon going through her students’ insight cards and conversing with those students about their goals, pivoted from her more “traditional” textbook-based methods to “creating different innovative creative strategies to engage students in the AP learning in a real authentic, culturally relevant, supportive ways.”
Henderson-Amare says that partnering with EOS has allowed her team to accomplish the equity-building initiatives that they have long worked towards by offering on-site support and accountability.
“As a teacher and administrator, the thing I love most about my EOS partnership is the support and the community,” she said. “The EOS partnership with the partnership director keeps us accountable. It keeps us on track, keeps us focused on the students and moving the work that we all care about forward.”