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New class could help increase representation of students of color in higher level courses

City-disparities-in-college-prep-classes

Peyton Battle, a junior at Chapel Hill High School, practices calculus at her desk on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

With the promise of greater academic success in college and higher graduation rates, many high school students opt to take higher-level courses, such as advanced placement classes.

However, a lack of minority students within these programs in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools has raised concerns for some members of the district.

Peyton Battle, a Chapel Hill High School junior, said she is often the only student of color in her AP classes.

CHHS senior Nicole Branch also said there is less representation of people of color in her AP classes compared to white students.

“There's definitely kind of a sense of not exactly belonging or feeling like you have to do as good as possible to like, prove that you deserve to be there and that you're like as smart as like white students,” Branch said.

Branch said some AP history classes, like European History, often do not involve the histories of people of color.

As of the 2022 to 2023 school year, AP African American Studies has started piloting in 60 schools across the country and will expand to approximately 200 schools, including Chapel Hill High School, in the coming school year.

“The interdisciplinary course reaches into a variety of fields — literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography and science — to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans,” the College Board website states.

Branch said she thinks it is great College Board has created the class, as it will help students of color become more involved and feel represented in higher-level classes. 

Battle said this lack of representation starts early on in students’ educational careers.

“I also think there needs to be more encouragement and less bias and discrimination from elementary and middle school teachers, because I think that's where a lot of the problem starts with students of color being discouraged from taking AP and honors classes,” Battle said.

Kate Kennedy, director of advanced learning and student leadership for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the school system is working hard to disrupt barriers that have historically made it more difficult for students of color.

Kennedy said one way the district is doing this is through the gifted edication program. She said children in the gifted program are often set up to be more practiced in certain areas and, therefore, more inclined to sign up for honors and advanced placement classes when the time comes.

“We've been working to make sure that our district gifted identification outcomes mirror our district demographics and for the first time in, I think ever, our district demographics are closely in alignment with our historically underserved population data,” Kennedy said. 

Kennedy added that the school system is also looking to increase the diversity of its teaching staff to ensure that students see themselves in their teachers.

Kathy Bolanos Villanueva, a senior at CHHS, has been a part of the Advanced Via Individual Determination program since middle school.

AVID is a college preparatory acceleration program that works to support students who show individual determination to succeed, have at or above grade level achievement, have high aptitude and see themselves as college and career bound.

Bolanos Villanueva said she has always dreamed of going to college, as they would be a first-generation student. Going into high school, they knew taking AP classes would help them gain experience and become accustomed to more rigorous classes. 

She said while it was difficult to adjust at first, they have made themself known in the classroom and shown her classmates that she is just as smart and deserving of a desk in the classroom as they are.

“A lot of people might try to keep minority students from taking these classes or certain microaggressions might be faced towards them, but I don't think that's going to stop them from ever taking those classes,” Bolanos Villanueva said.  “I think the students need a little bit more of a push to realize that they are just as capable of taking like AP classes as anybody else.”

@mkpolicastro

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