Former AP® Student Voices = Increased AP Numbers
Former AP® Student Voices = Increased AP NumbersNancy Barile, English Language Arts Teacher at Revere High School, Revere, MA
One of my many goals as a teacher is to increase the number of students enrolled in my Advanced Placement (AP) Literature and Composition class and to make sure that there is equity and access for all students. I teach in a low-income, urban school about five miles north of Boston. About 80% of my students receive free or reduced lunch, meaning they live at or below the poverty level, and many are English language learners. In the past few years, enrollment has dropped off significantly in AP Literature for a number of reasons.
One possible reason is that my school operates on a four period block schedule, and students are limited in the number of AP classes they can take. Perhaps the largest factor is the strong drive for students to enroll in STEM courses. That, coupled with the economic and governmental push for students to enter STEM fields, has resulted in an increased number of students taking AP math and science courses. Further, there exists a mistaken notion that "you only take AP Lit if you want to be an English teacher." Students don't seem to understand the value of taking AP Literature.
While I believe that the significance of taking STEM courses in today's world is enormous, I also firmly believe that a strong foundation in the humanities will serve students well no matter what field they enter. The ability to read and write well is essential to any career. In fact, I'd argue that a course like Advanced Placement Literature and Composition is one of the most important classes a student can take.
Somehow, I needed to communicate this to my students. I wanted them to find a balance in their lives that would truly make them college and career ready. I decided the best way to share this information was through the words of my former students. So I took to Facebook and emailed my former students, who were now working in successful careers that ran the gamut from biochemical engineer to market research analyst. I asked these former students to articulate the value of a course like Advanced Placement Literature and Composition, and this is what some of them said:
Hina is now an attending physician and clinical instructor. She attended Wellesley College, where she majored in Biological Chemistry and minored in Religion. She went on to Cornell School of Medicine. Hina stated, "AP English was one of my favorite high school courses. Today I work as an emergency room doctor. Taking AP English has made me well-rounded and has fostered an appreciation of the humanities that is critical to a full intellectual life. I feel I am a better doctor - and a fuller person - as a result of taking AP English."
Morris, now an Asset Manager, received his B.S. in Communications from Boston College. "Of all the high school classes I took, the skills I gained from AP English were of the most use to me after high school, through college, and for my career,” he stated. “Critically digesting information, formulating original opinions, and expressing those thoughts clearly and concisely, are all invaluable everyday life skills. Not to mention, being able to think on my feet has saved my tail countless times during executive meetings!"
Rob is a Lead Systems Engineer at General Electric. He received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and his MBA from Quinnipiac. Rob told me, "I was reluctant to at first to take AP Literature because I knew I was going on to pursue a career in science. Few classes and teachers have challenged me intellectually the same way I was challenged that year. AP Lit forced me to think analytically and critically. These are the cornerstones of problem solving, and they form the foundation for a career in science. The class helped increase my proficiency in writing exponentially, giving me an inherent advantage over my peers that exists to this day. Whereas most math and science students lacked a solid background in writing, I had ample experience. With increasing competition for jobs in the business world, the ability to effectively and coherently communicate thoughts and ideas is a differentiator, regardless of the field you pursue."
This is just a sampling of the wonderful replies I received. I gathered about twenty of the responses, typed them up, and printed them out with photos of each former student. I then mounted them on poster board, laminated them, and created a "Why Take AP Literature and Composition" bulletin board right outside my room. Every time I see a student reading the responses, I have to smile. I also created a booklet which featured each former student's story, and I distributed it to parents and prospective students on AP Information Night. And I brought Rob in to speak to the families, as well.
AP Lit numbers jumped from 16 students last year to 32 students this year. I am fairly certain the powerful words of former RHS students compelled some of these new students to see the value in taking the course. As we endeavor to increase enrollment and provide equity and access for all in our AP courses, the voices of our former students can be strong motivators, which reflect the value of exploring rigorous curriculum in high school.