Teacher Talk: Going All In on AP® in Rahway, NJ
Teacher Talk: Going All In on AP® in Rahway, NJJoAnn Bertelo, AP English Language and Composition teacher, Rahway, High School, NJ
I have been teaching AP® English Language and Composition for over 15 years at Rahway High School in Rahway, N.J. — part of a school district with a growing population of minority students. Because many of my Advanced Placement Program® students are African American and Hispanic/Latino and because I have achieved success both in enrollment and achievement, I am honored to share some of the techniques and programs that have been effective.
In our district, any child who is identified by the College Board as having “AP potential” is automatically placed in AP classes. Although this is an easy way of increasing enrollment and certainly has increased the number of minority students in our AP classes, unfortunately some of the students feel they are being forced to take classes. I believe there are more effective ways of encouraging the desire for excellence that involve not only rigor but also fun.
One of the most effective tools for encouraging a climate of academia within our district was implementing AP Vertical Teams®. I served as Team Leader for the AP Vertical Team for English. When we operated with a team approach, we saw immediate and significant growth in our program. English teachers in grades 6–12 met monthly, and we set up and conducted our own workshops during the summer. We also participated as a group at several College Board–sponsored workshops. Working together gave us a common language, a common purpose, and a shared vision of how to navigate our curriculum to truly reflect the movement from Pre-AP® to AP. We became invested in the students who we collectively identified as early as sixth grade and then followed their progress right through graduation.
To encourage community involvement in our AP program, our Vertical Team held AP Saturday sessions. These fun and educational workshops were open to students (and their parents) identified as having AP potential. These Saturday sessions were always well attended and included the ever-popular pizza party.
Probably one of the most successful ways of encouraging minority students to participate in our program was the launch of “TEAM AP.” We held a T-shirt design contest that challenged students to develop a T-shirt that would rival the team-spirit shirts our school athletes wear before their games. The winning design was developed incorporated into the Team AP shirt that TEAM AP members wore every Friday. We handed out T-shirts to all potential AP students and their teachers from grades 6 to 12, which enhanced our homegrown version of academic team building. Even kids who had no interest in AP were very interested in how they could “get one of those shirts.” I currently teach students who still have the shirt that they received in sixth grade.
Finally, I made it a point to attend every professional development opportunity offered by College Board. The Summer Institutes and my attendance at the AP Annual Conference significantly changed and shaped the way I approach recruitment and the way I teach the course itself. Probably the professional highlight of my entire teaching career was being selected to score the AP English Language and Composition Exam. It is impossible to put into words how significant and invaluable that experience was for me as an educator. Suffice it to say it is something I would encourage all AP teachers to pursue.
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