June 9, 2017
One Monday in April of 2015, I walked into my GT U.S. History class as normal, sat down, and class began. However, that class was a bit different. The night before, the Baltimore Riots had occurred. Naturally, our class discussion revolved around the recent event. At some point in the class, it was my turn to share my opinion. It was at that moment that I realized I was speaking on behalf of my entire race–I was the only black person in the entire class.
This wasn’t the first time I had felt as if I spoke for every African American. In every school I’ve attended, I have been enrolled in mainly GT/AP classes. In each class, I am either the only black person or one of two to three black people. This issue isn’t specific to Atholton–it permeates all of Howard County. According to a 2015 demographic analysis of AP class enrollment, only 44.4% of African Americans have taken at least one AP class, in comparison 73% of white students, and 86.7% of Asian students.
Luckily, when I find myself in situations as described above, I have never felt targeted or outcasted, but I often felt that if I answer a question incorrectly, it will not only reflect on my intelligence and competence, but also my entire races’ competence.
I am not the only African American AP student who has felt this way at some point or another. For example, a student from Hammond High School recently reported to the Baltimore Sun that she found it, “hard to participate because you don’t want to put yourself out there; you don’t want to take risks.”
Thankfully, Howard County has recognized the lack of African American and Hispanic students in higher level classes. Schools throughout the county are making strides to close the percentage gap of enrollment in GT/AP classes that clearly exists between Asian & white students and African American & Hispanic students. Between 2014 and 2015, African Americans enrollment in AP classes in Howard County increased by 2.2% from the previous school year and Hispanics enrollment increased by 8.7%. Although these changes are slight, it surely is better than no change at all. According to Atholton High School’s School Improvement Plan, Atholton has hopes to “increase enrollment in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, participation in AP exams, and performance on AP exams, particularly among African American students.” They plan to do so by having staff “increase their cultural proficiency in order to narrow achievement gaps and increase student participation and performance in AP courses and exams, developing a growth mindset approach through professional learning.”
Everyone will benefit from an increase in diversity in GT/AP classes, not just African American and Hispanic students. Diversity is a necessity for education; without it, we live in ignorance of other perspectives and experiences. Since Atholton High School was the first desegregated high school in Howard County, it is only fitting that we be the first to close the achievement gap.