Where are the Students of Color (in OPRF's AP Classes)???

At my school, Oak Park & River Forest High School, I've noticed something

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By Marshanah Taylor

Writer

At my school, Oak Park & River Forest High School, I've noticed something that no one has ever addressed before: the lack of diversity in advanced placement (AP) and honors classes. This realization occurred to me last year, when I decided to take AP American Literature. In that class, we covered topics that ranged from the importance of economic status to Communism to racial stereotypes and even slavery. We discussed such controversial topics and yet there was a blooming controversy happening right there in the classroom.

 

At first, I thought, that I was just overreacting. After all, if it were such a big deal, wouldn't the teachers or even the principal have already taken notice and tried to change this? But then, I started to think, maybe it was the students themselves. They can't be forced to take higher-level classes; they have to want to challenge themselves. Yet, it could also be argued that more students – specifically, African American and Hispanic students - might want to take advanced courses if they were encouraged to do so. Is not the whole point of having AP and honors classes at school to give teens a taste of college academics and prepare them for success?

 

I remember feeling so unsatisfied with my English classes Freshman and Sophomore year. They were so comically easy. Once I found out about AP/honors classes Freshman year, I expressed my interest to my teachers. But - at the last second - I backed out when it seemed like it would actually happen. Why, you might ask? I can only say this: I was scared. That's the plain and simple truth. I was afraid that if I had taken that next step and tried something harder, I wouldn't have been as successful as I was in a regular English class. Although I felt confident in taking English Literature sophomore year, I also felt regretful that I had passed up the opportunity to read more profound texts and be involved in deeper intellectual discussions. I had not even given a thought to the fact that I could be a minority in such a class.

 

To me, the problem seems to lie not just in the students, but mostly in the absence of encouragement. I believe that had the merit of AP and honors courses been promoted by my teachers or even by the school in general, I would have been less wary about taking them. If I had not been ignorant of how beneficial they could be for me in the future I definitely would have been less hesitant. I now know that one should try something, even when it seems hard. I'd like other students of color to learn this lesson, but not as late as I did.


What do you think, Oak Park? Is this is a problem at OPRF?

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A mom  

Posted: January 4th, 2015 11:17 PM

Thanks to the author for drawing attention to this troubling situation. The building blocks are laid in the early grades. Children who are behind by grades 3-5 should get extra homework or other interventions. This should be mandatory and the importance of it stressed to parents. When my child was slow to read and struggling in 2nd grade I asked for extra work to be assigned to him but I had to ask for it. It made all the difference. D97 needs to set the bar high early on.

OP  

Posted: January 4th, 2015 7:07 PM

@ taylor - Nice and the key is if you have a black/brown student in OP you must sta very involved. It is very clear that 97 either is unable or unwilling to assist in the gap by middle school as only 40% of black/brown students are at reading at math level - meaning 2/3 are not. Truth is if you are that far behind by high school you are not taking AP nor likely to go to a high quality college.

good question  

Posted: January 4th, 2015 2:36 PM

Pssst...that's why Evanston HS eliminated the honors, it is racist. OPRFHS is perennially two steps behind. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-12-14/news/ct-met-evanston-detracking-vote-2-20101213_1_honors-students-incoming-freshmen-freshman-humanities Thanks for noticing.

Joe Pulitzer  

Posted: January 4th, 2015 12:51 PM

Did WJ really pull a stock picture from Wikipedia for a OPRF article?!?

Journal Reader  

Posted: January 4th, 2015 11:10 AM

First of all kudos to Miss Taylor for highlighting this issue so eloquently. I just want to point out the juxtaposition of this lament with a quote from another feature in the very same issue of this paper trumpeting one of the OP Jr High programs: "The cast underwent about 15 hours of (stage) flying instruction, which was carried out in secret by a world-renowned Las Vegas company." I'm all for arts education, but how about better alignment of education funding with educational priorities?

Marsha Taylor from Oak Park  

Posted: January 3rd, 2015 5:54 PM

I am the parent of Marshanah, and I do encourage her to extend her knowledge so that when she is in college the courses will not seem extremely hard to her. I have always taught my children to excel in all endeavors of education, and do not be afraid to do so.

OPRF Parent  

Posted: January 3rd, 2015 12:11 AM

Part of the problem is that often minority parents don't know they can push for higher level classes for their students. They simply go along with the classes their students are put in. You have to fight for your kids at OPRF. It can be done but you need a good counselor and a willingness to demand your student be in those classes. It isn't that there aren't students of color who could do very well in those classes. It's not being given the opportunity to do so. OPRF hasn't improved in years.

OPRF parent  

Posted: January 2nd, 2015 10:55 PM

I think it is necessary for parents to encourage their children to take challenging classes as well. If it had been left up to teachers and counselors, my daughters would have taken much less challenging classes.

Class of 2014  

Posted: January 2nd, 2015 7:51 PM

I am a recent alum of OPRF and I always found the lack of poc in ap classes disheartening! I am not a poc myself, but I do notice a lack of encouragement for minority students from teachers, councilors, and administrators, be it intentional or not. The problem isn't really being addressed because oprf doesn't want to admit there's a problem! And the only way to really be successful in oprf is to be in those advanced classes, so the opportunities are crucial, especially for minority students

Winter Skye  

Posted: January 2nd, 2015 2:33 PM

Cont. would not be able to do the work. Just keeping it real. You mentioned Hispanic students. Are there many at OPRF? Did they grow up in OP or RF or did they transfer from somewhere else? Hispanic kids who grow up in predominantly Spanish-speaking areas tend to have shallow knowledge of English. They may be perfectly fluent but lack the understanding of nuances of English, as well as perhaps not have an extensive vocabulary. Many Black students seem to lag in reading starting early on.

Winter Skye  

Posted: January 2nd, 2015 2:30 PM

Marshanah, I am quite a bit older than you are but also graduated from OPRF. Back in the day, students were placed in various tracks (including honors) based on assessment tests. The only honors class I ever took was in my Freshman year: English. The following year I was not in honors English but still placed with older students. I appreciate your concern on the issue but please understand that with thousands of students, it is very hard to encourage individual ones and many such students...

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: January 1st, 2015 7:19 PM

The problem starts well before OPRF. Far too many blacks do not take education seriously. Being average in today's economy is not a good thing. With that said, it does take special teachers to also recognize when talent is being wasted and push those kids harder. If you think there aren't enough blacks in AP Literature, try AP Physics or other hard science and math classes like I took in HS. I was the only one.

OP  

Posted: January 1st, 2015 3:33 PM

here is my advice. Take AP classes that force you to stretch you capabilities. A B in AP is better than A in lower class. Find a mentor and be aggressive - demand OPRF help you or find someone who can. Second, surround yourself with positive motivated people - and finally, do not get discouraged. not common for high achievers to be only one at table - just keep going!!!

OP  

Posted: January 1st, 2015 3:25 PM

OPRF only makes sense if you take AP classes. The rationale is simple, if you a average, you will receive little attention/focus. Second, average at OPRF is below average a stronger schools - which means you are relatively disadvantaged ... Also, for placement, average means lower middle to high lower placement for college. Just being very honest trying to mentor ...

OP  

Posted: January 1st, 2015 3:20 PM

I write as African American alum who attended IVY league and served as Executive in Fortune 100 Firm. First, there will always people who doubt your intellect - but you cannot. Keep going - take the risk and make sure you demand the help. Second, yes it is a real issue - that starts in middle school. Many AA children are so far behind it is impossible to catch up - and those who can are not encouraged. You/we cannot wait for school - take action, fight and keep going no matter what.

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