Thirteen new classes could be coming to Oak Park and River Forest High School as the district moves forward with plans to respond to students’ needs by adding rigor and representation to its offerings.
The classes, which have been in development and have been presented to the school board, are expected to be approved at Thursday’s board meeting.
They include Asian American Voices, an English Language Learner class, seven new math classes and two new Advanced Placement classes, including African-American Studies, the course that has sparked national controversy.
“The school continues to try to do more and more for the students and I believe the courses proposed reflect that we are always thinking about students, what is in the best interest for them, what best represents them – and giving all of our students the most rigorous opportunities,” said Laurie Fiorenza, assistant superintendent for student learning.
The high school this year piloted the original AP African-American Studies course that the College Board, creators of AP classes, has since revised after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this spring said it was not “historically accurate” and that it violated the state’s law.
Black studies scholars have said they feared the revisions diluted crucial concepts, including reparations, Black Lives Matter and intersectionality. Conservative critics have said the material slants too far left and focuses too much on racism and oppression. The College Board has said politics were never a consideration and that they determined the course could not reach as many students as possible, a key goal for the billion-dollar nonprofit.
In the course, students are expected to examine the diversity of the African-American experience through multiple texts. The historical timeline extends from early African kings to the modern Black experience.
Fiorenza said the pilot has gone well and that they have had “no problems” with the curriculum.
“We value that course,” she said. “And like the Asian American Voices course, we want to reflect the cultures of our students and we want our students to see themselves in our course options.”
According to the 2022 Illinois Report Card, about 55% of the school’s 3,329 students are white, 18% are Black and nearly 14% are Hispanic. Asian students make up about 4% of the population. Roughly 1% are English language learners.
In the Asian American Voices class, students will be reading an overview of literature by 20th Century Asian-American writers and explore concepts such as the politics of representation, cultural identity, authenticity, immigration and assimilation, as well as the effects of federal policy, such as the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act. The act ended immigration-admissions policy based on race and ethnicity.
The science and technology AP research course is intended to permit students to deeply explore an academic topic, issue or problem by designing a yearlong investigation that addresses a research question. At the end, they’ll submit a 4,000- to 5,000-word paper.
OPRF offers 27 of the 40 AP classes from the College Board.
The new math classes, Fiorenza said, are the next phase of implementing an integrated math program into the curriculum. Integrated math introduces multiple strands of mathematics – like algebra, geometry and statistics – during the year. It focuses on making connections. The ELL class, Fiorenza said, is designed to support current learners.
“This is probably the first year we’ve had do many additions,” she said. “It’s good. It’s good for the kids.”