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  • David Sipos

Walls to Pilot AP African American Studies Next Year

Mr. Jones, center, teaches his African American history class on Jan. 26 / Credits: David Sipos

UPDATE (2/1/23): The College Board released a slimmed-down version of its AP African American Studies curriculum after publication, excluding much of the content to which Florida officials objected.

School Without Walls will participate in a College Board pilot of its brand-new AP African American Studies course next year.

This year, 60 high schools across the country introduced the full-year course in the first wave of the pilot program. In the 2023-24 school year, the pilot will expand to several hundred schools, including Walls, that applied to offer the course. Students in the pilot program will not receive college credit for the practice exam they take in May, though DCPS will count it as an AP course for GPA purposes.

The College Board says the pilot program will give them time to refine the curriculum and will let colleges evaluate whether students taking the course are eligible for college credit.

The nonprofit plans to offer AP African American Studies to any U.S. school that wants it in the 2024-25 school year. By Spring 2025, students will be able to take an exam for college credit just like they can in any other AP class.

The course will resemble an expanded and more detailed version of the African American History half-credit elective that Walls has offered for several years, according to William Jones, who will teach the course. The course intends to go beyond the focus on slavery, emancipation, and the civil rights movement that general history classes cover. According to the College Board, the course “reaches into a variety of fields — literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography, and science — to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans.”

The College Board hopes to attract minority students, who typically enroll in AP classes at a lower rate than white students. Additionally, the College Board aims to encourage students to pursue African American studies in college, saying, “Students who take AP courses are more likely to take additional related coursework in college.”

The introduction of AP African American Studies comes at a contentious time: Conservative governments have tried to limit discussions of race in classrooms, opposing critical race theory, a graduate-level academic theory discussing the prevalence of racism in American institutions. This month, the Florida Department of Education announced that they would prohibit the new AP course from being taught in Florida schools, describing it as “filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law.”

Mr. Jones, who has taught the elective for two years, is eager to teach the AP course next year. “One problem I’ve always had was the fact that [African American History] is usually taught as a semester course, so the fact that [the AP course] is a full year, I’m excited about that,” he said. With a full year course, he said he will be able to incorporate additional content that doesn’t make it into the elective. Students “seem to get a lot out of [the half-year course], and they seem to want more of it,” Mr. Jones said.

He also sees the introduction of the class as an issue of broader importance. “It’s important to study African people and see it as worthy of academia. It’s not just a fringe topic,” he said, adding that the College Board’s creation of the AP course “recogniz[es] its academic merit.”

He also dismissed conservative opposition to the course and discussion of racism in the classroom. He said the conservative argument shows “they don’t want people in this country, Black, white, whatever, to learn different perspectives and the complete history of this country.”

Junior Niyah Sapp took the African American history elective last year and said she learned a lot from it. “Prior to African American History, I knew about my history…but I didn’t know specific details,” she said, adding that since she took the class, “I’ve done more research and I’ve gotten more invested in African American history.” She hopes that the AP course will have more content and intends to take it in her senior year.

Sapp saw value in discussing race in a classroom setting. “Everyone of any race should be able to enjoy and take from African American studies,” she said. “U.S. history includes African American history.”

Sophomores William Mandy and Graham McMorris both said they would consider taking the course next year. “I’ll be the first to admit this, I don’t know too much about my own history, as much as I could know,” Mandy said, adding that he wanted to know more about the civil rights movement.

McMorris disagreed about what the course should focus on. “We know about MLK, we know about all of that…we want to know about the stuff that isn’t already told to us.” McMorris agreed that AP African American Studies would be a good addition to the school.

Jackson-Reed High School is one of the 60 schools participating in the first stage of the pilot program this year. Simon Holland, a Jackson-Reed junior taking the class this year said that “it’s really engaging, and I’m enjoying getting to take an interdisciplinary course.” Holland said the pilot course focuses on details “in a way other regular history classes don’t necessarily have room for.” Additionally, the course connects the subject matter to the modern day.

Though the curriculum is not yet finalized, he recommended that Walls students take the course next year. “There has never been a moment where I feel like that this class is being used to teach hatred,” Holland said, dismissing conservative opposition. “The things we’re learning are essential to understanding the state of our country today.”

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