AP Ambassadors: Using Students to Promote Your AP Program

Before I get started on this new post, several folks have asked if there is a way to subscribe to this blog so that you can be alerted to new posts.  Here is advice from my technical friend:  The simplest thing she can do is click on the Entries (RSS) and/or Comments (RSS) links at the bottom of the page. She can then sign up to receive updates in the news reader of her choice, and if she is using a Mail application (like Outlook), she can get updates in her mail reader.

This post might be a long one since I will be talking about a group that can be a tremendous tool in building a truly diverse AP program.  Once we had started the grant devoted to increasing participation and performance in our AP program, we saw good increases in all student groups, but the African American student group trailed the others.  The AP English lead and I (who worked on the same campus) decided we should get to the bottom of the issue by convening a focus group.  We lured the students with pizza and soda and invited both kids who were taking AP classes and those who seemed to have the ability, but declined the opportunity to take preAP or AP classes.  We distributed the article “Black Students’ Cruel Choice” by a Harvard researcher in order to simulate discussion.  The article discusses the social consequence that some Black students’ experience when choosing to take academically challenging coursework, such as accusations of “acting white.”  We honestly didn’t think the article applied to our high school, but were quickly corrected by the kids.  Their discussion was both enlightening and disheartening.  They did feel as though there was a social consequence to working hard and doing well in school.  They bemoaned the lack of racial peers in advanced classes and the absence of minority AP teachers.  They particularly hated when they were expected to provide the “Black perspective” on something they were studying, whether it be slavery in US History or novels by Maya Angelou.  “I don’t know anymore about why that caged bird sings than the white guy sitting next to me”  was one of the more memorable comments.  We also learned that some counselors and coaches had both subtly and overtly discouraged students from taking AP classes, fearing that the work would prove too challenging or time-consuming and might risk their athletic eligibility.

On the positive side, we learned that the students’ parents had been a huge influence in encouraging them to take more challenging coursework.  The students were also very enthusiastic about doing something to improve the situation.  We soon formed a student organization, ordered bright blue t-shirts that said “ASK ME ABOUT MY AP CLASSES” on the back and arranged for them to visit our feeder middle schools during course registration time to encourage their peers to choose academically challenging coursework.  We wrote a skit for the students to perform at our parent registration night.  In the skit, two students take the roles of parents and the third student is the child who is getting them to sign the registration paper that will put her into AP classes.  As the parents bring up arguments against taking such classes, the child responds with all of the benefits of participating in the AP program and how it will save the parents money in college expenses.  (In a working class community like ours, anything that will reduce the expense of college is very popular.)  Although the skit will probably not win any Academy Awards, it has proved an effective tool in educating our community about the AP program.  Our group has been dubbed THE AP AMBASSADORS and they have as their mission to increase participation and performance of underrepresented student populations in the AP program.  Our members have served on panels at several College Board events and at a counselors’ convention.

One year they chose to sponsor a study skills boot camp during the first three weeks of school to help students who were new to preAP and AP classes develop the skills and habits that would allow them to be successful in time-consuming and rigorous classes.  They split the kids up into groups and then the groups rotated through various sessions conducted by an AP Ambassador paired with an AP teacher.  In each session, they were given a study tool of some kind.  For example, in the session on time management, they were given a calendar that had been donated by a local bank.  In the session on effective notetaking, they were given a highlighter.

We haven’t made plans for this school year yet, but will meet next week to do so.  We will probably have the students promote the importance of the PSAT which all of our sophomores and juniors will take in mid-October.  In January, the AP Ambassadors will serve as hosts for our AP Scholar reception.  At registration time, they will paint signs and visit classes to promote enrollment in AP classes and will paint more signs in May urging QUIET in the testing areas during AP exams.  I know the kids will have a lot more ideas about things that they want to do.  This group is great because it harnesses the passion, creativity and energy of the young people who really are the heart and soul of the AP program.  I think a similar group could easily be established at any school that is hoping to build its AP program.

Thanks again for reading and I hope this blog is giving you some ideas that you can use in your particular situation!

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One Response to “AP Ambassadors: Using Students to Promote Your AP Program”

  1. David Persails Says:

    Very nice blog, with a wealth of info. Thank you for taking the time to write it, and I hope you will continue! This year, my district received a grant, and for the first time ever (I’ve been begging for years!), we are starting a vertical team, and I am the designated “Vertical Team Leader” for mathematics for our small district. Our first meeting is Wednesday. I will borrow heavily from the AP Calculus course description, a thing or two from the Lighthouse project, and some material from Laying The Foundation, regarding a vertical team based on an AP exam free response problem. In our first meeting I simply want to convey to the team that, “Hey, this is what AP math is,” and “I am here to help you to help your students.” Not at all sure how it will go, but I’ll do my best.

    A question for you: Do you know where I can find a copy of the article you mentioned, “Black Students’ Cruel Choice”?

    I like your suggestion of having students help with the program. And making “Quiet” signs is brilliant — it has ALWAYS been a problem at our school!

    Thanks for your words and your leadership.

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