According to a study done by the College Board, in 2007, African-American students made up 7.4 percent of all students participating in advanced placement programs. The study also found that White students were more than twice as likely as Blacks to receive a qualifying grade on AP tests.
Last year in the Pittsburgh Public School District, 27 percent of the students taking AP classes were African-American, yet Blacks make up 57 percent of the total student body. In an effort to increase this number and to help prepare all students taking AP classes, the Pittsburgh Public Schools created the first AP Summer Academy.
|SUMMER ACADEMY—From left: Hasaun Blair, Breonna Westry and Khadijha Berry provide feedback on the program. (Photos by J.L. Martello)
“Overall it was hard and challenging, but my teacher helped me get through it,” said 17-year-old Hasaun Blair. “Not every student wants to be out in the streets. There are kids who want to do well in school. This helps them better their life before school starts.”
The program, which ran July 11-29, was free to all students in the PPS and offered morning and afternoon sessions. Of the students involved in the program approximately 50 percent were African-American, nearly two times the number of students enrolled in AP classes during the 2010-2011 school year.
“It was a good experience for when I go back to school because I’ll already know everything for my AP class and I just have to improve on some things,” said Caitlyn Brown, 16. “You’re still learning in the summer so that’s good because some people aren’t learning anything.”
Students attended their AP course four days a week and were given the opportunity to participate in “College Activity Days” sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh. Activities included campus tours, student panels, and college seminars.
“It’s different because I was taking college classes,” said Brea Saunders, 16. “I learned a lot and this program helped me learn it before I even got to college.”
Approximately 200 rising juniors and seniors participated in the program funded in its first year by the Target Corporation. Students were given the option to take classes in biology, statistics, calculus, psychology, history, English among others.
“The purpose of the program is to prepare students for the AP classes they’re going to take next school year,” Allison McCarthy, coordinator K-12 gifted and talented education. “So when these students walk into that AP class, they’re going to be ready; they’ve already seen the material.”
The program is part of a continuous effort by McCarthy to increase interest and involvement in AP classes through the district’s “AP=College” campaign. Other initiatives include offering test review sessions and increasing professional development for teachers as it relates to preparing students and identifying students for AP classes.
“For kids in high school, there’s nothing for high achieving high school students. There’s nothing for them to get ahead,” McCarthy said. “Without having done anything over the summer, it’s hard for the teachers to move forward.”
Students who attended the academy everyday were given the chance to compete in the “Living My Dream” essay competition to win a Dell Notebook computer. The three winners were Khala Wade, Alexis Retcofsky and Brenna Scott.