Students of Color and Advanced Courses

Students of color (SOC) face challenges that many of their white counterparts will never experience. For one, black students disappear in the more advanced courses. In high school, students of color are thought to be ill prepared to enroll in courses such as AP English, AP European History, or AP Calculus. Teachers, many who draw false conclusions, often assume that students of color have other non academic interest. I think this is true for many, but not just SOC. In eight years of teaching, I have had a total of seven SOC. I am not sure Advanced Placement courses help or hurt this matter. Although high school faculty members are teaching college (usually first or second year) courses, many tend to want students who will do well on the exam; in many ways I am the same way; but, I do take risks with students; I think it is important that many experience more than the typical high school level curriculum.

Of course teaching in an independent school does not help. Here at HCHS, our students pay roughly between $15,000 – $20, 000 a year, depending on the program. I do believe many SOC are behind academically; however, there are a number who are the most advanced students. The discrepancy between those who do well and those who do not might be an income factor; I still cling to race as a major factor when weighing social progress, but I also realize that class status is a determinant of ones plight, too.

I am proud to say that HCHS diversity is at 19%, which is high if you are not one of the nationally elite independent schools with 1/2 a billion dollar endowments. My interest in SOC an advanced courses as well as faculty of color an advanced courses dates back to my very first year of teaching at CAC (N. Little Rock). Then, I participated in a four year grant study via the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Our study focused on faculty and students of color and their role in the Advanced Placement program. The natural conclusion was few teachers of color and SOC were involved in advanced courses. While at CAC there were few students to recruit; here in Houston, there are far more but many must be convinced – – which I understand; I have been a pretty good mentor to SOC…but I have to make the effort. Two years ago I had a black female student who struggled enormously with the reading load; her parents did not make things better, often looking to play the race card (i.e., brothers must stick together). This year I have a queen in Veronica Forge (see her here) who is only the second black female I have taught. Funny, but my top students at HCHS have been minority students: Eric Solomon (part Cuban), Alejandro Penafiel (Ecuadorian), and Dorian Ojeman (with me below).


It is my goal to always highlight and recruit SOC into my advanced courses. I also think it is important to mentor SOC, especially black students. I do not think one must be a black teacher to mentor black students. Better yet, I suspect the best dynamics are made up of natural relationships and not race.


6 thoughts on “Students of Color and Advanced Courses

  1. I am lucky to have a number of minority students here at my very diverse public school. Many of us work hard to recruit minority students. I disagree some in that I believe teachers of color are ideal for mentoring students of color. As you know we have had a difficult time attracting top minority faculty such as you to our campus. Even if students of color do not have a metor of color, I think it is very important that they see people such as you on campus. For us, many teachers of color are not academics such as yourself. They teach because they must to coach and that is what our minority students see.

  2. I did not attend the type of schools you are at, carson, but I do recall being on of those students always looking to make a point. I cannot seperate race and economics when it comes to black students. In the end, Jim Crow had its impact on your discussion.

  3. As an economics major I tend to view most societal issues through that lens and have to agree with jaylon that while race is a factor it cannot be isolated from financial status. Race is just the most visible attribute. It is much easier to identify someones race then their exact economic status. Also, if race is the determining factor then if you take that logic to its conclusion leads to a theory of white racial superiorty over minorities if you exclude financial disparities that I think largely determines both ones views and acsess to educational oportunities. On the mentor note, while I think its important that soc have a role model of their ethnicity I think it is much more important that that mentor inspire them to achieve their potential than be like them physically which I think isn’t that important on the grand scheme of things. I never had a hispanic teacher until college but that never really bothered me.

  4. Alejandro, as is the norm of late, we agree with each other. However, as much as I am working to exclude race for economics, it is still tough….Though, one who inspires and motivates is always best.

  5. I cannot say that i disagree with everything that the article says. However i am a “SOC” as you may call it. In my high school courses i have been enrolled in nothing less than all PAP and AP classes. I do agree that there may exist certain attitudes against african americans that suggest that we are “ill prepared” but i still cannot ignore the fact that every individual regardless of their skin color and background has the ability to make their own decisions regarding their own educations. i think we can always put it into a category if we want to. we can seperate it and call it a minority or a black thing if we so choose. I do believe that alot of African Americans students do not take advantage of their education as much as they should. they might not realizes exactly what the power that they have through education, the open doors that it provides. thats where i think mentors can be useful. i do fully disagree on the fact that your mentor must match your race. I myself have had many “mentors” who realize the potential in me. most of them have not been African American. in fact, my favorite teacher in all my 12 years of school has Been Jim Brown, a caucasian teacher. his support has really meant alot to me. the connection goes beyond race and i think that speaks for itself. we can sit here and continue to make a big deal out of race, focusing on it entirely. or we can look beyond race and tailor our help toward specific individuals, realizing that they have specific needs.

  6. I was blessed to attend a Catholic High School that was very well integrated (late 70’s). Around 40% of the student body were SOC as you put it. I would say that of those students, well over half of them were in the advanced or honors courses. So, my experience was that SOCs in AP was perfectly normal, and it helped me form my attitudes in a good way at a younger age. Unfortunately, at my children’s current school, the population is lower merely because the area the school serves is not as diverse. I hope that changes somewhat when they get to high school.

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