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.