When The AP Wall Falls

When The AP Wall Falls

Erendira Ochoa, Writer

 

 

For a student facing an onslaught of new challenges and daunting workloads, the hope of survival lies in one reprieve:

 

support meetings.

 

This school year marks the start of an AP and Honors support program aiming to provide help to potential AP/Honor students or current enrollees struggling to make the transition into upper-level courses, all the while strengthening the community at Mariner. Spearheaded by teachers Ruth Pratt, Robert Storrs, David Broadhead, Suzanne Metzler, and Brandon Pope, this group’s goal is to break down the preconceived exclusivity of the AP/Honors world by welcoming students into a non-academic setting where they can interact with teachers, peers, and have access to support required for success in these difficult classes.

 

The meetings themselves vary in format. There are set dates for lunch meetings, informative after-school events, and students can also take advantage of work parties once classes are over for the day to seek their teachers for extra assistance.

 

 I attended a lunch meeting on October 16th and the 23rd. In both cases, students were welcomed with warm greetings by familiar teachers—not necessarily those directly involved, as the program includes AP, Honors, and non-AP/Honors teachers as well—and an enticing tray of cookies, which brought all the more motive for students to attend meetings  (at least I sure love me a good cookie). 

 

Ms. Pratt engages students during her talk

After everyone settles in, a featured speaker would present an array of tips for students to aid them in their AP journey. Ms. Pratt was the speaker on the 16th, and she connected the road to Honors and AP with an inspiring story of perseverance: running the New York City Marathon two years ago. She emphasized that the going might get tough, but to be tough and get going, it takes self-care and focusing on accomplishing the little things to have the “fuel” to continue onwards.

 

An experience abounding in motivation, it was just one of many great sources for students to learn from. The speaker for the meeting on the 23rd was Ms. Metzler, who came in to share an activity that educated students about how our minds work. Students were given a visual aide to color in, and sincerely enjoyed the time here spent to unwind and discuss the many different ways to learn and take notes. Truly an outlet for creativity!

Once a lunch meeting is over, students have the opportunity to write down any questions they have, ranging from inquiries about the AP/Honors system or how to manage homework. All questions are answered promptly by teachers and returned to students via postcards within the next few days.

I interviewed the students directly to understand better how the meetings impacted them. In each response I received, there was one notably shared comment about the atmosphere at these events: “it’s comfortable.” The

Ms. Metzler teaches about ways the brain learns.

feedback from these AP/Honor hopefuls was overwhelmingly positive, with students expressing their happiness to be in an environment that “encourages productivity.” They shared that they felt “really comfortable” to be able to sit through the meetings, which gave helpful, straightforward information, and appreciated how the setting made interaction with their teachers easier. Particularly wonderful to hear was one student’s reply who stated that being in the meetings “boosts [their] self-esteem.” Being part of these meetings, the atmosphere was one of overflowing confidence; the students certainly did not hold back in their excellent reviews.

 

 

 

 

Though I have not attended one of the aforementioned work-parties, I encountered students at the lunch sessions that have gone to one, and one of them noted that they “are very fun and [provide] lots of help,”  adding that it impacts others in a good way through the relaxed after-school scene. The informative after-school session that took place on the 23rd—dubbed “Honors/AP 101”— also demonstrated the active effort between student and teacher alike to make the most of the supportive resources. This meet’s invitation extended to the students’ families, which is especially significant for bringing parents and teachers together to seek what is best for the student, all while communicating the information that families otherwise lack regarding the AP/Honors process.

 

The way students take such opportunities to reach out for help is a clear reflection of how much a system of support can mean to a person, especially young teens that are seeking some guidance in the wild ride of AP/Honors.

However, the impact will not stop there. I followed up with some of the teachers, and speaking to them revealed to me that there is a much broader path that awaits the support program. According to Mr. Storrs, there has been a change in policy for access to honors classes,  which now provides for open admissions. In other words, anyone can try out honors classes if they’d like to—there are no restrictions for incoming students wanting to try out more challenging studies. The lunch meetings and other resources for help are only the beginning of several years of continued support, in which the staff will make an effort to ease the stress off of AP/Honors students (and potential ones) by assisting them in identifying where they can receive help, such as with their peers or teachers.

What’s more, Mr. Broadhead added that there is equity work to be done for the advanced courses, as there are underserved students that may not have been previously exposed to the AP/Honors realm who now find themselves entering uncharted territory unprepared. The teachers hope that breaking down the privileged notions of AP will allow for the inclusion of all students. Ms. Pratt expands on this belief by expressing her goal to rally more freshmen into the support groups so that they may gain awareness about what AP/Honors is like. She told me how students with no experience in honors courses could find entering AP or Honors socially difficult, as they are typically unfamiliar with those already well-versed in the language of AP/Honors, and thus feel that there is no place for them to join and share that camaraderie.

 

The support group team also encourages their fellow teachers to aid students in forming study groups and try to put such support in as many places where students can find it. Currently, there are plans to see if surveys could be used to gather feedback from students of all grades, to determine how to best address, their AP/Honors needs so they can feel more comfortable about taking on a new academic challenge.

 

Ultimately, the teachers aspire to encompass a greater scope of aid for the students. They are taking Evanston Township High School’s teamASAP program as a model—as it strives for student success and positive experiences in AP classes—so no student feels too daunted to take on a more difficult class. They are believing in their wide breadth of the high school’s support plan and the difference it can make in Mariner’s student body. (You can learn more about teamASAP at www.eths.k12.il.us)

 

After observing these events, it is evident that students genuinely are seeking every avenue of help they can get. Being willing to attend lunch meetings and stay after school for support implies, perhaps, that programs like this are more needed than one might expect. There’s no telling what heights might be reached with this constructive support acting as a foundation for students to push themselves forward. All students are capable of extraordinary things, and these meetings function as a beginning step to tapping into that well of the latent potential held within each of them. 

Erendira Ochoa is a Mariner High School Senior, stationery enthusiast, religious devotee, and seeker of bringing hope to all students, for they deserve to have it.