New initiative seeks to close AP enrollment gap, be more diverse

As many Montgomery County schools begin advocating for diversity in academic achievement, Blake High School closely follows in its goal to close the AP enrollment gap.

Despite Blake having a majority population of minority and/or low-income students, they are not proportionally represented in AP classes. “If [medium-high income] white and Asian kids are [enrolled] in AP at 80%, then other groups should also be in at 80%,” says social studies resource teacher Jeff Newby.

To rectify this disparity, administration has worked closely for the past two years with Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), a national organization brought to MCPS aiming to ensure that all students have an opportunity to participate and excel in more challenging classes, regardless of socioeconomic status. So far, the implementation of this program has led to 170 more students taking AP classes compared to last year.  

Many teachers attended EOS trainings to develop a better understanding of classroom integration. With the trainings and classroom surveys done last year, they tried to identify students who may be ready for AP classes based on six factors often overshadowed by GPA and test scores: community leadership, grit, growth mindset, focus, academic identity, and their purpose for learning. “There would have been so many students that have potential, drive, and motivation intrinsically [that] would otherwise be overlooked for these [higher-level] classes,” says AP (EOS) committee co-chair Chanelle Cohen.

Now that the school has made substantial progress on their goal to close the AP enrollment gap, they must also work towards providing the support for students adjusting to the rigor of such high-level courses. On the faculty level, these efforts have included building a welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds and increased one-on-one student-teacher discussions on the best approaches to yearlong success in their courses.

Meanwhile, “Amp Up”, a Saturday school course taught by social studies teacher Sean Gibbons and held at Paint Branch High School, strives to help current and future AP students build on the necessary skills for success. To further expand accessibility, all expenses for the course will be paid by Blake and offered at no cost to students. Registration will end October 19 and can be done by contacting Ms. O’Neill for the necessary forms.

Also working closely to ease the transition for new AP students are their peers in the Minority Scholars Program (MSP). Senior co-president David Hill and fellow MSP members offered Q&A panels for families interested in AP classes last May and plan to offer peer tutoring this year. “We will be meeting with first-time AP students for study groups,” Hill says. “It’s definitely a step up.”

Many students have expressed confidence in their new classes and potential achievements. “My time management has gotten a lot better due to the fact that there is more work,” adds senior Genesis Jimenez. “I have to stay focused on what I am doing [because] these classes tend to push you to… your limit and when that happens, you learn more about yourself.”