‘It starts at the school house door:’ CMS board member, students and teachers pushing for more minority enrollment in AP classes

CMS offers a minimum of 10 core advanced placement courses at each high school.
From the school board to the classroom, teachers and staff in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools say students need more support for advanced-level courses.
Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 4:09 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 31, 2022 at 10:10 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - From the top down, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools staff and students say more work needs to be done to support students in college-level and advanced courses.

“It starts at the schoolhouse door,” said At-Large Board Member Lenora Shipp.

Seeing students excel in advanced courses hits close to home for Board member Lenora Shipp. Prior to serving on the Board of Education, she was a CMS teacher, principal, and her daughter also took several advanced placement and international baccalaureate classes before she graduated.

“I saw the difference it made challenging herself for rigor in courses and the relationships with her teachers,” Shipp said.

A CMS presentation in January examined five-year data of student performance and enrollment in college-level and advanced courses.

RELATED: ‘We need more familiar faces:’ CMS students encourage more minority students to enroll in advanced courses

College-level or advanced courses were defined as AP, IB and dual enrollment courses (taking a college course while in high school), and Cambridge courses.

Data shows current performance of 12th-grade students is “off track.” For the 2021-2022 school year 56 percent of 12th-grade students have passed or are on track to pass a college-level or advanced course. The district’s target for this year was to have 65 percent of students pass or be on track to pass.

In the short term, the district is offering in-person and virtual tutoring programs for twelfth graders currently enrolled in advanced courses.

“One of the things that we’re looking at are tutorial programs for those students some of those are virtual tutorials,” Shipp said.

CMS offers a minimum of 10 core advanced placement courses at each high school.

That’s not all - CMS is preparing its budget for next year.

RELATED: CMS superintendent recommends $1.7 billion budget for 2022-23

One of the proposed investments is a multimedia campaign to spread awareness about advanced courses and having college and career coaches.

“That is important that we have that kind of investment to say we definitely believe in this work,” Shipp said.

Shipp says this work cannot wait until students get to high school and is encouraging staff to connect with elementary and middle school students as well.

“Even looking at Elementary with our BETA club-type activities, we have so many programs: Odyssey of the Mind, so many programs that really push our kids to go toward advanced placement. We need to promote that, especially with our minority students,” Shipp said.

Shipp says it’s critical more minority students get enrolled in and stay in advanced courses not just for their high school tenure but as they head into college or their careers.

“What we do at the school level impacts how students believe they can be successful,” Shipp said.

When it comes to current advanced course enrollment, Independence High School student Jada Clarke says more students need to take the lead in encouraging their peers.

“I feel like if our generation was involved, I feel like there would be a huge difference, especially with minority students,” Clarke said.

Clarke is a junior and just started taking AP courses this year. She says her love for history initially inspired her to take AP U.S. History, but the support from her peers was the catalyst.

“I got influenced in AP just because of my peers, that’s how I got into APUSH,” Clarke said.

Her teacher Jon Kinman says Independence was making strides in recruiting more minority students for advanced courses, but those numbers started declining when the pandemic started.

“Since COVID it’s kind of been a gut punch and it seems like we’re almost back to where we started where we’re there are not very many underrepresented or minority students within our program,” Kinman said.

Clarke’s paying it forward with the school’s AP ambassador program where AP students share registration and class info with underclassmen - an effort to recruit and encourage all students but especially underrepresented groups.

“I feel like if it comes from an actual student who’s actually taking it I feel like they’ll think about it and say ‘hey this student is taking it so maybe I should take it because it doesn’t seem that bad,” she said.

CMS staff are also targeting equal opportunity schools to make sure students with potential and drive have support and information.

“We brought in an outside program to help recruit students based on student’s interest,” Kinman said.

CMS offers at least 10 core AP classes at each school but there are plenty of topics for everyone.

Kinman says closing the achievement gap starts with teacher-student relationships and encouragement.

“This classroom should look like you, you’re welcome. It’s not an exclusive club, it’s an inclusive club, and try to make that classroom environment as inclusive as you can,” he said.

Clarke says it’s important students know they can be successful and that the rigor of the course shouldn’t make them shy away from applying themselves.

“You can do this and I know it seems hard, if I can do it, you can do it,” she said.

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