I took my first advanced placement class – world history—when I was a sophomore in high school. This year, I’m a junior currently taking three AP courses. Next year, I’ll take four more. As a student of color who lives in Hartford, this makes me unique. It doesn’t have to.
Studies have shown that students of color and students from low-income communities do not have fair access to Advanced Placement classes. That’s true in nearby New York, right here in Connecticut, and across the country. I am proof of what happens when that access is granted.
I go to Achievement First Hartford High in the North End of Hartford. At my school, almost all of us are students of color, and we have an “AP for All” curriculum. The average student at my school will take five Advanced Placement courses before graduation.
For me, AP classes have meant getting more knowledge about a wider range of topics than I’d been exposed to before. In my AP Language & Composition class, I’m able to conduct a deeper evaluation of the author’s purpose, and it’s not just about the content — this has taught me critical thinking skills that will be useful in college, career and throughout my life. Since I took AP World History, I can respond thoughtfully when topics arise in society and media about worldviews of communism and capitalism. I am able to make direct connections.
In AP classes I have learned that I really love debating ideas. In these classes I have discovered that I want to go on to study pre-law or civics, and that I want to one day work in law or politics and help the community.
But AP classes are about much more than building skills, knowledge, and college credits. They are also about building confidence. I was nervous to take my first AP class because I didn’t know if I was ready for that deeper-level thinking. My teachers really pushed me and helped me believe I could obtain new heights in my learning.
Too often, students of color have those self-diminishing thoughts where we feel like we can’t accomplish goals because they are too hard and no one expects so much from us. In too many schools, people look at kids who come from communities like mine and think, “We won’t give them the hard classes because we don’t think they can do it.” When you give a student an AP course, they also get that motivation and push from the teacher that says, “We are giving you this class because we know you can do this.”
The more education you have, the more access to opportunity. There is a direct correlation. If more students like me have access to AP classes, many more students will acquire new skills and reach levels that haven’t been reached.
I am glad I go to a school where we all have access to AP — that’s one of the reasons why U.S. News & World Report just ranked AF Hartford High #3 in the state — but this should be the reality everywhere. I am a young man of color in Hartford. Before I even start my senior year in high school, I will have taken four AP classes.
Whatever they look like or wherever they come from, every student should have the same chance.
Brian Ozenne is a junior at Achievement First Hartford High.