In June 2020, after the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd galvanized protests against racial injustice globally, Brooklyn Preparatory High School organized a forum for its staff and predominantly black and Hispanic student body. to share their thoughts and express their feelings.
“Those three deaths had a specific effect on all of us, but also specifically on our students,” said JP King, history teacher and chief experience officer at the New York City school, “and our administration and teachers have given the priority of listening to what the students had to say “.
The forum, held via Zoom when the Covid pandemic disrupted education, was open to the entire school and included a group of staff members and students. What ensued was an outpouring of emotion, as well as general student frustration at not seeing enough of themselves on the curriculum, King and the administrators said.
With the help of their vice principal and the support of the New York City Department of Education’s AP for All initiative, the students and staff launched a petition calling for African American studies to be among the College’s advanced placement offers. Board. After a two-year push, the school is now among 60 across the country participating in a pilot program launched this fall for AP African American Studies, at a time when breed teaching is under attack in the United States.
Amirah Riddick, 17, of Brooklyn, who was among the students supporting the addition of the course to Brooklyn Prep’s AP offerings, described it as “a game changer.”
“A lot of our history lessons, we learn the history of whites like Europeans, like colonization and a lot of things like that,” said Riddick, a senior who hopes to study journalism at Northwestern University. “And I feel like we are mostly Hispanic students, mostly African Americans, mostly Caribbean students, we don’t learn much about our cultures and the ways we were thriving. We learn more about the ways we were confined as in slavery , and how we have been treated “.
During a recent class, Shannah Henderson, assistant principal of preparation in Brooklyn, who teaches the course, had students work in small groups to analyze Countee Cullen’s “Heritage” poem. She said that her role is mainly to remind students of “the different perspectives and voices” and to manage the different cultural expectations of the children, in line with the design of the course.
If it wasn’t for her, the program might not have made it to Brooklyn Prep.
Henderson was the school’s AP coordinator for a decade and said during that time she “had the privilege of hearing student complaints” about which AP classes they didn’t have. In June 2020, King helped her draft a couple of tweets addressed to the College Board, asking for a course that talked about the “history, heritage, culture, lives and experiences” of her students.
Henderson said Trevor Packer, senior vice president and head of the AP program and division of education, responded.
“And what he said was that there was interest in doing it from the College Board, but they found that it wasn’t enough interest from the universities. So they were still working on it,” Henderson said.
A few times last year, he said, he learned about the pilot program but Brooklyn Prep hadn’t been invited to attend. So he contacted Packer again. “I said, ‘Hey, we petitioned, do you remember us?’ And we entered the pilot program, “he said.
Asked what needed to be considered for the pilot program, Henderson said, “Interest and support from your school district. And of course from your principal.”
Henderson traveled to Howard University in July to receive training on how to teach the course. She said that because she does not have a degree in African American Studies, she was also required to take online courses at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
The College Board said the course had been in preparation for a decade. Henderson credited Packer for being receptive to his students and their petition and said he believes the 2020 race showdown and the rise of student rumors and activism during that time “have certainly helped. to ignite a spark “.
In response to an NBC News interview request, the College Board said it recently published a set of principles for all AP courses that make it clear that students will encounter evidence, weigh conflicting views, and come to their own conclusions.
“AP students are never required to agree with a particular opinion or adopt a particular ideology, but they are expected to explore different perspectives,” a statement read.
AP African American Studies is multidisciplinary and draws on literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography and the sciences. The course is expected to be available to all interested high schools in the 2024-25 school year, once colleges and universities have confirmed their credit and placement policies for the course’s AP exam, the College Board said.
“As with all AP courses in the humanities, it’s not a theory course; students instead immerse themselves in primary sources,” he said. “The course is designed to encourage students to examine each topic from a variety of perspectives, without ideology, in line with the tradition of field debates.”
The College Board, which also runs the SATs, declined to share a program, but said that in the spring of 2024 “the course framework will be posted on the AP program website after it reflects the pilot’s teachings, so that anyone can read the course material directly and see the evidence-based content and skills students learn in the course. ” He also refused to name the schools that were selected, how they were chosen or to say which states they were in. And he didn’t answer a question about whether he has experienced some pushbacks since the pilot project was launched.
The class is introduced as Republicans continue to wage a battle against critical race theory, or CRT, the academic study of systemic racism, which critics have often misused to label any attempt to teach students about racism in the States. United. Critical race theory is not usually taught in public K-12 schools and is not part of the AP African American Studies curriculum, although it may still find itself in the crosshairs of critics.
This year, 36 states introduced 137 bills – compared to 22 states that introduced 54 bills in 2021 – to restrict the teaching of race, as well as American gender and history, in primary schools and education. higher, according to a report by the free speech organization PEN America. “Republican lawmakers have overwhelmingly led” the push, she said.
Henderson said she feels grateful to teach in a state – and a school – that welcomes a diverse curriculum and one that doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations. She keeps in regular contact with other program teachers in other parts of the country.
“I actually feel really lucky that the current state of the DOE is one of them, let’s open up to all ideas and perspectives and really address our students’ interests and needs,” she said.
The most rewarding part of the program was the enthusiasm not only of its students and colleagues, but also of the wider AP community in the other participating schools. “We have a really good community,” she said. “And it’s just enhancement.”
Henderson and principal Noah Lansner said 200 students asked to enroll in the course and 35 were chosen.
Khia Williams, 17, who lives in Brooklyn, is among those enrolled in the course and who had supported it. She believes that African American history is underrepresented in the education system and she has stated that everything she has learned in the course so far has been new to her.
“I feel like everything I’ve learned in this class, I don’t know,” she said. “Because when we learn history, especially the history of blacks, it starts with the African slave trade. And that’s not where it begins.”
Before enrolling, he said he would receive information on African American studies from his grandmother, who came to the United States from Jamaica.
“We learn history in many other classes, but we don’t learn African history, which is, I wouldn’t say offensive, but in a way it can be offensive,” he said. “Because it is as if we can know the history of the United States, the global history, but we are leaving out a continent. Why?”
This article was originally posted on NBCNews.com