10 Boston public schools offering AP African American Studies this year

When Tanisha Milton was a college student at the University of Massachusetts, she was discouraged from majoring in Black studies. She was training to be a teacher, and Black studies was just not a large enough part of the curriculum, she was told.

Fifteen years later, Milton is a teacher at TechBoston Academy and one of 12 educators in the district who will be teaching the first-ever Advanced Placement course in African American Studies. City leaders say the initiative is an opportunity to provide culturally relevant curriculum to Boston high schoolers, a third of whom are Black.

This is the second year of a pilot curricular framework developed by the College Board, which administers AP courses and the SAT exam. BPS joins hundreds of other districts around the country across 47 states and the District of Columbia in offering the curriculum which will cover the African American experience across disciplines and movements in history.

"This initiative reflects our commitment to providing a rich, culturally affirming educational experience that empowers our students to explore the complexities and contributions of Black history and culture,” Boston Superintendent Mary Skipper said in a press release.

Boston Latin School. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston Latin School is one of 10 BPS schools offering AP African American Studies this year. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The AP African American Studies course launched at TechBoston last week. For Milton, it marked an important moment in her teaching career.

“I'm extremely excited to experience this whole entire course … I believe that this course matters, I believe that this course is necessary,” she said. “Black history is American history, period.”

Ten Boston schools, including all three exam schools, will offer AP African American Studies this year. Others include Charlestown High, Dearborn STEM Academy, Jeremiah Burke High, Boston Green Academy, Another Course to College and the Dr. William W. Henderson Inclusion School, according to BPS.

The district hopes to expand the program in future years, officials said.

Roughly a dozen other school districts in Massachusetts are also offering the course. They include Lawrence, Arlington, Weymouth, New Bedford, Randolph, Milton, Fall River, Framingham, Pittsfield, Duxbury, Springfield and Woburn, according to Holly Stepp, a spokeswoman for the College Board.

Participating students have the opportunity to take an AP exam at the end of the academic year to earn college credit.

Two Massachusetts schools — Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School —were among the first in the state to offer the course in the 2022-2023 school year.

Content ‘particularly relevant’ to Boston students

In a Monday news release, Boston school leaders said the course will prioritize a “project-based assessment” and offer students the chance to “explore the essential topics of freedom, enslavement, resistance, movements and debates, African empires and kingdoms, civil rights and racial uplift.”

It also stressed BPS educators will be “empowered to augment the curriculum” to offer course material particularly relevant to Boston students.

The pilot AP African American Studies course was embroiled in political controversy last year after it became a target of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other conservatives, resulting in a pare-back of the curriculum by the College Board last spring. The revised framework now omits exploration of topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement and reparations.

Milton says the critical response to the course is a distraction.

“I think we really need to be focusing on the excitement and just the fact that kids really now have the opportunity to really learn about their history,” she said.

And at TechBoston, demand for the course is high. Roughly 60 students applied to enroll with writing samples and letters of recommendation; Milton whittled the group down to 23.

“I know that our kids are excited, they want to learn, they deserve to learn this,” she said. “And I really just think that this course should never be [just] an option. It actually should be a requirement.”

This is not the first African American studies course taught in Boston Public Schools.

BPS Executive Director of Humanities Angela Hedley-Mitchell says she taught African American history back in 2002.

“It’s been a course available for schools to select in the course catalog,” Hedley-Mitchell said. “But it was a lot of curation of your own materials to build your course.”

To prepare to teach the new AP course, the dozen Boston educators had more resources and a supportive community: they participated in a weeklong training at Howard University over the summer, and will continue to check in with each other throughout the school year.

Hedley-Mitchell said she is excited to see the program begin this year.

“We are giving students in Boston the opportunity to see history through a lens that sometimes has been marginalized or not discussed in our traditional textbooks,” she said.

Emily Piper-Vallillo Education Reporting Fellow
Emily Piper-Vallillo is an Education Reporting Fellow for WBUR.



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