SHS classrooms don’t reflect the diversity in the school


Nanci Bush's 7th period AP English Language and Composition class. Photo taken by Lara Decastecker.

Melissa Ellin, Editor in Chief

15-year-old Kaitlyn Thompson arrives at her fourth period Honors 10 English class excited from her first day back to school and ready to start off her sophomore year with a bang. Students shuffle in, finding their seats and making idle conversation. The bell rings. She surveys her surroundings, taking in her fellow classmates, as a realization hits her: she’s the only black person in the class.

In Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors courses at Solon High School (SHS), it’s not uncommon for there to be one, or very few, black students within the classroom, but it by no means mirrors the diversity present in the student body. It’s clear from one glance that SHS has a large percentage of black students, but for some reason, the majority of them choose not to take advanced level courses.

Assistant Principal Joshua Frazier attested to this concept.

“I think when you look at the demographics of AP, Honors and College Prep (CP), you’re going to see probably more of our black students in CP courses, and our–I don’t know if you could really say white students, because they’re most of our population, they’re probably spread across all classes– but AP is primarily white and Asian students.”

Now a senior, Thompson and current junior Kristofer Calhoun have each been the only black student in their Honors English classes. While neither felt at all upset by this fact, they both found it noticeable. Calhoun even mentioned he has another friend who’s had the same occurrence, so it’s no secret that it happens. The question is: why?

Calhoun believes it has something to do with the students themselves.

“I feel like a lot of the African-American students in this school–it’s kinda weird, it goes with stereotypes–but there are two different types of quote/unquote black students in SHS,” Calhoun said. “[There are] ones who really focus on academics but are still in the mix with everything, and then [there are] ones that are kickback and relax type.”

He went on to say that the students who are more immersed in school may be more inclined to take the upper-level courses.

“I feel like the [academically oriented black students]  won’t have anything holding them back from taking honors and AP classes, but I feel like it’s more so a stereotype thing, or a fear of [others] not really knowing because they haven’t taken any honors or AP classes, so they don’t know what they’re getting into.”

Frazier held a similar sentiment.

“I think it’s probably a comfort level for some people,” Frazier said. “You’ve probably heard that AP is hard, or harder. Some people have heard horror stories, so they probably got discouraged before they have even known. It’s also going to be ‘Where are my friends at?’ As a minority, I think it’s sometimes hard to say ‘I may be the only person that looks like me in this class,’ and am I okay with that?’”

Nevertheless, Thompson feels that teachers play a major role in the course selection process.

“[Having] good teachers is a big part of helping students in the classroom and getting them to the level where they can take those classes,” Thompson said.

Similarly, Assistant Principal Erica Kosiorek said the staff has been taking strides toward rectifying this disparity. One way in which they do this is by looking the reports sent in by College Board (CB) after students take the PSAT sophomore year–a test required by SHS–and checking to see how their scores correlate to AP classes, as CB will take their score and gauge their ability to do well in any of the AP courses offered.

“We run [the CB] report–one for our teachers and one for our guidance counselors–and one thing we’ve talked about doing better for next year is getting it into teachers hands,” Kosiorek said. “That way when the time for scheduling comes around and kids are getting signatures and recommendations from teachers, they would have looked at the list ahead of time and said ‘Based on your scores, and how well you do in my class, it really says you have a great chance of being successful in this AP class.’”

Thompson thinks this notion of having students and teachers having conversations about the AP/Honors track is key to changing the current racial imbalance in the classrooms.

“I know teachers impact me a lot,” Thompson said. “If I don’t like a teacher, it’s over for me, because a teacher still has their job, but I need to get myself to work. So, I think that teachers and students can work hard to make that connection so that black students can move up instead of just staying where they’re comfortable. They need to get out of their comfort zone, and take that challenging class.”

Kosiorek said that administration has actually been discussing with teachers about how to relate to their students and maintain healthy relationships with them.

“If I have that great relationship with you, I’m more like to listen to your recommendation and trust in it, and try it,” Kosiorek said. “We continue to build on that as administrators, stressing to our teachers that it is about the relationships. Whether that’s before class or after class, just showing interest in them. Having a casual conversation, going out of your way to say hello, making sure that they know you’re there for them.”

Additionally, both Calhoun and Thompson made it clear that the discourse and overall material in AP/Honors classes are beneficial to a student’s high school experience.

“AP courses do require a little more work and dedication, but at the end of the day they’re more fulfilling, because a) you learn more, and I think that’s something that’s really not focused on a lot in school, is the actual learning, and b) they can help your GPA if you’re going to actually devote your time to them and try to succeed,” Calhoun said.

Nevertheless, Frazier pointed out that not all students should take an AP or Honors course. It’s not always the best option as they are, after all, more difficult.

“I don’t think that makes you a bad student if you choose not to take AP classes,” Frazier said. “It’s not for everyone, and I think students have to be comfortable with that, but I do believe it prepares you for college.”

For senior Pilar Vasquez, this was the case. For her, taking a CP course was the best option as she was able to learn at the best possible pace and retain the information being thrown at her.

“I chose to take CP classes because they’re not as difficult to get through, and I understand it more than I would in a higher level class,” Vasquez said.

On another note, Frazier and Thompson said the problem of racial segregation is present outside of the classroom, but it’s taking the course and overall being more outgoing which can make a difference.

“I think what we see in the cafeteria in SHS mirrors what we see in cities across the US, so I think that we have to continue to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, and get out of our comfort zones and learn from one another,” Frazier said.