For the first time in academic history, high school students across the nation now have the option to take an African American Advanced Placement course.
As part of the new pilot program introduced by the College Board, which developed the course curriculum with high school teachers at Howard University, 60 schools across the U.S. will offer the new AP class as part of their fall curriculum. Additional schools are expected to be added during the pilot’s second year.
“AP African American Studies will introduce a new generation of students to the amazingly rich cultural, artistic, and political contributions of African Americans,” said Trevor Packer, senior vice president of AP and instruction at the College Board. “We hope it will broaden the invitation to Advanced Placement and inspire students with a fuller appreciation of the American story.”
The African American AP course is the College Board’s first course since 2014 and the 40th course it has developed. The program has the potential to impact thousands of high school students who can enroll in the course and receive college credit.
One of the schools to offer the African American AP course this fall is Florida State University Schools in Tallahassee, taught by social studies instructor Marlon Williams-Clark. Clark, 35, told NBC News he first heard about the course in March, when he was appointed to teach it. He started teaching two African American AP courses on Aug. 8 to predominately Black juniors and seniors.
Some of the topics explored in his class are the origins of the African diaspora, the Atlantic slave trade, the era of Reconstruction, the Black Power Movement, among others. Williams-Clark said his class started off with an introduction into how African American studies became a course in colleges and universities and then focused on the history of Africa, including its geography and empires. Since the beginning of the class, Clark said his students have been thoroughly engaged in classroom discussions about the material.
“They have come in and ready to like, just dive into some tough conversations,” he said, “and I just really appreciate their curiosity to express what they don’t know, what they want to know, and what they think they know.”
The College Board’s new AP course comes during a time when school boards are battling over the teaching of critical race theory and there are bills proposed by leaders to prevent schools from teaching students about structural and historical racism. Williams-Clark said he doesn’t think students have enough knowledge of African American history, including the contributions of Black people and the Black experience. This course, he said, will fill gaps in U.S. history classes while also building a community for teachers who instruct the course.
“By students learning this information earlier, it gives a greater sense of understanding and empathy for people’s experiences or walks of life that is different than their own,” Williams-Clark said. “When we look at what’s happening in our country and the division that’s happening right now, it will actually bring us closer together by having a better understanding of each other.”