For too many years in Manchester, the class rolls of advanced placement (AP) courses were dominated by students who knew the secret handshake — that is, kids whose genuine academic ability was enhanced by economic privilege. Advanced placement courses seemed to be the nearly exclusive preserve of students from Bedford and the North End, kids who knew from the time they were in middle school (or even earlier) what AP courses were and that they would be enrolling in them.
In comments on the district website, assistant superintendent Dave Ryan, who does not resemble Che Guevera in any way, set a truly bold new standard for Manchester that will force open doors of opportunity to hundreds of students. “Every student should have the opportunity to experience the rigor and richness of an advanced placement course. No matter the academic demand of a course, it is up to us as professional educators to ensure the supports are in place to lift all students up to meet the same high expectations,” according to Ryan.
Ultimately, each student is responsible for his or her own success. However, as Ryan pointed out, providing students with a forum in which they can succeed and in which all students are provided with equal opportunity is unambiguously an adult responsibility, a realization that has only recently penetrated all levels of the city’s educational community.
Accompanying the story on the district’s website was a picture of students who were invited to a breakfast at which AP opportunities were highlighted for promising students who had never enrolled in AP courses. The picture captured the evolution of the figurative and literal complexion of Manchester’s population.
Manchester’s growing ethnic and racial diversity has a direct impact on the standards by which the school progress is measured. An illuminating article in a recent edition of The New Hampshire Sunday News analyzed the district’s standardized test scores and found that Manchester, like almost every other urban school district in the country, has an achievement gap that separates white students from students of color. If that gap is to be bridged and Manchester’s overall scores are to rise steadily, the district needs to follow the AP initiative with a multi-faceted program that addresses the needs of students who may one day make up a majority of the district’s students. Opening the drawbridge to the AP castle is a sign the district is fully embracing the challenge and the promise of teaching inner-city youth.
Asian philosophy holds that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The Manchester School District’s aggressive advanced placement recruitment effort could be the start of something truly revolutionary for Manchester’s kids. Let the journey begin.
David Scannell, a former Manchester School District teacher and coordinator of school and community relations, teaches English at Milford High School.