New APs welcomed to RJR and their impact on the school district


Mercer Sullivan, Managing Editor

Career Center in downtown Winston-Salem has served as a pillar in the Winston-Salem Forsyth County School community for many years now. Beyond classes focused on career training, it allows students in the district to take the advanced courses that home schools traditionally have not been able to offer. Now, many district schools including RJ Reynolds, are offering classes that were once only available at Career Center in order to make AP courses available to more students in the district. 

Reynolds will be welcoming three new AP classes starting in the 2020 school year: AP Government and Politics, AP Biology and AP Statistics. Having these courses available at Reynolds will allow for students who previously could not access Career Center the opportunity to take upper level classes.

“I think that offering the class at RJR is bringing in groups of students that may not have been able to take the class at Career Center,” future AP Government and Politics teacher Troy Colvard said. “For example, if students don’t have their own transportation to Career Center, they must take a minimum of three Career Center classes to be offered transportation to and from Career Center… this benefits students who don’t have their own cars and would prefer to stay on RJR’s campus as much as possible.”

AP Government and Politics is a very popular class at Career Center and will certainly be full at Reynolds as well. This course offers an in depth look at the inner workings of the US political system and its effects on everyday American lives, as well as the government structure of six other countries. 

“I would say that out of all the AP courses offered, this is potentially one of the most important,” Colvard said. “Everything you will learn in the class is relevant and has real life applicability. I also plan on making the class as fun and engaging as possible.”

Students and teachers alike look forward to being able to have the 90 minute class periods to really dive into these new APs, particularly AP Biology. AP Biology will be a hands on course and having these long periods will allow for a more in depth study of labs. 

“I think the biggest thing is 90 minute classes,” future Reynolds AP Biology teacher Melanie Eldridge said. “This means a more relaxed pace during big labs. Also, I have been approved to have an AP Biology class for students that need extra support on both A days and B days. This means that a student who didn’t take seminar or honors biology can still feel comfortable taking AP Biology because there is built-in extra time and support. This will go a long way to help prepare all students for college.”

These courses will be added at several other schools in the district as well. While having these courses will be good for students who are not immediately drawn to Career Center, some argue it is not overall positive for the district. 

“I felt like Career Center classes were more challenging and a more accurate representation of a college level workload and college level expectations,” Reynolds alum and UNC student Elizabeth Youssef said. “I think students would be overall less prepared for college without the academic rigor of Career Center.”

Superintendent Angela Hairston is aiming to increase the number of students enrolled in AP courses district wide. In all 13 high schools in the district, not including Career Center, 4,527 AP exams are administered. Career Center, by itself, offers 29 AP courses (over two times every school in the district) and administers 3,221 exams by itself. Career Center is one of few schools across the country that is able to pull such a diverse group of students because it does have the unique ability to draw students from 13 Forsyth County high schools. 

“There are great teachers at all of the high schools, I want to be totally clear on that…” Career Center AP Language and Composition teacher Joshua Present said. “I think the reason to take it here [Career Center] is the opportunity for diversity that by definition you can’t get at each home school. In just my first period I have students from Reagan, from Tabor, from Reynolds, from West, from East and from Glenn all sitting in the same classroom and you don’t get that opportunity to spend time exploring ideas with people that are different than you when you are at your home school.” 

According to an article by the Winston-Salem Journal, the Career Center is “at capacity.” While this statistic is false, it is partially the reasoning behind these district wide changes. These changes aim to make these courses accessible to all students, however accessibility does not always mean equity. 

“There is a push to have more students enrolled in AP classes so they can gain that college level experience; however, more students in those courses does not mean there will be college level rigor administered in those courses,” Career Center AP Biology teacher Sean Bennett said.

Having AP Biology at Reynolds is a great addition, however students that would otherwise be attending Career Center could possibly be drawn to the classes at their home school as a way to add a 5.0 to their GPA. 

The true measure of what the student has achieved in an AP course is going to be how they perform on the AP exam,” Bennett said. “If a student gets an A in an AP course and that grade isn’t matched with a successful score on the AP exam, that’s a big red flag to colleges who are now wondering ‘what happened with this kid because here they got an A in the classroom but on the measure of proficiency they only got a 1 on the exam.’ These two things don’t add up so it is a red flag to the university and I would not want to have a red flag in my file once I go to college.”

The last issue with adding courses to home schools is that if theses classes are removed from Career Center, it may take the opportunity to take these courses away from students at the smaller high schools. 

“When two kids from Carver for example or four kids from Prep and three kids from Glenn, which are smaller school who are historically offered fewer AP courses and they want to take the class, now I’ve only got 7 kids, is that worth paying a teacher?” Present said. “So by pulling the kids back to Reynolds, back to Reagan, back to West, I get it, but in doing this you make the course unavailable to the very same schools where that course has always been unavailable.”

In the case of Reynolds, there will be considerable benefits to adding these courses. The AP expansion program will bring many benefits and drawbacks within the school system in the coming year. Reynolds will more than likely see an increase in students enrolled in AP courses across the board which will be great for students who once did not have access to these higher level courses. However, if Career Center sees a drop in numbers it could harm students from smaller schools. With the upcoming AP expansion plan, the district will face many new obstacles that will require all schools to work together to ensure the most accessible and equitable education for all.