Today: AP Spanish, tomorrow: the world!
Since 2011, student enrollment in advanced classes at Mammoth High School has increased almost threefold. According to data provided by Mammoth High School Principal Chris Powell, Hispanic students are the leading contributors to that increase in participation. In April, Mammoth High School received the Gold Medal Award by U.S. News and World Report, which ranked MHS in the top 6 percent of high schools in California and 487th in the nation based on, among other factors, the percentage of students enrolled in college-level courses prior to graduation. According to Powell, 67 percent of this year’s graduating class will leave high school with college credit.
In 2016-2017, fifty-four percent of students enrolled in MHS identified as Hispanic. Mammoth Unified School District offers dual immersion programs in elementary school, but by middle school, classes (except for Spanish Language), are taught in English. According to AP Spanish Language and Literature teacher Carla Spencer, it’s important that teachers and administrators seek to dismantle the boundaries that often prevent students from enrolling in advanced courses.
Spencer started teaching Mammoth High School’s first AP Spanish Literature course three years ago. Her students and co-workers cited her as a major reason for the increase in enrollment in AP courses. Spencer insists that it’s the result of district-wide efforts led by the administration to eliminate what educators call “gatekeeping.”
“There has been a tradition of setting up hurdles for kids to jump over to get into certain kinds of classes. This is especially true in college-bound courses. Over the last three years or so, we [teachers and administrators] have really been evaluating whether or not those make sense,” said Spencer in an interview. Spencer offered the example of teachers assigning intensive summer homework for advanced placement courses. “A kid who has to work full time to support their family may not be able to afford to do that. That doesn’t mean they won’t succeed in the class or that they shouldn’t be there.”