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Teacher opens up about teaching AP African American Studies to high schoolers for the first time

The new AP course, which focuses not only on history but also looks at art, geography, literature, film and music, will be piloted in 60 high schools this fall.

Teacher opens up about teaching AP African American Studies to high schoolers for the first time
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt

High schoolers across America this year will be able to take a brand new Advanced Placement (AP) course that has been in development for nearly a decade. Operated by the nonprofit College Board, the AP African American Studies program debuts at 60 high schools this fall as a pilot program. "The course is designed to offer high school students an inspiring, evidence-based introduction to African American Studies," the College Board told ABC News. By the 2024-2025 school year, the organization said, it hopes to expand the course to all schools that would like to offer it to their students.


Marlon Williams-Clark, who has been a middle school teacher for the past decade, began his 11th year in the profession as one of the inaugural teachers teaching the AP African American Studies course. "When I found out that they were adding an AP course, it was really exciting for me because having the AP title on it gives it a certain level of 'legitimacy,'" he said. "It was a class that I felt like students would flock to and also a class that would help fill in gaps for things that weren't necessarily covered in the U.S. history curriculum." The feedback from his 25 high school students at Florida State University Schools High School in Tallahassee, Florida, has been positive since he started teaching the course on August 8, Williams-Clark revealed.


"When I asked them how it's going, it was like they are enjoying the class. One particular student, she said, 'I like that this is an AP class, but it doesn't feel like an AP class and I feel like I'm getting a lot out of it,'" he shared. The AP program gives students the opportunity to take rigorous college-level courses while in high school, helping them develop key skills such as critical reading, thinking and writing. At the end of the school year, they have the option to sit for an AP exam and receive college credit or scholarships if they earn high scores. However, since the test development of AP African American Studies is still being finalized, for the first year of the program, students will have the chance to sit for an exam without a college credit option.



Williams-Clark revealed that in his yearlong AP African American Studies class at FSUS High School, he plans on covering everything from the Bantu migration and African empires to the transatlantic slave trade and the Harlem Renaissance. He will also educate students on the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s and estimates that the periods of study will span as far back as 3000 B.C. up through the present day. "What I really liked about this course is that it is an interdisciplinary course. So we're not just looking at history, we're looking at geography, we're looking at literature, we're looking at art, we're looking at music and film and bringing all of those elements into the class," he said. "For one, it is an enjoyable way to teach for me, but also it gives a comprehensive view of the African American experience for students."


The new AP course has also been a game-changer for teachers, revealed Williams-Clark. Since many are teaching the subject for the first time this year, the teachers gathered at an AP Summer Institute this past July at Howard University to plan their curriculum. "Many of the teachers who were teaching African American history prior [to this AP course]... said they felt like they were on an island by themselves. And so now, we have a community to use each other as resources and see what each other are doing, see how things are going," Williams-Clark said. "I really appreciate the fact that that particular training brought us together as a community and those who have been teaching African American history... no longer feel like they're on an island."


The College Board's AP African American Studies course comes at a time when several states across the nation have introduced or passed legislation limiting instruction and classroom discussions on race. "I think people also should get away from thinking that just because African American Studies or African American history or literature is being taught that it's exclusively about race—it's about an experience," said Williams-Clark. "The African American experience is not just slavery and trauma and the civil rights movement, but it's also about resilience and joy and building things out of nothing and also connecting those African traditions that came over with those people who were forcibly brought over and how they continue to pass on traditions."

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