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The student news site of New Trier High School

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NT pilots AP African American Studies course

The history course, AP African American Studies, explores a new facet of history not as deeply studied in other classes
Students+in+AP+African+American+Studies+engage+in+meaningful+conversation.
Ari Whalen
Students in AP African American Studies engage in meaningful conversation.

Editor’s Note: Vivian Fletcher is a writer for New Trier News and was interviewed in this article. She was not involved in the writing or editing of this story.

Advanced Placement African American Studies ran at New Trier High School for the second year in a row after its introduction to the curriculum last year as part of a multi-year pilot. This year, 30 students are enrolled in the course.  

In class, students discuss topics such as the slave trade, the Middle Passage, the origins and evolution of slavery in the U.S., as well as current issues African Americans face today. 

My hope is that if you are even feeling like, ‘I don’t know if AP is right for me,’ that you don’t let that stop you from taking this class.

— Michael Christensen

This course offers more than what a typical American history class offers; the content focuses more on African American history and experiences while allowing students to develop important historical and literary skills. 

“The course is thematic and chronological, and so it starts looking at ancient African American civilizations and goes all the way up through present day African American studies issues,” AP African American studies teacher and Social Studies Department Chair Michael Christensen said. 

While Christensen—who has taught a variety of history classes, including American history and American studies—sees some overlap between AP African American Studies and other U.S. History courses, AP African American Studies hones in on specific instances in history and dedicates much more time to these topics than other classes. 

“I think in all of our courses, we touch on a lot of this stuff, but [we get] the ability to just go in depth on things that people felt like they would love to just sit in for a little bit in other classes,” Christensen said.

Students are just as thrilled with the class and its structure. The class is very interactive, and allows students to explore multiple perspectives.

“It’s very primary source based,” senior Vivian Fletcher, who is currently enrolled in AP African American Studies, said. Fletcher notes that the focus on primary sources allows students to understand the specific struggles and achievements of African Americans. 

There’s no denying that this class covers heavy topics. African American history involves a lot of race-based violence, and some of those truths in our country’s history can be difficult to contend with. 

“You have to sit in some really difficult experiences, but I think that’s how you learn and grow,” Christensen said.

Students in this class are pushed to think and reflect on the complexity of the African Americans experience. Students also complete enlightening projects focused on current issues.

“I did a project on Florida’s ban of the class, and that really caused me to think a lot about Critical Race Theory, and it’s really forced me to think about how people view race and how it’s very different depending on the person, but it is also super important to teach it,” Fletcher said. “[It’s important] to teach young kids how to treat other people with kindness and empathy regardless of their race.”

These real-life activities teach students present-day lessons while educating them on past experiences.

In order for a high-level understanding of these issues, it’s inevitable that this AP class is rigorous. 

“My hope is that if you are even feeling like, ‘I don’t know if AP is right for me,’ that you don’t let that stop you from taking this class,” Christensen said. 

With all the classes offered at New Trier, it can be difficult to determine which will be a good fit. But, with course registration around the corner, AP African American Studies is a course to consider taking for those interested in discussing these parts of our country’s history.  

“It’s a great opportunity to give some experience and information and different kinds of exposure to culture,” Christensen said.

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