Support Kweller Prep, sponsor of The Classic:
Many of the biggest elective changes slated for the coming year have occurred in the Humanities department. The most significant difference is that juniors will be able to select either honors-level or Advanced Placement United States history for their social studies requirement.
This year’s shift comes in the wake of an examination of recent AP test scores that shows the average AP U.S. History (APUSH) score for Harrisites to be below that of other accelerated courses, such as AP World History and AP English Literature.
“We felt that it would be better to give students the option, because if they’re good at history and inclined to take the class, they would do so anyway. If history isn’t your thing, you’re not required to take the higher-level class,” explained Rafal Olechowski, Assistant Principal of Humanities.
APUSH initially became a requirement under former principal Kenneth Bonamo in 2011 as a result of statistics suggesting that juniors at THHS were well-prepared to take the course, in addition to a nationwide pattern of increased student enrollment in AP courses. The statistics were Harrisites’ PSAT and former APUSH scores.
According to Social Studies teacher Charlene Levi, last year only 51% of the class received a score of three or above on the APUSH exam.
“We don’t need a repeat of those numbers,” Ms. Levi said.
Social studies teacher Jaime Baranoff also agrees with the decision to unmandate APUSH for similar reasons.
“I think the scores will be better as well. Several years ago, when APUSH was optional, there was a remarkable passing rate. I hope we can achieve something similar in the coming years,” she said.
Many members of the THHS community agree with the decision to lift the APUSH mandate. Others would keep it.
Ms. Levi believes that AP courses in general should be optional for students.
“Those that choose to be in the class tend to work harder in order to do well on the exam,” she said.
When asked if she felt some students in her classes were unsuited for APUSH, she said that she thinks everyone at THHS is qualified to take AP classes.
“But if students don’t have interests in history they should not be forced to take an AP class in the subject,” she said.
“Maybe in the future we will go back to all APs, but for now I stand by [Principal Anthony Barbetta’s] decision,” concluded Ms. Levi.
For many students, the choice is welcome.
“I do feel like it’s a fair gain because it helps students like me have the option to shine in a more lenient classroom setting,” said sophomore Joyce Wong.
Having recently taken the APUSH exam, junior Andy Hua concurred. “I felt that being mandated to take the course this year was awful, because when the test came around, I felt unprepared.”
Junior Shamilah Faria, however, thinks APUSH should remain mandatory, believing all Harrisites would have benefited from taking the course if they worked hard.
“Townsend kids are totally capable of doing well on APs if they study,” she said. “They need to stop being lazy.”
Senior Megan Parker also feels that APUSH should remain mandatory because “[THHS] is supposed to be a prestigious school with tough standards. The more mandatory [AP classes], the better,” she concluded.
Junior Shahrin Azim also feels that APUSH should remain mandatory because given the choice, most students would probably opt for regular U.S. History.
Even though some students may not be interested in the subject, she feels the challenge of APUSH is beneficial.
“Taking an AP course shows that you’re up for a challenge,” adding that “there will be so many things in life you don’t want to do, so get over it.”
Despite the change, Mr. Olechowski still urges juniors to take at least one A.P. course in the Humanities department, such as A.P. English Literature and Composition, A.P. English Language and Composition, and A.P. Human Geography.
Mr. Olechowski shared these thoughts in an e-mail sent to all THHS students on April 3.
“It’s important for students to be challenged, especially in their junior year,” he said.