A look inside the only AP African American studies class in Colorado

Overland High School seniors taking pilot course, which is expected to expand in the fall
A look inside the only AP African American studies class in Colorado
Posted at 7:03 PM, Feb 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-10 16:05:31-05

AURORA, Colo. — Cherry Creek Schools' Overland High School is home to the first AP African American studies class in Colorado.

The optional class is a pilot program and is divided into four main learning units.

Instructor Nathan Umetsu says the first unit explores African empires, and the second teaches about the transatlantic slave trade and experience.

The third unit discusses how the African American experience has changed over time, from slavery until the Civil War. The final section of the class covers the Civil War to the post-Reconstruction period, and, if there is time, will delve into modern history.

“It took over the summer to read through the curriculum, to prepare lesson plans, and in August, we started the ball rolling," Umetsu said. “This is just such an interesting, unique opportunity. I jumped on board right away, but it took those months to get ready.”

Umetsu says Overland is the only Colorado school teaching this pilot version of the class. He says over 60 other schools across the country are doing so, as well.

“One of my favorite lines that we've heard this year from students is, 'We were never taught this before in history,'" said Umetsu. “They need to be able to understand what came before their life. They need to understand the stories of the people who face adversity, who face challenges and how they overcame those.”

RELATED: Denver educators react to removal of topics from AP African American Studies curriculum

Two high school students on Colorado’s first-ever AP African American studies class

One of the seniors in the class, Gloria Ansah, says the class motivated her to go to school.

“I really wanted to be in this class, so I took advantage. I made sure I told my counselor constantly, 'Is this on my schedule? Is this on my schedule?'" she said. “[The class] gives me a chance to be more connected to my history.”

Another student, Busisiwe Chimembe, says what they are learning about African American history applies to her life now.

“I still have to go out to the streets and maybe worry about police brutality, maybe other white people don't see me the same way. But it's still a nice way of knowing that at least some progress was made, and that I can actually be part of that change," said Chimembe. “Every single history has always been whitewashed, but African American studies is able to give you the raw truth.”

Since the class is a pilot program, students do not have to pay for the AP exam, but will take it for free because the College Board has not decided if their scores will be accepted by universities yet.

The teachers and students at Overland High School hope that next year, the class will have an AP exam that grants college credit.

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