During high school, many students are encouraged to work hard for near perfect grades. The idea of straight A’s is often engraved into the minds of many incoming high school freshmen. In my personal experience, the image of being a perfect straight-A student, with a balance between good grades and extracurricular activities, was ideal for me to achieve—but it was immediately crushed a month into my first year of high school. I thought it was going to be simple, but as the year progressed, my dream of being a perfect student seemed to get further and further away.
I entered University High School of Tolleson in 2013, and I am now a senior who will be graduating in 2017. According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2016 rankings, University High School of Tolleson is ranked #36 nationally, and #6 in the state of Arizona. I have had the privilege to attend a school that is composed of 79% minority students, more than half of whom are economically disadvantaged.
It is also incredible to be attending such an impressive school in a state that is ranked one of the lowest in education. Living in a state where the majority of the population is white and minorities make up some of the smallest percentages, it is not abnormal for a student, especially myself—a female and a minority—to face discrimination. With societal pressures such as these, it becomes vital for a student to achieve the image of the “ideal student” with good grades and many extracurricular activities.
Attending a school that is geared toward college readiness, the image of the “ideal student” has been crushed. But the destruction of this false image has been one of the most liberating experiences I have ever struggled through.
As a freshman I was given the opportunity to take an Advanced Placement class. I was told it was rare to see a freshman taking an AP class. I took AP Human Geography, and it was one of the most difficult but most satisfying classes of my high school career. The rest of my classes were what some refer to as either “honors” or “advanced,” with the exception of an elective.
In my first month of school, I felt the pressure and fear of failing. My English course was the only class that appeared as an F on my report card; the rest were at a B or above. As a student who was often pressured by her parents, it was difficult to accept a failing grade. A failing grade was the equivalent of mocking the hardship my parents went through in order to provide me with a quality standard of living and education.
The pressure of that failing grade was soon alleviated from my worries. Three months into the school year, the heavy burden of the F that caused the near destruction of my determination disappeared, as I was able to bring up that grade to a B. But the B was still not good enough for me. I had to have straight A’s. I had to present my parents with a perfect report card. I had to show society that I was worth the effort of the American education system.
Achieving my ideal image of a straight-A student was proving far too difficult, and so I became obsessed with this arbitrary idol. Soon I was deprived of the joy of learning. School was a place of obligation, not opportunity. It was not until much encouragement of my teachers and educators that I finally abandoned this impossible image and began to focus on learning as much as I could. After abandoning this image, going to school become less dreadful and learning became a priority for me.
I would have never been able to abandon my cause of daily dread if it were not for my required AP class. Although many may not realize it, AP classes teach us more than the curriculum of a college class. Yes, they provide us with a college experience, they expose us to the rigor of college course work, and they give us the opportunity to earn college credit. But AP classes also show us high school students that, first and foremost, we aren’t just students working to get ahead of our post-secondary education—we are individuals dedicated to learning.
The importance of AP classes isn’t just what they can provide high school students in terms of college readiness; it’s how they reveal real-world lessons to those students before they even enter it. APs remind high school students that they aren’t followers of a path created by societal pressures and expectations; they are the creators of their own paths.