Fairfield County is one of the wealthiest, most educated and most diverse places in the United States and the world over. The city of Stamford in particular is home to thousands of immigrants, some of the world’s leading professionals and some of the largest corporations in the world. In fact, Stamford ranks in third place nationally in the Bloomberg Upward Mobility Index, only behind larger cities like San Francisco and San Jose. Coupled together, these statistics make Stamford and Fairfield County one of the most desirable places for families to raise their children. Specifically, the education system has long been a symbol of pride for Stamford families due to its resources, talented professionals and impressive Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings. The clustering of these resources also has its downsides: Fairfield County is one of the most unequal areas in the United States (while Connecticut is the second most unequal state in the country). Unfortunately, this inequality has been reflected in Stamford’s public schools. The Advanced Placement program is the most visible example, where classes appear to be divided along socio-economic and racial lines. Stamford must ensure its diversity is represented in the classroom by making AP classes more accessible and changing the profile of what constitutes an AP student.
According to data compiled by Stamford public schools, there is a racial disparity in AP enrollment. Black and Hispanic students enroll at rates that are much lower than Asian or white students. In 2010, Hispanic students enrolled at a rate of 22% while black students enrolled at a rate of 11%. In comparison, white students enrolled at a rate of 75% while Asian students enrolled at a rate of 84%. These numbers have been ameliorated in the past decade in large part due to programs aimed at preparing a more diverse class of students for the rigors of AP classes. In 2018, Hispanic students enrolled at a rate of 42% and black students at a rate of 35%, more than double the 2010 figures. The issue of representation is not unique to Stamford. Across the state, low-income and minority students are underrepresented in AP classes.
When I was a high school student, I witnessed first-hand this lack of representation. In my AP classes, there were rarely more than five students of color in any given class, despite the fact that students of color made up more than half of the student body. Moreover, more than half of all students came from economically disadvantaged homes in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Stamford. From conversations with my classmates in AP classes I realized that almost none of them came from those homes. Most AP students came from North Stamford and other wealthy neighborhoods in Stamford.
The Stamford public school system must continue its efforts to prepare more students for AP classes through summer programs and other institutional means. More importantly, everyone who is invested in Stamford’s education must change their perception of the “AP student profile,” which has historically been a wealthy and white student. Any motivated student who is willing to work hard should be able to see themselves in a space like an AP class, regardless of whether their background fits the AP student profile.
Even though I did not match the AP student profile, I was able to envision myself as an AP student thanks to the example set by upperclassmen who were also students of color. Now, I am extending this experience to more Stamford students through a social media campaign, funded by the University of Connecticut’s Co-Op Legacy Change Grant, that highlights the experiences of AP students of color in Stamford. This will encourage more students of color and low-income students to see themselves as potential AP students and eventually enroll in AP classes. Moreover, this campaign will redefine the AP student profile so it can be more diverse and inclusive.
I urge all members of the Stamford community and beyond to take note of this issue, to believe in a more diverse AP program and to do something about the lack of representation in AP classes. Stamford has always embraced change and diversity, and even though the lack of representation in AP classes is an issue larger than Stamford, we can lead by example.
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Michael Hernandez is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.