Log In


Reset Password
  • MENU
    Local News
    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Groton’s Fitch High School strives to increase diversity in advanced classes

    Yaniyah Greenidge and her classmates work on the second part of their research paper Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, during an AP English class at Fitch High School in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
    Yaniyah Greenidge, center, Laura Letellier, left, and Sophia Cabral, right, listen to their teacher Dan Giovinazzo give instructions on what they need to do for the second part of their research paper Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, during an AP English class at Fitch High School in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
    Jessica Lamb, with Equal Opportunity Schools, talks with junior Sayquan Sykes in a conference room Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, at Fitch High School in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
    Jessica Lamb, right, with Equal Opportunity Schools, talks with junior Sayquan Sykes in a conference room Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, at Fitch High School in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
    Clockwise from left, Calvin McCoy III, Ryan Dunning, Jonathon White and Maxwell Shell answer midterm practice questions Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, during their International Baccalaureate sports exercise and health class at Fitch High School in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
    Gillian Riley, right, and Ellie Menezes discuss the electrical impulses of the heart while going over midterm practice questions Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, during their International Baccalaureate sports exercise and health class at Fitch High School in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
    Students in Dan Giovinazzo’s AP English class at Fitch High School in Groton write a research paper Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints

    Groton ― Marin Green, a 2022 graduate of Robert E. Fitch High School, remembers talking with fellow high school classmates in the Black Student Union about how their higher-level classes at Fitch were not diverse.

    They noticed a lot of students in the higher-level classes had gone to the more demographically white middle school, the former Cutler Middle School, while there weren’t as many students from the more diverse middle school, the former West Side Middle School.

    Green said the BSU students, with support of the school, surveyed Fitch students to find out why that was. The survey found students of color didn’t see the classes as diverse and they didn’t have their middle school friends and the social connections that would make them comfortable in those classes. Some students didn’t have the confidence to step into a college-level course, or didn’t have the support at home.

    Those survey results began an effort to increase the representation of students of color in advanced classes ― including talking to students in middle school, now the consolidated Groton Middle School ― about high school classes so they can prepare.

    Fitch students are encouraging their peers to take more academically rigorous classes so the classes better reflect the school’s overall population. To help the effort, the Groton school district is partnering with Equal Opportunity Schools, which is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, that works with school districts across the country to ensure that all students have access to advanced classes.

    Empowering students

    Carmita Hodge, assistant principal at Fitch and an adviser to the BSU, said members from the National Honors Society, BSU and International Baccalaureate classes spoke to students about their experiences taking higher-level classes.

    Hodge said the goal is to ensure Fitch creates an equitable learning environment for all students in which students are provided the access and opportunity to enroll and succeed in higher-level classes.

    Principal Matthew Brown said the long-term goal is to get as close as possible to having all students at the high school challenge themselves with at least one high-level course.

    More students already are taking higher-level classes. In the fall of 2022, 42% of low-income students and students of color were participating in AP/IB coursework, while 57% of total low-income students and students of color had selected AP/IB courses in the fall of 2023.

    Overall, 69% of Fitch students are taking at least one honors, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class during the 2023-24 school year compared to last year when 64% of students took at least one higher-level course.

    Jessica Lamb, partnership director at Equal Opportunity Schools, who has been visiting Fitch to talk with students and staff, said the partnership has focused on helping students feel empowered to choose classes based on what draws their curiosity and what they’re interested in pursuing after high school.

    Fitch senior Yaniyah Greenidge, who is the president of the BSU, has noticed a shift at the high school, and she is proud of changing students’ mindsets.

    She said there is a bias that may pop into people’s minds of “one stereotype of how a smart kid might look,” but once she started taking the higher-level classes, she found there was a mixed group of kids ― kids who are athletes, kids who don’t do clubs, and kids who do all the clubs.

    “No one’s brain is bigger than anyone else’s,” Greenidge said. “You all have the same capacity of learning stuff, it’s just whether or not you give it a shot.”

    She said she is glad that students are trying out the higher-level classes.

    Greenidge, who loves English and is thinking about journalism for a career, started taking Advanced Placement classes her junior year and is now enrolled in an AP English course. She wants all students to know they too are capable of getting a good grade in AP classes. While many students are stressed about the test, she said the class is about more than a test or college credit.

    “You gain so much more from the class itself,” she said. “You’re learning how to deal with things that you’ll have to deal with later on in life, in college.”

    Nylah Ojeda-Matthews, 15, a sophomore who was in the BSU last year and now is focused on cheerleading, said she initially was hesitant to take higher-level classes because she had heard different opinions on them and she felt like she wasn’t at that level.

    But she said she had to find out for herself.

    Now that she has taken them she realizes that what really matters is how she comprehends the information, adding the teachers are always helpful.

    Ojeda-Matthews said she likes that the advanced classes are more challenging, and she feels she learns more in those classes.

    “I honestly feel a lot better about myself because I feel like I can finally test my limits when it comes to getting more information and so far it’s been the best,” she said. “I love learning more about things, and that’s what these higher level classes do: they teach you a lot more than a normal, base class would, and I think that’s what overall makes it really fun for me.”

    Systemic barriers

    Lamb said at schools across the board, she typically sees that students of color and students experiencing poverty don’t enroll in the same levels of classes due to systemic barriers. For example, students may not enroll in an advanced class because of a belief that they will have to pay for an exam, even though many schools, including Groton, pay for the tests.

    Lamb said Equal Opportunity Schools was started when a teacher in rural North Carolina noticed that many students said they wanted to go to college and were interested in a certain field, yet the students, though excelling in classes, weren’t necessarily taking classes that matched that path. For example, some students wanted to be doctors, but weren’t taking any advanced math or science classes, Lamb said.

    The teacher realized the students were facing multiple systemic barriers, from financial concerns to feeling unsure if they would be welcome in the class, Lamb said. Some students didn’t see themselves or their friends in the class, or didn’t know the teachers and worried that they would feel socially isolated, she said.

    Lamb said encouragement from adults and their peers plays a big role in helping students overcome these barriers.

    Fitch students who completed a survey were linked to teachers or staff they listed as “trusted adults” at school, Brown said. The adults, who were trained through Equal Opportunity Schools on how to have conversations with students about higher-level classes, encouraged the students to challenge themselves by taking the most rigorous courses they could.

    Hodge said the school district also has a partnership with another organization, the National Math and Science Initiative to provide support for students in STEM classes. The initiative is intended to encourage more students historically underrepresented in STEM classes to take them.

    Students also have other opportunities to receive support, whether through an AP social studies club or after-school tutoring.

    Lamb said students and staff at Fitch supported the initiative, which sends a message to students that they would actually do well in the class and they should try it.

    “It really just boosts them up,” she said.

    k.drelich@theday.com

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.