By Kallie Hoffman
As you walk down the halls of Byram Hills High School, you are likely to hear students discussing an upcoming test in an Advanced Placement class or the score they received on a prior exam. These are not casual conversations but instead are a reflection of the intense environment that is pervasive at the school. Learning course material for the purpose of becoming more knowledgeable is as outdated as a landline phone; now the priority is to excel in an AP class and ultimately score a high grade on a competitive exam.
The emphasis on AP classes has added unnecessary stress into the lives of Byram teenagers and has come at the expense of creative thinking and the joy of learning. Yet with the focus being on how to get into the best colleges, starting as early as eighth grade, it can be difficult to ask students to change their approach or accept a less demanding academic schedule. There is no easy solution, but I feel that the best option for all students, scholastically and psychologically, would be to limit the number of AP classes individuals are allowed to take in any given year.
Prior to the start of a new school semester, students sign up for classes and decide the number of AP courses that reasonably fit into their schedule. Advanced placement translates to more work, but many students legitimately view such courses as an opportunity to be challenged in the classroom. Sophomore Reese Tateo believes that “some students are more advanced than others and may find regular classes to be easy or below their level of intelligence.” AP courses are rigid and arduous, but they offer students an intellectual stimulation greater than what is available at grade level. The classes tend to have more comprehensive curricula, and when a student displays high aptitude in a difficult subject, it suggests that he or she will perform well at a college or university. Freshman Matteo Sinon is still fairly new to high school, but he has already come to understand the expectations of the Byram Hills community. He has a strong interest in mathematics and believes that “an AP class is a way to gain more depth about a specific subject and can really prove a particular academic strength.” There are many advantages to taking an advanced class, including that it can expose students to a broader range of material, help prepare students for college, and improve a student’s chances of being admitted to a prestigious university. Yet it is not a guaranty of success and at a minimum, will require diligent study habits and the ability to manage the pressure that comes with more comprehensive assignments and a more competitive classroom experience.
There are many compelling reasons to sign up for AP classes, but it is not always the appropriate choice for all students and situations. If a student is not interested in a particular subject or has less command of the material, he or she should not feel inclined to take that AP course just to improve the chance of gaining admission to a certain college. AP World teacher Mr. Allen feels that “schools need to cut back on the number of APs in the district because it will allow students to truly learn the material and create an environment that is not solely focused on grades and where people constantly compare themselves to their peers.” AP classes can be extremely informative, but if they interfere with the balance of a person’s schedule or create excessive anxiety, the detriments begin to outweigh the benefits. Senior Dana Zamat has an AP class for every period, and although she can handle the workload, she regrets “not being able to take an art class during [her] senior year.” This accentuates another concern, namely that students are being encouraged to take on so much schoolwork that they are not able to develop other interests and hobbies. We want diversity in thought and life experience and a balance between school and outside activities. AP classes should enhance a student’s learning, not be the focal point of their adolescence.
AP classes have almost become an obligation for the typical, over-achieving Byram Hills student. The high school years should be a time to grow socially and academically so one is well prepared for college; they are not a surrogate for college itself. An extra AP course may not have the large impact on one’s future, but once you miss out on a broad high school experience, you can never reexperience it. The Byram Hills School District should work to ensure that classes are both challenging and reasonably demanding. Given that this may be a difficult goal to attain, I propose Byram Hills imposes an annual limit on the number of AP classes available to students. The purpose would be to encourage a greater balance between school and life and to alleviate the emotional burdens on our children. We have a brilliant student body, but are we smart enough to realize that less may actually be more?