Portland high school becomes 1st in Oregon to teach AP African American Studies course

Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 5:59 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - For the first time, The Advanced Placement Program is piloting an African American Studies course, only being offered in 60 high schools across the country right now.

One of those high schools is in Northeast Portland at McDaniel High School.

A group of 33 students are in Mr. Maurice Cowley’s class, including sophomore Ahmeil Keys, who said he’s grateful to be in this class as Florida blocks it from being taught there.

“It’s amazing. It’s an honor to be honest to be able to have that opportunity, this opportunity to learn about these things while other people can’t at all,” Keys said.

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They’re learning about an array of topics within African American history that go far beyond slavery and the Civil War. In class Tuesday, students had projects covering the history of Black cowboys, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and writer James Baldwin.

“It’s important for other people to learn our history, but it’s also important for like a Black person like myself to learn history that maybe I might not have known,” Senior Noah Guinn said. “Learning about the Black cowboys was really interesting to me because the fact that people could escape slavery then become free and still prosper proves that really as Black people, we can do anything.”

Leading the class at McDaniel High School is Cowley, who just returned from a trip to Washington D.C. where they discussed the pilot program with the College Board, which created the Advanced Placement program.

He said there’s a healthy pressure that comes with shaping this course, especially since it’s the first in Oregon so far.

“It’s really meaningful to know that the work isn’t just for the 33 kids in my room, but for a whole host of kids across the country and even in our city and state that get to encounter this,” Cowley said.

He said being a Black educator gives him a valuable perspective when teaching the material to his students, which they appreciate.

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“One of my students the other day said was like it’s nice to have this classroom, somebody who isn’t just like sympathetic but just understands and is empathetic. Not like ‘oh I feel bad that I have to talk about this’ but like ‘yo we get to talk about this! because we lived through it and we have language for it.’ That part is really fun,” Cowley said.

According to the AP’s timeline, all schools across the country will be able to offer African American Studies in the 2024-2025 school year.