Go the extracurricular mile

Liza Mansbach

Many of us grew up on the Peanuts stereotype of school—the teacher talked and all the students heard was “wah wah wah.” This stereotype, at least for me, carried into high school. Personally, AP classes serve as the one time of day where I don’t hear onomatopoeia coming out of my teachers’ mouths.

In high school, I have had my fair share of APs and Honors, and I think they represent some of the best academic environments Redwood has to offer.

The main difference between advanced and regular classes is not content, rigor, or pace. It’s attitude—everyone is more invested in AP and Honors classes.

I’m not saying that all non-advanced classes are full of unengaged, unenthusiastic students. Like with all mandated activities, some apathy can be expected. “I don’t want to be here,” and “Why do we have to do this?” are both common phrases heard throughout the school day.

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But, for me, signing up for an advanced class brings work from the land of the required to the land of the self-inflicted. All of the complaints become null, because you put this burden on yourself.

This attitude was summed up in the eternally wise words of my AP U.S. History teacher: “There was an easier route, and you didn’t pick it.”

That essential shift in mindset is palpable in the classroom. Whether the motivation to take an advanced class is intrinsic or comes from parental and college pressure, everyone in advanced classes chose to be there, or at the very least signed the AP/Honors Agreement form, knowing that it would require more time and thus are willing to put more time and effort in.

Even if some kids were pushed into the advanced class by their parents, those people tend to be in the minority. Overtime, the people who originally were forced into the class tend to adopt the hard-working, success-oriented attitude of the majority.

It’s one thing to not have a project ready when the entire class has been procrastinating and pushing the teacher for an extension. It’s another thing when you are the only person in the room who doesn’t have it done by the due date.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that kids in advanced classes are more likely to show up every day, do their homework, and study for their exams and finals. Even the kids who take advanced classes solely to improve their transcript are willing to put enough effort in to their advanced classes to get a good grade.

Compare a Socratic seminar in a regular versus an advanced class. In my junior year AP Comp class, getting a spot in the inner circle was practically a competitive sport, and once you were in there, you had better have had some insightful things to say. I haven’t found that my regular classes foster that level of participation.

Part of this work ethic comes from self-selection: students who want to do the bare minimum know better than to put themselves in an advanced class. But, I have seen the same kids act like completely different students in an advanced class they are excited about versus a regular class they have no interest in.

To be clear, not all advanced class have these qualities, and not all regular classes lack these qualities. But, as I progressed through the grades, I saw more and more of this dichotomy.

Of course, the downside to APs is that they are, by definition, more rigorous and cover more content than regular classes. They take more time and effort, both in and out of school.

Not everyone has the time or the ability to take these classes, but a lot of Redwood students do. When it comes down to submitting course requests, add that last advanced class. It may just become your new favorite class.