Mending the divide, South faces an academic rift

The Editorial Board

As early as primary school, students are introduced to the idea of the “gifted” class. These students are deemed smarter, more talented, and more likely to succeed. In elementary school, the “gifted” students shuffle into special classrooms where they learn about metaphors and long division, while students following the standard curriculum sit and wonder why they cannot leave their classroom. 

Class levels are designed to give students the opportunity to receive a quality education in line with their personal needs, but at South, Advanced Placement or honors classes are worn like a badge of honor by everyone and the classes that are designed to provide extra support and instruction are viewed as less-than by everyone leaving students feeling divided.

Senior Ava Scott stressed the rift between the various class levels at south and their perceived hierarchy among students. “Sometimes you can be looked at differently if you share whether you are in honors or studies [classes],” Scott shared. “Maybe you will have more expectations [put on you] if you are in honors [classes], or you will be put into a stereotype if you’re in studies [classes].”

She is not alone in her perception. Over 53 percent of South students feel there is a rift between those who take AP or honors classes and those who take studies classes, according to 470 students surveyed in an unscientific survey of 470 students conducted by The Oracle. 

The true purpose of course levels has been forgotten, and instead, these labels have become a way to superficially categorize others. Taking honors or AP classes has been equated with intelligence, while studies or regular courses can be looked down upon. Instead of focusing on the academic purpose of each course, students are concerned with the stigma associated with certain class titles.

The Oracle Editorial Board urges students to take the first step in overcoming this stigma by recognizing and acknowledging that throughout all course levels, the educational value remains the same. 

David Adamji, English Department Instructional Supervisor, explained that the studies curriculum often has the same goals as a regular class would, however, studies classes offer additional support. 

“The difference [between studies and regular] is we have an additional adult, typically an instructional assistant, who’s assigned to the studies level course,” Adamji said. “Having that additional adult in the room is going to ensure that more students can access the curriculum in the same way that a standard level student would access the curriculum. We try to make sure that there are more structured supports for kids who may need it to hopefully get them to the same place”

Math Teacher Brian Schmalzer emphasizes the necessity and importance of having variety in class levels, as each student should receive an education that fits their personal needs. 

 “Instead of focusing on a title of a class, it’s more important to understand these classes are meeting these kids where they need to be,” Schmalzer said. “In terms of honors and AP, those kids need more rigor. In terms of studies and team, [there might be] some social-emotional needs that are unmet, or academic concepts that are lacking. We have elements in those programs that are designed to help speed those skills up and support students.”

Junior Fiona Clements said she has experienced judgment from taking studies classes and hopes that students recognize the value of taking classes suited for them as an individual.

“Being in a studies class should never be looked down upon because it isn’t necessarily that a person knows less or more, they just understand the information differently, and that is perfectly fine,” Clements said.

The Oracle Editorial Board encourages the Glenbrook community to help change the narrative surrounding course levels by reevaluating the reason why students select their course levels.  

In a community that places high academic expectations on students to excel in high school and beyond, many have placed their value in the courses they take, junior Harlan Warnsman explained. He takes mostly AP and honors classes and has seen a toxic competitive environment in his classes. 

“All the high-level courses have such a competitive attitude,” Warnsman said. “That can feed into the ideas that you only have to improve, and so setbacks would be damaging especially in the perspective of colleges.” 

While much of the academic pressure can come from outside sources, many students struggle with internalized expectations that they have for themselves, Warnsman said. He explained that although dropping down a level may be the best choice, fear of judgment from peers may hinder students from dropping. 

“People feel cautious to drop because of GPA pressures, in that your GPA would be affected by going down from an honors or AP course to a regular course,” Warnsman said. “Not only do you have pressures and stigma from other people, but you have pressures from internal thoughts.”  

Guidance counselor Lauren Carroll understands that some students may be disappointed when they are encouraged to take a course at a different level than they had anticipated taking, however, she encourages students to have conversations with their counselors to discuss the benefits of different class levels.  

 “When talking with students and their parents about taking a studies class versus a standard level, there is sometimes hesitation,” Carroll said. “Once we discuss the benefits of the built-in support within the classroom, most families understand and agree that it can be extremely helpful for their individual student.”

Schmalzer hopes students will recognize that taking certain levels of classes does not elevate any one student above another. He said students should select courses to support their learning, instead of focusing on the title associated with the course. 

“It is important for kids to understand we’re all in school and we’re all learning, that’s the big point of coming here,” Schmalzer said. “And if you’re in a different class than me, then it’s just because of different reasons. The fact that [students] are all equals at the end of the day [is important].”