Odyssey Charter's Melissa Tracy will be the first teacher in the state to lead the AP African American Studies class.

Odyssey to offer state’s first AP African American history course

Jarek Rutz Education, Headlines

Odyssey Charter's Melissa Tracy will be the first teacher in the state to lead the AP African American Studies class.

Odyssey Charter’s Melissa Tracy will be the first teacher in the state to lead the AP African American Studies class.

Odyssey Charter will be the first school in Delaware to offer an Advanced Placement African American Studies class. 

The class examines the diversity of African American experiences through authentic and varied sources. The interdisciplinary course will draw from a variety of fields like literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography and science.

Melissa Tracy has participated in weeks of training to effectively teach the new course.

Melissa Tracy has participated in weeks of training to effectively teach the new African American Studies course.

The class will be taught by Melissa Tracy, who has taught AP classes for 14 years and won national Charter School awards for her teaching.

“All students benefit from examining history through multiple lenses and through multiple kinds of experiences,” Tracy said. “The whole point of a humanities curriculum is to help students be more human.”

Advanced Placement classes offer an opportunity for students to take college-level classes in high school, and even earn college credit before graduating high school if they reach a certain score on their end-of-the-year AP exam. 

The classes are more intense and faster paced than routine high school classes.

More than 1 million high school seniors took an AP exam, which is 35% of seniors, according to a College Board report

In the new African American AP class, which is being taught for the first time in 63 schools around the country, students will learn about everything from early African kingdoms to the ongoing challenges and achievements of the community today. 

They’ll also study the diversity of Black communities in the United States within the broader context of Africa and the African Diaspora, which is the mass dispersion of people native to Africa across the world, often in the context of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Tracy was chosen to teach the course in Delaware after expressing interest and participating in three weeks of training over the spring and summer. 

She pointed out that in primary schooling, students are often taught the bare minimum of topics related to African American history like slavery and abolition, while the focus on prominent figures are limited to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, but not many others. 

“There’s so much more to history than iconic leaders and having discussions about slavery,” Tracy said, “and you can think about for students, particularly students of color, how traumatic that could be to only be exposed to that type of content throughout their entire educational journey.”

Here’s what’s in the pilot AP African American Studies class

The new AP course will consist of four main topics: Origins of the African Diaspora; Freedom, Enslavement and Resistance; The Practice of Freedom; and Movements and Debates.

In each major unit of study, students will practice at least one of the following skills in every lesson:

  • Disciplinary Knowledge: Evaluating course concepts, developments, patterns, and processes (cultural, historical, political, social)
  • Source analysis: Evaluating written sources, including historical documents, literary texts, and music lyrics
  • Data Analysis: Interpreting data represented in tables, charts, graphs, maps, surveys, and infographics
  • Visual Analysis: Analyzing visual artifacts, including works of art and material culture
  • Developing an argument: Using a line of reasoning to connect claims and evidence

To date, the College Board doesn’t have any course, topic, or exam descriptions published on their website. 

The class won’t be added to the site until it’s fully launched throughout the country in 2024. 

Although the exam structure could change before the full rollout in 2024, the pilot year’s final grade will feature a test and a project..

The first 20% of students’ exam score will come from that project, which is expected to include students working with a variety of sources including data, maps, images, primary and secondary sources, literature and more.

“I really like the fact that students have multiple ways to show their learning,” Tracy said. 

Related: Odyssey teacher wins national charter award for combating hunger

The exam itself will include multiple-choice questions that will account for 60% of the exam score, and free-response questions making up 20% of that score.

The free-response questions will deal with three categories: data analysis, visual analysis and a primary source analysis.

Input from teachers or students could affect future curricula, Tracy said. 

“All students benefit from examining history through multiple lenses and through multiple kinds of experiences,” Tracy said. “The whole point of a humanities curriculum is to help students be more human.”

She is the first to point out that she is not Black and cannot personally relate to the experiences of her Black students. 

“I am a white woman teaching this content,” she said. “There are some things that I will never get, and I own that, but I personally feel as an individual and as a teacher that this is content that we all need to know. African American history is American history.”

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