< Back

Brooklyn Students Lead AP Advocacy Group


Students chuckled when they saw teacher James Cochran’s plan to recruit more students to AP courses. “You think a table in the cafeteria is going to catch people? That’s cute,” the teens affectionately mocked Cochran, an Advanced Placement® teacher at Brooklyn’s Erasmus Hall (New York City Public Schools).

Cochran’s AP® U.S. Government students offered to help, and he gladly accepted.

“They took over and managed the project in a way I’d expect from an office in the corporate world,” he says.

Forming an AP student advocacy group in March 2019, they planned an AP recruitment drive in the school hallways. Advocates brought in several members of the football team and sold them on taking a class, and then in turn, asked the football players to promote the courses to others.

In NYC, prospective ninth-graders apply to high schools of their choice. Erasmus student advocates looked at who was applying and took the extra mile to launch a phone bank to contact incoming freshman and their parents to sell them on attending Erasmus and taking AP classes. If they didn’t receive a positive response from parents, they flagged them for a follow-up call from a teacher.

“Students who didn’t have much knowledge of AP thought it was too hard, but we shared experiences of taking AP courses the previous year and told them they can do it, too,” says senior Samuel Appiah.

Senior Hamza Azhar adds, “We tell other students that they can come to the AP for All office and reach out any time, and we’re there to help them.” 

These efforts increased enrollment in AP courses for the 2019-20 school year. Cochran, a master teacher for AP for All, an NYC Department of Education initiative to provide equitable access to students traditionally underrepresented in AP courses, identified 60 students who could have taken AP in the last school year but didn’t. With a goal to recruit 50 additional students, Cochran and the student advocates’ work led to 53 more students taking AP for 2019-20 when compared to 2018-19. 

“I used to think teacher leader work was adult centric, and a lot of professional development is focused on coaching peers and strategic conversations with administrations,” Cochran says. “I didn’t think about students as partners in the work, so that’s been a huge shift for me.”

Now, Cochran has a dedicated student advocacy group that meets regularly in the AP for All office at Erasmus. Seniors from last year helped recruit new students to continue the work they started. The advocates publish a bimonthly newsletter that highlights specific AP classes. They also conducted a survey in the fall asking students if they would attend NMSI student study sessions, and if not, why? Main reasons included transportation and working. The advocacy group met with administrators and convinced them to provide Metro cards to students who needed it. 

“In the newsletter, we featured a football player who attended a [NMSI] student study session and had a positive experience,” Azhar says. “This was a big factor to encourage students to attend.”

Without any previous knowledge of video production, the students worked together with Cochran to learn this skill to create content for a grant proposal. 

“I don’t want them to count on me to be the sage-on-the-stage that pulls strings and tells you what to do,” Cochran says. “If they have an idea, I tell them to not wait on me to tell you how to do it. My role is being the connection to principals and decision-makers to bring their vision to fruition.”

The High School for Youth and Community Development at Erasmus (where Cochran teaches) is a NMSI partner school.

“Being part of the AP team has helped me develop skills in leadership and thinking deeply about problems,” Appiah says. “It also helps my social life.”

NMSI is offering online study sessions and trainings to students and teachers across the country. Contact us to find out how to join.