< Back

California Teens Challenge School Leaders to Offer AP Course

Despite several "no" answers, students persevered and convinced their school board to reinstate Advanced Placement® Biology at Overfelt High School in San Jose, California. 

With less than 25 students enrolled, school leadership announced in spring 2019 that it wasn’t financially viable to offer the course for the 2019-2020 school year. Before taking their concerns to the school board, students set up meetings with Overfelt counselors, the principal and department chairs to share their desire to take the course, but the decision remained the same.

“It was very discouraging to them,” says Nhu Tran, an Overfelt AP® Chemistry teacher. “They talked with me after every meeting, and they didn’t want to give up.”

Overfelt leadership offered an alternative – taking biology at a community college – but this wasn’t a viable option for students. The college course was after school, when many participate in sports, clubs or have jobs. 

Vina Heng, an Overfelt junior, wants to pursue biology in college. She sees AP Biology as preparation for the type of rigor she’ll expect in higher education. Heng and other students interested in applying to competitive colleges say not taking AP Biology is a disadvantage on their applications.

At a school where more than 75 percent are low income, a key selling point for many Overfelt students is the tuition costs saved from receiving college credit for qualifying scores on AP exams.

“Equity is about meeting the different needs of different students, and it’s not equitable to give everyone the same standard,” says Maya Gudino, a junior at Overfelt. “There’s a lack of people of color and women in STEM in Silicon Valley, and taking this course away from a diverse school doesn’t fix that problem.”

Taking their concerns to the next level by speaking at a school board meeting (starting at 2:40:45 in the video above), Tran helped students create a cohesive message. “I wanted them to know they have the power and ability to get what they need,” Tran says. “People weren’t going to bend easily, but things will work if they push enough and talk to the right people.”

Gudino appreciated the support: “She [Tran] brought us all together when we really wanted the class but didn’t know what to do about it. She gave us the avenue to tell people why it is important to take this class and talk to the superintendent.”

Heng adds, “Ms. Tran gave us pointers on how to make our message more powerful and impactful.”  

Along with speaking before the board of the East Side Union High School District, students also recruited their peers to take AP Biology – exceeding the minimum 25 to reach 32 enrolled in the current school year.

“We asked students who previously took AP Biology to advocate for the class and speak about why it’s useful to prepare for college,” Heng says.

After the school board meeting, Superintendent Chris Funk interviewed students at Overfelt. These students changed the minds of school leaders – and are now taking AP Biology.

With almost a full school year in AP Biology, students agree the course has been worth it. “The class is really interesting and helps me understand how biology is connected to different sciences like chemistry,” Gudino says. “AP classes are generally more fun because they’re more of a challenge.”

Overfelt High School is currently in the third year of NMSI’s College Readiness Program. NMSI student study sessions this spring are offered online. Gudino attended a few online sessions and plans to participate in more, saying it’s been “very helpful,” and the instructors are “good at explaining concepts in ways that are easy to understand.”

“I want the students to know they have the voice and power to speak and don’t have to have others speak for them,” Tran says. “If I’m able to empower these students to fend for themselves, I think I did my part.”