Four years ago, a simple research paper assignment in an AP English Language and Composition class started what would be a huge culture shift at our school. Little did Ryan Rarick know his assignment would lead a student to question why his 11th-grade AP class didn’t share the same diversity as the rest of his school.

At the time, students of color at Snow Canyon High School (SCHS), a 10–12th grade high school in Southern Utah, were 29% of our total enrollment of more than 1,300 students. Only 9% of the enrollment in our AP English Language and Composition class were students of color. If we as educators truly believed our school was focused on learning and excellence for all students, as our mission statement made clear, we had a problem and needed to get to work.

Assistant Principal Kyle Campbell, right, with Jillian Wyson and 11th graders enrolled in one of her AP English Language and Composition classes.

Part of good leadership, I believe, is giving credit where credit is due. Rarick is a passionate educator who shared with me his student’s findings about the enrollment disparity in AP English Language and Composition. Rarick had some ideas. We worked together to brainstorm what could be done and created a team dedicated to making it happen. The team included our language arts department, our school counselors, and me. Together, we believed we could identify, recruit, motivate, and provide the necessary support for more students of color to enroll in our three AP English Language and Composition classes.

What We Did

Step 1: We went all in. The first order of business was to collectively decide to succeed. We all needed to believe our students were capable, and we needed the right teachers to teach the AP classes so that when our students of color enrolled, they would be engaged, supported, and successful. With everyone on the same page and teachers selected, we were ready.

Step 2: We identified students. We knew we had amazing students at Snow Canyon High School. Our language arts teachers spoke often about how impressive our students of color were. We decided that our first plan of action was for our 10th-grade language arts teachers to get together to identify students who could succeed in an advanced class, with the right support. Teachers would not simply look at their grade books and choose students with perfect attendance and As and Bs. Instead, they would review each student’s body of work and consider their potential. Each teacher added the names of their students to a spreadsheet, which included semester grades and notes that detailed students’ strengths and areas for improvement.

Step 3: We sent a recruitment letter. We selected Rarick and Jillian Wyson to teach the AP English Language and Composition classes. They drafted a recruitment letter, explaining to potential AP students that they were being recommended by their teachers for an advanced class at SCHS. The letter outlined the expectations of the course and how it could help them in their academic endeavors.

Step 4: I personally invited them to enroll. We wanted to make the invitation to enroll in the class more than just a letter or an email. We wanted students to realize that we believed in them and wanted to see them succeed at high levels. So, I had the privilege of meeting individually with all the students identified by our language arts team.

When these students entered my office, they had no idea what to expect and wondered why they were talking to me. I invited their counselor to the meeting to add support, answer questions I might have been unable to answer, and to show them that another trusted adult believed in them and their future.

I started every meeting by letting them know that I had a challenge for them that came with no pressure. I then asked them if, during the registration process, they had enrolled in AP English Language and Composition. When they said no, I told them that was the challenge I had for them. Almost every time, the look on their face said, “Me? You want ME to be in an AP class?”

I then proceeded to explain to them exactly what we as educators were doing. I explained the reality that students of color had been underrepresented in the advanced courses at our school. I then talked to them about the beliefs that our school leaders had in them. I outlined the process of identifying them as outstanding students by their teacher. I then handed them the recruitment letter and congratulated them on their achievements at our school. I also explained that, as a school community, we were committed to their success and that our teachers would help them along the way.

Their counselor would then give them the details of what an AP class is and how it can help them in the future. They explained if they accepted the challenge, they (the counselor) would enroll them in the class and they would be ready to go for the next school year.

Finally, I asked the question, “Well, what do you think?”

Our Success

To date, we have had only a handful of students decide they didn’t want to take on the challenge and enroll in the AP class. We continue to monitor and support those students as they excel in their courses at SCHS. I’m proud that the majority of the students I have met with are excited for the chance to take AP English Language and Composition.

Over the last four years, the enrollment of students of color in our school has slightly increased. However, the enrollment of students of color in our AP English Language and Composition has significantly increased.

YearStudents of Color in SchoolStudents of Color in
AP English Language
and Composition

What I Have Learned

I have learned that students most often rise to the level of our expectations. Building a culture of high academic standards and achievement begins with adults in the building truly believing that students are capable and worth the effort.

When our team came together and collectively decided to identify and challenge our students, it set the ball rolling for what has been a transformative process at Snow Canyon. This year, we plan on expanding the process for encouraging our underrepresented students to enroll in AP Math and Science courses. Although we have a long way to go, we are confident that we are on the right track for improving our academic culture. We are excited to continue seeing all our students achieve the success they deserve.  

Kyle Campbell is an assistant principal of Snow Canyon High School in St. George, UT, and a finalist for the NASSP 2023 Assistant Principal of the Year.