CHS Senior Bahiya Nasuuna Mutebi joined an Advanced Placement (AP) course a few years back at the high school with some reluctance.
She knew it would be extra hard work.
It would bring stress, and it was not a forum where excuses would be accepted.
Now, she and a record number of CHS students have taken those challenging AP courses and scored well on them – pushing their stock up in the college entrance process and gaining college-level credit at the same time.
But, according to Mutebi – who came to Chelsea at age 5 from Uganda, it has given her something that can’t be measured with a grade or a score.
“There is a whole lot more to AP than high stress levels and a number coming in the mail,” she said. “I took AP Biology and I immediately fell in love with biology and grew to find an interest in every part of it. I also took AP Chemistry and I didn’t exactly love every part of that. I also took Bio-Physics and thought I would love it, but it was not exactly what I thought it was. This is what AP classes do; they give students a chance to dive into subjects and find out what they like and do not like. They push you to a place you didn’t know you were capable of going academically…I know now that entering college this fall will be a little bit easier because now I’m prepared to meet all of its expectations.”
And for that sentiment, which is shared by hundreds of students at CHS, the high school won a major award last week – named the College Board’s AP Small District of the Year.
CHS is the first district in New England to secure that designation.
Officially, they were named the Equity and Excellence District of the Year for being the nation’s leader, among small school districts, in expanding access to AP courses while simultaneously improving AP exam performance. The unprecedented achievement was memorialized at a packed ceremony in the high school last Thursday morning, a ceremony highlighted by the remarks of Mutebi and others.
CHS has served as a model statewide – and now nationally – for expanding challenging AP courses to the masses of students, rather than to just the high-achieving few. Principal Joe Mullaney told the Record recently that many did not believe that urban kids who were not exceptional students could excel in an AP program.
However, it doesn’t seem to be the case, and Chelsea is in the national spotlight for proving everyone wrong.
“Success like this creates a culture where students recognize and opportunity and are ready to challenge themselves in AP classwork,” he told the crowd at the outset of the ceremony. “All of this sounds like a nice little fairytale. In urban education, though, there is not magic wand or magic dust to sprinkle around in order to get the achievements we’ve gotten. It is only through hard work…We take pride in this accolate, yet we are looking forward to the continued challenge. We are the smallest City in Massachusetts, but we are doing very big things.”
CHS AP English Teacher Rachel Barlage said she often finds that students who are not at the top of the class list bring fresh ideas and new ways of thinking to the classroom.
“When teaching an AP class, you will often find a new perspective, a different contribution or a fresh idea,” she said. “It is experiencing these moments that makes being an AP teacher magical. Often, though, the speaker may not be at the top of the class…That’s why I believe in Chelsea’s inclusive AP class program. ”
Newly appointed state Secretary of Education, Matthew Malone, said Chelsea is an example of what needs to be done to close the education gap.
“When we look at closing the achievement gap in the state, Chelsea is on the sharp end of that sword,” he said.
Presenting the award to the district was Trevor Packer, the senior vice president of the College Board’s AP program.
“We don’t give an award for the highest scores,” he said. “We’re not interested in that. That would only result in districts putting select students in the classes who they know will score only perfect 5’s. We give awards to high schools that show the greatest gains in scores with the greatest increase in access to AP courses. That’s what we value and that’s what Chelsea has done better than anyone.”
The ceremony was also highlighted by a snappy performance by the CHS Jazz Band and the CHS Cantare.
The award also came with a $10,000 grant from the College Board.