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African American Studies Course Praised by Students from Kent County School

Students share how class helps them understand history

LANSING – Students from East Kentwood High School in Kent County are sharing how the school’s Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies course is helping them better understand their local community, their country, and the world.

This week the students told the State Board of Education how the class is benefitting them. East Kentwood is one of 12 high schools in the state offering the course.

“I took AP history because I wanted to learn history as it was,” East Kentwood student Kian Bakri told the State Board of Education on Tuesday. “I wanted to learn from the people who made history. Primary sources. I wanted to hear multiple perspectives on how events unfolded.”

As an example, Kian said he has greater knowledge of Reconstruction following the Civil War because of the course. “I feel like after taking AP history, I have a better understanding of why and how the world works,” he said.

Another East Kentwood student, V Iginoef, shared similar sentiments.

“Just the other day, I had seen a mural that had said, ‘When you finally learn your history, you are truly liberated,’” V said. “I believe that encapsulates how I truly feel about taking the AP (African American Studies) class. I signed up for AP African American Studies because I believed it was the most interesting course available for me and I knew that I’d be making history by being a part of one of the first classes on my side of the state to participate in it.”

Added student Olivia Leaphart: “I’ve never taken an AP class before. I never necessarily thought my grades were good enough to do so. When I heard about this class, I knew I would be learning more about our history and specifically Black history. One of the biggest benefits is I feel a lot of pride taking this class and I think just knowing that there were only a few of us able to take this class just makes me feel really good, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

The College Board, which created the course, says its Advanced Placement African American Studies pilot course “is an interdisciplinary course that examines the diversity of African American experiences through direct encounters with rich and varied sources. Students explore key topics that extend from early African kingdoms to the ongoing challenges and achievements of the contemporary moment.”

East Kentwood history teacher and 2023 National History Teacher of the Year Mr. Matthew Vriesman said the district is one of the largest and most diverse in the state and explained that its mission means celebrating diversity and ensuring equitable access to its most rigorous courses.

“Our mission at Kentwood Public Schools is about empowering students and, in social studies classrooms, that means we’re really trying to safeguard democracy, Vriesman said. “History is not just about memorizing facts and dates. It’s about investigating who we are in our own context and how our society developed the way that it did, specifically for the purpose of imagining what type of future that we want to build.”

Other Michigan high schools offering the course are:

Cass Technical High School, Detroit Public School Community District; Detroit Edison Public School Academy; East English Village Preparatory Academy, Detroit Public School Community District; Ferndale High School, Ferndale Public School District; Grand Ledge High School, Grand Ledge Public School District; Hamtramck High School, Hamtramck Public School District; Jalen Rose Leadership Academy; Renaissance High School, Detroit Public School Community District; South Lake High School, South Lake Schools; University High School Academy, Southfield Public School District; and West Bloomfield High School, West Bloomfield School District.

“AP African American Studies is an important course for helping to share with students the full breadth of our history,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice.  “Students have the right to learn about all of our history, and we as educators have the responsibility to teach it.”

East Kentwood students attended the board meeting with Vriesman, East Kentwood High School Assistant Principal Ms. Melissa Manning; and Mr. Sunil Joy, executive director of strategy and innovation for Kentwood Public Schools. MDE Deputy Superintendent Dr. Delsa Chapman introduced the group from Kentwood.

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East Kentwood AP History students

East Kentwood history teacher Mathew Vriesman with students presenting to the MDE Board of Education about their Advanced Placement African American Studies pilot course.

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