Renaissance High School will double the amount of Black students statewide taking the AP Computer Science test.
Among the 1,685 students in the Michigan who took the AP Computer Science test in 2017, only 30 were Black.
This year, Renaissance will add 35 more Black students to the list, five more than have ever previously taken it (assuming at least 30 Black students will take the test again this year).
“[Black people] have such limited access to the technical world, we just don’t have the resources”, said RHS senior Kahlid Ali, who is enrolled in the AP Computer Science course at Renaissance.
“We have to fill the disparity between us and fully funded schools, in a world that is becoming increasingly technical,” he said.
Ali plans to be a doctor, and he believes that having access to a “rigorous and independent” course will prepare him for the tenacity he’ll need in the hospital.
Renaissance is the only school in the district to offer this kind of course as an AP elective. Mathematics teacher Zachary Sweet made the course possible, when he applied applied for a code.org grant at the end of last school year.
Sweet said, and he wanted to “expand the access to computer science, and give students the opportunity to gain 21st Century career skills.”
This is Sweet’s fourth year as a Renaissance teacher, his first year teaching AP Computer Science. He says that the student response is overall positive.
Yet the district does not fund AP Computer Science courses.
This means that in Detroit, a predominantly Black city, only students at Renaissance have the opportunity to take an AP course related to the “21st Century career skills” Sweet wishes to impart.
But this isn’t Renaissance-specific. Across Michigan, only 30 Black students took the test, which means that most urban centers struggle or cannot provide access to relevant courses. This backdrop is partly why RHS students have responded to the new offering with gratitude.
RHS sophomore, Sadé Ried, noticed that there are not many Black women in STEM.
She believes having this opportunity provides her with the tools that will help her succeed.
Ried plans to study software engineering at Stanford University, and has already spent a summer being paid to learn how to code, where she eventually created her own website.
Ried says the AP Computer Science class “keeps her on her toes,” and develops her creativity by allowing her to make apps.
Sweet is not the only instructor of the class. He receives help from Mr. Lee, a volunteer at Microsoft TEALS, which provides schools with professional computer scientists to help teach content.
Mr. Lee teaches three out of five days a week, and leaves directly after class to attend his full-time job.
He is dedicated to the student’s understanding, and Ried says that she appreciates his willingness to teach her and her peers.
Renaissance’s AP Computer Science class has made history in more than one way.
RHS is the only school in the district to offer AP courses to freshmen and sophomores; the class currently has 3 freshmen and 8 sophomores.
Amber Williams, one of the only freshman students, says that Sweet recruited her from the summer bridge program.
Williams plans to pursue software engineering, and is grateful that Sweet has kept her vision in mind.
“This class has definitely empowered me as a Black woman...and made me feel more prepared for a future in computer scientist,” said the 14-year-old freshman.
Williams hopes that other students have the opportunity to experience the course, because “overall it’s just fun to learn things.”
The class is run differently from other courses at Renaissance, in that students are allowed to create and produce their own projects, and work mostly independently, or with peers, when preferred.
On any typical day, a guest would see Sweet or Lee give a 5-minute warm-up to refresh students on the former day’s lesson, with students spending the rest of the class individually problem-solving and working on projects.
Oscar Sanchez, a junior in the class, says the structure reminds him of what peers have in art classes.
“It gives me an opportunity to find something that makes me feel creative. I can make the computer do what I want, and I have control over something that I’m programming myself,” says the 16-year-old junior.
James Whittaker, an aspiring engineer, said the program is a big deal at Renaissance, and hopes it inspires other schools.
“We are essentially creating history, and setting [Detroit] up for a future in technology,” says the 17-year-old senior.
RHS’ inroads in computer science offerings marks perhaps what could be other schools in the district offering more Black and Brown students the opportunity to be part of the next generation of technology.