Seeking familiar faces in restricted academic spaces : a single case study exploring how students of color access advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs and experience a sense of community and belonging.


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Since 2018, no more than 39% of Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) students at Flatland High School (FHS) have been Black or Latinx, while these combined populations represented an average of 66% of the school’s annual population. In contrast, White or Asian students constituted up to 55% of AP or IB, but an average of only 32% of the school’s population. Researchers have extensively studied racial inequity in advanced coursework, but no current research explores the historical context of FHS and the ongoing inequity within its unique system.

This embedded single case design explored what facilitators of or barriers to AP or IB membership academically motivated students of color perceived and how students assessed belonging in the racially disproportionate AP or IB community. The study utilized a semi-structured interview and questionnaire with six high school graduates who took AP or IB classes at FHS. The study answered the following questions: What school influences do academically motivated students of color perceive as facilitating or obstructing their membership in AP or IB programs? How do students of color assess belonging in racially disproportionate AP or IB communities? The participants reflected the demographic categories most often underrepresented in AP and IB classrooms: Black and Latinx students.

The study found that students perceived four facilitators of or barriers to AP or IB membership: familial support or influence throughout schooling, academic experience in elementary through 10th grade, knowledge of AP or IB and their autonomy to choose it, and perceptions of the program rigor or community. The study also found that participants perceived community leaders (teachers) and community members (peers) as facilitators of or barriers to developing a deeper sense of community through influence, reinforcement, and shared emotional connection. The findings have implications for the subsequent development of district policies that enable broader access to foundational coursework for AP and IB. The findings also have implications for campus and classroom policies and practices that strengthen students’ sense of belonging in AP and IB communities.