History teacher Sue Nellis lectures to her period 4 AP U.S. History class on Sept. 5 as junior Yumi Moon (front) and sophomores Keshav Anand (middle left), Om Sharma (middle right), Pragathi Vivaik (back left) and Athena Lin (back right) listen and take notes. Since this was the day before the first APUSH test, Nellis was going over the test’s format and explaining the essay and short-answer section to students. (Photo by Jacqueline Chao)

Sophomores join AP US History class for first time due to teacher’s impending retirement

If there’s anything to say about AP U.S. History (APUSH), it’s that the course requires copious time and energy because of the workload – as well as enough independence to manage it all, according to teacher Sue Nellis.

“It really is a junior class,” she said.

And other than the odd senior every few years, that’s been the main grade level filling the chairs in her AP class. But for the first time ever, sophomores have been allowed in.

And not just one – six.

It all started with sophomore Sarina Rye, who approached Nellis and head of school Brooke Wells last spring about taking the class a year early.

“I wanted to take it with (Nellis) because I know she’s retiring this year,” Rye said. “There was a solid two months last spring where I was worried about someone new teaching such a difficult course.”

After meeting with Nellis and Wells separately, Rye said she found out she had gotten into the class in May.

And that had been the end of it – for a while, at least.

But that was really just the beginning. A week before school started, sophomore Keshav Anand found out Rye was taking the class and said he was interested in taking the course as well.

The “floodgates,” as Nellis put it, opened, and through them entered Anand, along with fellow sophomores Pragathi Vivaik, Athena Lin, Om Sharma and Avinash Krishna.

Each student found out about the opportunity to take APUSH either before or during the first week of school, and they then approached Nellis, Wells or both about joining the class.

According to Sharma, word “spread around” about Rye taking APUSH, which is why he asked to join.

Krishna was the last to get into the class, learning about the possibility on the second day of school and then joining the day after.

“I stayed up until 2 (a.m. that night) trying to catch up on all the work I missed,” he said.

There were several explanations the five new arrivals gave for wanting to take the class – the chief reason being that this was their only chance to learn from Nellis.

“I wanted to learn APUSH from (her), and this is her last year here, so I thought I should seize the opportunity,” Vivaik said.

However, incentives for some were more AP-centric. Krishna said that although he was interested in learning from Nellis, he also considered it a “challenge” and wanted to get an AP under his belt before junior year.

Meanwhile, Sharma said he saw APUSH as a chance to skip the non-required World Cultures class that sophomores usually take.

Regardless of their reasons for joining, by Aug. 31, Wells said that the chance for more sophomores to join APUSH was likely gone due to how far the class had already gone into the course material.

Although the situation may seem strange, there were two factors that made it possible: Not only is Nellis retiring after this year, which she said made her more open to exceptions, but she also has two classes for the first time since 2004, opening more spots for prospective students.

But while there may be logic behind the phenomenon, according to Wells, it was not expected to happen in the first place.

“We talked about it with (Rye) in the spring, but we didn’t anticipate more than one student wanting to do that,” Wells said.

After already allowing one sophomore to join, however, the doors were open to others.

“It’s hard to do one thing for one person alone,” Wells said.

“(Nellis) is a great history teacher, so qualified people who want to take her class should be able to (before she leaves).”

Rye, originally the only sophomore in the class, said she has been called a “trendsetter” for starting the APUSH craze.

“But I don’t think taking a class should be a trend,” she said. “If (Nellis) were to be at the school next year, I wouldn’t be taking it right now.”

According to Rye, she thought extensively about the decision by herself and with family before asking.

“It seems so easy now, but it wasn’t when I reached out about it,” she said.

Nonetheless, Nellis stressed that this was a “one-time deal” due mainly to her retirement, and Wells agreed.

So in the end, the six sophomores got their chance to take the class. However, other problems have arisen as a result, namely class-size issues and scheduling conflicts.

With so many sophomores, Nellis’s student count has reached 27 between the two sections, and one of the World Cultures periods dropped down to 14 students.

Although the jumps are steep – to compare, Nellis had 19 students in her class last year – Wells said he was not concerned about the effect on World Cultures.

Reworking schedules, which was handled by dean of student life Patricia Jacobsen, became an issue as well.

“I had to make significant changes for some schedules,” Jacobsen said. “And after a few people requested it, the classes were getting way too big.”

However, above anything else, Wells said the “real challenge” will be figuring out how the six sophomores will do their sophomore projects, which are being done through the World Cultures classes.

For some, their World Cultures class became their free period, so they’ll be able to attend that class whenever there’s work to be done.

But those who don’t have that convenience – such as Anand, who has six classes – will have to find another way to keep up with sophomore project assignments outside of class.

As for how the classroom dynamic has changed with the addition of underclassmen, Nellis said she hasn’t noticed any differences.

“My expectation is that they’re not going to be treated any differently,” she said. “They’re in an upper-level class, so they’ll have to perform in that way.

“I have to say that if, by the end of the first quarter, that performance is not there, then I will recommend that they go back to World Cultures and take APnext year.”

Unlike other classes, in which students have 20 school days to withdraw without it showing on their transcripts, students have until the end of the firstquarter to switch from AP to regular history and vice versa.

According to Nellis, that’s the way it’s worked for APUSH students in the past who were unsure whether they could handle the workload.

“The first quarter is the absolute deadline, though,” she said.

More than anything, Nellis said she’s hoping that it’s all “going to be OK.”

“I really don’t know if this will work,” she said.

“(These sophomores are) people who really want to take it and who did well in my class last year, though, so I have a good betting sense.”

—By Mohini Rye

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