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Want more Utah students to take AP classes? Try throwing a literary costume party

Literary Costume Party-1, Snow Canyon High School, Washington County
Courtesy Ryan Rarick
Students in Ryan Rarick's AP English class act out a scene from “The Great Gatsby.” From left: Tom Buchanan, the “Green Light” and Jay Gatsby. The two students on the floor represent the “Valley of Ashes.”

Lots of teachers have end-of-year traditions. But one at a school in Washington County serves a dual purpose — it celebrates the final days of the school year and it’s a recruiting tool to get students interested in Advanced Placement classes.

English teachers at Snow Canyon High School host a 'lit' party, where students dress up as characters or even ideas from the books they've read, reenact scenes and play games.

Sophie Jaster and Angie Georgopoulou, both 11th graders, showed up dressed as “souls,” based on a college application essay they analyzed called “Bean Soup for the Soul.” They wore trash bags decorated with “ghost faces” and cans of bean soup. Others came as the “Valley of Ashes” from “The Great Gatsby,” dressed in all black with fake dirt on their faces.

“It's super interactive for everyone,” Jaster said. “So even people who weren't dressed up like us got to interact with the other characters and acted like we knew about their lives and they knew about ours.”

Literary Costume Party-2, Snow Canyon High School, Washington County
Courtesy Ryan Rarick
Rarick poses with students dressed up as various literary characters.

Georgopoulou wasn’t able to attend the party last year but saw videos that got her excited about this year. Even though she was worried about the work involved with taking an AP class, the party, along with encouragement from her teachers, pushed her to try it out.

Removing the stigma around AP classes has been one of the main goals of the party since it began five years ago. At the time, 11th grade AP English teacher Ryan Rarick said only about 50 students were taking his class. Roughly 10% were students of color, though they make up about 27% of the overall student population.

It used to be an “unwritten rule” that only students who had taken honors courses would be able to go on to AP, Rarick said. But as the party grew and other teachers began to participate, students who weren’t on the honors track got more exposure to their peers in those classes. That helped them see that they could do it, too.

“When they watch my kids dressing up in Gatsby and reenacting goofy scenes from the book, it changes their paradigm a little bit on what happens in AP,” he said.

The school does other things to boost enrollment, like meeting with students one on one to encourage them to take more rigorous classes. But the party has been a key part of getting students more excited about enrolling. Georgopoulou said students themselves have become ambassadors for the class, telling their younger peers about what it entails and dispelling any myths they might have about it being too hard.

The results have been promising. This year 126 students enrolled and 23% are students of color.

“There's kind of this mindset that to get kids interested in things, we need to reduce their burden or make the class easier,” Rarick said. “But in my experience, we just have to make it more meaningful. Kids will do hard things — they want to do hard things — if they see value in it.”

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