A Latino student’s mind is a terrible thing to waste. Especially in California, where more than half of public school students are Latino.
But despite those numbers, high potential Latino students that would excel in Advanced Placement, or AP courses, are not taking them. Nationwide, as many as 4 in 10 qualified Latino students don’t take AP science courses, according to the College Board. In many low-income communities, AP courses are not even offered to students. And according to a ProPublica study, even when several states give equal access to low-income and higher-income students to AP courses, low-income students pass them in much lower numbers than their wealthier peers. Even though California has actually expanded the number of students taking AP courses, Latinos are still lagging behind in taking high-level AP science courses and passing the exams.
Michael Towne, a physics teacher at Citrus Hill High School in Riverside, California, is doing something about it. He’s created a physics program that’s channeling students from his class into careers in science and engineering. He’s been featured on national College Board reports, and in 2014, he was chosen out of more than 800 teachers to win the Fishman Prize, a national award for outstanding teaching in low-income communities. Mr. Towne has gone to Washington D.C. to talk to policy makers about expanding AP science course offerings for Latino, Black and low-income students. Mr. Towne and Alejandro Torres, one of his students, talk to us about cultivating genius and empowering Latinos through physics.
Michael Towne served in the U.S. Marine Corps and worked as a small business owner selling shoes before becoming a teacher in 2001. Mike has been asked to address both houses of the United States Congress on behalf of the College Board, and in 2013, he also spoke before Congress advocating for increased access to AP Physics. Currently, he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Education, Society and Culture from the University of California, Riverside, specifically focusing on access and equity for ethnic minority students in science. He credits his wife, a teacher for more than 20 years, with motivating his own move into teaching.
Alejandro Torres was born and raised in Southern California, by Mexican parents, the second of four children. He is a first generation college graduate from University of California, Riverside with degrees(B.S) in Physics and Applied Mathematics, currently a marketing analyst for California Steel Industries.
Photo by Alexandra-Beier/Getty-Images
Camilo went from his native Colombia to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He joined Latino USA after a fellowship with Univision Noticias and Univision’s Investigative Unit. Before coming to the US, Camilo was a researcher for the Universidad de los Andes and the Colombian government, specializing in armed conflict and US-Latin America relations. He holds a BA and an MA in international relations from Universidad de los Andes in Bogota and an MS from Columbia’s Journalism School. He’s reported on the drug war, national politics, and same-sex salsa.