The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

85° Flushing, NY
The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

Course Spotlight: new AP English literature course focuses on immigration stories and experiences

Townsend+Harris+offers+a+new+AP+English+literature+course.
Courtesy of THHS Course Catalog
Townsend Harris offers a new AP English literature course.
HTML tutorial

In 2019, Chalkbeat reported that the New York City Department of Education was planning to diversify the curriculum in city schools. The initiative, part of wider efforts in education, embraces a goal to be “culturally responsive” when selecting educational materials in order to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds see their own lives and experiences reflected in the curriculum. Similar efforts around the country have been met with criticism from parents and politicians, but at Townsend Harris, it has resulted in students being given increased options in what courses they choose to take.  

Efforts to expand course offerings in English classes have been under way for some time. In fall 2018, English teachers began teaching sophomore “selectives,” which are courses that count as a General Education English class but have different themes and text lists. The plan eventually spread to other grade levels, with teachers now offering a wide variety of classes with a wide range of themes.

After the DOE’s push towards a culturally responsive curriculum, English selective offerings only increased. For the past year, English teacher Katherine Lipinski proposed an AP English Literature selective that offers perhaps the most direct way for students at THHS to see themselves in the curriculum. The course is called “First Generation: Stories of Identity, Culture, and Belonging.”

“We wanted to explore narratives about immigrant experiences, particularly by exploring cultures that largely make up our school community,” Ms. Lipinski told The Classic. She proposed the course in the spring of 2023, and multiple sections ran this past year. English and ISS teacher Charlene Garklavs co-taught two sections with Ms. Lipinski.

The course features readings like The Joy Luck Club, The Interpreter of Maladies, American Born Chinese, and other texts that reflect a variety of immigrant experiences in America. According to students in the class, Ms. Lipinski also made sure that students were well prepared for the AP exam by linking the course’s theme to texts that are more traditionally included in AP English Literature courses. For instance, students looked at The Tempest by William Shakespeare and similar texts that do not focus on the American immigrant experience but do raise related issues about identity, culture, and colonization.

“I can honestly say I felt very over prepared for the AP exam…and I think that the books we chose to analyze in class played a big role in that,” said junior Ramisa Sharif.

Other students who spoke to The Classic discussed the experience of reading about characters that relate to their lives. Junior Puja Biswas said, “One time I read a text about a Bengali couple, and it was really nice to see because I usually don’t see a lot of representation [of my culture] in English classes the way I was able to in this class.”

In addition to promising a wide range of texts, the course also promises juniors that it will focus on strategies for writing personal essays that they can use for college applications in senior year. Since the course asks students to see themselves in the literature they read, it also asks students to think about how to write about their own lives and experiences, according to Ms. Lipinski.

“The course theme complements the personal essay that many juniors write as part of the college application process,” Ms. Lipinski said. “Students are able to read exemplary personal narratives about immigrant experiences in order to learn the elements of this genre of writing.”

“I think it’s very important for all of us to question and consider the complexities of identity and impact of culture on how we perceive ourselves and others,” said Ms. Garklavs. “It’s especially relevant for students in high school who are trying to grapple with who they are and need a safe space to engage in this exploration.”

The course also offers one other unique opportunity: the ability to speak to some of the authors whose work students read. As part of the creative writing track of the THHS Writers Academy, the course encourages students to read as creative writers and learn about each author’s craft. Working with the Lambda Literary Writers in Schools program and in association with the THHS library, students get to meet and ask authors questions. In past sessions, students have met authors G.M. Johnson, Mitali Perkins, Camryn Garrett, Mark Oshiro, and Soraya Palmer. After his visit, Mark Oshiro tweeted “this visit was INCREDIBLE, with some of the most detailed/challenging questions I’ve ever been asked.”

With this past year being the first of year the course has run, Ms. Lipinski said she’s still retooling her plans.

“I hope to keep revising this course in order to best serve the needs and interests of our students,” she said.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Classic
$1500
$1700
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of The Classic. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, support our extracurricular events, celebrate our staff, print the paper periodically, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Classic
$1500
$1700
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All SNO Design Snapshots Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *