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During our research for “Falling Out of the Lead,” the third report in our Shattering Expectations series, we interviewed high-achieving, low-income students to better understand how their high schools prepared them for college. In this post, a reprise to our four-part blog series, we share how some of the themes we wrote about exist in a Maryland high school, where students have decided to take action.

Every year, more than 60,000 black and Latino students enter high school already performing at the very top of their class. But, according to our research, their experiences through high school often don’t challenge, support, and encourage them to maintain this level of success, which has far-reaching consequences beyond graduation. Recently, students of color at one high-achieving high school in Maryland spoke out about this very issue, creating a video focused on the messages, both explicit and tacit, they hear in their school.

Bethesda–Chevy Chase (B-CC) High School, located in Montgomery County, Md., is racially diverse and academically well-regarded. For example, 77 percent of Advanced Placement tests taken in 2014 at B-CC received a passing score, compared with just 61 percent in the state. But, many black and Latino students who attend don’t feel fully integrated into the high-achieving culture of the school.


In our research, we found that some schools and districts proactively combat these patterns by fostering a college-going culture and ensuring that students have multiple opportunities to take challenging courses. Merrill, a high-achieving student who attended a Chicago magnet school that fostered diversity and inclusive culture in its mission, told us:

“Being in an environment with other students at or above my ability level … really helped me.”

And, other schools, like Lincoln High School in San Jose, Calif., worked on the problem directly. There, they use student surveys to identify students who feel shut out from Advanced Placement courses because of their background, and then encourage these students to enroll — changing long-standing patterns.

We also heard from Ashley, a Latino student who now attends Harvard, about how students sometimes perceive the possibilities available to them through the lens of adults and peers around them. “What holds back a lot of students is people tell them ‘No,’” she told us.

This B-CC student echoed that insight:

According to the students we spoke to, high schools can combat these sentiments by communicating positive messages and reinforcing students’ aspirations, regardless of their backgrounds. Of course, that starts with confronting our own biases about race and class, or as a B-CC student puts it:

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