APUSH: That’s the sardonic acronym that students in our neighborhood high school call Advanced Placement United States History. To most ninth graders — including my child — the class is a bear. And for the first few weeks of school last fall, APUSH was almost too much to bear.

“Mom, I want to drop out. It’s too hard,” J said one night. We encouraged our child to keep at it. There were tears. There were groans of frustration. There were late night homework sessions. Then came the interim grades. For someone who’d always had A’s and B’s their entire P-8 career, seeing their first D was devastating. Then came the Open House, where we’d finally meet this hardened taskmaster.

At first, I thought she was a student. She was petite. Bespectacled and bubbly. With shoulder-length wavy dark blonde hair. I still don’t think she looks older than 30. She greeted us with a huge smile, offered us Starbursts, and when we said who our child was, she beamed even brighter. “I am so happy to have J in my class!” That’s the thing, we said. J said they don’t want to be here. She said she would encourage our child to attend the lunchtime study sessions. For freshman, they have to get used to a whole new way of studying, she said.

Then, noticing the large rainbow flag on the door, we realized J would have an adult ally at school. Turns out Ms. Shipley is also the head of the Gay Straight Alliance club on campus. So, our child started attending the meetings and got to know the teacher even better, while finding their own voice and solidifying their non-binary identity.

Seven months into the school year and things were going swimmingly — and then COVID-19 hit. Schools were closed in mid-March with little warning. And it was clear neither the district nor the school were fully prepared for distance learning — except for Ms. Shipley. She was in touch with her students within the first week of quarantine, sometimes with a reading assignment, sometimes just to say hi. Two weeks later, the school caught up. As I type this, I can hear Ms. Shipley over the computer downstairs talking about Thomas Jefferson, and she is fully aware which students are Hamilton stans, so she incorporates that into her lessons.

According to a recent Ed Trust report, Black and Latino students perform well in advanced coursework, when given the opportunity. Thanks to Ms. Shipley, my child — one of only six students of color in the class — is a testament to that. So, shout out to the AP, IB, and Honors teachers out there, for pushing children to their limits, recognizing their potential, and shaping the next generation of leaders.