Minority students succeed in advanced placement courses at Federal Way High School

The Federal Way School District has seen a lot of success with advanced placement courses they offer. As graduation nears for many districts, the school district says almost half of the students at Federal Way High School take part in at least one advanced level course.

Federal Way High School’s advanced placement program, Cambridge, is a rigorous academic program that students can begin while they are in middle school. Students who meet certain standards are automatically placed in the program, however, if a student wishes to try an advanced level course, they will have the opportunity to try the classes with full support from staff. Students also have the option to opt out if they choose.

Many of the students at Federal Way High School are low income and are now succeeding in one of the most rigorous academic programs around.

"You sit next to a person who's not even from the same place as you,” said high school senior Salma Ibrahim.

Diversity in the advanced placement classes at Federal Way High School encompasses many nationalities and races.

"You have people coming from different backgrounds, some of them maybe didn't have a lot of schooling, some of them are very poor,” said Maxwell Yapp, a senior who will be attending the University of Washington to study chemical engineering.

Principal Matt Oberst says the struggles students face shouldn’t keep them from opportunities to excel.

"We’re a school with 65% free and reduced lunch and we do acknowledge and know students have challenges outside of the school day, however we still have high expectation for them, and give them high support,” said Oberst.

More than 112 languages are spoken in the Federal Way School district among more than 22,000 students.

At Federal Way High School of all Native American Students enrolled, 83% of them are taking at least one Cambridge course. 41% of blacks and 45% of Hispanics, like junior Yailine Barajas.

"There's a lot of Hispanic students stepping up and getting out of their comfort zone,” said Barajas who is a full Cambridge student. She says the program isn’t easy.

"I struggle a lot, because I don’t have the best vocabulary, but I’m challenging myself and I’m getting better over time,” she said.

A struggle shared by peers.

"I was in this fixed mindset, where I was like I can't do it, it's really hard,” said Ibrahim.

The school district has an academic acceleration policy.

"Enrolling myself and having teachers push me to take Cambridge classes and rigorous classes has really helped me grow as a person,” said Ibrahim.

Determination, a trait Oberst says he’s proud to see in students.

"Some of our students have been through experiences that would be challenging, even for adults, et they come to school every day and want to do well and they have that grit or perseverance,” said Oberst.

Grit, something very personal for Barajas to maintain.

"I see my parents work hard to give us this opportunity that we’re getting and I just want to show them that it’s worth their struggle,” said Barajas.

Students participating in these advanced placement programs have gotten full-ride scholarships. The school district pays for exams for students in the Cambridge program. Students who pass the exams with high marks can also get college credit.