This fall, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School became one of only 60 high schools across the country selected for the College Board’s AP African American Studies pilot program. Halfway into the school year, course instructor Ena Thulin hopes to make the most of the opportunity.

“Martha’s Vineyard was chosen because of the rich background and history with the African American experience,” Ms. Thulin said. “It’s such a privilege to be a part of this community of educators, some of the brightest minds of Black education.”

The program, designed to create a rigorous, comprehensive overview of African American history and culture from the 17th century to today, released its official curriculum to the public earlier this month.

Principal Sara Dingledy said she had been in talks with the College Board for months about the course, with the educational organization initially reaching out to connect with the Vineyard’s own prominent African American historians and scholars to help develop its pilot curriculum.

Nikeya Tankard feels the class does a good job creating a safe environment for discussion. — Reay Ewing

“They were looking to connect with expertise in the area, and they said Martha’s Vineyard was the place they could do this,” she said. When the time came to test the course in a classroom setting, Ms. Dingledy expressed interest in having MVRHS participate in the pilot program. The reception, she said, has been wholly positive.

“Students really love the course,” she said. “It’s been getting great feedback, and I know we’ll run the course again next year.”

The course, although centered around African American history, is interdisciplinary, combining art, literature and music in its curriculum, Ms. Dingledy said. That emphasis on art and literature is one of Ms. Thulin’s favorite aspects of the course.

“When you bring in art, music, short stories . . . that’s when you get history told through the everyday person,” Ms. Thulin said. “So many of the people in this course are just everyday people, including people we don’t even have names for.”

Even with its interdisciplinary approach, the course is structured similarly to other AP history courses. Every item presented in class is a primary document, meaning a direct account from the time. When students have debates or discussions, both Ms. Thulin and her students said those debates remain inside the texts.

“That was something I was worried about, as a person of color taking the course, that I would have my identity or my experience debated,” said junior Nikeya Tankard, who identifies as biracial. “But it was not like how I thought it would be. The claims are based on texts and evidence, and everyone is really great at making claims carefully.”

Jack DeBettencourt said the course has allowed for a deeper dive into the subject. — Ray Ewing

Ms. Tankard said the course is particularly mindful of language, using terms like “enslaved people” instead of “slaves” to center individuals’ humanity.

“Doing that has created a really safe environment,” she said.

When the College Board made the program’s curriculum public on Feb. 1, the course description included several differences from the coursework first presented to teachers, Ms. Thulin said, as a result of ongoing feedback. The College Board’s changes include downplaying works on contemporary topics such as reparations and intersectionality, and introducing a new unit on Black conservatism. The updates, although in the works for upwards of a year, were announced after Florida governor Ron DeSantis banned the course in his state and denounced its curriculum as “woke” indoctrination.

MVRHS students taking the course disagree.

“We’ve been talking a lot about how controversial the class is and how people say it’s indoctrination, but it’s been the opposite,” said Juliet Morse, a senior in Ms. Thulin’s class. “This course is teaching me to think for myself.”

Ms. Morse decided to take the AP course after noticing how little African American history she knew from her regular U.S. history classes.

“It’s been eye-opening,” she said. “Everything in U.S. history is connected to the Black experience. America is built off of Black people, even if DeSantis doesn’t want me to say that.”

Junior Jack DeBettencourt said the course has given him the opportunity to learn African American history more deeply than he has in previous classes.

“When we learned about slave auctions, we learned how families would be separated and some people would never see their families again,” he said. “I had learned that in the past, but not its impact on the was maybe just a section in a textbook.”

Ms. Thulin noted that Governor DeSantis’s rhetoric mirrored criticism aimed at proposed African American Studies curricula in the 1960s and 1970s, a saga the class had just finished studying.

“It’s a complete parallel,” she said, adding that the Martha’s Vineyard community has been very supportive of the course overall.

Despite certain high-profile objections, Ms. Thulin said she will continue to present a wide variety of perspectives to her students.

“The theme of the class is it’s our responsibility to learn,” she said. “It’s not the teacher’s job to say, ‘This happened.’ It’s to show the sources and let students come to their own conclusions.”

“I don’t feel that the class has failed to present both sides at all,” senior Jake Glasgow added. “It’s about presenting students with facts and letting them come to their own conclusions themselves . . . If we’re not letting students do that, what are we even doing?”

Ms. Thulin said that the course has inspired many of her students to continue African American studies in college. For others, they see the lessons learned in the course as the foundation to a broader understanding of American culture.

“It’s prompted me to be more curious,” junior Julia Sayre said.

Ms. Sayre and Ms. Tankard are both editors at the student newspaper. Ms. Tankard said the class has even informed her approach to writing and journalism. Recently, the class watched a presentation on Ida B. Wells, the African American journalist who exposed lynchings to the American public.

“Hearing the stories that have never been told . . . that’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Ms. Tankard said. “To tell the stories that have been hidden.”