Angelo Villavicencio teaches Advanced Placement Calculus at Don Antonio Lugo High School in Chino, California. As a colleague of Jaime Escalante at Garfield High School, he discovered how Advanced Placement courses could be used to motivate and guide students to achieve higher standards of learning than anyone else had ever expected of them.
You have had great success with your Advanced Placement calculus program – especially in the numbers of minority students who take your classes and pass the test. How many students do you have this year taking AP?
Right now, for the second semester, we have 87 students in four classes. Two-thirds of them, 58, are female students. We have a very good mixture of students in the program. I would say about 26 are Hispanic. And from what I hear, next year we’re going to have more girls taking Calculus B-C again.
What do you do to create an atmosphere where so many students want to take AP classes?
Essentially, just one thing: I brought ganas with me – the desire to succeed. I believe in my kids. I want them to succeed and go to college and become pros – real pros. The real pros are the ones who go to college and get a degree.
Where do students have to start in order to end up in AP Calculus?
They have to start with a good foundation. We have a good team here in the high school; we let kids catch up in summer school, where they can take trig and pre-cal. That gives an advantage to kids who need to take calculus in their senior year.
What is it like in your AP class?
In every class, the first few minutes are free time; the kids can talk and relax. I go over homework and joke around. During my lecture, I relate my topic to the events around us in the real world, so they can see why they are learning what they are learning. For example, the concept of related rate of change applies to water or gasoline being pumped out of a tank. How long will it take for the tank to empty? I also use the soda machine. When you plug in the money, you get liquid out of it. It’s going at a rate of such and such into your cup. The cup is cylindrical. What is changing? The students start trying to observe. The radius – no, that is fixed. But the pressure? Yes. The less liquid there is in the tank as it empties, the less the pressure is that is pushing the liquid out of the tank. My students are pretty smart.
What is the most satisfying experience you have had as a teacher?
There have been many of them. For example, I taught a young lady who is working now as a civil engineer. She grew up in East LA; her apartment was a one-bedroom for a family of six. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother would make tamales to support her. She had a full scholarship to the University of California at Irvine. We still keep in touch.
In general, what do you think are the benefits for your students of taking AP calculus?
They are building their own character. They are becoming adults, more responsible, more intelligent, more assertive about their lives and about themselves. They are taking a challenging course and therefore they have to accept all this responsibility, and by doing so they become better individuals. They are preparing for their own futures. That’s the greatest part, you are making a believer out of yourself. Some of these students don’t have any confidence in mathematics, and I want to make the subject as easy as I can so they can understand it and be able to perform. If they do that, then they build that self-confidence up then they have a better future.
So it’s more than just learning the subject. The subject is not the most important thing. They have to understand that it takes hard work to learn. We have had a very high percentage of students pass the AP exams–generally between 80% and 100%–but whether they pass the exam or not, I don’t place that much importance on that. The important thing to me is that they did their work, they tried their best. That is success. They brought discipline to their lives. They became better individuals, better prepared for their future.
It was my pleasure.