AP Language’s ‘Pro-paganda’ Projects Encounters New Perspectives Through Distance Learning

A new online environment means that AP English Language classes are rethinking their long-term “Pro-paganda” projects.

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Mr. Griffin’s class reviews Chomsky and Herman’s Propaganda Model with a concept map in 2019.

Karen Chen

Each year at Evergreen Valley High School (EVHS), seniors sign up for the AP Language course to gain a deeper insight and understanding as to how they can use writing to argue, persuade, and influence an audience. However, students taking the course at EVHS are not only introduced to the base curriculum for the AP test. The AP Language teachers at EVHS have also incorporated a project for students to utilize and display what they’ve learned through hands-on experience. 

The project’s prompt itself is broad and unrestricted in terms of its topic. In the first semester, students are asked to identify a problem in their direct community on campus and plan a solution to propose to the administration at EVHS. After they’ve received approval from the administration, students are asked to implement and carry out their plans in the second semester. 

The students’ performance is graded based on how they’ve utilized their diction and writing in order to progress their project. 

“Our focus is really sort of on how the project is executed. It’s very much like a math problem. Show me your work, right? Because our focus is on how well you manage the messaging of your project,” said Mr. Griffin, one of the AP Language teachers at EVHS. “Like how well can you communicate and understand not just your own goals, but sort of long term goals and how you’re going to present that to the people you need by your side.”

Ms. Marfia-Rosa, one of the senior AP Language teachers at EVHS, has been teaching the AP Language course for around 9 years. When introducing the Pro-paganda Project, her hope was to give students an initial chance to transfer their knowledge from a traditional educational setting to the real world. 

“The project is about empowering our students to recognize that they can move the dial in society. They can do something meaningful and impactful in their own community,” said Ms. Mafia-Rosa. “And the things that they’re studying are not just paper.”

The Pro-paganda Project takes students away from restricted practice and analysis on other’s work. Instead, they must develop the skills to present and sell their own idea to the administration at EVHS and implement changes themselves.  

Throughout the past decade, EVHS has seen many successful projects that have made long-term changes to the campus and staff’s conduct. Mr. Griffin recounts past student projects that have altered campus life at EVHS, such as changes to the counseling department through introducing AP introductory videos for incoming freshmen, the replacement of plastic utensils in the cafeteria with biodegradable sporks, and EVHS’s Cougar motto. 

Students at EVHS are able to learn about the AP classes available on campus through introductory videos created through the ‘Pro-paganda’ Project.
(Karen Chen)

“As a result of making something better, their school year has a legacy. They actually did something,” said Mr. Griffin. “Because at the end of the day, you write an essay for me, but neither of us are going to remember it next year.”

Changes left by these projects have become a source of pride for the AP Language branch. 

This year, students have continued the legacy of the Pro-paganda Project even through distance learning. Despite many classes finding distance learning a difficult setting for teaching, many AP Language teachers have been noticing many positive aspects of working online in comparison to in-person learning. 

Mr. Griffin emphasized this opportunity to his students when they initially began planning their proposals to the administration. While he saw students feeling discouraged by the sudden change in setting, Mr. Griffin found that there were many new issues presented to students that could turn into opportunities to enact changes. Issues with socializing, access to resources, and mental health all grew more prevalent with the new school year. 

Wendy Han, a current senior taking AP Language, has been working in a team on a program for incoming freshmen to familiarize themselves with others on campus through a buddy system online. Her experience with the passion project has been positive so far due to her personal passion for meeting and talking with new people. 

The initial idea for the Pro-paganda Project also only came about due to distance learning. Since students have been isolated in their own homes, away from physically seeing each other, socializing for incoming students has become harder. 

The usage of online applications has also been beneficial for the AP Language Pro-paganda Project. Ms. Mafia-Rosa and Mr. Pham both found that the widespread usage of applications such as Zoom, Google Meets, and Google Docs has improved communication between students and administration. 

“We’re able to make more use of all of these digital resources or we’re forced to use all of these digital resources,” said Mr. Pham. 

However, with new platforms and settings for learning, many ideas that could’ve been approved before have become inconvenient to implement. When proposing projects, Neha Krishnakumar, a senior in the AP Language course, finding the right project wasn’t a smooth process. Neha and her team originally proposed to provide lessons on media. Her project wasn’t approved due to the amount of time teachers would need to fit into their distance learning schedules. 

“It was really, really hard to find a project we’d be able to do without meeting up in person or having that in-person connection, like talking to students on campus,” Krishnakumar said. 

As a teacher, Mr. Pham has also seen his students go through similar struggles. “It’s a little harder for students to kind of imagine the progress of their project through distance learning. I feel it was easier for students to see the project through when school was in session physically and you could be more interactive with the community in that sense,” said Mr. Pham.

Krishnakumar and her team ran through many other ideas such as reaching out to elementary schools to help transition to distance learning, but setting up communication between separate schools and age groups would be a complicated process. Eventually, Krishnakumar and her team decided to seek to provide students more information on the safety protocols on campus and in distance learning. Most freshmen students this year don’t have any information on how the campus looks for when they return to school next year. 

For students looking into taking AP Language in the future, teachers and students are continuing to look for ways to improve not only the community but the course itself. 

Mr. Griffin hopes for the AP Language course to reach out to a larger demographic. Most who decide to take the course in their senior year often already had high self-expectations and an interest in writing. This can often cause different areas of the school to remain untouched when dealing with issues, such as special education at EVHS. 

In the spirit of the Pro-paganda Project’s push for improvement, Han said, “The class only moves if they (students) want it to move. It’s a two-way relationship.”