By Taylor Giuffre-Catalano
Revere High School teacher Nancy Barile and a class of motivated sophomores defied all expectations.
Barile who has taught rigorous courses in the field of English Language Arts for 24 years, described the group of sophmores as “highly-engaged, bright, [and] hardworking.” The students were initially enrolled in Pre-Advanced Placement English Language Arts, and were following a curriculum designed for students on track to take Advanced Placement courses later in their high school years. Yet, Barile, almost immediately” noticed that her sophomore students had an “outstanding work ethic,” and “absolutely loved literature.” These students possessed a rare talent and passion, in Barile’s eyes, to which she remarked, “I never saw anything like it.”
The class of sophomores went on to take the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition exam, a test designed for high school seniors, and passed at a rate nearly matching the national average of 50.1 percent (Source: CollegeBoard).
“One day in November, I remarked that they all should take Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition when they were seniors. They explained to me that because of [Revere High School’s] block schedule, which only permits four classes, they didn’t know if they’d be able to take all the Advanced Placement courses that they wanted; many students were focusing on careers in the sciences or mathematics,” Barile noted. She explained that “almost as a joke,” she replied to her students that they should try and take the exam as sophomores instead. To her surprise, one of the students replied, “Can we?”
After speaking to the Revere High School Director of Humanities, Dr. Christina Porter, and the Director of Guidance, Diana Finn, Barile and her group of students received the final approval from CollegeBoard, the distributor of the national exam. “The proposition was a win-win. If students didn’t pass, they could take the exam again as juniors and seniors. If they did pass, it would look incredible on their transcript for college,” she explained.
Barile also explained how the test can be “tricky.” She noted, “[A student has] to answer 55 multiple-choice questions and write three essays: one on poetry, one on prose, and one on a novel.”
Following the students’ decision to tackle the exam, Barile added a fun set of stakes, “This class loved reading plays, so I told them that if half the class passed the exam, I’d take them to New York City to see ‘Jagged Little Pill.’ These kids deserved it.”
“In Ms. Barile’s class throughout the year, she progressively challenged us more and gave us more challenging work pushing us to grow,” noted student Sarah Condelli. She described Barile’s teaching style, using a technique called Making Student Thinking Visible that, in Barile’s words, ensured that “everyone’s voice could be heard.” The teaching style places students at the focus of class discussions, and allows for even the quietest students to play a major role in group analyses. Condelli noted, “I liked how we often worked in groups to analyze readings and answer questions and how we would regroup and reflect on our assignments in class.”
Condelli not only received a passing score on the exam, but excelled and earned a four out of five, stating. “I felt confident on the essay portion [of the exam],” she said adding, “I hoped to get a three, because that was a passing mark, but when I saw that I got a four, I was taken aback because I didn’t expect to get above a passing grade.”
Elijah Nater, another sophomore student, explained his experience in the course to be “rewarding” and “challenging.” Nater noted, “I really enjoyed engaging with all sorts of different texts, from around the world and at different time periods. I learned more than what was on the page, and I took away a lot of valuable life lessons on top of just analysis skills.”
Nater said that while he struggled with some work in the course, it made him a “better learner” overall. “I felt like Ms. Barile and the class as a whole helped me develop as a student, no matter what classroom I am in. I was really happy to be apart of the class.”
Adrianna Fusco described the class as “a real challenge” for her. “The way [Ms. Barile] taught was so much different than any other teacher I’ve ever had. Her class constantly pushed me and took me out of my comfort zone, but I don’t regret taking her class. She really taught me something new this year and taught me how to persevere when things get tough.”
Fusco continued, noting, “I was so proud of myself when I scored high on the exam and was kind of shocked at how well I did. After all this, I realized how valuable Ms. Barile’s class was and how much she helped me grow over the year.”
After reading all four novels on the sophomore curriculum, Barile’s students read “The Awakening,” by Kate Chopin, “Fences” by August Wilson, “A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, “Franny” and “Raise the Roof Beam, Carpenters” by J.D. Salinger, “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams, and “Sofia Petronova” by Lydia Chukovskaya. Barile noted that the students also read Michael Patrick MacDonald’s “All Souls,” “and then Michael came in to speak to them about overcoming trauma and the writing process.” The class also read and analyzed over 30 poems, as well as nonfiction essays and literary criticisms. Barile noted, “They never complained—rather, they devoured everything I gave them.”
Following the exam, Barile said, “Some students felt confident after the test, and I, quite frankly, no longer cared that much about scores. I knew the students worked hard, and I knew they learned and improved. I told them we’d go to New York no matter what the scores.”
In the end, Barile was “blown away” by the scores of her students, and said, “The experience was incredible, and it was very rejuvenating for me as a veteran teacher. I definitely learned as much from these students as they did from me.”
If you’d like to help Ms. Barile’s class get to New York City, you may send a check made out to “Revere Public Schools,” to Nancy Barile, Revere High School, 101 School St., Revere, MA 02151. All donations are tax deductible.