Recently we spoke with John Cerezo, Advanced Placement Biology (AP Bio) Teacher at Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School, to learn more about how he prepares his lesson plans and students for the AP Bio exam. Here’s what he shared:
What attracted you to teaching?
At California State University, Long Beach, I saw minimal Latino representation in STEM fields. Since STEM was an interest of mine, I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. I knew I wanted to help with representation in this field so I became a science teacher. I’m happy to be teaching at Mendez High School, especially because it is located in Boyle Heights.
Why is science, specifically Biology, such an important subject to teach?
Biology can seem like a foreign language – it’s intimidating if you don’t understand it. It’s an important subject to teach because daily life events revolve around biology. For example, biology plays a role in health, news, global warming, and more. The most popular thing that students are interested in knowing and understanding is why certain people are predisposed to certain diseases or genetics. That curiosity of wanting to know where you come from is a natural curiosity of the human mind.
Can you say more about the course you teach and how you are evolving your curriculum?
I’ve been teaching for 15 years, and this is my third year teaching AP Bio at Mendez High School. I’ve always ensured that my coursework is student-centered. During my second year at Mendez, my AP class scored a 22% pass rate on the College Board’s AP Bio exam. Last year, our teaching methods evolved by incorporating Google classrooms, offered by the Partnership. Our course materials, resources, and videos can be accessed online at any time. This allows for more facetime with my students because I can preload my lesson plans and homework, which can be seen by my students ahead of time. It also means that if they have questions, they can ask me through Google classrooms and I can review them and address them in real-time or at the beginning of my next class. Additionally, I use the questions released by the College Board from previous exam years to expose my students to the types of questions they will encounter during the AP exam. I also share the College Board’s AP Biology Summer Institutes with students, which allows them to interactively experience AP Bio Labs. In the past, students and I have participated in UCLA’s AP Readiness Program, allowing me to improve my teaching abilities as an AP instructor and giving my students the skills they will need to be successful in college level classes. In return, my students last year passed the College Board’s AP Bio exam with a 78% pass rate, which was higher than the national average pass rate of 61.6%.
What are you doing to provide more access for students to take the AP Bio course?
Ideally, I would like for as many students as possible to take and pass this course. I really appreciate the “AP for All” initiative that has been implemented at Mendez. Being exposed to AP courses from a freshman level is a great and challenging opportunity. Although students’ GPA can range from 2.5 to 4.0, we take into account their personal experiences when teaching our courses. My course requires a lot of dedication and energy, so I do my best to support our students in feeling prepared to take it. It also means that I need to prepare a lot by finding useful resources, and pairing labs with videos and animations. Everyone has a different style of learning and I cater to that. I ensure that students who enroll in my course do the pre-work during the summer; not for mastery, but for commitment. There’s a reason for our success and a lot of it is preparation. This year, 11 students were enrolled in the course. In order to increase our enrollment, former and current AP students helped me set up an information booth at our AP School Fair. This helped me engage with prospective AP Bio students. We also had a family night where we gave a brief presentation to families about what it means to be enrolled in AP courses and the benefits in terms of college acceptance. I also teach freshman biology and physiology and I’m able to recruit yearlong by encouraging students to take AP Biology during their junior and senior years. As of now, 19 students are enrolled for next year’s AP Bio class. I’m excited about that.
What are you most proud of as a teacher?
Prior to Mendez High School, I taught at Stevenson Middle School. This year’s high school graduating class is the class I taught when I was teaching 7th grade at Stevenson. One of the graduating seniors took four science classes with me. Seeing my former students’ growth and seeing them go off to college makes me proud.