Another group of community members came forward Thursday night during public comment, pushing for the DJUSD School Board to adopt a resolution by July that would create a Cultural Awareness and Ethnic Studies graduation requirement.
According to the group’s timeline, they would have the course implementations and offerings ready by August 2020, which would enable the district to offer the programming for the upcoming school year.
Anoosh Jarjorian, representing a group called Creating Inclusive Davis Schools, spoke, pushing for inclusion of ethnic studies in the current curriculum.
She indicated that the group wanted to partner with the district in order to get the program implemented for an upcoming school year.
“What we are proposing is primarily professional development because we want to see ethnic studies integrated in the curricula from pre-K through grade 12,” she said. “That means professional development for all teachers.”
She noted that some current classes could be “re-done with an ethnic studies focus.”
She said, “What we’re trying to propose is not burdensome. We’re trying to integrate with what already is in place so we can help you bring ethnic studies into the program and basically fill the primary buckets that LCAP aim ameliorate – in terms of having a 21st Century education, ethnic studies helps with that.
“In terms of closing the achievement gap, we have studies that demonstrate that ethnic studies accomplishes that. And in terns of developing the social and emotional learning of students, ethnic studies addresses that as well.”
One of the group’s calls is the allocation of $15,000 to $20,000 specifically for professional development, with the first step being to pass a resolution.
Provided to the Vanguard on Thursday, the resolution calls for the district to “have a graduation requirement that students can fulfill in history, English, social studies, arts, or math courses that use the Ethnic Studies framework.”
The resolution notes that “the District seeks to provide a well-rounded and quality education that exposes students to cultures that are crucial to understanding our nation, past and present, and helps our students to appreciate the rich histories and cultural contributions of their own communities.”
The group notes: “[T]here is substantial research evidence that well designed, and well taught ethnic studies curricula have positive academic and social outcomes for students.”
During public comment, many citizens emphasized the benefits of such a program.
Tracy Tomasky told the board that they’ve been given a lot of research about the benefits of ethnic studies, in that it specifically supports all three LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) goals: 21st century learning, closing the achievement gap and having safe and inclusive environments.
She noted the importance of going from offering such a program in a few classes that would check off a box to “including it across the board in an inclusive curriculum.”
She said, “It really makes a foundational impact to all students and to all learning.”
Joanna Friesner noted that, as a molecular biology undergrad at Berkeley, “ethnic studies or diversity courses were not on my radar, however UC Berkeley had initiated an American Cultures requirement just before I arrived which was for all students. The intent was to introduce all students to the diverse cultures of our country.”
She called the education received “eye opening” and noted that at the time she was “intrigued” and “perplexed” about the education she had previously received, specifically omissions about indigenous people and people of color in our history.
“As a suburban white kid in college, what I learned felt a little bit like a movie I was watching rather than a life I personally experience,” she said. “But over the last twenty years I have come to appreciate deeply that my experiences are not universally shared by everyone.”
A teacher in the school district noted the district’s budget constraints and suggested that it was not necessary to add another program for ethnic studies specifically.
Instead, she recommended “what we could do as teachers is embed ethnic studies into every day teaching into our classroom.”
She also said that having professional development to bring “awareness and teaching strategies” would be beneficial. She noted that she originally taught in San Francisco so “when I came here to teach I was in culture shock for five years. I hadn’t seen so many white people in a long long time.”
As a result of that experience, however, she constantly embeds ethnic teaching into her concepts every day.
Steve Nylom utilized his work with Native American families to share important concepts with the board. The first point he made was “how the kids are treated in school.” He said Native families and families of color “feel like they’re not being treated as well.”
Second is “the curricula that is being taught.” Third, “opportunities for people of the group to get together.”
Eva Dopico has worked at the district for 15 years, including the last 13 as a 2nd grade teacher at Cesar Chavez elementary. She called on the district to increase the amount of money for ethnic studies and asked them to embed it in all grades.
She said, “As a teacher we have to wear a lot of different hats and glasses… I need the glasses, the glasses to see the invisible” in terms of groups in society that we might not have awareness about their emotional and cultural and educational needs.
Overall the group is calling for the board to establish and direct “Ethnic Studies Committee to be comprised of Administrators, Teachers, Students, Parents, and Community Members to develop curriculum and implementation strategies that include professional development to ensure the quality of the Ethnic Studies courses aligns to agreement of the resolution through partnerships with universities and ethnic studies and/or culturally relevant programs.”
And they are asking that “the funding for this program and each of its elements shall be incorporated into the budget and LCAP for the 2019-20 school year, and every year thereafter until fully implemented.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting