As the school year winds down, Connecticut high school students and teachers recently shared their experiences from the first year with the state’s new African American/Black and Puerto Rican/Latino Course of Studies.
During a roundtable discussion with students from Stratford and Bunnell high schools, student Jasmine Inoa said she hopes that the number of white students taking the course will increase over time, as she believes that it is important to learn about all cultures.
“I do wish, hopefully, that we don’t have just Black and Latino kids taking the class, but … white kids as well. … It is really important that all these classes honestly are made mandatory, so we can learn about different cultures and the positive and the negative,” she said.
Student Angelina Reyes agreed, saying she feels that it is important that every student take the course, as it teaches the alternative perspective of American History.
“In most history classes, we are learning from the perspective of white people. People who were credited in starting the country were white men,” she said. “So taking an African American and Latino Studies class really gives you perspective on how big of an impact these people (who) are considered minorities had on the United States and just on the world in general.
“I think it really does open your eyes and emphasizes how important your culture is to the history of landscapes,” Reyes said.
The latest data from the state Department of Education and the State Education Resource Center for the racial demographics of students enrolled in the course as of Jan. 3, 2022, shows that a total of 1,075 students took part in the pilot African American/ Black and Puerto Rican/Latino course. Students of color comprise the majority, as there are 253 Hispanic/Latino students and 220 Black/African American students enrolled, in comparison to 90 white students and four Asian American students. However, the department is still in the process of collecting data.
The State Education Resource Center led the development of the curriculum beginning in 2019, coordinating a 150-member Advisory Group of K-12 and college educators, historians and museum representatives, parents, students, advocates, and the lawmakers who sponsored the bill.
With the help of student advocacy, they drove the legislation that made the course and its development mandatory. The state Board of Education approved the final draft of the course in December 2020, and SERC published a final version on July 1, 2021, as required by the state law, that is “intentionally designed to accentuate the individual and joint contributions of these communities to our collective history.”
Some of the schools that shared their experiences from the Course of Studies were CREC schools, John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Newington High School, Southington High School, Stratford High School, Bunnell High School, Bethel High School, and others.
According to SERC, the one-year, integrated course curriculum teaches students about the history of Africa and the diasporas with intentional linkages to accomplishments, struggles, and beauty of Black and Latino people in the U.S., North America and South America. , the Caribbean, and around the world. SERC has said it believes that through the lens of unique histories, students, with guided support of educators, will connect to their cultural and racial backgrounds and strengthen their understanding of positive identity, among other goals.
Teachers who taught the pilot course also expressed their appreciation to their students in their schools who were willing to participate.
Stratford High School social studies teacher Kathleen Mack said she was excited to have an opportunity to teach on the topics and content that they have been wanting to bring to the table.
“As many of you (students) have said, it just enriches the whole experience of the American story....whose voices that we can showcase to bring into the rich tapestry of all the people, experiences, the histories and the future possibilities,” Mack said. “So I thank you all for your work and to highlight those moments that have stood out to you. I look forward to teaching this again.”
Bunnell High School social studies and history teacher Sean Mignone also thanked his students who took the course and said he wants to make sure that the class is available to all to take in the future.
“You have to find ways to make sure that this class is available to everyone. Whether we make it mandatory…we just find ways to kind of spread the word and hope the course grows, so it becomes what it really can be,” Mignone said.
Deidre Montague can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.