How Our Ethnic Studies Curriculum Helps All Students Feel Seen

How Our Ethnic Studies Curriculum Helps All Students Feel Seen

Across our schools in Los Angeles, our mission in education is not only to prepare our students for college, but to give them the tools they need to become critical thinkers. As a result of our commitment, several of our high schools now offer a rigorous Ethnic Studies elective course that helps improve students’ cultural competencies while also giving them the space and resources to safely explore their ethnic-racial identities.

In Ethnic Studies, our students build the skills necessary to critically evaluate social and political constructs throughout the history of our nation. Our curriculum specialists carefully crafted this elective to be aligned with State standards, including the 2016 California History-Social Science Framework and the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards.

This fall, eight Green Dot California high schools offer an Ethnic Studies elective, including Alain LeRoy Locke College Preparatory Academy, Ánimo City of Champions Charter High School, Ánimo Jackie Robinson Charter High School, Ánimo Compton Charter School, Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School, Ánimo Leadership Charter High School, Ánimo Venice Charter High School, and Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School.

Building the Course

This past summer, our history curriculum specialist Benjamin Wong led the initiative to revamp the crucial elective. “I really wanted to emphasize the diversity of the source materials, readings, videos, and the authors and voices that I've chosen,” Wong said.

Wong, who majored in Ethnic Studies in college, said he has always implemented this frame of thinking as a teacher. “It would happen even with teaching 12th grade economics classes, where I would take a look at economic inequality as one of the units of study and how we have disparate economic outcomes for different races and ethnicities across the country,” he said. “Through an Ethnic Studies perspective, we take a look at how and why things are the way they are in this country as a result of decisions that were made hundreds of years ago. It really works to challenge assumptions that are being made by everybody about what happens in daily life.”

In our Ethnic Studies curriculum, Green Dot students work through four units: Identity, Diversity, Justice, and Action. “Ethnic studies is an important part of understanding where we are as a country. And my hope is that at some point in the future we can work on infusing elements of ethnic studies across all of our classes,” Wong added.

Ethnic Studies in Practice

History teacher, Miguel Sandoval De La Torre, has taught Ethnic Studies for the last two years, at Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School. “In teaching United States History and World History, I had to struggle to make the lessons representative of the identity of my students,” he said. “We discussed systems that were created in this country, but that excluded many of their family members and parents.”

In his course, Sandoval De La Torre has encouraged students to dig deeper into their own heritage. He reflected on one in-class project, where students interviewed their parents and family members to learn about their unique pasts, struggles, hopes, and culture. “I think the biggest thing that students get from this assignment is a genuine understanding that identities are intersectional, and that we're all complex people,” he said.

Wong and Sandoval De La Torre both see an incredible advantage in offering Ethnic Studies courses. When students see themselves, their community, and culture in the classroom, they are more engaged and connected to the learning. “Ethnic Studies is not a subject, it's a pedagogy. It's a way of thinking about learning and understanding that our learning doesn't happen in a vacuum,“ Sandoval De La Torre said. ”It brings people together and unites us in the cause of fighting historical injustices and taking that into the present and working to ensure that we do have a more fair and just society,” Wong said.

Ethnic studies is one of several electives offered across our network of high schools. Students also have the opportunity to enroll in an array of Advanced Placement courses to complement the academic rigor provided at all levels within our schools.

At Green Dot, we understand that empowering our students, families, and communities begins in the classroom. It’s why we’ve revamped our curriculum to act as both a mirror and a window, creating opportunities for students to reflect on their own identities and think critically about the world around them. Through electives such as Ethnic Studies, and our network-wide African American Achievement and Equity initiative, we’re helping our students realize their cultural wealth and providing them with the foundation they need to achieve their wildest dreams.