Each of San Francisco's 19 public high schools are poised to offer ethnic studies for the first time beginning next fall, though the course will not be a graduation requirement for at least the next five school years.
The San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education tonight is set to vote on a resolution that would expand the district's current ethnic studies course offerings from five high schools to each noncharter high school, as well as infuse multiethnic and multiculturalism into middle school classrooms.
“When you look at [ethnic studies] curriculum, it is really about a deeper and broader knowledge about systems of oppression that have been historic in our country and in the world,” said board President Sandra Fewer, who introduced the resolution in October.
Such topics are particularly relevant today in the wake of two recent officer-involved killings of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York, ethnic studies advocates noted.
“We cannot just ignore what is going on in the country,” said Anette Norona, who teaches 12th-grade honors ethnic studies at Mission High School.
Aimee Riechel's ninth-grade ethnic studies class, also at Mission, focuses on issues facing students today as well as stories that have not been traditionally included in history textbooks.
“It's everyone's story, not just one single story — it includes everybody's identity and respects their race and points of view,” Riechel said of ethnic studies classes.
Expanding the curriculum to all high schools and building a foundation among middle school students to take ethnic studies classes in high school will help students relate to historical events as well, since approximately 90 percent of SFUSD students are students of color, Fewer said.
San Francisco education is no stranger to ethnic studies. In 1969, the longest student-led strike in U.S. history prompted San Francisco State University to offer the nation's first-ever College of Ethnic Studies.
“For the most part, in America, only one American story is taught,” said Dean Kenneth Monteiro, head of SFSU's College of Ethnic Studies. With ethnic studies, he added, students “learn about struggles for equality, what [other] groups have gone through, and how that has reshaped what it means to be an American.”
SFSU associate professor of Asian-American studies Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales helped to develop curriculum after a Board of Education resolution first called for the support of ethnic studies in the 2008-09 school year, and in 2010 when a pilot program was approved to develop the existing ethnic studies coursework at five high schools.
“It's important for young people to learn about their history, but it's also important for them to feel like they can change their communities in positive ways,” Tintiangco-Cubales said.
Pending board approval, the ethnic studies coursework will be implemented at all 19 high schools beginning in the 2015-16 school year. It is expected to cost the district $469,833 per school year.