MUSD Approves Ethnic Studies Requirement

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Montebello Unified School District took the first steps in implementing an ethnic studies graduation requirement, following in the footsteps of nearby districts and becoming the third largest district in the county to approve such a resolution.

MUSD’s board of education unanimously approved the resolution last week during its board meeting.

Board President Edgar Cisneros called it “long-overdue historic moment for our community.”

“Many people will look to us” to see how we implement it, he said, adding that many other districts have already used MUSD as a model in other programs.

The resolution calls for the expansion of ethnic-specified courses such as African American studies, Asian American studies, Latino/Chicano studies, Armenian studies and Native American studies. More importantly the study of race, class, gender and sexuality will be established as a high school graduation requirement.

The purpose is to produce “more well-rounded MUSD students who respect and appreciate one another and people from diverse backgrounds, communities, cultures and nationalities,” Cisneros said.

The ethnic courses will begin to roll out within the next four years. And beginning next year, students will be given the opportunity to enroll in Chicano studies at local community colleges.

“The board wanted to take action sooner rather than later,” said Deputy Superintendent Art Revueltas, referring to the fact that the item was not originally on board meeting agenda for last Thursday.

The district intends to form a 15-member ethnic studies advisory committee to figure out the specifics of the requirement, such as when the requirement will be enforced and whether the course will replace an existing high school graduation requirement or increase the number of credits required to graduate.

The committee will be made up of two high school students, two parents, four certificated employees, two classified employees, two administrators, two district office personnel and one professor with an ethnic studies background.

They will also meet periodically with the dual language immersion program advisory committee.

Revueltas told EGP the majority of MUSD students are Latino and the District has been encouraging teachers to include some diversity in their curriculum.

“It’s not just about a course, it has to be infused in everything we teach,” Revueltas said. For example, “if we teach about art let’s teach about Diego Rivera,” he elaborated.

The District has in the past offered elective courses in Mexican-American studies, minority cultures in America, multicultural studies and supports a strong dual language immersion program.

Since 2007, Latin American literature has been taught at Schurr High School.

“Many teachers already do this, this is just formalizing it,” he said.

According to MUSD, 32 languages other than English are spoken in the school district that encompasses Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello, Monterey Park and parts of East Los Angeles, with Spanish, Cantonese and Armenian being the primary languages.

“It’s about diversity, not just Latinos,” said Revueltas “What does the rest of the world look like?”

Last year, El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera became the first district in the state to require their students to take an ethnic studies course to graduate. Los Angeles Unified followed shortly after in December, however the curriculum has yet to be implemented district-wide.

Critics worry that such requirements will cause scheduling problems for students, especially those taking advanced placement courses and English Learners who are already limited on how many electives they can take.

One of the last high school requirements added in the District was economics, said Revueltas. Currently MUSD requires students to take three years of physical education, one more year than most districts.

Cisneros told EGP there is room for ethnic studies to take up some of the elective units required to graduate. He suggests freshman can take the course as part of freshman studies as one possible way to implement the requirement.

There is substantial research and evidence that well designed and well taught ethnic studies curricula produces positive academic and social outcomes in students, according to the resolution.

In 2010, the National Education Association affirmed that ethnic studies has a “positive impact on students of color”

“The learner has to connect to the learning,” echoed Revueltas

“Students want to learn more about themselves,” said Cisneros. “They want to learn that different is not really different compared to the rest of the world.”

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