LAUSD unveils first-ever ethnic studies course

Ondrea Reed, Deputy Supt. of the LAUSD

Following a summer of racial reckoning amplified by the pandemic in 2020, the Los Alamitos Unified School District is set to approve its first ever ethnic studies course.
Officials said the ethnic studies course will be available to all 11th and 12th grade students as a college prep elective early in the fall of 2021 (10th graders with special approval will be considered).

“I love the fact that this is something the board charged us with that really came as the board responded to various community and staff members,” said District Supt. Dr. Andrew Pulver.

Back in the summer of 2020, the LAUSD board committed to develop an ethnic studies course after a marathon session of the board in which students, former students and members of the community told the board of their previously unexpressed incidences of racism and other social justice claims.

Deputy Supt. Ondrea Reed, who formerly served as Assistant Supt. of Educational Services, presented the board with a detailed path that the ethnic studies course has taken since then.

Reed said the presentation was a precursor for a motion for final adoption that would be before the board at its next meeting.

Even so, Reed said this is likely only the first course of what will eventually be a well-rounded social justice curriculum for students of all ages throughout the system.
While Reed said more of the “nuts and bolts” of the course will be revealed at the next board meeting, she said the course will be named “Ethnic Studies: Cultural Experiences in America.”

“The course centers around voices of historically minoritized groups,” she said, “with the aim of creating healing in transformative spaces where students become active participants in the Democratic process for social justice for all.”

Many decisions have been made since ethnic studies surfaced as a course idea in June of 2020, said Reed. “There have been multiple discussions in the English department and the Social Studies department,” she said.

She credited Cynthia Avina and Jason Farvour, both LAHS teachers, among others, for doing the heavy lifting of the course development.

Avina has a master’s degree in Social and Cultural Analysis of Education, and is an Ethnic Studies Scholar Series graduate among her many other educational credentials, said Reed.
The ethnic studies course began its journey in the Faculty Forum, said Reed, and many teachers were given an opportunity to provide input on the course development.

There were many options, she said, noting that the Ethnic Studies course “could live in the English department,” or even as a social studies elective, said Reed. Whether or not it becomes a graduation requirement is largely up to a pending bill in the California legislature, she suggested.

If and when the state does make ethnic studies a graduation requirement, said Reed, the LAHS ethnic studies course should easily meet the state criteria. She said the course was developed using pre-approved model teachings approved by the Commission for Quality Teaching.

“In this course, students will study the histories of race, ethnicity and culture with its past and present implications through historical documents and contemporary events,” said Reed.

“Central to the course,” she said, “is the historic struggle of communities of color taking into account the intersectionality of identity, gender, class, ability and sexuality.”

According to Reed, the course “aims to develop students’ social political and economic awareness by making personal connections to local and global histories.”

Reed said the course was developed to be student centric, encouraging them to “participate in grassroots community organizations and explain the dynamics among internalized, interpersonal and institutional oppression and resistance.”

Reed gave the board a guided tour through the ten units of study under the course, saying “through historical documents and historical interpretations, students will be able to discuss their identities including race, ethnicity, culture, and nationality.”

There will be “key assignments” given to the students in the course, she said, including the composition of a historical narrative of 1500 words based on an oral interview with a family member or other adult important in the student’s life.

The narrative focuses on the role of race, ethnicity, nationality and culture in the interviewee’s education, personal relationships, employment or socio-economic status, civic life and immigration/migration experience, said Reed.

Another “key assignment” could be to write a script for a 5-minute play in which students express their knowledge and feelings about the intersectionality of community labor and race based on their study of labor organizer’s efforts among African-Americans and Filipino-Americans during the Great Depression.”

The course, and related activities, are meant to develop racial literacy, develop critical thinking and reading skills, and develop community building and solidarity using a cultural response curriculum, said Reed.

Board member Meg Cutuli asked Reed about plans to eventually include a wider assortment of classes, ethnicities, etc., saying some districts offer more.

The policy, said Reed, “centers around student voice,” echoing that “many districts have multiple studies” and she suggested LAUSD eventually will expand to other courses across the grade level spectrum.

Board member Diana Hill asked a similar question, wanting to know, among other things, “why does the course focus only on America, given the many nationalities and ethnicities of students in the system?

Reed acknowledged the question and assured Hill that the initial ethnic studies course was only “a first step,” reiterating the complications of COVID-19 and the quick timeline. “There is some great work going on in this system,” she said.

“I’m so excited about this,” said Board President Marlys Davidson, because “it is so incredibly important.”

“What is not lost on us,” said Pulver, “is that we cannot wait until 11th and 12th grade to provide these opportunities” for students. As part of the board’s direction, the superintendent reminded the board the staff has hired Nadia Williams, an “equity and diversity” teacher on special assignment.

Williams, in cooperation with human relations consultant Danielle Nava is working on a “social justice framework” and he assured the board “we have more to do.”

Williams, he said, is working with teachers and administrators at all levels of the district to get feedback as they develop a districtwide framework and standards.

Like Reed, Pulver assured the board that “we (the district) need to find ways to infuse this (curricula) down to our primary grades as well.”

The superintendent said when he spoke personally with the parents and students who spoke openly during the “reckoning” meeting, he assured them that this would be done, and the district intended to make it happen.

LAUSD unveils first-ever ethnic studies course