Boardmember Oscar de la Torre believes Santa Monica High School (Samohi) is one of the most diverse schools in the nation.

Which could be the reason why the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) revisited the topic of providing Samohi students with American Culture and Ethnic Studies classes at their recent board meeting.

One of the priorities for the district is to implement an American Culture and Ethnic Studies curriculum. Last Thursday the Sub-Committee, composed of Board Vice President Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, Board Trustee Oscar de la Torre, and Board Trustee Ralph Mechur brought forward an action item to formally add American Culture and Ethnic Studies to the curriculum.

“Our students bring many different cultures and traditions to the classroom,” said Mechur. “We should recognize their heritage and use it as a building block of learning about their histories and the histories of others.”

The Sub-Committee said they recognize the need to address the inequities reflected in the excellence through equity report by Dr. Pedro Noguera. They also want to make sure all high school students have a common academic experience and become sensitive to different cultures. Noguera was hired by the district to evaluate the district’s diversity efforts and make recommendations regarding improvements.

During the meeting the Sub-Committee explains there is a bigger picture. They said there is a growing quantity of academic research within the country that shows the importance of this curriculum and the benefits.

In 2016, Stanford University published a study on the effects of an ethnic studies curriculum piloted in several San Francisco Unified School District high schools. It found that assignment to a year long 9th grade ethnic studies course was associated with an increase of student attendance and in GPA. The study suggest that the course reduced dropout rates and suggest that culturally relevant teaching, when implemented in a supportive, high fidelity context, can provide effective support.

Mechur said a local American Culture and Ethnic Studies will be phased into four strands.

  1. The inclusion of a component in the Freshmen Seminar class. Teachers and staff are currently working on this for the 2017 -18 school year.
  2. The adoption and roll out of social justice standards that will be used to adapt curriculum in all K-12 classrooms. Those standards will come to the Board of Education in May for adoption and begin to be used in our school also beginning next school year.
  3. The creating of American Culture and Ethnic Studies classes will be at the high school level, and some of these classes will be amended existing classes and others will be new elective classes. Classes will be developed by teachers with the support of principles and district staff, and will need to meet California A-G standards. These classes will hopefully be developed in the 2018 -19 school year.
  4. Starting in 2024 or earlier if possible, a graduation requirement will be taking one or more American Culture, Ethnic Studies class during high school.

The Sub-Committee did not give specific details on the curriculum and or what classes will entail. However, De la Torre did say the curriculum will give students an opportunity and an alternative way of looking at history. Also, it will ensure there is a space in public education for those stories to be told and heard.

The Board gave its full support to the Sub-Committee saying the curriculum will help diversity grow within the high school and help students learn more about themselves and each other.

The item on March 23 was just a discussion and formal proposals will be forthcoming. The Board will meet again on this topic in May, and the Sub-Committee will present a timeline regarding how American Culture and Ethnic Studies will be integrated into course work.