Students Launch Campaign for Ethnic Studies in Providence

YOUNG PEOPLE DECRY LACK OF REPRESENTATION IN DISTRICT CURRICULUM
Providence, RI—Youth and supporters from across the city rallied in front of the Providence
School Department today to call on the district to begin providing ethnic studies courses to
all high school students.
The event served as a kickoff to the Providence Student Union’s new #OurHistoryMatters
campaign, which the youth-led organization is launching to fix what students see as a lack of
representation of the district’s primarily Latino, Black, Southeast Asian, and American Indian
population in the school system’s curricula.
“This is an undeniable problem,” said Afaf Akid, a senior at E-Cubed Academy and a PSU
youth leader. “We did an analysis of the American history textbook we use in Providence,
and our results were shocking. Of our textbook’s 1,192 pages, fewer than 100 pages are
dedicated to people of color. That’s less than 10% of our history curriculum, in a district
where 91% of the students are people of color. That is unacceptable. And, of course, the few
references to people of color are problematic as well, often treating issues like slavery and
colonialism as neutral or even positive developments. We deserve better.”
PSU used the event to highlight a growing body of research showing that culturally relevant
curricula can substantially boost academic achievement across the board, and particularly
for at-risk students. One recent study from Stanford University found that at-risk
ninth-graders who enrolled in ethnic studies classes performed significantly better than their
peers who did not – among the group taking the class, student attendance increased by 21%
and grade-point averages jumped nearly a grade and a half.
Students at the rally also lined up to share why the issue has such personal meaning to
them. “Educators are always asking why students aren’t more engaged,” said PSU leader
Diane Gonzalez, a senior at Central High School.
“One important reason is that a lot of these classes aren’t for us.
It’s hard to find your history course relevant and compelling when you
never see yourself in any of your curriculum, or worse, when everything you’re learning
seems to glorify and excuse past and present oppression against your community. We need
at least one course—one real, full-credit course—where we can look at history from another
angle and learn about where we come from.”
The Providence Student Union was joined by a host of allies and supporters, from
community organizations like Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and Providence
Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), to members of the Providence School Board.
Providence’s Interim Superintendent Chris Maher was even present.
Representatives of PSU were hopeful that the broad show of support spelled well for their
new campaign, but they made clear they were in the fight for the long haul. “We think it
should be pretty self-evident that Providence students need a more culturally relevant
curriculum,” said Justin Hernandez, a junior at Hope High School and a PSU school
delegate. “But if those in charge of our school system need convincing, we are ready. We’re
used to tough fights, from ending the unfair NECAP graduation requirement to expanding
bus passes. And we are excited to do whatever it takes to win ethnic studies courses and
move our schools a little closer towards providing us the education we deserve.”

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