Students praise VUSD’s Ethnic Studies programs

Photo by Rigo Moran

Local college students give a show of gratitude at Visalia Unified School District’s Board of Education meeting for their early integration of an ethnic studies curriculum at VUSD schools

VISALIA – In a recent Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) meeting, two prior VUSD students, and one Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD) Alumni, made use of the public comment forum to thank the board for their implementation of the ethnic studies curriculum, which not only helped them connect with their culture, but also set them on a path to pursue further studies of the topic.

On Oct. 17, VUSD met for their regular monthly meeting to discuss their monthly highlights and budget reports. Towards the end of the meeting, they opened up the floor to the public and invited Jacqueline Huerta, a student from the College of the Sequoias (COS), to share a message on behalf of the students in the school’s ethnic studies program.

“(This course) brings the voices and experiences of these cultural groups to the center of attention to better understand and appreciate triumphs and resiliency over adversity from the ethnic perspective,” she said. “As a student enrolled in this class…  I have learned to understand and appreciate the history of my culture and its related issues (and) I hope that future generations… can have the exposure to ethnic studies at an early age rather than later in their life.”

Two other students came forward to share their own gratitude. Roberto Reyes, the LUSD Alumni, thanked the members of the board for their adoption of the program, as well as spoke about his experience with the COS equivalent course.

“(The) course exposed me to the hard work and challenges of Mexican Americans (and) it showed me the sacrifices that came with my education, and the people who are behind it,” he said. “With the implementation of Ethnic Studies requirements at (VUSD) starting in 2003, I am grateful to the board for their hard work and commitment.”

The last student to speak, Luis Ortega, not only shared his gratitude, but also his plans for the future, which was inspired by what they learned during his time at VUSD.

“As someone who aspires to be a future educator for VUSD, as well as an ethnic studies major, I want to make sure all students have access to these classes to help them find their calling, and help them on with their educational journey,” he said. “Your work to help the students grow and develop has made an impact (on) every student who has had the opportunity to take the ethnic studies courses.”

As reported by The Sun-Gazette (SG) in a past article, this program initially received a mixed response from the community; some members felt that the program needed to be extended to other schools, and others — such as Jerrold Jensen — felt that the textbook used in the program “offers a biased view of history and essentially declares all citizens of color are victims of oppression and exploitation by the descendants of White Europeans.” 

Regardless of backlash, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s AB 101 bill, which was signed into law in October 2021, will require all California high school students to take at least one ethnic studies course in order to graduate, starting with the class of 2030.

VUSD pioneered this program by piloting it at Redwood High School after being approved during a July 2020 board meeting.

“Redwood High School helped to develop the course and the high school had an experienced teacher in the field,” said Cristina Gutierez in a statement to the Sun-Gazette. “By piloting at Redwood, VUSD would have a foundation from which to offer the course at other schools in the 2021-2022 school year.”

During its inception, they offered two classes on the topic, which had a combined enrollment of 65 students. The district now offers the course at each of VUSD’s four high schools, which is something parents and students have greatly appreciated.

“There is so much more to our history than the edited versions of the text of our history,” said Fallon Feliz in the previous SG article. “My son deserves the facts of our history and not a fabricated truth based on white privilege.”

According to Gutierez, “the course was developed using previously approved College Board A-G courses for ethnic studies.” More information about the Govenor’s bill and the program itself can be found by visiting https://calmatters.org/education/k-12-education/2021/10/ethnic-studies-requirement/.

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