BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Kern High School District will be implementing an Ethnic Studies course during the 2022-2023 school year.
According to the presentation presented to the KHSD Board of Trustees, the course will build critical thinking skills and increase cultural and self-awareness. It will primarily focus on Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Asian American, and Pacific Islanders.
Bringing an Ethnic Studies Course to KHSD has been a controversial topic amongst the community. One concern is that freshmen may be too young for some of the topics discussed.
“I agree with that. Again, I feel that the depth of this conversation it is too much for individuals at that age. I do think some individuals will understand and their minds are ready for that information,” said Taira King.
King is the owner of Retrain the Night and a mentor with ShePower. She felt this class will go over the heads of freshmen because their brain is still developing, and they don't need the added pressure. She said classes should be geared more for college.
“I mean we already know in Psychology that the frontal lobe is not formed completely until they are in their 20’s. So, why would we put this pressure on them with all that it comes with and all that it’s packaged in,” said King.
While others feel that, due to their surroundings, freshmen should be in a class setting like this.
“No, I don’t think so. If they live in this society they’re dealing with the issues of race and culture and all those things everyday of their lives. They’re dealing with it already,” said Dr. Vincent Jones, Pastor of The People’s Missionary Baptist Church.
Jones believes that it is insulting to assume the students would be too immature or not be able to handle a course.
Rebecca Castro used to tutor for KHSD and now substitute teaches for Panama Buena Vista Union School District (PBVUSD).
“I think it definitely will not go over their heads. Right now, I’m working with middle school student 7th and 8th graders,” said Castro “Every day I get a question where they’re asking me something related to race and ethnicity so I don’t think it will go over their heads.”
Castro said that while her students have an interest in the topic, they are struggling to find the language for the discussions and this type of course will help.
“They’re already interested in that. They’re trying to find the language to talk about these things, but they don’t really know how,” said Castro. “And that’s kind of how I felt as a student here in Bakersfield when I was in middle school and in high school. I always noticed these things happening, but I never had the language to talk about it, but I always knew something was wrong.”
A similar ethnic course is currently being taught at Foothill High School. Anthony Fuentes originally taught a course called multicultural studies where he pulled the curriculum from Shafter High School and adapted it for his class. That course has now been renamed Chicano Studies.
“I didn’t really learn about my people when I was at Stockdale,” said Anthony Fuentes.
Fuentes is a teacher and is also a part of the grassroots coalition that fought to get this class implemented, Kern Educators for Kern. The coalition was created by local teachers specifically to push for Ethnic Studies. They brought attention to the KHSD board and held meetings to discuss the course.
“I believe that in a student’s education it’s really important that the curriculum be relevant to that student, and I believe that all students in the Kern High School District and all over this country and everywhere should have an opportunity to have an education that is relevant to them,” said Fuentes.
Fuentes found that the students in his class are excited to learn about subjects they didn’t expect to learn in school and that related to their family history. Fuentes also noticed his students becoming more critical thinkers within his class and about the topics from their other courses.
Ashley De La Rosa, the Education Policy Director for the Dolores Huerta Foundation, said the course will help get students more interested in school, and help with the school to prison pipeline.
“Ethnic studies really allows students to engage and want to participate. I feel that you can’t have a holistic positive climate in the school district without addressing all the factors that come into play, which is curriculum, the mental health services, having the counselors, police free schools,” said De La Rosa.
Both De La Rosa and Castro agree that students are racialized at an early age, they feel this course will help build a safe space for students to feel good and be open about themselves.
“It all comes back to having a positive climate where students feel included, where they feel comfortable to be themselves, where they’re able to express themselves, be unapologetic for their skin color, or for their culture or whatever it may be,” said De La Rosa.