Teachers, students and community members used signs like this one to try and rally up support for high school ethnic studies courses. (Rigoberto Hernandez)

Teachers, students and members of the community rallied in front of the San Francisco Board of Education office to propose the inclusion of ethnic studies courses in city high schools.

Donning red to show unity and carrying signs and banners, supporters asked the city for $300,000 Tuesday to fund an ethnic studies pilot program for ninth grade students for the 2010-11 school year.

“We want these classes to be seen through the humanities lens,” said Kyle Beckham, a representative for the Campaign for Ethnic Studies. “It’s not just social sciences. It’s also languages, reading and writing development and activism.”

Board commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer said she is “110 percent in support of ethnic studies.”

“It is a rich history that will be seen, not through Western eyes, but will be told through the voices of people in San Francisco,” said Fewer, a fourth-generation San Franciscan. “Where else will [ninth graders] get this history?

She added that she and School Board Vice President Jane Kim will likely draft a resolution to help the proposal go forward. Such a resolution would encourage further collaboration with San Francisco State University, which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the creation of its own College of Ethnic Studies, to possibly enable these students to receive college credit for the courses.

Supervisor Eric Mar, the former president of the Board of Education and a 17-year professor of ethnic studies, explained that funds would be allocated under Prop H, which passed in 2004, and that “the school district will have to be creative with funding.”

“My hope is that they can piece it together with existing curriculum,” Mar said about developing an extensive program that incorporates arts and literature. “The school board needs to bite the bullet and make it a priority.”

Supporters take their cause into the Board of Education meeting. (Rigoberto Hernandez)
Supporters take their cause into the Board of Education meeting. (Rigoberto Hernandez)

Although much is still in the planning stages, funding would potentially create 10 sections at five schools, according to Beckham. The program would be tested at Mission, Balboa, Thurgood Marshall, Lincoln and Washington High Schools.

“We would target these schools largely because there are already teachers in place who are adept at teaching these courses,” said Beckham, who also teaches at Downtown High School. “We really want to develop a cadre of teachers who will be devoted to the curriculum.”

Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, who has been involved with previous ethnic studies pilot programs at the K-12 level through Pin@y Educational Partnerships, agrees that this is a key to the success of future programs.

“We need more professional development for teachers,” said Tintiangco-Cubales, who is also an associate professor of Asian American Studies at SF State. “The curriculum is great, but if teachers aren’t trained, it’s hard.”

Courses would first help students understand identity, stereotypes and racism and their families and community. The second semester would focus on the history and social movements of various ethnic groups.

“It’s challenging at the beginning because students are so used to a certain way of learning,” Tintiangco-Cubales said. “These classes go from ‘personal’ to ‘local’ to ‘global.’”

David Ko, another teacher who has been involved with a prior ethnic studies pilot program, emphasized that ninth grade is good time to take such courses because it sets a good foundation for other social sciences courses.

“The more students with access, the better,” said Ko, who teaches social studies at Washington High School. “One of the goals is to create a better understanding of schoolmates — not friends, because I’ve noticed most students tend to hang out with people of the same ethnic groups. This understanding could prevent conflicts down the road.”

While teachers are very excited about seeing ethnic studies programs in high schools, ultimately, it is students who will be most affected.

“Usually classes are very Eurocentric,” said Harriet Hu, a senior at Washington High School. “Students need to learn [about ethnic studies] at a young age. It’s good to study it in ninth grade because the better it is to soak it up in the 11th, 12th grades. Then we can apply it in our own lives.”

Correction: The previous version of this story had quoted Harriet Hu as saying “Usually classes are very ethnocentric.” Hu had actually said, “Usually classes are very Eurocentric.”

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Kimberly is currently a journalism major and business minor at San Francisco State University. Come May 2010, she will be moving on to bigger and better things, i.e. living and breathing journalism, not just studying it. But for now you can usually find her at City Hall every Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meetings. Having lived her entire life in San Francisco, she itches to travel far and wide, most likely to be convinced that every other city and town pales in comparison.

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