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The Student News Site of Palo Alto High School

The Paly Voice

The Student News Site of Palo Alto High School

The Paly Voice

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Ethnic studies to become graduation requirement

Social studies teacher Daniel Shelton helps a student during World History class. Starting in the 2025-2026 school year, the Palo Alto Unified School District will integrate Ethnic Studies into 9th-grade curriculum. According to Social Studies Instructional Lead Mary Sano, the course helps foster acceptance and inclusion for ninth-graders because of the discussions about identity. “The data shows that if a school offers ethnic studies the first thing for ninth-graders is that they have more belonging as they go through high school,” Sano said. “Because if it’s done in a good way, kids feel more included in the conversation about who we are.” (Photo: Celina Lee)

To allow for adjustment and feedback, the Palo Alto Unified School District is in the process of planning the Ethnic Studies course early for the 2025-2026 school year and set it as a graduation requirement by 2030.

The approval of California Assembly Bill 101 mandated the statewide addition of Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement, which PAUSD plans to incorporate through the replacement of a semester of freshman year world history.

According to PAUSD Board of Education president Jennifer DiBrienza, the course will be integrated earlier than the state-required date in order to have room for adjustments. 

“We want to make sure that a solid curriculum is in place and that the teachers feel ready,” DiBrienza said. “These conversations are hard conversations to have. We figured if the teachers are working on it now [and] we can approve a pilot for next fall, then there’ll be time to work out the kinks and get some training in place.”

In light of the current Israel-Palestine conflict, Dibrienza said the course will not be solely limited to conversation surrounding ethnicity.

“The most contentious part was how to deal with the conflict,” Dibrienza said. “I do think that it’s important to acknowledge that it’s a complex problem not easy to solve. It’s important to find ways to make sure to acknowledge some of the challenges while not ignoring the existence of the problem.”

Dibrienza said that in order for an Ethnic Studies class to be successful, it would need to accurately represent the population it serves. 

“Research shows us that successful Ethnic Studies classes very much reflect the community in which they’re taught,” DiBrienza said. “Given our community, this class should have a significant amount of Asian-American history and make sure that it touches on indigenous Americans, Black Americans, Chicano Americans, as well as Pacific Islander representatives’ perspectives.” 

The course is to be divided into separate units about different aspects of racial identity and background with schools having freedom to adapt the curriculum to fit their communities. The course will also include tasks that Social Studies Instructional Lead Mary Sano said will allow students to explore aspects of their own identities. 

“There’d be a unit just on identity in general, a unit on race and ethnicity and a unit on history,” Sano said. “That kind of approach where we’re looking at themes and leaving a lot of choices is where we hope it will really be great for kids.”

According to Social Justice Pathway senior Betsabe Acosta Ramos, the addition of the Ethnic Studies requirement would prove beneficial for increasing the representation of different groups in the curriculum. 

“Having Ethnic Studies mandated would be really good, especially because in regular history, people have different cultures and people who are not white aren’t necessarily represented as well,” Acosta Ramos said.

DiBrienza said the district plans to expand the current Ethnic Studies class at Paly into a course that is adaptable for the entire school district.

“We already have an Ethnic Studies class here and I think they’re going to use that as a framework which they’re hoping to bring to us in December or January,” DiBrienza said. “There will be a short pilot approval for the fall and [it] will be fully implemented the following year.”

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About the Contributors
Sophia Yang
Sophia Yang, Senior Staff Writer
Sophia Yang (Class of 2024) joined The Voice her sophomore year and enjoys running, hiking, and spending long afternoons reading.
Celina Lee
Celina Lee, Editor-in-Chief

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    Spencer Wu-ChinNov 3, 2023 at 8:36 pm

    Celina Lee and Ms. Sano? This is my kind of story. (Also, very nice work Sophia)