Acalanes offers new ethnic studies class

Class tackles issues outside of what students learn in their other courses

After the well-publicized deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbury, and George Floyd, many experienced an awakening to the social injustices arising from racism and ignorance. 

With this new interest in learning about the experiences of others in mind, Acalanes High School now offers an Ethnic Studies class.

The class aims to tackle issues outside of what students learn in their other courses, such as race, ethnicity, immigration, sexuality, and gender identity.

However, due to recent national events, the class had to stray from the original curriculum to address and cope with current events.

Acknowledging, dialoguing, and reflecting is such an important piece of the class and bringing student voices into the space is vital,” Ethnic Studies teacher Katherine Walton said. “There is a definite balance between getting through the curriculum but also acknowledging the current climate and events.”

The 54 students currently enrolled in Ethnic Studies decided to take this class for a number of different reasons.

“Last year during the open house, I heard about the course. It seemed very interesting so I decided to take it,” sophomore Luca Mathias said. “In most history classes we mostly read ancient texts and sources from white authors. Ethnic studies gave me a chance to see perspectives from multiple cultures and learn about my own history.”

As a result of the recent wave of youth activism within the U.S., some students taking the class hope to learn more about how they can help promote change within society.

“I hope to learn more about this country and where we came from; the stuff that isn’t taught in American history,” sophomore Bennett Dodge said. “I also hope to find out about more ways to effect change in this country, while also expecting and accepting non-closure as race in this country is an ongoing problem and unfortunately won’t change right away.”

Many students currently enrolled in Ethnic Studies hope that the class will one day become a graduation requirement.

“I think this class should be mandatory across the country,” junior Maya Kelly said. “It would help educate a lot of young people, who are the future of this country and the world. With more young people educated in the subject, the less chance there will be for a future that looks like our current state, and hopefully a higher chance for our generation to push for more change.”

However, if Ethnic Studies becomes a graduation requirement, problems may arise over how the class will fit into students’ schedules.

“Having a semester or year-long mandatory class would definitely interrupt my schedule,” sophomore Krishna Ram said. “When I entered high school I set up all the APs I would take in which year, and what classes I would take to fill all the requirements needed to graduate. I would miss out on the opportunity to take a subject that might be my future career path.”

Along with the logistical problems that the district must take into account around student schedules, the district would also be required to train teachers on how to teach this class. In order to diversify its schools’ staff, the district made a push this year to hire more teachers of color.

We hired 30 teachers and 60 percent of them are people of color, so we did a good job this year in our hiring, but I think we have a long way to go before we have teachers of color at every site that are teaching ethnic studies,” Associate Superintendent McNamara said. “Not that it needs to be taught by a teacher of color, but I think you do need a diverse staff to be able to hold those conversations and for kids to really get a rich experience.”

Walton is hopeful that the class will help educate students on the aforementioned subjects in a time where they are extremely relevant.

“I like to think of ethnic studies as an anti-racist class and as a framework that the students can then take into other spaces both at Acalanes but also in the community,” Walton said. “I hope that they use the ethnic studies framework and their voices to challenge the dominant narrative, to challenge oppression, and to challenge themselves.”