MONTEBELLO — The Montebello Unified School District has become the fourth school district in California to adopt ethnic studies as a high school graduation requirement, a district spokesperson said.
A resolution, adopted by the school board Feb. 19, mandates that the requirement be implemented within two years.
The desire to include an ethnic studies curriculum was sparked by the school board’s goal to encourage students to think critically about language, race, ethnicity and culture to best prepare them to understand and adapt to an increasingly diverse world, the spokesperson said.
District support was received from students past and present, teachers, community members, local college professors, among others, who all voiced enthusiasm to bolster for the new requirement.
Currently, high school courses in Mexican-American Studies, Minority Cultures in America and Multicultural Studies are offered as electives, as is a strong dual language immersion program.
The board resolution, which lays out a plan to provide educational opportunities to all students without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, income, sexual orientation or disability, also requires that ethnic studies courses be created for all elementary and intermediate schools within four years.
“There is substantial research that proves that well-designed and well-taught ethnic studies curricula produces positive academic and social outcomes for students,” Superintendent of Education Susanna Contreras Smith said.
“We are guided by core values of equity, inclusiveness and universally high expectations at Montebello Unified and we are eager to continue to foster strong ties between our students and their families, schools and neighborhoods.”
The district also intends to form an Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee, which will be comprised of 15 people — two high school students, two parents, four certified employees, two classified employees, two administrators, two district office personnel and one professor from an institution of higher education.
The advisory committee will meet and coordinate periodically with the Dual Language Immersion Program Advisory Committee.
In addition, the district will direct the superintendent to appoint an ethnic studies facilitator devoted entirely to overseeing the expansion of the existing ethnic studies courses to all high schools, develop new ethnic studies course offerings, and prepare a budget to align ethnic studies with the Common Core State Standards, the spokesperson said.
“We will develop curriculum, professional development, and other support systems to ensure that quality courses offered by passionate and qualified teachers fulfill our rigorous academic standards and all graduation requirements,” Superintendent of Schools Cleve Pell said.
“Through existing partnerships and the forging of new ventures with institutions of higher education and thriving ethnic studies programs, we will continue to enrich the lives of our students in a collaborative and meaningful way.”
At present, 32 languages other than English are spoken in district schools, with the primary languages being Spanish, Cantonese and Armenian, the spokesperson said.