LAFAYETTE, Colo. — A group of Centaurus High School juniors has been helping to create an Ethnic Studies course to help Black, Indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC, feel represented in the classroom.
The students started working on the project when they were in seventh grade, and now their idea is gaining support from the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD).
“These kids have been meeting for years,” said Lynn Gershman, Director of Academic Services for BVSD. “We always want kids to be involved, and we always want them to be at the forefront, but that doesn’t always happen and here, it’s just happening naturally.”
Gershman said the students came together with their idea while working with the University of Colorado School of Education’s branch of Public Achievement, a group that encourages youth-led, civic engagement.
“Our equity council asked me to meet with the kids to talk to them about the process of getting an Ethnic Studies course,” Gershman said. “My goal is that they take the course that they’ve been thinking about for so long, so our goal is to have it ready to go for the spring semester of their senior year, so about a year from now.”
“People saying 'no' motivated us to keep going,” said junior Isaiah Williams. “It’s important for BIPOC students to have a voice and feel represented and comfortable in their own schools.”
Williams is one of five students who recently spoke about their idea for the course at a panel discussion.
They said they want the class to represent them and their cultures and to give all students a better understanding about the role of BIPOC in society and history.
They said that right now, they don't feel represented in their classrooms.
“Going throughout the school system, especially as a person of color, you don’t feel as valued learning about things that don’t relate to you or don’t really represent you in the right way,” Williams said.
“You really tend to feel left out and not like everybody else,” said junior Elycia Riso. “We didn’t really feel like we were learning about our own cultures and histories, which is not really the best feeling.”
Gershman, who was an American Studies major at CU before the department evolved into Ethnic Studies, said she will help guide the students through course development and the approval process.
“We’ll start with the Colorado state standards,” Gershman said. “We’ll take a look at what standards we want to make sure that this course covers, and then we’ll start talking about the final product: What does that look like at the end of the course, what we want to show what we’ve learned.”
The students hope the course will be offered at their high school and throughout the district for years to come so that other students behind them feel represented regardless of their race or culture.
“We worked so hard towards it and put so much into it,” Riso said. “To finally learn about the histories in school and to see how it would play out is exciting.”
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