DENVER — Denver Public Schools is set to announce new high school graduation requirements, which is to go into effect this fall. It includes changes to social studies curriculum that will emphasize education of the history of the Holocaust and other genocides.
The district will also add a new personal finance course and a comprehensive health course as part of DPS requirements for students set to graduate in 2027.
"The goal with these graduation requirements is that our students leave us career and college ready and also ready to enter our community as very healthy, highly operating adults," said DPS Executive Director of Career and College Success Samantha Haviland.
The Holocaust and genocide education requirement was put in place by state lawmakers in 2020. The state board of education finalized standards to be implemented by all districts in Colorado in recent months.
"Through learning about genocide and understanding the experiences of the victims I believe that we inoculate ourselves against the possibility of becoming killers ourselves," said the Jewish Community Relations Council's Dan Leshem, who helped write the final state standards.
DPS plans to incorporate the standards into its freshman year social studies curriculum. In lieu of the previous geography or world history courses, students will take Introduction to Ethnic Studies and The History of Power, Conflict and Healing, a school spokesperson said. The new courses will also cover material from world history, but with an emphasis on the history of the Holocaust and other genocides.
"While it’s crucial that we get the details right, I think the most important aspect of passing the standards is the work that’s yet to come," Leshem said.
He said he and others at Jewish Colorado have met with Holocaust educators from across the state to brainstorm how to inform teachers as they begin the new curriculum. "We want to make sure the easiest [educational material] for teachers to get their hands on is the best thing. And that’s a tremendous challenge," he said.
Leshem said that the genocide education isn't just important to ensure future atrocities don't occur, but "it’s really about what kind of humans are we going to be and what kind of people do we want to teach our young people to be."
He believes it is more important to build this education system now more than ever -- especially as cases of antisemitism rise and the number of Holocaust survivors decreases.
"We are now getting to the point in holocaust education where the last survivors are truly disappearing," he said. "That’s going to make the educational challenge that much more difficult."
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