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BOULDER - Brenda Ortiz Torres knows what it’s like to feel excluded in school.

“I’m Mexican. And in elementary school, I didn’t feel like I belonged,” she said. “I was too different and I didn’t want to be me.”

She doesn’t want other students to feel that way. That’s why, as she works on getting her teaching certificate and finishing her psychology degree, she’s already developed a plan for her students. Part of that plan involves a four-day workshop that Torres took this summer alongside other teachers from Boulder Valley and beyond.

“What I want to take away from this workshop is how to empower my students and how to make them feel included and wanted,” she said.

The workshop is part of the Boulder County Latino History project. It focuses on more than a century of history from Latinos who lived in Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont. The lessons are not meant to take the place of other school curriculum, but rather to be incorporated into any lesson, so that all students have a chance of seeing themselves reflected in a lesson.

“I think we hear, traditionally, about the dominant culture in schools. And, of course, I include that (in lessons) as well. But it’s nice to have these tie-ins from local history…It brings everybody together I think, which is awesome,” said Cara Luchies, a teacher at Trail Ridge Middle School in Longmont.

The curriculum features oral history interviews from as far back as 1900. St. Vrain and Boulder Valley teachers also collaborated to create a database of lessons that can be incorporated into any subject.

Funding for the four-day teacher workshop is provided by the two school districts as well as the University of Colorado. Teachers who have incorporated the lessons see the difference it can make not only in kids’ knowledge, but in their confidence.

“I think it empowers the kids,” Luchies said. “And they deserve to have a diverse curriculum that makes them feel more engaged in learning. So they can not only be better learners, but also increase their academic achievement.”

“We realized the very first day (of school) that this was probably the best decision we could have made,” said Evelyn Firman who co-teaches a class at Peak to Peak Charter School with another teacher, Betsy Leach.

Leach views the information as not just a history lesson.

“[We want to] give them a history to understand that it’s not just personal, this is a historical legacy and a lot of tools for activism and using your voice,” Leach said.

To learn more about the Boulder County Latino History Project, click here