New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
▶ School districts must offer Black, Latino studies courses in 2022, and some high schools are ahead of the curve.
By fall 2022, every high school in the state will be required to offer a yearlong elective course focusing on Black and Latino studies, but a few districts are opting in to the firstin-the-nation requirement this fall.
The first semester will focus on African American and Black history, with a focus on the origins and contributions of ancient African empires; slavery; black literacy, organizations and liberation; struggles for equality and equity; and protest, politics and power, according to Peter Yazbak, communications director with the state Department of Education.
The second half of the year will focus on Puerto Rican and Latino history, with an emphasis on the origins of both communities and their contributions to Connecticut.
In an effort to increase the diversity of courses for the state’s high schoolers, Gov. Ned Lamont created the requirement in a 2019 public act, which the state Board of Education passed in December 2020. Connecticut is the first state in the country to make such a ruling to expand the teaching of the historical contributions of diverse groups.
Topics covered in the new Black and Latino studies courses previously were generally embedded — at least partly — in other courses, Yazbak said. For that reason, the state is not able to collect data on exactly how many districts already offer such a course, he said. But the state education department estimates that about 20 schools already offer a
course specifically on
Black and Latino studies.
The Bridgeport Board of Education in 2017 voted to require all students, beginning with the class of 2022, to complete a half-year course in African American Studies, Caribbean/ Latin American Studies or Perspectives on Race in order to graduate.
And in recent years, Stamford Public Schools has offered a course on Black and Latino studies. This year, that course will be rebooted and expanded.
According to Amy Beldotti, the district’s associate superintendent for teaching and learning, the one-semester course will be expanded to a yearlong offering. It will also feature a two-pronged, inquirybased approach to learning, including both content knowledge and student identity development, according to an announcement from the state.
“This is much more robust,” Beldotti said. “Just the fact that it’s a full year versus a semester doubles the amount of content we can offer. So it’s a much deeper study. It’s also very
cutting edge. It’s not just a textbook — it’s video, music and all kinds of multimedia. It’s very much a
21st century kind of course. I think it will be very engaging and relevant to our kids.”
Throughout the first year the course is offered, Beldotti said the district will be collecting feedback and honing materials in anticipation of a larger launch of the course in 2022.
In some parts of the state, the work of implementing the new course remains to be done.
Greenwich, for instance, will not offer the course until fall 2022. But Lucy Arecco, social studies program administrator at Greenwich High School, said the district would bring the course to the Board of Education for approval during in the coming school year. In summer 2022, educators from Greenwich High will participate in state-offered professional development sessions related to the new elective.
In Bridgeport, on the other hand, much of the work had already been done.
Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Michael Testani said the district worked with David Canton, director of the African American Studies Program at the University of Florida, and the Equity Project, a Colorado-based equity, inclusion and diversity consulting firm, to update and expand the curriculum already in place.
“We also took some time to analyze other social studies curricula within the district,” Testani said, “to create a logical flow where concepts such as social justice were presented in a way where students could understand how issues evolve over time and from the different lenses (local, state, national, global) as well as how they operate in political forums, through grassroots efforts and through the media.”
As the course is introduced in the next two years, the state will offer professional development to teachers at no cost and will provide technical assistance to districts as well. The state provides a framework for individual districts and teachers, with some ability to choose specific texts and materials. That choice, Testani said, will hopefully trickle down to students as well.
“The content available is endless, so we sought to provide students with ample opportunities to explore topics that interest them along the themes presented within our curriculum and in alignment with state requirements,” Testani said.