The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Schools find success with Black, Latino course

But lack of enrollment prevents some Connecticu­t districts from holding classes

- By Sandra Diamond Fox Mollie Hersh, Kayla Mutchler, Eddy Martinez and Faith Marnecheck contribute­d to this story.

STAMFORD — Stamford High School senior Deanna King said she can “truly relate” to the history of her heritage in a class she’s taking on Black and Latino studies.

“It teaches me about my history — Black history,” King said. “This class is different than any other class because I learn things about Black and Latino people that I wouldn’t learn in other classes. It’s a class I can truly relate to and feel like I am being seen, and so is Black history.”

In the new, state required high school class, students get the chance to study African American/Black and Puerto Rican/Latino people much more closely than they would in a typical history classes.

However, some suburban school districts, including Darien, Ridgefield and Weston, have been unable to run the course because few students signed up. In an effort to increase interest, some districts plan to offer the course in two parts as opposed to one, year-round course.

“We did not run the course because we did not have the enrollment for it,” said Annie Tucci, Ridgefield Public Schools’ 612 humanities curriculum supervisor. “Our high school functions where students enroll and elect to take the courses that they want and we build the schedule around student interest and need.”

In December 2020, Connecticu­t became the first state in the nation to require high school courses on the contributi­ons of Black and Latino communitie­s to United States history, society, economy and culture. Districts were required to begin offering the class in fall 2022.

The state Department of Education will send a survey to all superinten­dents soon asking them if their district is running the course or not, said Stephen Armstrong, social studies consultant at the department.

“Once we get the results of the survey, we will determine (the) next course of action,” he said, adding the state will provide districts with strategies for increasing enrollment in the course.

Meanwhile, in Stamford, the program has been successful, said Elaina Rampolla, who is teaching Stamford High School’s African American/ Black and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies course for the second year.

“We have the opportunit­y to allow students to go a little deeper so we can look at complexiti­es. We can look at conditions in housing and neighborho­ods. It kind of gives us more time to cover the topics that we want to,” she said.

She said the course is close to full capacity at about 30 students in each of the two classes she teaches. Stamford High School has about 110 students enrolled in the course, over four sections.


The course has been running at Stamford High School for two years, and has also run in other schools districts across the state including New Milford, Danbury, New Fairfield, and Newtown. It’s also running at Greenwich High School, Trumbull High School, Westhill High School in Stamford and the Academy of Informatio­n Technology & Engineerin­g in Stamford.

Westhill High School and AITE both have over 50 students enrolled over two sections of the course. Greenwich High School runs one course with 15 students.

In Trumbull, more students this year are taking the elective course compared to last year, according to Susan Iwanicki, the district’s assistant superinten­dent of curriculum, instructio­n and assessment. “We have two sections that ran last year and we have two sections that ran this year,” she said, noting that they had around 44 students last year and a slightly higher number this year.

But high schools in several suburban communitie­s are not running the course due to low enrollment in the class.

Weston Superinten­dent Lisa Barbiero said six students signed up for the course this year, and Board of Education guidelines say the class needs a minimum of 15 students to run.

She added course selection has just begun for the fall so she’s still unsure if the course will get to run.

“Our social studies teachers speak to students about their program of studies in this department,” Barbiero said. “We will have to see the enrollment this spring.”

Ridgefield High School typically needs about 12 students to run a class, Tucci said, adding that number is an estimate.

“There is no hard rule for how many students are needed for a course, as building the schedule ... is based on a number of factors, including student course selection, staffing, graduation requiremen­ts, and other needs,” she said.

In an effort to increase interest in the class, Ridgefield and Darien High Schools are offering the course as a semester class in addition to a year-long course.

Darien Superinten­dent Alan Addley said the intention is to offer a more flexible option for students who may not have room in their schedules for the full year commitment. “It creates a little bit more flexibilit­y for better participat­ion, for students who really want to take the course,” he said. “It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen, but it seems a bit early not to offer some options for students.”

Ridgefield High School will know by the spring if the course will run. If so, Tucci said she doesn’t anticipate needing additional staff to teach it.

The high school also incorporat­es topics related to the Black and Latino communitie­s into other courses, such as history.

“We do embed Black and Latino experience­s throughout the whole year though because it’s not a singular experience. For example, when students are studying eras related to a war, like the Vietnam era or World War II, they would be studying the experience­s of multiple perspectiv­es,” Tucci said. “It wouldn’t be an isolated particular unit per se because Black and Latino American history is American history, just like it is for everybody else.”

Additional­ly, the school offers a new Race, Gender, and Inequality elective class.

Learning ‘about my own history’

According to the course overview, in the one credit, year-long elective, students will “consider the scope of African American/ Black and Puerto Rican/Latino contributi­ons to U.S. history, society, economy, and culture . ... The course is an opportunit­y for students to explore accomplish­ments, struggles, intersecti­ons, perspectiv­es, and collaborat­ions of African American/Black and Puerto Rican/Latino people in the U.S.”

Some school districts, such as Bridgeport and Norwalk, require the course. Norwalk piloted its course last academic year through its P-TECH program, and the class was added in all high schools this school year as a graduation requiremen­t, according to the district’s media specialist.

Rampolla said she has really enjoyed teaching the course, which is open mainly to upperclass­men. She said the course covers many more topics related to Black and Latino studies than a traditiona­l U.S. history class.

“Obviously, (in a general history class), there is curriculum about Black history. However, what I’ve noticed is a lot of it is about Black trauma — so enslavemen­t, reconstruc­tion, injuries during the Civil Rights movement,” she said.

This course looks at the achievemen­ts of ancient civilizati­ons and revolution­s during the early 1700s and 1800s, she said.

“When I did my teacher education, the whole push was making sure that we diversify history, that we are making sure students feel represente­d in the content that we teach. That can be difficult, especially when you’re teaching a course that has so many things to talk about and teach,” Rampolla said. “I really enjoy this course because I feel like my students feel represente­d in the history that we’re studying. And there’s a really big power in that.”

Gabriella Roden, an eleventh grader in the class, said it’s “refreshing to be able to learn solely about POC (people of color) history.”

“Instead of having to learn about months worth of white history and maybe getting to the Civil Rights movement for a week, I have time to actually learn a deeper understand­ing about my own history,” Roden said.

Marcus Joseph, who is a senior, said the class “forces us to think about the racial tensions of this country in the past and how it shapes our present and future.”

 ?? Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Elaina Rampolla teaches the state-mandated Black and Latino Studies class at Stamford High School last week. Stamford High is teaching a state-required class on Black and Latino studies, but not all districts in the state can due to low enrollment.
Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticu­t Media Elaina Rampolla teaches the state-mandated Black and Latino Studies class at Stamford High School last week. Stamford High is teaching a state-required class on Black and Latino studies, but not all districts in the state can due to low enrollment.

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