Education

There is a national push for Latino studies. Fort Worth schools are leading the way

Fort Worth delegation advocates for Mexican-American and ethnic studies

Fort Worth high school student went to Austin to tell the State Board of Education they want more African-American and Hispanic representation in Texas social studies curriculum.
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Fort Worth high school student went to Austin to tell the State Board of Education they want more African-American and Hispanic representation in Texas social studies curriculum.

As social studies education took center stage in Texas with talk of heroism during the Alamo and whether Hillary Clinton should be included in social studies, Fort Worth school leaders moved to include more Latino history lessons — a nod to the district’s largest student demographic.

The Fort Worth school district is a majority Hispanic district. Last year, 62.5 percent of the district’s 86,869 students were Hispanic. The second largest demographic was African American students at 22.9 percent. White students made up 11.2 percent of students.

But Hispanic students say their history and culture are missing from school lessons.

Miguel Argumedo, 17, a senior at Paschal High School told the Star-Telegram he wants to know more about the Latinos and Latinas who shaped this country. He said he wants to see his heritage reflected in learning.

“We are taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America, but see you can’t discover a place that already has people in it — to this day we are taught this,” Argumedo said. “It feels good going to school to hear and learn something good about you.”

Fort Worth school leaders are taking Argumedos’ points seriously. The district has been addressing racial inequities on several fronts, including curriculum and school culture. Last year, the district established a Cesar Chavez holiday for students. That effort came months after the district established a racial equity committee and policy to target institutional racism. It also reminded immigrant students that all learners are welcome in Fort Worth schools through a resolution.

The district’s latest move adds more Latino and Latina history to lessons.

“Giving ALL students access to the stories of LatinX leaders is beneficial to every student,” said Jacinto “Cinto” Ramos Jr., in a statement that uses a gender neutral term for Latin American culture.

“Their struggles and achievements add to the narrative of our country that has been long overlooked,” added Ramos, who is a trustee on the Fort Worth school board.

‘Latinos don’t exist for one month a year’

As Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations neared, the Fort Worth school district hired a team from Texas Christian University’s newly established Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies Department, or CRES, to develop kindergarten through grade 12 overlay lessons that will add Latino/Latina history and culture into the core curriculum.

The program is expected to be implemented next school year.

The estimated $86,000 contract for consultant services was approved by the school board with a 6-0 vote. Trustees Judy Needham and Ann Sutherland were not present for the vote.

Ramos, who is an adjunct professor at TCU, abstained from the vote.

“Although I was advised I didn’t have to abstain, I asked that the agenda item be placed on as an action item for a separate vote to ensure there was no perception of a conflict,” Ramos said. “I am not part of the interdepartmental TCU team that is being contracted to write and implement the curriculum.”

Ramos said TCU professors were selected through a committee and he was not on the committee.

The CRES team was one of two bids reviewed by the school district. Quality Teaching for English Learners at WestEd of California submitted a bid at $153,000.

David A. Colón, the lead author in the project and a professor in the TCU Department of English, said the overlay curriculum supplements Texas’ standards and requirements for education.

“We are not adding requirements,” he said, stressing they are “infusing” lessons with materials that help teachers expose Latino culture and history in schooling.

Colón said they can recommend picture books or stories for elementary learning while pointing teachers to resources about Texas’ history under Mexico, Spain and pre-Columbian times.

“Our goal is to integrate these things,’ Colón said. “Latinos don’t exist for one month a year.”

As Latinos’ roles, biographies and stories enter discussions some material can challenge European-centric history, but teachers, students and communities shouldn’t shy away from difficult topics,” Colón said.

“We do want to ask certain questions that are complex questions,” he said.

‘A sea change happening in Fort Worth’

The school board’s vote also came as Texas made headlines across the nation for social studies learning. Amid the news, the State Board of Education gave final approval to a new course called Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies. It is described as the first ethnic studies course approved by the Texas board.

The one-credit elective course will be available in Texas public schools next school year.

But local Mexican American history experts and advocates said Fort Worth schools are already leading the way in this area.

For example, Argumedo was among Fort Worth students who traveled to Austin to testify about the inclusion of Latinos and African Americans in history and social studies. They also weighed in on the new ethnic studies course.

If Fort Worth voices seem to appear often in the state push, it is not a surprise to Orlando Lara, another member of the curriculum overlay team and associate director of CRES.

“I think there is a sea change happening in Fort Worth,” Lara said, explaining that the voices of people of color are on the move at TCU, where the CRES department was formed and in the city which formed a racial and culture task force.

Lara said some of the push in Texas and Fort Worth evolved from national efforts to fight back against Arizona’s move to eliminate Mexican American studies in Tuscon. That event stressed to Mexican American studies advocates that it is important to fight for inclusion, he said.

Lara said Hispanic students in Fort Worth schools deserve to learn about Latinos who are not “villains of history.” They come from families that are just as invested in schools and community as other demographic groups, he said.

“When they go to school, they deserve to have an equal opportunity to succeed,” Lara said.

The TCU team that will be working on the overlay curriculum includes:

Max Krochmal, History, project coordinator

David Colón, English, lead author

Emily Farris, Political Science, social science lead

Gabriel Huddleston, Curriculum Studies, curriculum lead

Michelle Bauml, Education, primary grades expert

Santiago Piñón, Religion, colonial and religious studies expert

Sylvia Mendoza, CRES, critical education and youth studies

Orlando Lara, CRES, Mexican American Studies expert

Cecilia Sanchez Hill, History Ph.D. student, former FWISD teacher of the year and curriculum dept

As part of a social studies assignment, fourth graders at Lone Star Elementary School reflect on the history of Texas through a debate on annexation.

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