Pomona high school teachers praise ethnic studies dual enrollment pilot

By Yetnaleci Maya, May 3, 2022

On April 26, five Pomona Unified School District teachers gathered to share their experiences teaching ethnic studies as a part of a dual enrollment pilot program launched through a partnership between Cal Poly Pomona’s Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department and the school district last fall.

Jose Aguilar-Hernandez, an associate professor in the Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department, was invited to coordinate the program by Associate Provost, S. Terri Gómez, after they received the college teacher’s grant and wanted to launch a pilot program in conjunction with the EWS Department. Aguilar-Hernandez then selected five high school teachers who taught English and social studies classes to launch the pilot program at their schools for the fall 2021 semester.

Aguilar-Hernandez expressed how this program had been a goal of his since arriving at Cal Poly Pomona. His hope for the future of the program is to continue to incorporate multiple ethnic studies courses within the high school social studies curriculum.

“Our dream is that PUSD students don’t only take one ethnic studies course but that by the time they graduate, they take the high school requirement, and they take the dual enrollment course,” said Aguilar-Hernandez.

The participating teachers received course curricula over the summer. Although they were assigned the texts and provided a set of goals for the course, they had to come up with projects that would demonstrate their students’ understanding of the material.

Mike Aceves, an English teacher at Ganesha High School, presented some of his class’ projects. He required his students to make a social movement podcast that related to the material they were learning at the time, which entailed the East Los Angeles Walkouts of the 1960s. He expressed that this project allowed them to connect with what they were learning and gave them both a voice and a place to deliver their message.

“I learned that I need to be more of a facilitator to allow the students to move the class with their thoughts, their ideas and what they want to learn, because if you allow them that room, they are going to be more invested and want to be more engaged in the conversations,” said Aceves.

For the courses to fulfill the dual enrollment requirement, students had to be presented with college-level readings. To prepare them for the heavy texts, teachers would deliver lectures on the material prior to assigning the readings.

The teachers got creative with their lectures and opted for innovative ways of having students showcase their understanding.

Cristina Johnson-Williams, a social studies teacher, hosted a speed dating exercise where students would discuss excerpts and dissect the texts with different partners.

English teacher Alicia Dueñas got her class to create a graffiti-inspired poster. Each row of students would have their own section of an article and each student would write a question or summarize how they interpreted the text.

“It looked really cool because you would have all this different writing and all these different colors, and of course the students got all snazzy and stuff and, boy, did they remember that, because they were interacting with different parts of the text over and over again with a different point of view,” said Dueñas.

Dueñas also acknowledged that throughout the course, she learned as much from her students as they did from her.

“When I read it with my students, I learned that there’s so much work to do and it is just as easy as sharing the knowledge, so, for me I also learned how much I don’t know,” Dueñas said.

Students in social studies teacher, Rita Torres’s classroom, took a page from what they were learning and began to question the conditions within their own schools. Torres explained there were issues with the bathrooms being locked on campus and her students started to question why.

Following the examples of the activism they were reading about, students began researching laws on school restrooms and eventually started a petition to unlock all the campus restrooms and successfully persuaded their school to keep restrooms open throughout the day.

Josue Garcia, a gender, ethnic and multicultural studies student, expressed that he was grateful the program was being implemented in the school district he was a product of. As Garcia was also involved in the process of petitioning for ethnic studies to become a high school graduation requirement, he said there was still work that needed to be done.

The teachers collectively agreed that they learned a lot from launching the ethnic studies pilot program and hoped they would be able to expand it. Because a grant supported the program for the first year, the hope is that they can push for future funding from the district.

“I learned how to adjust my other classes to kind of mirror what we were doing in ethnic studies because I’m not saying that the K-12 system is all wrong, because I don’t want to say that; that’s obviously what we do, but it can be improved,” said Johnson-Williams.

Featured image by Yetnaleci Maya

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