Denver Public Schools to revamp classes with more Black, Indigenous and Latino history

Colorado’s largest school district is planning to revamp what it teaches to be more inclusive, equitable and culturally relevant to students of color.

On Friday, Denver Public Schools announced the Know Justice, Know Peace Resolution, which seeks to “add more comprehensive historical and contemporary contributions of Black, Indigenous and Latino communities to K-12 curriculum” districtwide. It’s named for a new podcast produced by students from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College that offers a youth perspective on racial justice.

According to DPS Board Member Tay Anderson, those same students are spearheading the resolution, which will be presented to the Board of Education on Sept. 24 and voted upon in October. Anderson expects it to pass.

A school trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., last year inspired several DMLK high schoolers to form the Black Student Alliance. The group’s primary goal is advocating for more Black history to be included in DPS classes, and “trying to educate other African American students, really all students, about Black history,” co-founder Dahni Austin, 15, told The Denver Post in July.

“As an African American school board member being in the Denver Public Schools, I didn’t really even learn about my history as a Black person until my junior year of high school,” Anderson said. “We have to be able to teach that our African American, Indigenous, Latinx folks were more than just minorities or more than just losing battles at times in history.”

Starting this semester, the district’s newly formed Culturally Sustaining Curriculum and Instruction Department will begin to re-evaluate courses and cull class resource materials that offer a more diverse array of cultural perspectives. Specifically, the resolution calls for “transformational, humanizing, antiracist, and asset-based texts and resources.”

The district will also provide support and training to teachers to help them present new curriculums through a culturally responsive lens, said Tamara Acevedo, deputy superintendent of academics.

Some of the commitments have already begun to take shape, Acevedo said. For example, DPS has already sought external review of its eighth-grade U.S. history curriculum and is beginning the process of selecting socially responsive social studies curriculums for kindergarten through fifth grade. DPS’ 11th-grade civics courses will also undergo review soon, she said.

Anderson sees this effort as just the start of a long-term commitment to helping students of color learn more about their own history — not just the stories that have traditionally been told in history books.

“There’s no better time to introduce this to our community to let them know we’re going to do more than post slogans on Facebook and hashtags that say ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Anderson said. “We’re actually going to lead and do that with our actions, too, and show that our students of color that make up over 70% of our district that they do matter and we do see them.”

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