West Hartford schools to pilot Black, Latino studies class next academic year

A school bus in Connecticut on Sept. 23, 2020.

WEST HARTFORD — The school district is expected to pilot a new class on African American, Black, Puerto Rican and Latino studies next academic year, a year before every Connecticut high school must usher it in.

In December, the state announced that each high school in Connecticut would need to have the course come the 2022-23 academic year, becoming the country’s first state to have such a requirement. That month, Superintendent Tom Moore said West Hartford Public Schools would be implementing it a year sooner as part of a pilot.

“It’s very important, it’s part of the essential nature of being an American, both now and in the future, in understanding our place in the world and our legacy and really what has happened to bring us where we are,” said Moore, a former history teacher, in December about the importance of implementing the course.

The school system has offered classes called “United States History & the African American Experience” and “Latin American Studies” before, according to online course selections.

Jessica Blitzer, the district’s secondary supervisor for social studies, said the first class has been available for about 13 years and is a “popular course” for students. The latter was first implemented longer ago than that, she said, and has been available to take through the Early College Experience program in recent years.

Mimi Gonzalez, a 25-year-old Farmington resident who previously attended Hall High School and a local magnet school, said she’s “really excited” about the new course.

“I do feel like our education system for generations is absolutely whitewashed and ... it’s not a true representation at all of history,” Gonzalez said.

When it comes to the new course, she thinks it “will be great,” and that the schools should be “very intentional with who is teaching these classes.”

Offering the new course — which students can opt to take, but isn’t mandatory — gained Gov. Ned Lamont’s approval in 2019. It’s aimed to be “an opportunity for students to explore accomplishments, struggles, intersections, perspectives, and collaborations of African American, Black, Latino, and Puerto Rican people in the U.S.,” as described in a 65-page document with draft course information.

Per the document, the class would have students learn about topics such as “the construct of race and why and how it was developed” and “how race, power, and privilege influence group access to citizenship, civil rights, and economic power.”

The district is working to figure out which instructors will teach the course, Blitzer said. Teachers will be informing students about it as an option as they choose their classes for next year, she added.

The State Education Resource Center worked with the state Department of Education on the initiative, with help from an “Expert Review Panel” and an advisory group made up of 150 people, according to the document.

Blitzer, also a member of the advisory group that assisted with the course’s development, said one of the reasons she loves working within social studies is for its potential “to connect to every student and every learner.”

But that aim isn’t always met, she said, leaving “missed opportunities to make learning relevant and to have all students see themselves in the curriculum that they’re studying.” She said she was “very lucky” that people had identified the necessity of having classes such as “United States History & the African American Experience” before she got to West Hartford Public Schools.

“The idea of a state legislature and a state board of ed recognizing that we can do more to reflect our population and provide opportunities for all students to see themselves reflected positively and appropriately in their school studies is so important,” Blitzer said.

Connecticut Media Group