First Class: Connecticut on path to become first state to require Black & Latino studies in high schools

Black History Month

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Connecticut does pretty well when it comes to preparing young people for the challenges of adult life. A recent Wallet Hub survey even ranked the state third in the nation in education. Now, we’re on the cutting edge with a first-in-the-nation initiative that will change the way history is taught in all Connecticut high schools.

It was a policy change pushed hard by Connecticut kids, who say it’s time their history be told.

“Being both Black and Puerto Rican, I know very little about my histories other than the fact that slaves and genocide were involved in both,” one teen said during a 2019 Education Committee Public Hearing.

And, those young voices made a difference.

In the fall of 2022, Connecticut will become the first state in the nation to require all of its high schools to offer courses in African American, Puerto Rican, and Latino studies.

“There’s a lot of diversity; all cultures should be acknowledged,” said Monica Blackman-Smith, a history teacher at Hillhouse High School in New Haven.

Blackman-Smith said that although Hillhouse has always given students an extensive education in Black and Latino history, that is not the case everywhere.

“I think that sometimes you get bogged down with the curriculum, and some of that curriculum does not include people of color,” she said.

Promoted by members of the state legislature’s Black and Hispanic Caucus- Public Act 1912 was signed into law by Governor Ned Lamont. It comes at a time when racial tensions and calls for social justice are running high.

The coursework will go way beyond what’s been traditionally taught out of textbooks across the nation and focus on the great accomplishments made by people, and how that has shaped American history.

Young scholars at Hillhouse we spoke to agree that all students in Connecticut need to know about the contributions of their ancestors.

Jennifer Garcia said, “We should be open to many cultures and races. America isn’t just like white people it’s like every kind of race.”

Siovhon Cox added, “I think it’s important that they hear about Black people being successful and Latino people being successful.”

“History didn’t start here, it’s rooted in Africa and we don’t know anything about what I was like there,” Elsa Holahan added.

The State Education Resource Center (SERC) is partnering with the state Department of Education to help districts create coursework.

Among the books on the SERC reading list:

Irene Parisi, Chief Academic Officer of the Dept. of Education said, “It’s going to be engaging in the inquiry process, and certainly asking students to then think about, ‘how can you take informed action now?'”

That coursework will be taught on the eleventh and twelfth grade levels.

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