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Requiring diverse voices K-12, students urge district

By Ridge Coffey, Pavana Upadhyaya and Nancy Zheng April 28, 2021

Junior Mia Raimondi reads "Children of Blood and Bone" by Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi. Diana Yousef Nejad Photo.


Since the summer of 2020, Juniors Shalvi Kamble and Mia Raimondi have co-led the San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) chapter of Diversify Our Narrative (DON)—a national organization advocating for racial diversity in English classes. DON SJUSD has been working on passing a district-wide resolution that will require all SJUSD English classes to incorporate texts that illuminate Black, Indigenous or other people of color (BIPOC) experiences in their curricula.

Last June, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement prompted Stanford University sophomores Jasmine Nguyen and Kaitlyn Zhou to found DON. To promote racial sensitivity in schools, the DON resolution urges for “a minimum of at least one book" in every English/Literature and Comprehension class be by a person of color AND about a person/people of color’s experience(s),” as stated on their website. DON continues to update their recommended reading list, which consists of pieces of BIPOC literature such as “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and “Ceremony” by Leslie Marmon Silko.

Hundreds of DON chapters representing K-12th grade school districts nationwide—including over 200 in California—have popped up, all of which are utilizing DON’s resolution template as a starting point to pass the mandate in their own districts. In the coming weeks, DON SJUSD plans to continue meeting with Patrick Bernhardt, President of the San José Teachers Association (SJTA), as well as the SJTA Representative Council. These educators help them revise the DON SJUSD resolution to focus on local matters rather than general national issues, craft an implementation plan and garner support from teachers.


Reflecting on their educational journey thus far, both Kamble and Raimondi noticed that they had few classroom experiences of reading literature written by people of their own ethnicities.

After learning about DON through social media, Kamble and Raimondi decided to sign up as DON organizers to create DON SJUSD because they wanted to take action in promoting racially diverse literature in their own English classes. Reflecting on their educational journey thus far, both Kamble and Raimondi noticed that they had few classroom experiences of reading literature written by people of their own ethnicities. Since they were the first two representatives from SJUSD, they became district leads and encouraged other SJUSD high school students to join them, with a total of ten active organizers to date.

“I hope that our proposal impacts students positively, and students of color can see themselves in the books they read at school from a young age. We should not be this far into high school with such little representation in the literature we read in class,” Kamble said.


Many teachers have expressed support for the DON resolution, and some have already changed their books to include more authors of color into their courses.

Starting in November 2020, Kamble and Raimondi have had numerous meetings with the SJUSD Board President, Brian Wheatley, who helps them revise the DON SJUSD resolution. In addition, to amass direct support from teachers, DON SJUSD meets with the English departments of SJUSD middle and high schools regarding their resolution.

“We want to let teachers know that they have the power to choose BIPOC books that they think are important, rather than just following our book list,” Raimondi said.

Many teachers have expressed support for the DON resolution, and some have already changed their books to include more authors of color into their courses. For instance, Robin Jankowski, English Department, has incorporated texts which exhibit authentic accounts of BIPOC experiences, such as “Black Boy” by Richard Wright and “There, There” by Tommy Orange, in her Advanced Placement (AP) English Language and Composition classes.


Superintendent Nancy Albarrán is hesitant to pass the DON resolution due to the potential overlap between the resolution and the newly revised ethnic studies curriculum.

Despite receiving nearly unanimous support for the DON resolution from SJTA, English teachers and district board members, getting the district to pass the resolution has remained a challenge. According to Kamble and Raimondi, Wheatley—a strong advocate for the DON resolution—is willing to place it on the agenda of an SJUSD board meeting, but notes that district officials may have some concerns. In 2020, California Assembly Bill 1460 was passed, which mandates at least one high school course in ethnic studies starting with the class of 2024. SJUSD Superintendent Nancy Albarrán is hesitant to pass the DON resolution due to the potential overlap between the resolution and the newly revised ethnic studies curriculum.


While the ethnic studies mandate introduces critical race theory in a historical context, DON’s resolution focuses on introducing literary texts that showcase BIPOC experiences.

To address these uncertainties, the DON SJUSD team is currently working on showing how their resolution differs from the ethnic studies requirement and how they will ensure that it is not an empty promise. While the ethnic studies mandate introduces critical race theory in a historical context, DON’s resolution focuses on introducing literary texts that showcase BIPOC experiences.

“Through my work for DON SJUSD, I feel a lot more connected to the community, invested in my own learning and making sure that other students have rewarding experiences with their curriculum,” Raimondi said.


DON SJUSD plans to continue using social media to post political education content and to promote fundraisers that will financially assist the implementation of their resolution. Although the current focus of DON’s resolution is on English classes, DON SJUSD is open to pushing for similar initiatives that promote diversity within other school subjects’ curricula in the future.

The Black Lives Matter movement over the past few years and the recent surge in anti-Asian hate crimes have acted as a reminder of an unsavory truth: racism is still alive and growing within the U.S. By working towards a diverse curriculum within the school district, DON is combating racism with education. Showcasing the experiences of people of color in school encourages educational conversations about race and ethnicity and represents BIPOC students, allowing students to identify with what they learn from.

 

About the Contributors

Ridge Coffey

Entertainment Editor


Ridge Coffey is the entertainment editor for the Charger Account. He is a senior at Leland and he hopes to major in creative writing at Boise State. Outside of school, Ridge enjoys spending time with his friends and doing musical theatre. He hopes everyone is doing well in these troubling times.





Pavana Upadhyaya

Staff Writer


Pavana Upadhyaya is a sophomore at Leland High School and is a staff writer. She likes to read nonfiction in her free time










Nancy Zheng

Staff Writer


Nancy Zheng is a junior at Leland High School and is the Investigative Report Editor and Ad Manager. She is an avid classical pianist and Chinese folkloric dancer of over 11 years. In her free time, she enjoys bullet journaling and obsessing over green tea/matcha.

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