In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, local school districts have been thinking of new and innovative ways to educate their student body about diverse cultures and backgrounds as a way of dissolving racial differences.
In July of last year, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont issued a state mandate that all public high schools in Connecticut must offer a Black and Latino study course by the year 2022. Cheshire, however, has decided to begin offering the course even earlier.
“Connecticut is the first state to offer this program and we are really excited to see where it takes us,” said Assistant Superintendent Marlene Silano. “We figured, if it’s important enough to our students to teach in 2022, it’s important enough to start teaching now. We understand that there is a need for something like this, given the lack of diversity in our town. This is a tangible way for us to let our students of color know that we see them and we hear them.”
The introduction of this course, according to Silano, will help students from diverse backgrounds understand their culture better, along with informing students about the variety of cultures and backgrounds that exist in the world.
“This course will support our overall school goals of social emotional learning and allows us to examine prejudices within ourselves,” Silano added. “Learning about other cultures in this format will really help educate our students in the world around them as well.”
Teachers Dawn DeMeo and Erin Griffiths are charged with teaching the course, something they are excited to do. Griffiths, a United States History teacher, has been trying to make her curriculum more inclusive for a while.
“Over the years, I have worked to make the United States History curriculum more inclusive and it’s been a work in progress,” she said. “However, this (past) summer, like many teachers, I recognized the urgency of this need and I worked to further diversify the curriculum and create an anti-racist classroom.”
“When I shared my work with my department head, he told me that CHS is moving to implement this course in the ’21–’22 school year, and I jumped at the opportunity,” she continued.
DeMeo, who is currently a Literature teacher, has recently taken a more active role as a leader in the school community.
“I, too, have been working to diversify the texts I teach and I am also the advisor to Rams Against Racism and was conscious of creating an anti-racist classroom,” DeMeo added. “Ms. Griffiths and I have long talked about teaching an American Studies class together. This felt like the perfect opportunity to blend history and art/literature together in one course and I am very interested in the subject matter.”
The course will walk students through topics such as African Empires, slavery, the American Civil War, and United States involvement in Puerto Rico, all of which were topics that Lamont and his team felt were necessary for students to learn.
“Our presentation of the material will be tailored to our students and what we know their knowledge base to be,” explained Griffiths. “The course is designed in such a way that we will provide a framework of history and culture and then students will use personal inquiry to explore facets of each unit on their own so they can delve into topics — history, art and culture — as it appeals to them.”
While the course has yet to run, Griffiths and DeMeo confirmed that students are already interested in the material and are hopeful that students will take the course with an open mind.
“The course is warranted everywhere,” said DeMeo. “Throughout the state, schools were at all different levels in offering education on the culture and origins of large portions of our population. The course is meant to be a great equalizer and to systemize equity among schools and ensure that everyone in our state gets the same foundational knowledge.”
The course will be offered to CHS students next school year as a full elective course.