A leadership team of 22 St. Vrain Valley School District teachers will work over the next few months to select texts that will ensure access to inclusive and diverse materials for students kindergarten through 12th grade.
Jenny Pettit, SVVSD’s K-12 social studies coordinator, will spearhead the effort locally as she also co-chairs the Social Studies Standards Review Committee at the Colorado Department of Education, or CDE.
The “goal is to create a sustainable and equitable system where teachers, staff and administrators feel supported and have access to high-quality resources that are inclusive, diverse and accessible to all,” she said during the board of education meeting Wednesday night.
The effort comes after Colorado passed the Inclusion Of American Minorities In Teaching Civil Government law, or HB19-1192, in 2019 which calls for the teaching of culture, history and civil contributions of specific minority groups, including religious minorities, according to Pettit.
The CDE started the process of revising standards in social studies to address this bill.
Locally, SVVSD underwent an internal audit to identify how often minorities and marginalized groups were represented and how many texts were written by these groups, Pettit said.
The St. Vrain leadership team will curate lists of texts that link to unit plans for grades K-12 as well as other available resources, she said, including a list created by the local chapter of Diversify Our Narrative, or DON, a national organization made up of students pushing for racial justice through the education system.
Rakhi Kataria, junior at Silver Creek High School and founder of the local DON chapter, said the purpose of the organization is to change school curriculums and the education system to promote a diverse and anti-racist narrative.
There are 800 district chapters of DON nationwide with more than 6,000 students involved.
Fourteen members compose the local chapter. Together they lead four committees that focus on curriculum, social media, outreach and communications, according to Reese Ransweiler, junior at Niwot High School and local DON member.
“The foundations of a student’s mindset (are) shaped through the educational process,” said Lila Alizadeh, junior at Silver Creek High School and local DON member, during the school board meeting. “The education system is an essential factor in the lives of SVVSD students, while the curriculum in our district has been very, very successful in many of its endeavors, it’s also been drastically underutilized as a tool to combat racism.”
Kataria said, as an Indian American student, she resonated with posts by students on thethe national-level DON website who described a lack of representation in curriculum.
This is what prompted the launch of the local chapter, she said. “I was like, ‘What can I do in my community to help make sure other students don’t feel that way?”
The students who are part of DON SVVSD made suggestions to the district’s curriculum team to change course texts and lesson level, according to Kahle Charles, assistant superintendent of assessment, curriculum and instruction.
The local DON put together a recommended list of short texts and lessons that teachers might include in social studies units in grades 6-12, said Pettit via email. The list and other resources will be reviewed by the teacher leadership team.
The leadership and curriculum teams also will tap into external expertise and outside partners as additional resources, including Metro State University in Denver, Pettit said during the board of education meeting on Wednesday.
The texts and resources the teacher leadership team will select will need to meet specific criteria, including addressing state standards, Pettit said.
“We are (also) using the National Council for the Social Studies, C3 Framework (Framework for Social Studies State Standards), as a guide, (and) have several rubrics and tools to identify bias as well as evaluate diversity,” she said. “We are looking for age-appropriate texts as well, not just for reading level but also for content.”
Teachers will focus on a balanced approach that includes positive and uplifting stories as well as stories that highlight struggles, Pettit said, adding the district will also look for texts by regional authors.
Next school year, the leadership team will lead professional development courses for all social studies teachers. The courses will focus on how to best teach diverse narratives, she said.
The list of texts and resources will be available for teachers to use starting in Aug. 2021.