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Finding our focus
Uplifting community identity through Ethnic Studies TK-12
By Mark Anderson and Martha Calderon | May | June 2023
Hacienda La Puente Unified School District is a community-centric district focused on uplifting, empowering and reflecting the diversity of our students and their families. We are building a supportive environment for each student by grounding our growth of Ethnic Studies in our community identity.
HLPUSD, which is approximately 20 miles east of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley, serves more than 16,000 students in 31 schools. The district boundaries are approximately 20 square miles and encompass multiple communities: parts of three cities and three different unincorporated communities in Los Angeles County. HLPUSD is rich in diversity in ethnicity, socioeconomics, political beliefs and religion. We are home to churches and parishes of many Christian and Catholic denominations and one of the largest Buddhist Temples in North America; the Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley and Jewish synagogues are adjacent to our district borders. Our goal is to weave together this diversity into a unified tapestry that still maintains the unique identity of each cultural aspect we represent.
Community-centric intersectional ethnic studies
The work to formally implement Ethnic Studies as a part of the curriculum began several years ago with the high school social studies curriculum committee and expanded to include elementary, middle and high school administrators. The California State Board adoption of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of Assembly Bill 101 requiring districts to adopt Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement aligned and emboldened the HLPUSD vision. HLPUSD established a goal to implement an Ethnic Studies course in the 2022-23 school year and integrate and embed Ethnic Studies into all curriculum TK-12.
Using the momentum from within our district and the state, it was time to move from a small committee, to all of us doing the work together. As members of Michael Fullan’s New Pedagogy for Deep Learning (NPDL) initiative, HLPUSD implements practices that value student voice, choice and agency. Learning Partnerships is one of NPDL’s Four Elements that engages students and the community.
Our goal through Intersectional Ethnic Studies using NPDL is to create a curriculum TK-12 that reflects, honors and values the diverse plethora of voices in our district and that all students feel connected and represented in the classroom. Creating safe spaces for students to be themselves and see themselves reflected within the hallowed walls of each classroom begins with teaching the stories of who each of us are, including the genealogies, perspectives and heritage of our community — those who once lived here and those who live here now.
A simultaneous and symbiotic multi-pronged approach was put into action: Develop a board resolution; create an Ethnic Studies elective course to pilot the work; and train site administrators in Ethnic Studies to prepare for the roll out into all grade levels and curricula. As we began our endeavors, we also identified the need to create a community task force to support and guide our community focus. While including a global perspective of NPDL, the undertaking was to ensure that Ethnic Studies reflected, valued and raised up our own community identity. We centered curriculum and pedagogy on student experience and voice.
As we began this yeoman’s work, voices that were often diametrically opposed to each other rose up in the community about bringing Intersectional Ethnic Studies to all our schools and grade levels. We leaned into the community passion and recognized that to bring balance we needed additional expertise regarding Ethnic Studies. Thus, the HLPUSD school board approved a contract with Ethnic Studies Together & Now — a collective of college educators, K12 teachers, administrators, and community activists — to work together on the TK-12 Intersectional Ethnic Studies Initiative.
Community input and board resolution
Together, HLPUSD and ESTN reached out to the community, beginning by surveying three groups of educational partners: high school students, families of students and HLPUSD faculty and staff members (including classified and certificated staff). We needed to understand and we needed our community to understand that opposing views existed, are being honored and can exist together. A total of 1,239 people responded to the survey: 653 high school students, 415 families and 171 faculty/staff. ESTN identified some key points from the surveys:
  • 41 percent of students, 58 percent of families and 73 percent of faculty/staff were excited/somewhat excited about having Ethnic Studies courses in HLPUSD.
  • 87 percent of students, 78 percent of families and 75 percent of faculty/staff reported having their ethnicity/culture and other identities valued, respected and acknowledged in schools.
  • 55 percent of students, 35 percent of families, and 16 percent of faculty/staff reported that their community, their ethnicity/culture and other identities are discussed or taught in classrooms.
  • Overwhelmingly, educational partners advocated for a local history approach to Ethnic Studies — 53 percent of students, 74 percent of families and 81 percent of faculty/staff hoped to learn about “History and Experiences of Communities of Color in Hacienda La Puente.”
  • When families were asked which skills they hoped students would gain in Ethnic Studies courses, 74 percent reported independent and self-driven Study Skills and 69 percent reported Cross-cultural Collaboration and Coalition-building.
The surveys also allowed respondents to write additional comments, with some in support and others against Ethnic Studies:
  • “Ethnic Studies is incredibly important to our community value [sic]. I hope this curriculum will help students feel safe and more confident in their identity.”
  • “I am very hopeful about the incorporation of ethnic studies across grades not only for the multitude of experiences it will expose the kids (global citizenship, community building, representation in the curriculum) but also about the extra training and awareness I’m sure will be offered to teachers to expand on the topics we never learned about ourselves in school. “
  • “Stop telling our children that they are oppressed by the white man. It’s not true. Teach them they can do anything they want in this life all they need to do is put in the hard work.”
  • “I don’t understand why the district would want students to spend more time or learn about these things when kids are failing in math and English?”
Using the survey results as a guide, ESTN facilitated five listening circle sessions with students, families, faculty/staff,and community members. Community leaders and those who completed the survey, whether they supported Ethnic Studies or not, were invited. A total of 153 people attended. The purpose of these sessions was to hear from HLPUSD educational partners about their vision for a TK-12 Intersectional Ethnic Studies curriculum in the district. These listening circles brought together diverse political viewpoints to share and to listen to each other in a moderated environment. The following are key points that arose from the listening circles:
  • Overwhelmingly, all educational partners expressed the importance of leading Ethnic Studies with kindness, love and compassion.
  • All educational partners discussed the importance of students’ full identities being more reflected in the curriculum and that exposure to and learning about different people from an early age would help young people to value and respect difference - leading to less bullying.
  • Families, especially, expressed that Ethnic Studies must concern cultural sustenance, self-worth and self-determination.
  • Students, described that Ethnic Studies should help staff and students be comfortable being uncomfortable, create safe spaces for critical thinking and lead to a cultural shift across the district.
  • Families and community organizations discussed the importance of Ethnic Studies including a local San Gabriel Valley focus with several different community organizations explicitly offering to support curriculum development.
Educational partners also expressed the following concerns and questions:
  • Students’ developmental stages need to be considered in developing the TK-12 curriculum.
  • The curriculum and approach should not be divisive while still maintaining the integrity of Ethnic Studies.
  • Tension between what is being taught in school and what may be taught in the home and religious institutions needs to be recognized and honored.
Community members who fretted that the district was not moving quickly enough to implement Ethnic Studies heard opposing viewpoints and understood the importance of getting the community to come along. Conversely, community members who vowed to fight the implementation of Ethnic Studies appreciated their inclusion and respect for their concerns and came to understand the purpose and authentic design of Intersectional Ethnic Studies. There was not 100 percent consensus, but there was enough momentum to move our district forward. Using the survey and listening circle data, ESTN drafted a Board Resolution, which was adopted to guide the work.
Professional development
The platitude that “all teachers teach reading and writing” was applied to our mindset about Ethnic Studies: “All teachers teach Ethnic Studies.” But professing confidently that this is our vision does not automatically make it a reality; not all teachers are trained, equipped or willing to be teachers of Ethnic Studies. And the key to teacher development is the development of site administrators. Ergo, we began professional development on the site leadership of community-centered Ethnic Studies. Site leaders focused on identifying their own beliefs, biases and concerns regarding Ethnic Studies, shared ideas for district implementation, and collaboratively worked to integrate Ethnic Studies into existing instructional practices in HLPUSD.
The team expanded as site administrators brought their site leadership teams to continue training in teacher inquiry and growing their knowledge wellness and sustainability while completing focal studies of model Ethnic Studies Lessons. With a conscientious and concerted effort, HLPUSD built the capacity of site leadership to serve as facilitators of future trainings. The community-centric approach coupled with targeted professional development empowered site leaders to take charge of the initiative. HLPUSD continues to support principals and assistant principals as we expand the professional development to all staff, teachers and classified employees.
Intersectional Ethnic Studies curriculum, TK-12
Armed with the input of the community, HLPUSD continued the development of the TK-12 Intersectional Ethnic Studies curriculum designed to teach students the study of race, ethnicity, identities and focus on empowering diverse and often marginalized voices, stories and cultures. Intersectional Ethnic Studies aims to highlight the importance of students seeing themselves, their histories and their agency reflected in their learning experience through a diverse and developmentally appropriate curriculum.
Central to the TK-12 approach, was the need for a high school elective to pilot and explore teaching and learning in Intersectional Ethnic Studies. A team of five teachers worked with ETSN to review course outlines of other districts and create a course reflective of the HLPUSD community. The teachers developed a 5-unit interdisciplinary course with a capstone project focused on community and student identity. Partnering with UCLA’s Copy Central we secured copyright royalties to curate and publish our own HLPUSD course reader. Through the work of the Ethnic Studies elective course, we are able to adjust, modify and adapt to community needs as Ethnic Studies expands TK-12 and becomes a graduation requirement. By creating an intellectual sandbox with staff and students who want to be a part of Intersectional Ethnic Studies we are able to take risks, challenge ideas and perfect the work before expanding to all grades.
Our goal through Intersectional Ethnic Studies using NPDL is to create a curriculum TK-12 that reflects, honors and values the diverse plethora of voices in our district and that all students feel connected and represented in the classroom.
Community Taskforce
As HLPUSD and ESTN worked together the need for a Community Taskforce became apparent to keep to our vision and goal of keeping Ethnic Studies community-centric. The Community Taskforce is a collection of individuals with Hacienda La Puente Community knowledge who have a willingness to work across different viewpoints, backgrounds and ideas toward building group consensus and solidarity. The collective is identified as the Learning Partners Working Group.
An application and selection process were developed, and the Learning Partners Working Group was created with over 40 members including teachers, staff, community members, administrators, parents and student leaders. They are engaging in a process of learning together and gathering community knowledge this school year to shape the Intersectional Ethnic Studies Educational Framework and develop the groundwork for implementation.
The community works with the following agreements:

  1. Try It On: Be willing to “try on” new ideas, or ways of doing things that might not be what you prefer or are familiar with.
  2. Practice Self Focus: Attend to and speak about your own experiences and responses. Do not speak for a whole group or express assumptions about the experience of others.
  3. Understand The Difference Between Intent and Impact: Try to understand and acknowledge impact. Denying the impact of something said by focusing on intent is often more destructive than the initial interaction.
  4. Practice “Both / And”: When speaking, substitute “and” for “but.” This practice acknowledges and honors multiple realities.
The community scheduled virtual workshops and additional four Saturday retreats held in the neighborhood of each of our four comprehensive high schools to honor each quad of our community. The taskforce walked in the neighborhoods breaking bread with community leaders and listening to their voices. The Learning Partner Role is to learn about our district’s community, engage in meaningful dialogue, elicit feedback on key themes, pedagogical principles, topics for grade levels, standards, student outcomes, essential questions and key concepts. The collaborative work of the Learning Partners Working Group reflects HLPUSD’s dedication to a global education with a local heart.
HLPUSD reflects its community. Building safe physical safe spaces such as wellness centers and a Dream Resource Center support our student identity and provide a designated place where students are able to seek qualified counseling or additional supports. Extending safety beyond a physical room, we are expanding Intersectional Ethnic Studies TK-12 so all students are reflected in what we teach and what we celebrate creating intellectual inclusivity. We are building to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday; our halcyon days are looking forward. Our community-centric approach to space and pedagogy empowers our students’ and community identity.

Hacienda La Puente High School Executive Director Mark Anderson and Martha Calderon, director of equity and access, family engagement contributed to this article.
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