Sonoma student advocates for a more diverse curriculum at SVHS

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In the middle of my junior year, I began the daunting task of developing recommendations for a more diverse curriculum for Sonoma Valley High School. This would include topics ranging from the LGBTQ, Latinx, Black, Asian-American and disabled communities within humanities classes like English, history and living skills.

The goal of my senior project, which I am tackling with another student, who wishes to remain anonymous, is to improve the lives and understanding of minority students at school — this way, SVHS can come closer to its stated goal of “(providing) a safe environment for all students,” as well as “(closing the) achievement and opportunity gaps” experienced by minority students.

As our curriculum currently stands, almost all required reading is written by white authors – the civil rights, women’s rights and gay liberation movements are confined to one single class period; LGBTQ topics are not discussed.

The message SVHS is sending to its students today is that they do not deserve to exist within our curricula — their experiences are not worth mentioning.

As such, for our project, we are creating a presentation with suggestions for English books and LGBTQ topics in sex education (called Living Skills at SVHS). On top of that, we will be discussing the Fair Education Act which, according to Don Romesburg, Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies at SSU, is an inclusive framework that obligates California schools to teach “age-appropriate LGBTQ history.”

We will be recommending authors like James Baldwin, Gloria Anzaldúa, Isabel Allende, Anita Desai and Chang-rae Lee, and works like “Giovanni’s Room,” “Borderlands” and “The House of the Spirits.”

Our senior project mentor is LGBTQ Connection’s program coordinator Eliseo Rivas, who commented that “our LGBT students are not going anywhere and they deserve to have staff, schools, and books that confidently offer a relevant education.”

My partner, who is also an active youth leader in the community, believes that “not only are we developing a platform for visibility, but we are holding SVHS accountable.”

The message we are sending to the school is that we will not tolerate silence when it comes to our lives. We want department chairs and the district to update educational practices in our diverse school. When, according to the Education Data Partner, approximately 56 percent of the entire student body in 2017-18 was Hispanic or Latino, it is ridiculous that classroom materials have not been updated to meet the school’s diverse needs.

Could it be that the school thinks that Latinx, Black, LGBTQ-plus, or Native American scholars are incompetent? Are these authors and historians worth ignoring? Did Stone Wall or the East L.A. walkouts contribute nothing to American society? These are the questions we are posing to our educators and administrators.

Our senior project targets these issues of exclusion. We want to ensure that all students are represented in the classroom. We want everyone to feel welcome within the classroom. This is a call to action for our school to create educational change at SVHS and hopefully the rest of Sonoma County.

Jose Valdivia is a senior at Sonoma Valley High School.

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