Starting next year, all Healdsburg High School freshmen will be required to take a one-semester ethnic studies course. The implementation of the course comes after several years of work to address inequality in the school district.
The course approval also comes after the ratification of AB 101, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October and stipulates that all California students will be required to complete a semester-long ethnic studies course in order to earn their diploma. The new mandate will take effect with the graduating class of 2029-30, although high schools will have to start offering ethnic studies courses by the 2025-26 school year.
The ethnic studies course received the final approval from the Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) Board of Trustees on Dec. 15 following a unanimous vote. The course will be taught in the second semester of the school-year following the first semester freshman compass course, the new freshmen seminar class.
According to Erin Fender, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, the course is not meant to be teacher-led and lecture-heavy, rather it’s meant to be inquiry-based and conversational.
Thomas Warf, a U.S. History and AP human geography teacher at Healdsburg High School, told the school board in November that the course is meant to be very engaging.
“We wrote the course to be a survey of different marginalized groups in the United States and to give the students an opportunity to explore their own identity and do projects to both further explore their identity and get involved in the community,” Warf said.
The course has four student learning outcomes, according to Fender.
“One of the four is for students to have a better understanding of themselves and the context of the history of the United States in our contemporary society. Another learning outcome is that students will be able to discuss identities including race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality and nationality and the ways these categories are socially constructed and how they affect students’ lives and the lives of other people,” Fender said. “The third learning outcome is to be able to explain institutional oppression of various marginalized groups and examine the resistance to that oppression. The last learning outcome for students is to develop academic skills in reading analysis and writing of historical narratives that can be applied in multiple academic courses.”
Since the HUSD serves a majority — over 60% — of Latinx students, often described as minorities, the class will spend more time on the Latinx section of the course.
Trustee Cristal López said she’s received text from folks voicing their excitement and support for the new ethnic studies course.
She said it’s a good “amount of support from teachers, from parents, from students, from alumni. People are supportive and people want this program so I am really excited,” López said.
Newly appointed board president Mike Potmesil said he is glad the district is starting the course sooner rather than later.
“I am thrilled this is on the books,” he said.
The high school won’t be the only school site to be getting an ethnic studies course. The district also has plans to eventually implement a district-wide ethnic studies program.
During a Nov. 17 school board meeting, Maggie Alcala, a second-grade teacher at Healdsburg Elementary School, shared what she envisions for an all grades ethnic studies program.
“I’m envisioning classrooms at all grade levels that will embrace our community’s differences by investing time to learn about each other's aspirational, linguistic, familial, ancestral and ecological wealths,” she said. “Sharing our stories will hopefully break down barriers, stereotypes and build more empathy among our students and staff. In second grade we’re completing a community project based learning social studies unit and we’re learning about Healdsburg history, family, culture, ancestors and immigration, but I’m excited to dig deeper.”