Editor’s note: This story won second place for print news features in the ILPC contest.
LISD SEE, or Students for Educational Equity, is a student-led organization that is advocating for a more inclusive history, English and science curriculum. The group has over 130 members from schools across the district, and are expanding to have advocates in each of the five high schools.
Leaders of LISD SEE met with the district’s Secondary Social Studies Administrator, Nicole Michener, as well as the ELA administrator in October.
“I really do appreciate students who share ideas and reach out and want to know more,” Michener said. “I welcome the opportunity to visit.”
For founder and Hebron High School junior Nandita Kumar, LISD SEE means long-term changes to education that will include people from all backgrounds.
“The inclusive and equitable portions of our message are really interconnected,” Kumar said. “You can’t have equitable schools when they’re not inclusive, and when they don’t make a very intentional effort to be anti-racist and to be equitable to students with all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Junior Denise Rodriguez said that the organization allows students like her to become more involved in social justice causes.
“I was really excited when I heard about it,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s really good that this started because it brings a lot more awareness and it makes a lot more issues accessible for kids our age to help.”
Rodriguez said that as a Hispanic student, the Eurocentric approach has made her feel excluded from what she learns in history classes, and that other minorities likely feel the same way.
“For me and other people of color, it makes us feel like we are less a part of American history, when that’s not the case at all,” Rodriguez said. “I just think that the White parts of history are more highlighted.”
AP Humanities teacher Debbie Brininstool agrees that the history curriculum often takes a Eurocentric approach.
“I would say that most ethnicities, religions, races and genders are given just sort of a passing glance,” Brininstool said. “And that the preponderance of again, specifically American history, is predominantly taught through the lens of White men.”
Kumar believes that having difficult conversations in classes about race will help students be more empathetic and gain a greater understanding of different cultures. She hopes that students will learn about the racist events that took place centuries or decades ago, even if some people would rather forget them.
“Those conversations are so critical to have, and the place we start to fix all these issues is by talking about it and through education because racism is taught,” Kumar said. “Hatred is taught, and if we can stop that at a younger age, then that would be so amazing, and I would love to be a part of that.”
Brininstool said that history teachers and the district as a whole should be open to having conversations with students of different backgrounds to discuss their ideas.
“I think that what we need to understand as a district is that this is an incredibly diverse district,” Brininstool said. “I hope that what most of us are doing as teachers is just having conversations, or that we’re creating environments in our classrooms where students feel free to share their cultural reality.”
Some students believe that there is also limited diversity when it comes to discussing other marginalized groups such as women and the LGBTQ+ community. LISD SEE’s Director of LGBTQ+ Affairs and Hebron senior Arushi Biswas, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, said that a more inclusive curriculum would impact minority students greatly.
“When students see themselves represented in media, literature, history, it makes them feel seen,” Biswas said. “It makes them think, ‘Oh, there are other people like me out there who did this and that.’”
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According to Kumar, the district has generally been receptive to the group’s ideas.
“Everyone’s ready to listen, but not everyone’s ready to put in the work and take action, “ Kumar said.
On Aug. 24, Superintendent Dr. Kevin Rogers announced that district employees will be taking part in cultural proficiency training.
“These efforts to learn and grow are never truly complete, but LISD will continue striving to become a better organization,” Rogers stated in an update on the district website.
Assistant Principal Jason Mullin said that staff training currently promotes inclusion for students and teachers of all backgrounds. According to him, the training does not focus on one specific group, but rather promotes overall diversity and understanding.
“I think it’s been very helpful, and not necessarily from a ‘let’s recognize this particular culture, or this race, this economic level of students or families,” Mullin said. “It’s kind of all of that together.”
Michener said that the district’s history curriculum is constantly modified to reflect changes from the state school board.
“Curriculum is something that I really think of as a living document,” Michener said.
In individual schools, efforts are seen in including more diversity in history lessons. U.S. History teacher Kaitlyn Wilson said that she takes care to provide her students with perspectives from diverse historical figures.
“When I’m teaching about specific events that have happened, I want to provide multiple narratives of individuals that were involved,” Wilson said. “So that could mean people from various minority groups, and how they were specifically involved in that event.”
Michener agrees that inclusion of different races and ethnicities is vital to students’ learning.
“I do believe diversity is very important,” Michener said. “Because really, when you think about…our history, stories from all groups…really give us a more thorough and complete understanding of the past.”
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Demographics vary across the school district, so Hebron-based LISD SEE is seeking outreach leaders at each high school. The group’s Instagram is @lisd.see.
“Hopefully those leaders will be able to use the connections they have with students and staff to find out what can be improved on and work with their peers and work with their administration to make on-campus reforms,” Kumar said.
The LISD SEE leaders hope the work their organization is doing will motivate younger students to continue the cause, even after the current leaders and members graduate in the near future.
“We have so much untapped power that we can utilize and we can strategize,” Kumar said. “We have to be the change that we want to see.”