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From the archives: How Mexican American Studies came to be

This Citizen published this story March 7, 1998:

Mexican American studies advocated

A committee formed by TUSD in an attempt to decrease the dropout rate recommends that teachers receive training in multicultural education.

Citizen Staff Writer

Tucson Unified School District should create a Mexican American Studies program separate from its current Bilingual Education Department, a committee formed to study the issue will recommend Tuesday.

Within five years, TUSD also should provide every teacher instruction in multicultural education so that students could study cultural awareness concepts and take courses in ethnic studies.

The multicultural courses should be available throughout the district curriculum – from kindergarten through 12th grade – according to the 15-page report, which is being finalized today.

A full-time curriculum writer would be required, the report says.

The Bilingual Education/Hispanic Studies and Second Language Acquisition Review Committee was formed last year by the TUSD school board.

Committee members hope the recommended curriculum will decrease the high dropout rate among Mexican American students.

Academics should be the focus of the program, the report states.

But it goes on to say TUSD also must provide ”appropriate funds to ensure implementation of effective academic intervention and student support services for Hispanic students . . . which should include mentoring, career planning, college counseling, tutoring and dropout prevention.”

Committee co-chairwoman Barbara Benton said it would be good, but not essential, for such support services to be included in a new Mexican American Studies program.

Similar support services are the focus of the district’s African American and Native American departments, she noted.

The academic portion would include a multicultural education program at the elementary school level; an introduction to Mexican American Studies course at the middle school level; a freshman year History of Mexico class; sophomore year literature/humanities/fine arts of people of Mexican descent class; junior year History of Mexicans in the Southwest class; and senior year Contemporary Issues Affecting Mexican Americans class.

The proposed freshman and sophomore classes would be a semester long; the junior and senior ones a year long.

The classes must be able to meet the requirements for social studies or English credits, rather than electives, for high school graduation.

Teachers would have to be trained in Mexican American studies and a multicultural curricula would need to be established, the report states.

”The new classes will enhance, enrich and improve the education of Hispanic students – and ultimately all students – because the curriculum is not just for Hispanic students but for all students in the district,” Benton said.

Other recommendations include having Superintendent George GarcĂ­a form multicultural oversight committees to develop ”accurate, comprehensive and non-biased” information about different cultures.

And it says the superintendent would be accountable to the school board and the community for quarterly reports on the progress of implementing multicultural education, which the board already has voted to do.

In addition to suggesting an academics focus for the Mexican American program, the committee says that component should be added to African American and Native American departments, which currently deal almost solely in student support services.

In the report, board members explain that they looked at several programs nationally, especially at universities. In the ones that have Hispanic, Chicano or Mexican American programs, most are divided into two parts: support and academic.

It pointed out the University of Arizona, which has a Mexican American Studies and Research Center dealing with curriculum and academics, and a Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs and Resource Center, which does tutoring, mentoring, advising and career planning, among other things.

Benton said both are essential.

As for bilingual education, the report states that there should be more monitoring of schools to make sure it’s working.

It also suggests a public relations strategist be hired ”to effect change in the public’s perception of bilingual education/English as a second language and foreign languages classes, which members hope can be taught at the elementary school level.”

Co-chairman Conrado Gomez said the recommendation would strengthen the bilingual education program in TUSD, ensuring that any student who needs bilingual education would get it. And, he said, ”It keeps a closer eye on schools that have bilingual education.

”And I don’t think there are any students who couldn’t be touched in the area of multicultural curriculum.”

As for the dropout rate, ”I definitely think there will be an impact on the dropout rate of Mexican American students if these recommendations are taken,” Benton said.

”In our plan, support services would be offered to all Mexican American students in the district, as they are now for Native American and African American students.”

  • Percentage of Tucson Unified School District students who dropped out during the 1996-97 school year:
  • Hispanics – 8.33 percent
  • Native Americans – 7.46 percent
  • African Americans – 5.56 percent
  • Anglo – 4.5 percent
  • Asian – 3.17 percent
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