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KCPS adds Black history, Latinx heritage courses to high school curriculum

Ja’Keya Jackson
Posted at 11:58 AM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 18:29:26-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Students in the Kansas City Public School District will have the opportunity to take Black history and Latinx courses in the 2021-2022 school year.

It's a chance for students to see themselves reflected back in the literature they study.

“These classes are unique because I’m exposed to my African culture and that helps me with my identity as a Black person. It really helped me find who I am,” Ja’Keya Jackson, a senior at Southeast High School, said.

Jackson says minorities are often pushed to a disadvantage, “but knowing your culture and where you come from is empowering.”

She wants to become a medical research scientist, crediting information she learned in Advanced Placement English class.

“We learned about Henrietta Lacks, we learned about the Tuskegee and human experimentation and not only was I encouraged to become a medical research scientist, but I learned my background as an African American in human experimentation,” Jackson said. “So with my background, I’m empowered to be on the other side of the spectrum.”

“It’s also a platform right now for people to critique the injustice of our world and to learn more about how that hasn’t altogether been an accident,” Chris Odam, Secondary English Coordinator, said.

According to Odam and other staff, a lot of local history will be included in the courses.

“That’s one thing I’m excited about, telling local stories about the battle of Westport during the Civil War, African-Americans being involved with that - there’s history just being around the ground that we live on and students will be excited they sit on the shoulders of giants,” Paul Turner, Social Studies Coordinator for the district, said.

They and countless teachers and students who’ve helped craft and speak out in support of these courses do so with a goal of challenging what they call the literary cannon.

“To make sure the literary cannon represents the true voices that are part of our nation instead of only a few,” Odam said.

This includes telling the true history of our nation and all who are a part of it.

“It wasn’t until I got to college that I started realizing my history was missing in these textbooks," Turner said. "My history was missing basically just hearing my teachers teach,” Turner said.

It’s a point they all agree on.

“You can find that there’s just been omissions and so the true understanding of our nation requires us to hear from multiple perspectives and not from simply one or two and it does bring about some controversy and challenge and that’s the goal, I would say of education,” Odam said.

The district announced the future addition to its curriculum in a tweet Wednesday that read, "We are adding Black Heritage and Latinx courses to our high school offerings. For our students; for our community; for each other."

According to course descriptions, the Black Heritage course will aim to develop an understanding of the Black experience and its influence on Kansas City, the country and world.

The Latinx course will aim to focus on the history of Latinx people in the U.S., emphasizing how they have contributed and shaped experiences as well as cultural imagination among different Latinx communities.

KCPS said students will examine pre-Hispanic cultures, the colonial era, Latin American independence from Spain, the revolutions, 20th-century political parties, current economic inequality, ethnic and linguistic diversity within the Latinx course.