Brackenridge High School. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

As soon as this fall, students in Edgewood and San Antonio independent school districts will be able to take a course dedicated to Mexican-American Studies for the first time. The new courses will touch on significant events in San Antonio history and cover Mexican-American figures who have played a role in the city’s history such as Juan SeguinEmma Tenayuca, and Sandra Cisneros.

The new classes add to the growing list of Mexican-American Studies (MAS) courses offered throughout the state. As of April, there were only 80 MAS courses offered across Texas, mostly at the college level, according to a survey done by the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies‘ Tejas Foco Committee on Mexican American Studies in Pre-K-12 Education.

Beginning this upcoming school year, students at SAISD’s Brackenridge High School will be able to take the class as a history elective, and in 2019-20, Memorial and Kennedy high schoolers in Edgewood ISD will be able to enroll in their own MAS course.

The class, which focuses on the history and culture of Mexican-Americans, has been at the center of a debate at the State Board of Education (SBOE) during the last four years.

Since 2014, MAS advocates, including members of NACCS Tejas Foco and students and teachers at several local universities, have lobbied the SBOE to establish state-approved standards for the class at the secondary level. Clear standards, MAS supporters argued, help publishers create textbooks and other resources, making it easier for schools to offer the course. Without standards, small schools and districts might struggle to develop their own curriculum or instruction materials, advocates said.

In early April, the state board approved the development of standards for a course teaching Mexican-American Studies. (The board approved the course under a different name – Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.)

The SBOE will discuss these standards, based on a course currently offered in Houston ISD, at its June meeting. Until standards are approved, individual school districts may develop their own curriculum.

Edgewood officials said they will work over the next year to develop their course, using the Houston ISD curriculum as a guide and adding locally relevant events and people.

Marisa Perez-Diaz, Edgewood’s director of strategic partnerships who also serves on the State Board of Education, is an advocate for introducing MAS courses and presented the proposed course to the Edgewood board, emphasizing that the district could be a statewide leader by implementing a class now.

“Texas is headed in this direction as a state through some work that the State Board of Education is doing with some member school districts in Texas,” Perez-Diaz said. “With this step in this direction, Edgewood ISD will be a leader in initiating a course in Mexican-American Studies.”

The district will start by offering the class at the high school level, but Perez-Diaz said that eventually Edgewood would like to expand elements of it to all grade levels.

Few other San Antonio-area districts have related course offerings, Perez-Diaz said. She told the board that Southwest ISD offers a Mexican-American literature course, but that Edgewood would try to structure its own high school offering around history. Harlandale ISD also offers a Mexican-American Studies history elective at the high school level.

“San Antonio has such a rich history to pull from,” Perez-Diaz told the Rivard Report. “The goal is to implement [the class] with a unique San Antonio flair, because we have so much history here.”

Perez-Diaz said that the district’s curriculum likely will include the historic Edgewood High School walkouts of 1968, in which students protested inadequate funding and poor facilities by leaving their classrooms.

“Now you are not just talking about the cultural relevancy; now you are talking about the literal resident relevancy,” Perez-Diaz said. “[Students’] family members could have been part of these conversations.”

San Antonio ISD’s new offering at Brackenridge High School also will incorporate local elements. One of the proposed lessons will cover the Supreme Court case SAISD vs. Rodriguez, which pertained to inequities in Texas’ school finance system, said Patrick Pyle, the district’s director of social studies.

He said the subject matter contained in the Mexican-American Studies course isn’t covered in the same level of detail in a typical history class.

Students of the Mexican American Studies class at KIPP: Camino raise their hands when teacher Lucero Saldaña asks a question regarding Mexican identity.
Mexican-American Studies students at KIPP Camino raise their hands when their teacher, Lucero Saldaña, asks a question regarding cultural identity. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“A high school U.S. history course touches on [some if it], but doesn’t have the time to go as in-depth as this course does,” Pyle said. “I think there is also a modern cultural element to this course that will be of interest to students.”

Patti Salzmann, SAISD’s assistant superintendent over teaching and curriculum, said she thinks the course will validate the background and culture of many SAISD students, the majority of whom are Hispanic.

“I think that is very affirming for students to see their background, culture, and linguistic heritage represented in the classroom,” Salzmann said.

SAISD plans to offer the course only at Brackenridge next school year, but is open to expanding the class to other campuses if there is interest.

Both Edgewood and SAISD plan to work with the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Mexican-American Studies program, which offers a social studies teachers’ academy during the summer. The program teaches educators how to integrate Mexican-American history lessons into regular social studies courses or electives.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.