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As State's Demographics Change, Portland Students Get Ethnic Studies

The Portland Public Schools Board gave the student-led group ALLY a victory when it approved ethnic studies courses in Portland high schools. (APANO)
The Portland Public Schools Board gave the student-led group ALLY a victory when it approved ethnic studies courses in Portland high schools. (APANO)
May 5, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – The diverse history of the United States will reach Portland high school students in 2018, thanks to a resolution unanimously passed by the city's Public Schools Board this week.

The student-led group Asian and Pacific Islander Leaders for the Liberation of Youth, or ALLY, led the charge to bring ethnic studies courses to all nine Portland high schools.

Diego Hernandez, co-executive director of Momentum Alliance, an organization that supported the resolution, says these courses will better reflect the histories of students in the classroom.

"So, if you have students who don't see themselves in the textbooks because they've been not included, they're going to not relate and not be engaged in history or social studies,” he states. “We know we can change that."

The demographic of Portland high schools has become increasingly diverse. Last year, 46 percent of high school students identified as non-white.

Mike Rosen is a member of the Portland Public Schools Board who helped champion the student-led resolution. He maintains the current narrative in classrooms about under-represented cultures is in need of change.

"We're either talking about how these cultures were exploited and helped by the white European culture, or we're talking about the burden of being a member of these cultures," he explains.

Rosen says the goal of the ethnic studies course is to cover the histories of different racial groups in America, as well as the LGBTQ community.

Hernandez says his group is considering pushing for ethnic studies in high schools statewide.

"Portland's Public Schools and having this resolution pass, there is an amazing thing, and what I want to learn from it is, 'Could we bring it to the state?'” he states. “So, it's more of momentum towards bringing this to the statewide level."


Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR