Ethnic Studies Courses Coming to McAllen ISD

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Students in McAllen will have an opportunity to learn about culture, history, and heritage with new classes in the high school course catalog.

McAllen ISD is taking the leap and adding two new social studies electives. The school district is adding Mexican-American studies and African-American studies courses for upperclassmen.

“This is really good to bring to our community for students because typically ethnic studies classes are only offered at the college level,” said Clarissa Abbott, social studies coordinator for the district. “So the fact that the state has moved forward with providing these classes at the high school level is something we’re really excited about.”

The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills state standards associated with the classes are newly updated or introduced within the last two years, making McAllen ISD an early adapter to offer these subjects.

The TEA website states these courses teach the history and cultural contributions from these people groups.

“To support the teaching of the essential knowledge and skills, the use of a variety of rich primary and secondary source material, such as biographies, autobiographies, landmark cases of the U.S. Supreme Court, novels, speeches, letters, diaries, poetry, songs, and artworks are encouraged,” the website adds.

“We are all about providing more opportunities for our students,” Abbott said. “When the state came out with these new courses, we knew for sure that we wanted to provide them to our students. These are coming to use from the Texas Education Agency as courses for social studies. They are considered electives and they are offered for any 10th- through 12th-grade student.”

Abbott says a committee decided on course materials and instructors will be selected during the summer. She said most of the time, social studies electives don’t get much excitement. This time, however, both students and instructors are trying to get into these sections.

“Right now we are in the process of recruiting instructors and students,” she said. “We’ve already selected our instructional materials as a committee and they were approved by our school board. We’ll have teachers trained in August and we’ll be ready to begin the course in August for the 2021-22 school year. So many teachers signed up that we’ll be selecting who actually gets a section of instruction.”

A Push from Former Students 

Prior to the announcement of ethnic studies at McAllen ISD, a group of McAllen graduates called The Grande Narrative pushed for more Black and Mexican-American lessons in the district. The timing aligned because Abbott informed the group these classes became available for districts to teach with state guidance.

“They wanted us to go in and revamp our curriculum and instead of that, we actually have two additional courses,” Abbott said. “I think we’ll be able to go into more depth doing it this way.”

The activist group that lifts the voice of young people examining and critiquing the status quo hailed the introduction of these classes as a win for the people of the RGV.

Extra Details

“They are able to take these courses and they count toward their ranking credit points,” Abbott said of how the electives will work with students’ course loads. “Most electives don’t count for ranking but since these are considered social studies ‘core courses,’ you still get ranking points. That just shows that we are really honoring these classes and treating them with the importance they deserve.”

Abbott confirmed that these classes will be offered at McAllen High, McAllen Memorial High, James Nikki Rowe High, and Lamar Academy. Achieve Early College students also can enlist in a course and take it at one of the other campuses.

Nathaniel Mata