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Critical Ethnic Studies

Dear colleagues,

Joe Gothard headshotThis Tuesday night, the Board of Education will vote on a change to the Saint Paul Public Schools graduation policy. If approved, all SPPS students will take a new course, called Critical Ethnic Studies, in 10th grade starting next year with the graduating class of 2025.

This course is being piloted at three high schools this year: Como Park Senior (Chong Yang), Harding (Abby Mund) and Humboldt (Karen Lacher). A 2019 student survey found that only 50% of students of color felt their identity was accurately represented in curriculum all or most of the time. Since then, the SPPS Ethnic Studies department, led by Mouakong Vue, developed a framework in collaboration with many staff and students, and Critical Ethnic Studies was born.

In this course, students examine their identity, heritage, culture and communities in relation to various power structures, forms of oppression and inequalities that have an impact on their lives. With an emphasis on stories and lived experiences of people of color in the United States, the course explores the collective struggles, resilience and triumphs of their communities. Critical Ethnic Studies centers the student experience, and focuses on seven core principles: self love, honor, community, critical consciousness, resistance, hope and visualization. 

In a survey this fall, 93% of students taking the pilot course said they would recommend it, and that it has given them a better understanding and appreciation of communities different from their own. On a larger scale, this course is a key component of the Systemic Equity work that is central to our SPPS Achieves strategic plan. SPPS is leading the way in building culturally responsive instruction into all grades, ahead of the Minnesota Department of Education’s proposed social studies standards to begin in 2026. 

I am proud of this work and believe that through the collective efforts of our SPPS community, every student will see themselves represented in school which, as we all know, has not been the case for far too long. I also believe it’s important that we don't allow this course to be our students’ first or only experience seeing themselves reflected in their learning. Our continuing work must focus on what is taught, and how it is taught, to ensure we are providing a relevant and meaningful learning experience for every SPPS student.

In closing, I want to thank those who have shared your ideas and solutions through my Google Form. This form will close on Friday, December 17. Please have a great last week of instruction before winter break (or at least a couple long weekends for those who are working).

In partnership,

Joe Gothard signature

Joe Gothard, Superintendent