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As CT high schools launch Latino studies courses, some say it's a good start, but more could be done

Nearly 2,900 high school students were enrolled in Black or Latino studies courses in Connecticut during the last school year.
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Nearly 2,900 high school students were enrolled in Black or Latino studies courses in Connecticut during the last school year.

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Connecticut became the first state in the country to require that high schools offer courses on Black and Latino studies. And schools across the state are now incorporating these courses into their schedules.

That comes as Connecticut's Hispanic communities make up 18% of the state’s population and are experiencing substantial growth.

Juan Coronado, a professor at Central Connecticut State University, helped shape the structure of the Latino studies course. He’s glad the course exists but says it’s important to represent the multifaceted contributions of various Hispanic communities in the U.S. and Connecticut, particularly Mexican Americans.

“When we are looking at the national composition of Latino community, over 60% are of Mexican heritage. When we are looking at Latinos in Connecticut, we are looking at the Puerto Rican experience,” he said. “There could've been more room in that curriculum that focused more on the Chicano experience.”

Following those of Puerto Rican heritage, the largest Hispanic groups in Connecticut include Mexican, Dominican, Ecuadorian, Guatemalan, Colombian and Peruvian populations.

Legislation signed by Gov. Ned Lamont in 2019 required that the state offer courses on African American, Black, Puerto Rican and Latino studies starting in 2022.

Principal Dan Zittoun of Hall High School in West Hartford believes that the state-mandated course could include more diverse Hispanic perspectives to better portray the history of Latinos, not just in Connecticut but across the U.S. At Hall High, about 13% of students are Hispanic or Latino and 10% are Black.

“Within the Latino Studies, that could be broken down obviously in different areas. In West Hartford, we have a stand-alone Latin American studies course where you can really dive into Latin American studies,” he says.

Principal Damon Pearce of New Britain High School says the social studies department is leading efforts to provide enriching educational experiences through the state’s Black and Latino studies courses. He says his school has a history of offering these types of classes and they’ve been well-received by students.

“This high school has offered its own courses on both topics for decades,” he said. “The further back it goes is the African-American history course from 1976 to 1977. The earliest offering for the Latin American history class is from 1987.”

The state’s new Black and Latino studies curriculum was crafted in partnership with the State Education Resource Center (SERC) and a variety of groups and perspectives, including Latino educators, said Irene Parisi, chief academic officer at the Connecticut State Department of Education.

“It’s been carefully developed and we make any changes we need to that curriculum based on feedback from the field from teachers that are actually teaching the course,” she said.

Education leaders say having these types of courses will benefit students of all backgrounds.

Nearly 2,900 high school students were enrolled in Black or Latino studies courses in Connecticut during the last school year, state education officials said.

Low enrollment numbers for the courses may affect whether some schools offer them. That depends on local policies developed by school officials, Parisi said.

Steven Armstrong, a social studies consultant at the Connecticut Department of Education, said he hasn’t heard of schools being hesitant about teaching these topics. Schools have been open to having the courses, he said.

The Latino studies course focuses on the contributions of Latinos in Connecticut and across the country, he said.

“I think Latino identity, there's an effort on the part of this course to develop an identity, because not all Latinos have the same identity,” he said. “I think both the history and as importantly the contribution of those groups in Connecticut and in the United States is really a focus.”

Coronado says schools can better reflect the rich tapestry of Black and Latino history and equip students with the critical thinking skills needed to navigate an increasingly diverse and interconnected world.

“The legacy of segregation in these former Mexican lands, it was about Juan Crow,” Coronado said. “The same segregation that African Americans experience, Latinos experienced that segregation.”

Coronado is hopeful more can be done to get more students enrolled in the courses. He’d like to see them mandatory.

“There’s still room for growth and get the attention that this program deserves,” he said.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.