San Juan School District Making New Curriculum Changes

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG)  |  By Jacqueline Fox

CARMICHAEL, CA (MPG) - Beginning with 2018-19 school year, students enrolled in The San Juan Unified School District will begin studying history and social sciences through a new lens, one that will push them to engage more deeply, think and write more critically and leave high school with a deeper understanding of state and local civics processes.

Also, a new law requires the inclusion of the study of historical contributions by individuals who have heretofore been omitted from the curriculum: members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community, as well as those living with disabilities.

The changes, says Nicole Kukral, program specialist with The District’s Division of Teaching and Learning, stem from the 2012 adoption of Common Core standards, as well as mandates under The FAIR Act, established with the 2012 passage of SB 48.  Parents and members of the community will have a chance to preview the pending curriculum changes at an information night at the district’s offices on Tuesday, April 17 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the San Juan Unified board room at 3738 Walnut Ave., Carmichael.

So what’s changing exactly?  According to Kukral, new standards and texts (secondary materials) will require students to go beyond rote memorization of events, dates and facts.  They will need also to demonstrate an ability to analyze events critically, draw their own conclusions and express their views verbally and in writing.

Students also will be spending more time studying “primary” materials, such as copies of historical documents, journals, letters and maps created by historical and cultural figures of import.  For example, the study of Colonialism and Christianity in California has historically involved a somewhat one-dimensional lesson on the Franciscan Priest, Junipero Serra and perhaps an assignment to build a replica of one of the 21 California missions, with scant focus on the plight of the indigenous people who were converted in the process.

Under the new standards, students may study journals, not just by Father Serra himself, but also the writings, art work, letters and other documentation produced by the Mission Indians themselves to gain a broader understanding.

“Instead of being told what to think, students will be grappling with bigger questions, attempting to understand history and the social sciences through a multi-perspective lens,” said Kukral.  “The idea is that we are really shifting into understanding that history is more than just a collection of facts.”

The FAIR Act, says Kukral, widens the study of individuals who have helped shape historical change or events. Kukral said some of the changes may ruffle feathers, but she wants to reiterate that the new curriculum will focus on individuals’ contributions to society, not their personal lives.

“We know some of the changes, especially those following the law, will give some pause,” said Kukral.  “But The FAIR Act requires the study of the contributions from certain people and that we have students talk about their struggles for civil rights.  Where it applies, we will call out the fact that there are people in history who are or were lesbian and or gay.  But by no means do we intend to study the personal lives of these individuals.”

In May parents will have a chance to see the new text books, Kukral said.  Full implementation of the new materials and frameworks will take place during the 2019-2020 school year.