Opinion: Why New York City’s public schools need a Latine Studies Curriculum

The United Way’s Grace Bonilla and the Hispanic Federation’s Frankie Miranda make the case for inclusive education.

United Way of New York City President and CEO Grace Bonilla

United Way of New York City President and CEO Grace Bonilla United Way of New York City

Latine children and youth comprise 44% of students in New York City public schools. In contrast, a 2019 study of commonly used book lists from pre-K to eighth-grade curricula found that 83% of the books analyzed were written by white authors, nearly five times more books than all authors of color combined.

The proportion of Latine students represents 430,000 sets of eyes who do not see themselves in curricula, and 430,000 sets of ears who do not hear the names of their ancestors in their classrooms. As anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiment continues to increase leading up to the 2024 elections, New York City officials must take action to educate children, families, teachers, and New Yorkers about the gifts and talents of the Latine community.

Curriculum may be the key. A high-quality curriculum that tells the stories of the multifaceted diverse Latine community in New York City would go a long way toward building pride among children and mutual understanding citywide. A Latine Studies Curriculum would not replace the curricula teachers across the city already use; rather, it would deepen and expand schools’ existing tools to include culturally relevant and historically significant topics that reflect the students in the classroom. We have seen this approach work successfully in the creation of a Black Studies Curriculum. 

Funded by the New York City Council, a Black Studies Curriculum has been designed in partnership with the community, informed by students and teachers, and piloted in schools across the city. The program, which will officially launch on June 30, is intentionally designed to overlay and complement instructional infrastructure already in schools. In a pilot program introducing students across the city to the new Black Studies Curriculum, 74% of students said that the snapshot they saw represented more Black voices, authors and stories than they were ever used to having in class. A Latine Studies Curriculum would look to replicate this program’s success.

A curriculum is not just a product; a curriculum is also a process, and how we create it matters.

A Latine Studies Curriculum would be rooted in authentic dialogue with communities. It would embody the latest research on academically rigorous, culturally responsive curriculum design, including the science of reading. And it would set a large table for other organizations that serve the Latine community to voice their ideas and share their own resources as part of the design process.

The stories we’d look to bring into the classroom would represent the diverse and expansive experiences of the Latine and Hispanic communities we work with across New York City. The communities are not a monolith, and every child deserves to see themselves represented.

Remember: How we create curricula matters.

When matters too.

New York City continues to keep the largest segment of our student body invisible, and the time to repair that injustice is now. We’re calling on New York City leadership to invest in culturally relevant curricula this year, and make New York City’s students a priority. By attending to the cultural needs of hundreds of thousands of Latine students in New York City, we will not just validate the experiences of some children – we will celebrate the humanity of all.

Grace Bonilla is the president and CEO of United Way of New York City and Frankie Miranda is the president and CEO of the Hispanic Federation.

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