Just Us in Davis: On May 15, DHS youths lead us again

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What: Race and Social Justice in U.S. History student research poster presentation

When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 15

Where: Davis High School Library, 315 W. 14th St.

What: Juneteenth Celebration

When: 1-5 p.m. Saturday, June 22

Where: Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St., Davis

Time flies and change happens!

When the Race and Social Justice in U.S. History class at Davis High was approved in 2007, it was made clear that 29 students needed to sign up for a teacher to be funded. Actually, 108 students signed up that inaugural year, and three separate class sections were created.

This year there are seven class periods and three different teachers to accommodate student demand. Next year, there will be eight sections.

The Race and Social Justice in U.S. History class (RSJ) is an option to meet the graduation requirement for U.S. history. That first year, one less Advanced Placement U.S. history class was needed, as students surprised adults in that they valued less the extra grade point of Advanced Placement, and valued more this new opportunity to engage in rigorous inquiry and ongoing dialogue about a relatively taboo topic, with an unprecedentedly diverse set of their peers.

It was made clear to students that their year together would include not just acquiring the information presented in a traditional U.S. history class. It also would include the experience of building skills in cross-cultural dialogue and relationships, as small groups of students, whose members would be chosen by the teacher, would design and implement a research project throughout the year.

Students have certainly “spoken” with their feet about what they believe they need, developmentally speaking, to prepare themselves as adult citizens in our increasingly diverse country.

Their lesson to us: Young people are not afraid and, in fact, are eager to learn U.S. history from the lens of both non-white and white ethnic groups’ experiences in “becoming” American. Many students expressed that they needed to be equipped with the historical knowledge and interpersonal skills it will take for them to move forward in our unique but still racially and socially unequal democracy.

Now we can return our thanks to these students by attending their annual research poster presentation on Wednesday, May 15, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Davis High School Library, 315 W. 14th St. in Davis. This year’s topics for students’ group research projects include academic pressures, students and self-image, GATE in Davis, the achievement gap and Davis children’s gender stereotypes regarding career choice.

If you are able to attend, please make certain to thank the teachers as well. Kevin Williams, California’s 2005 History Teacher of the Year (Gilder Lehman Institute), accepted the challenge in 2006 of creating an intellectually rigorous and constructively provocative curriculum aligned with California state standards for U.S. history. That was no small feat.

Williams also incorporated two days of input from a Community Advisory Board of youth and elders, culturally representative of the racial/ethnic groups within our community and region. The Sierra Health Foundation funded part of this course’s development. Thanks to Williams’ excellence, the course also was approved as an A-G course offering, meaning it has the rigor to count as an admission prerequisite to California’s public four-year universities.

Teachers Fern O’Brien and Chris Lee also teach the course. For the May 15 presentations, students of Williams and O’Brien will create traditional scientific poster presentations, and will be present to explain and talk with visitors about their experiences and findings. Lee has his students create a YouTube video, depicting the import and results of research from each student group. They will join the other two classes of students in the library, seated next to their laptops, again willing and ready to describe their collective work and its implications for Davis.

I’ll end with the words of one of my heroes, Williams, again emphasizing the young people’s past, present and future impact in leading Davis adults in this critical issue: “You know, I am empowered and inspired by this class, too. I am particularly inspired by watching and learning from the students during the research portion of their RSJ project. When they get out in their community and truly begin to investigate the nature of any problem, you can actually see them understand the importance of history.

“The RSJ Project is kind of an ‘applied’ approach to the curriculum, and because of that, connections are made that would normally be lost in the history curriculum. Additionally, … I learn so much. I can’t tell you how many times I say to students, ‘This is interesting to me as a teacher, but even more as a parent of junior high-aged girls.’  The work they do is important and needs to be shared with the entire Davis community.”

Maybe we’ll see you on the 15th, maybe with your teenagers? It’s a great way to start a conversation with them about these important issues!

 Jann Murray-García, M.D., M.P.H., is a Davis parent and pediatrician. She shares this monthly column with Jonathan London. Reach her at [email protected]

Jann L. Murray-Garcia

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