30 Laws in 30 Days: Ethnic course could be the start of a brighter future

By Christian Sullivan

Editor’s note: This is the 19th in a series of stories about new laws that are taking effect, most of them on July 1.

INDIANAPOLIS — This fall students at Indiana high schools will have the opportunity to take a class about ethnic and racial studies with the goal of educating youth about the bigger picture.

Senate Enrolled Act 337 requires all school corporations, charter schools and accredited nonpublic schools to provide the study of ethnic and racial groups to be offered at least once a year as a one semester elective. 

Wayne Hilson Jr., director of Multicultural Academic Relations at IUPUI, said understanding your ancestors’ achievements can help students learn that they have potential today.

“In many cases, unfortunately, I don’t know if every culture has been given the opportunity to really see that,” he said.

A Stanford Graduate School of Education study last year found that an ethnic study course improved attendance and increased academic performance in students at risk of dropping out. The study looked at ethnic studies classes piloted at San Francisco high schools. Researchers found that in addition to improvements in attendance and grades, students increased the number of course credits earned for graduation.

Hilson said part of the goal of the course is to prepare students to be successful in an increasingly diverse society. 

“In my opinion, it speaks to the broader objective of educating Indiana students in a way that is most impactful to their long-term development,” he said.

Some Indiana schools already offer a similar course. Out of the 401 high schools that reported course numbers to the Department of Education in 2016, 17 offered Ethnic Studies, for a total of 311 students enrolled.

When Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, was in the classroom, she said her students loved learning about other cultures.

“I hope that this inspires schools to, maybe, expand it,” Meredith said. “It would be nice if they did more than just offer a short elective, if they find some way to offer more of this instruction.” 

Christian Sullivan is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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