- Cherry Creek School District No. 5
Smoky Hill High School offers college-level Chicana and Chicano Studies course
Three days a week, a group of ten, dedicated upperclassmen arrive at Smoky Hill High School well before their peers. At 7:15 a.m., they gather in room I-47, where they pull out laptops and dive into discussions about Chicana and Chicano history, art, literature, education, politics and more. They make up the inaugural class for the first-ever Introduction to Chicana and Chicano Studies course offered in the Cherry Creek School District.
“As an educator, nothing makes me happier and prouder than presenting kids with opportunities,” said Principal Chuck Puga, who was instrumental in bringing the class to Smoky Hill, a school of some 2,200 students, a quarter of whom are Hispanic. “To empower these students with the history and context of their culture is so valuable,” Puga added.
The Chicana/o studies class supports one of three strategic priorities in Cherry Creek Future Forward, the district’s roadmap for maintaining educational excellence. Namely, the class addresses the priority of instructional excellence: eliminating academic achievement disparities by providing ALL students with rigorous and relevant learning experiences. Learn more about Cherry Creek Future Forward here.
The inaugural Chicana/o studies class is as diverse as Smoky Hill itself. Many of the students are multiracial, including Latino/a/x, Chicano/a/x, Filipino, Black and White. The class provides an opportunity for many of them to explore and affirm their racial identity.
“My mom is Chicana and I wanted to get a better understanding of why she claims Chicana,” explained senior Natasha Vasquez Curcios. “My dad’s El Salvadoran, so I wanted to understand more of his culture as well and how it affects me.”
“My dad’s Latino and he’s always been really interested and invested in our culture and I thought this would be a good way to get invested myself,” said senior Jose Blea.
Regardless of their own racial or ethnic background, all the students in the class are learning about the Chicana/o culture. The term Chicana/o is often used to describe people of Mexican origin living in the United States, but it can also include people who have heritage of both indigenous American and European (mainly Spanish) cultures.
The class is a college-level, concurrent enrollment course, meaning students can earn college credit when they receive a passing grade. The course is taught by Dr. Luis Torres, a professor at Metropolitan State University, and Adrian Holguin, a math teacher at Smoky Hill.
“It’s been a great opportunity as a math teacher to have experiences out of my discipline,” said Holguin, who is Chicano. “I think one of the things that has been nice is for kids to see adults stretching themselves and stepping outside of their disciplines to be learners.”
Dr. Torres says the class is very interdisciplinary. It includes history, literature, social science, art, demographics and statistical background about the Chicana/o community.
“We’re bringing together a quick review of history all the way back to the Spaniards in Spain and the influences from Africa, Mediterranean countries and northern European countries on Spain, as well as the Spaniards movement into the U.S. and Mexico,” Torres explained. “One of the things this course does is dispel some of the misunderstandings about the Latino community.”
Over the course of the semester, the students will read scholarly articles and literature by renowned Chicana/o authors, write a dozen reading reflection papers, engage in classroom discussions and complete a final project. They will also see a play titled "Fire In the Streets" at Su Teatro Cultural & Performing Arts Center, and visit the El Movimiento and La Chicana exhibits at the Colorado History Center.
Already, the course has been an empowering experience for students like senior Evelyn Rivera.
“Throughout my schooling up to now, I’ve never read a book about Chicano studies, or learned about my culture in school,” Rivera said.
Making sure that students see themselves in what they’re learning is an important part of the Cherry Creek School District’s commitment to Equity and Inclusive Excellence.
“To see their culture being studied in a very serious academic way gives weight and importance and pride in a way that is more meaningful,” Holguin said. “Chicanos are not just history, we’re not just festivals, and we’re not just food. We are deeply embedded into the culture of the United States.”