Schools in Connecticut will be required to teach Asian American and Pacific Islander studies to students in Kindergarten through grade 12 beginning in the 2025-2026 school year, after state legislators passed a bill mandating it.
Connecticut is the first state in the nation to pass this mandate with funding.
An advocacy group called "Make Us Visible" pushed for the state to require the additional teaching in schools and those now working to develop the curriculum said it was important to have a plethora of diverse voices involved since both groups, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, are very diverse in themselves.
“We wanted to take control of our own narrative,” said Katelyn Trieu, a graduate assistant for the Asian American Cultural Center at UConn who is also helping to develop the curriculum. “We're not only learning about the Europeans moving here, there are so many other people who create our community. I think learning about their history and how they've come to be will help students from that same background really identify.”
Jason Chang, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut and the director of the Asian American Studies Institute, has been leading the charge and working as a consultant for the state department of education. Developing this curriculum is about more than teaching specific events in history, Chang said.
“It's not enough to just understand festivals or cultural highlights, but it's a really robust understanding of the forces which have shaped those communities. And some of that includes hardship,” said Chang.
“The bill [state legislators passed this session] talks a lot about learning about Asian American history, especially in the context of United States history, and how it kind of led us to where we are now,” said Megan Baker, the AAPI lead policy analyst for the Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity and Opportunity.
Megan Baker helps advise state lawmakers. Prior to her work, she grew up in Connecticut. Baker is half-Filipino and said she wished she had more cultural context growing up.
“Existing in that biracial state where my father is born in Indiana, from Indiana, but my mother immigrated here from the Philippines, that kind of perfectly unites my experiences, and it would reflect that in the curriculum. And I'm hoping that students existing at those intersections will also see themselves reflected in what is being taught to them in schools,” said Baker.
Those developing the curriculum said the additional learning can be useful to understand the perspective of all the people who make up our country.
“The rise in anti-Asian racism and violence in our communities has really shown the human cost of invisibility. And so, the work that we're doing with this curriculum is to have a long-term, intergenerational vision for decreasing violence and racism. We know that it will take time, but we also know that we can't enforce our way out of that problem,” said Chang.
In addition to developing the K-12 curriculum, there are two other programs in the early stages of development.
The first, Community of Practice, was led by Jennifer Heikkila Diaz, JHD. She worked with about 10 teachers across the state who were all teaching the same book to students in a variety of ways.
“This community of practice is really about supporting teachers, which in turn, is about supporting students,” JHD said.
Tenzin Dhondup, a Naugatuck senior, was one of the students taking part in the discussion about “The Best That We Could Do,” a memoir about a family escaping the Vietnam War.
“I think that I connected on a far more personal level with the book because in normal classes, I'm not able to see characters or hear stories of people that look just like me,” said Dhondup.
Michelle Henry was also piloting another AAPI program that allows high school students to access UConn courses.
She has been a teacher at Simsbury High School for the past 20 years and said she most recently was inspired by her students to start this early college experience, or ECE, course. In her two decades of teaching, Henry said she has tried to infuse AAPI studies into the classroom.
“They've been there, but subtly, in smaller doses. But just to have one course devoted to AAPI studies would really shine a light on its perspectives,” said Henry.
Developing this curriculum will be an ongoing process over the coming years and those contributing hope it will have positive results for generations of students to come.
“This is really about young people and making sure that they get what they deserve. And that's going to then in turn help them contribute to our society in lots of positive and productive ways,” JHD said.
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