Illustration by Meher Yeda
Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s revised social studies curriculum, which aims to increase focus on marginalized communities, is set to be mostly complete by this summer.
The curriculum will involve nine equity components informed by the Illinois State Board of Education’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards — including interrogating systems of oppression, leveraging student activism, orienting toward social justice and prioritizing historically marginalized students.
Jamila Dillard, the district’s director of social sciences and instructional technology integration, said the district’s goal is to have most of the curriculum completed and written by the end of July.
Dillard said the curriculum is intended to be racially inclusive and include the histories of marginalized communities, including the contributions of the LGBTQ+ and disabled communities.
“We want to make sure that this curriculum touches on a little bit of everything, so everyone is seen and heard and visible in this curriculum,” Dillard said.
Currently, the district is reviewing units of instruction, or topics to be included within the curriculum. Throughout the process, Dillard has been meeting with teams of educators, community members and educational consultants.
District 65 is also working alongside Northwestern professor Megan Bang and educational consulting firm Learning Dimensions to finalize units of instruction.
“It’s not just myself sitting in an office setting units,” Dillard said. “We’re trying to make sure that we have the voice of all stakeholders involved in getting these potential units static.”
Once the curriculum is complete, District 65 Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Stacy Beardsley said teachers will receive professional learning to support its implementation. Beardsley expects the district to roll out the curriculum starting in August 2022.
Beardsley said instruction will be very inquiry-based and ensure students are critically engaging with materials. To Beardsley, critical thinking is a major aspect of the new social studies instruction.
“We’re working on creating a social studies curriculum that is going to shift away from a heavily Eurocentric perspective,” Beardsley said. “(It will) elevate the opportunity for students to be able to critically interrogate events in our current day, as well as historical presence from multiple perspectives.”
Furthermore, Dillard said the district aims to create a “community-relevant” curriculum in which students will read about local events and organizing.
Dillard said she hopes to uplift Evanston voices because of the great things and people in the city.
“Oftentimes, we in social studies read about places far off that don’t necessarily pertain to our communities,” Dillard said.”To be able to bring this curriculum full circle and have students, educators and community members see their own community and themselves within the curriculum, I think it’s going to be great for us.”
School board president Anya Tanyavutti said the board’s role in the process is to provide direction for the work by listening and giving feedback on the curriculum’s focus and scope.
The board last received curriculum development updates at a March 8 meeting, where Dillard emphasized the importance of discussing the histories of communities of color outside of colonization and oppression. Dillard said the team is focusing on weaving movements such as Black Lives Matter into the curriculum so students will encounter social justice movements regularly, rather than occasionally.
Earlier this month, District 65 celebrated its second LGBTQ+ Equity Week with the purpose of exploring topics such as stereotyping, family structures and gender identity. The Equity Week’s creation came after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a 2019 bill mandating the teaching of LGBTQ+ history in all public schools by 2020.
Just a month prior, Park School teacher Ren Heckathorne spoke at a school board meeting, criticizing the district’s inaction in response to the harassment they faced after coming out as transgender. Heckathorne worked with D65’s Gender and Sexuality Educators Alliance to create the weeklong LGBTQ+ curriculum to be taught to students throughout Equity Week.
District 65 parent Kristen White said she believes the district is working to create a more comprehensive curriculum that better captures the experiences of those who make up this country — something she strongly supports. White said this more integrated curriculum is important for students who might feel singled out by individualized programming centered around identities they hold.
Her fifth-grader, who “has two moms,” experienced challenges during the first District 65 LGBTQ+ Equity Week in 2019, she said.
“It was the first time since she’s been at school where there were kids openly in class, who were sharing opinions that challenged the existence of her family, or the right of transgender students to exist,” White said.
Once the district fully implements the curriculum, Beardsley said the existing equity weeks related to distinct identities, like LGBTQ+ Equity Week, Latinx Heritage Week and Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, will likely be phased out.
Tanyavutti said the district currently offers programs like the African Centered Curriculum program, which has bolstered “incredible” outcomes for Black students. However, to truly create a space of belonging, Tanyavutti believes this type of instruction must be represented in the curriculum offered to every student.
“I don’t necessarily see (the new curriculum) as separate. I see it as a more full expression. We’ve had racial equity focused weeks that were focused on Black Lives Matter, Latine, and Hispanic heritage, and LGBTQ+,” Tanyavutti said. “However, that content really needs to be woven throughout the curriculum.”
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— D65 working board meeting gives updates on new social studies curriculum
— District 65 emphasizes equity at last 2019-2020 meeting