This piece originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald, republished here with permission.
Last October, the Emerald reported on a celebration held at Hood Famous for the launching of Filipinx American U.S. History courses in Seattle Public Schools (SPS). But now, following its first academic year as a course, community members are concerned about the future of its development amid a $131 million budget deficit in the district. Tianna Andresen currently teaches the course and is worried about its future.
“With the courses being threatened to be cut, I am honestly not surprised, just because of the trajectory of how ethnic studies has been viewed, and also because they know there’s so much power in learning about your own culture and other people’s cultures and history,” Andresen said.
The Filipinx American U.S. History course focuses on inclusive and liberatory pedagogy and on inviting guest speakers to share their own experiences. The curriculum also includes a family history project, which allows students to learn more about their cultural roots.
“This course is important to me because I have learned so much that I never would have learned otherwise,” an 11th grade Garfield High School student said. “I learn about my history and my family history, which makes me feel like I understand who I am and who my family is more.”
Andresen also described how role-playing exercises, debates, and mock interviews allow students to express themselves in an active way, even though the course is taught online. Intentionality and self-reflections are also essential components of the course, which encourages students to check in with themselves and their classmates throughout the semester.
“We have really built a small community within the class. We all support and advocate for each other. It’s a class where I know I will be heard,” an 11th grade Roosevelt High School student said. “Through the course, I have learned and practiced self-advocating and advocating for others. Tiana has created a very welcoming space and doesn’t shame us for needing more time on things. This has made me more confident in myself when asking for what I need. Because of my growing confidence, I have started advocating for myself in other classes as well as outside of the school environment.”
And students’ advocacy has spread to the community too. Students in the course have visited the Filipino Community Center, which hosts various programming for local residents, and the Filipino American National Historical Society, which is home to an intensive archive that documents the diaspora experience of Filipinos in Seattle.
Following their visits, all of Andresen’s students signed up to become volunteers for the organizations.
“I would call that growth too, because now they are invested in the community, whereas before they expressed having no connection,” Andresen said. “I think the students have given me a lot of hope as a teacher. … I’m really grateful to have met my students, they also bring in so much knowledge.”
Andresen grew up heavily connected to the Filipino community in Seattle, and she acknowledges that her community motivated her to enter the education profession with a focus on ethnic studies.
“[My community] provided me so much empowerment and knowledge about Filipino history. … There’s just so much brilliance in working with high school students, I think a lot of people take for granted,” Andresen added.
Online course accessibility has been identified as an issue by Andresen, who acknowledges that there’s a push to address some of the systemic issues in SPS with course making, and registration in general. One of her students also shared a similar sentiment regarding the course’s accessibility.
“I didn’t know [the course] existed until I was reading over possible course options. That fact that I didn’t hear about [it] before that moment I think is really telling. It shows how little advertising there is surrounding courses like this one,” an 11th grade Roosevelt High School student said. “This class is super important. It’s a class that focuses a lot on identity. It makes me sad that people don’t know about or are worried about taking it because it is online.”
Currently, Andresen is still waiting to hear back from SPS regarding the status of her reinstatement for the upcoming academic year, and the renewal of the course curriculum. Community members are also organizing to raise awareness of the current situation.
According to Tim Robinson, media relations lead at SPS, the budget process will be finalized on July 6. He also provided this statement via email:
“At the district level, there is not a mechanism to capture overall opinion on any given subject matter. That said, if a student – or anyone – provides their opinion to the district (via phone call, email, etc.) it is very appreciated by the district and facilitated
appropriately with follow-up as necessary. I would say that most student expression is something that occurs at the school level, class-by-class (or, in some cases, larger, more organized “demonstrations” etc.). Students – and any member of the public – can provide input during the public testimony portion of regular school board meetings. Several people testified regarding Filipinx issues during a recent board meeting.”
Despite her concerns, Andresen trusts her community to support the course’s renewal. “I know my community, the Filipino community, is ready for [protests] just because we’ve had to fight for it before, and it’s [been] a 50-year effort. And people don’t forget about the struggles with it, so I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people supporting,” Andresen said.