VOICES: When students are reflected in their curriculum, they succeed

As a native Ohioan and Sikh educator, I’ve seen firsthand how the experiences and history of Sikhs in the U.S., alongside the histories of many communities, have been excluded from public school curricula. Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion, and Sikhs have lived in the United States for more than 125 years. Yet, exclusion and misrepresentation of our histories has been linked to Sikh students facing bullying at more than two times the national average, according to a report published by the Sikh Coalition. Ignorance breeds animosity. One of the best ways for students to feel comfortable is to ensure that they have a well-rounded education that mirrors all of our backgrounds.

Students deserve to feel seen, heard, and valued in an educational environment that serves their growth and learning. Research has shown that students are more engaged when they see their communities reflected in the classroom. I’ve witnessed this in my own teaching experience. A year ago, one of my second graders moved to Ohio from South Korea. Together, we read The Name Jar, a book about a young, Korean girl seeking a sense of belonging in her new school. My student’s face lit up when she noticed the main character was a migrant student who found the courage to teach her class about her Korean heritage and how to correctly pronounce her name. When she heard me pronounce her name correctly after a few attempts, the glory and joy on her face was indescribable. For the first time, my student hugged a book so tightly and said, “I love this book, I want to read it.”

When our instructional practices are tailored to bridge student cultures, interests and experiences, it results in an increase in student achievement, motivation and engagement. Any educator would agree that building authentic relationships in their classroom is at the forefront of effective teaching. Schools are where our children seek to be dreamers, inquirers and problem solvers before they go on to pursue their passions. Helping our students achieve their dreams begins when they receive the highest quality education possible and feel a sense of true belonging within their classroom.

One way that these practices can be easily integrated into the classroom is within our social studies lessons. However, our current model social studies curriculum does not take advantage of the beautifully rich and diverse history of Ohioans. House Bill 171 proposes to educate students about the experiences, journeys, and contributions of a range of communities that have long called Ohio home. It will follow the existing curriculum review process to create enriching learning experiences for Ohio’s students. Not only will it help cultivate a classroom community for all students – particularly those who come from different backgrounds – it will also equip teachers with guidance to create and facilitate engaging, developmentally appropriate lessons. There are many teachers, like myself, who are currently tailoring their instruction to reflect the backgrounds of their students. This bill would support educators and provide us with materials that are reflective and accurate in representing our multifaceted communities.

The Ohio Council for the Social Studies (OCSS), the state’s leading and premier voice for K-16 history and social studies professionals in Ohio, issued a public statement in support of H.B. 171. This bill is a step forward to building a foundation for sliding glass door experiences for all of Ohio’s multifaceted classrooms.

Our youth is our future and our greatest investment. These young citizens are not merely students, but learners with unique skill sets and strengths that will prepare them to become critical thinkers in our ever-changing world. They represent Ohio – the heart of it all, home to all – and our state’s model social studies curriculum should represent them all.

Sanampreet Gill is a second-generation, Sikh American educator, educational advisory board member and Ohio native.

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