California Adds New Graduation Requirement

SAUSD hosts the inaugural Ethnic Studies Conference at Santa Ana Valley High School. “A lot of the ethnic studies course is based on developing their students identity, their voice, their concerns, and how it can turn into some positive change in their community,” said Curriculum Specialist for High School Social Science, Linn Lee. Photo taken on June 3, 2017

Photo Courtesy of GFHS teacherLinn Lee

SAUSD hosts the inaugural Ethnic Studies Conference at Santa Ana Valley High School. “A lot of the ethnic studies course is based on developing their student’s identity, their voice, their concerns, and how it can turn into some positive change in their community,” said Curriculum Specialist for High School Social Science, Linn Lee. Photo taken on June 3, 2017

Arman Sangar, Staff Writer

The Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) has implemented a new requirement to obtain a high school diploma which will take effect in 2026. 

On October 8, 2021, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 101, making California the first state to add ethnic studies as a graduation requirement for all public high school students. 

The law mandates all public high schools in the state to take at least one ethnic studies course beginning the 2025-26 school year and mandates students graduating in the 2029-2030 school year to have completed one-semester in the subject.

Godinez sophomore  Alex Avila thinks another graduation requirement is a bit excessive and may make students overwhelmed. Avila has a brother that will be a freshman next year.

“I hope he doesn’t feel even more overwhelmed than I did my freshman year as a quarantine student,” said Avila.

Ten days later, Superintendent of SAUSD, Jerry Almendarez sent out a newsletter regarding this new graduation requirement.

In the letter Almendarez states, “The graduating class of 2026 will have the opportunity to choose from more than 20 ethnic studies classes over the course of their high school career in the areas of English, Mathematics, Science, Social Science, and Visual Performing Arts.”

This makes SAUSD the first district in Orange County to have the requirement apply to incoming freshmen in the 2022-2023 school year.

Godinez Fundamental High School principal Jesse Church is in favor of students learning about their heritage and about minorities. 

“I am a big advocate in exposing our students to minority studies that have not really had a chance,” added Church.

Assemblymember Jose Medina who introduced AB 101 to California Legislature. (Courtesy of Assemblymember Jose Medina’s official website)

The ethnic studies movement started in the late 1960s where students at San Francisco State University and the University of California at Berkeley, pushed for courses in Chicano, Asian American, Native American and African American studies.

A year ago, Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside) introduced Assembly Bill 101 (AB 101). The bill aimed to expand student’s education opportunities and teach them about the variety of communities across the country. Medina himself, holds a bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies. 

“Ethnic studies courses empower students and help build culturally competent citizens by teaching students about the multifaceted history of America that is often left out of textbooks,” said Medina.

Godinez Fundamental High School (GFHS) assistant principal Felipe Zamudio said that the course might be embedded into another course. 

“I think we have enough graduation requirements already. However, I think it will be good for the students to look at points of history we have not,” said Zamudio. 

For teachers like social science teacher, Megan Blash, she thinks it is important for students to learn about different perspectives in history as well as current issues. Blash thinks students will be willing to learn this course.

“Aristotle once said that educating the mind without educating the hearth is no education at all,” said Blash. 

The push for an ethnic studies requirement in SAUSD has been going since 2016, but now that it is here, it will be interesting to see the impact it has for future California high school students.