Elevating Student Voice in the Creation of the New Social Studies Standards

By Sarah Arrington, Policy Fellow

The State Board’s Social Studies Standards Committee, chaired by Jessica Sutter, the Ward 6 Representative, is leading the District’s effort to revise the statewide social studies standards. The standards have not been updated since 2006 and are thought to be Eurocentric and exclusive of many cultures’ histories. In the Social Studies Committee’s effort to make the standards more inclusive and reflective of the racial and social backgrounds of DC students, the committee has taken steps to ensure the inclusion of student voice.

On March 24, the State Board held its first #LunchTimeLive event on Instagram Live. The event featured five DC students who shared their experiences with social studies and what they would like to see in the new standards.

Two students discussed the need to emphasize the experience of black communities. Kayla Higgs, a senior at Eastern High School and a member of Mikva Challenge, suggested that the standards should include a broader emphasis on the experience of black people rather than focusing only on slavery. Specifically, she advocated for including lessons on black culture before Africans were taken to the Americas as well as mass incarceration and President Obama’s election. Michael Blackson, a senior at Thurgood Marshall Academy and a member of Mikva Challenge and Pathways 2 Power, recommended that the standards should include black history outside of Black History Month in February. He also recommended more action civics and student engagement with the community.

Jada Epps, a junior at Thurgood Marshall Academy and member of Pathways 2 Power, discussed how she had the opportunity to learn about civil rights history at sites where history unfolded. This is especially relevant to DC because it is a city rich with historical sites that could be used for hands-on learning experiences. And finally, Cristian Cardona, a sophomore at Banneker High School and a member of Mikva Challenge, called for the new standards to implement relevant social studies topics in earlier grades so that students are exposed to the topics with enough time to become civically involved in their community.

The State Board also held a student panel at the April Public Meeting. The virtual panel consisted of three of the State Board’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC) members. They shared similar thoughts and suggestions as the students at the #LunchTimeLive event regarding the need for more inclusive standards.

Alex O’Sullivan, a Student Representative for the State Board and sophomore at BASIS DC Public Charter School, stated, “I’d like to see more modern social studies curriculum like learning about urban housing, modern day segregation in schools, police brutality and racial profiling.” Dayja Burton, a Student Representative for the State Board and a senior at McKinley Technology High School, stated, “by adding experiences of other cultures to the curriculum, students will be able to learn on a global level and be more open-minded and inclusive.” Shayla Dell, a sophomore at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and a member of the State Board’s Student Advisory Committee, stated, “I’ve always felt the lack of perspective from people of color in social studies. Misrepresentation leaves people confused.”

At both events, the students’ passion for social justice impressed the board members. The Social Studies Standards Committee will be incorporating the students’ feedback throughout the process of updating the standards. The students’ key insights confirm the need for community participation in the creation of the new standards. The Board will continue to solicit community feedback to ensure that the people who will be most affected by the standards will have a voice in creating them. 

The next step in the standards creation process is to assemble a Standards Advisory Committee which will develop guiding principles for the new standards and advise the Board on what should be included in the standards. The application for the committee is live until Friday, June 12 at 12 p.m. ET. Find it here.

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