CPS' Skinner North integrates Asian American history into curriculum in interactive ways

TEAACH Act, which requires Asian American history be taught in K-12 schools, takes effect across Illinois this fall
CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's been almost a year since Governor JB Pritzker signed the Teach Equitable Asian American Community History Act, known as the TEAACH Act, requiring that Asian American history be taught in public schools.

It goes into effect this fall, but one CPS school has already started making sure Asian American history and culture are taught and celebrated in the classroom.

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At Skinner North Classical School, Asian American history isn't just for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. They believe it should be center stage throughout the school year.

"Everybody should be represented, because it's history," 4th grade teacher Abbey Castillo said. "And it's not accurate if we're leaving out stories."

The Near North Side CPS school is integrating Asian American history and culture into the curriculum in interactive ways. Fourth grader Matthew Escuadro has been taking it all in.

"It makes me feel pretty happy just to learn about what things were like back then and what people did, and how people of my culture did what they did," Escuadro said.

Skinner North recently partnered with CIRCA-Pintig to act out stories of Filipino Americans on stage.

"I remember when we were getting started in one of the classrooms, you know, we said, 'Okay, it's time for reading now,'" CIRCA-Pintig Executive Director Ginger Leopoldo said. "And the kids are like, 'Oh, reading, oh,'... 'But you're going to be acting, you're going to be acting the stories.' And then there was like this big cheer."

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Their approach could be a model for schools across the state. The TEAACH Act was signed into law last summer requiring Asian American history be taught in k-12 schools. It goes into effect next school year.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice has been preparing resources for schools to use in the classroom.

Skinner North parents Anne Saw and Smita Garg, along with Leopoldo, have been helping with gathering the educational materials.

"There's so much data and research to support how important it is to have this type of curriculum within schools, both for psychosocial outcomes, but also academic outcomes as well," Saw said.

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It's especially important at Skinner North, where Asian students make up the largest racial group. Across CPS, only about 4% of students are Asian, but 44% of students identify as Asian at Skinner North.

"Asking my son about his take on things has been so interesting, because he gets it, you know," Garg said. "And it's so heartwarming as a mom, you know, that he understands the value of learning a more robust history."

The TEAACH Act came in response to the rise in anti-Asian racism fueled by the rhetoric surrounding the pandemic. As a parent and psychologist, Saw says education could turn the tide.

"If we really want to improve wellbeing at the community level, if we really want to address and eradicate anti-Asian racism it has to, has to be starting at the schools with kids," Saw said.

"I feel that even if you are not Asian American yourself, if you learn about our history and our culture, you can help us feel like we are a part of our society and we have done stuff to contribute to society," Escuadro said.

Those who have been working behind the scenes on implementing the TEAACH Act say Asian American history is American history, and they look forward to that to part of America's story being taught in classrooms across the state starting this fall.
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