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Howard school board to vote on curriculum, event requests from Asian American and Pacific Islander community

Every year the Howard County Board of Education reads and votes on a symbolic proclamation to make May Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. On Thursday afternoon, board members will do it again — this time with three targeted action items included.

In the past few months, 10 Asian American and Pacific Islander Howard County groups have been working together to ask the school system to take actionable steps toward including Asian American and Pacific Islander history and experiences in education.

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The groups have asked the board to consider forming an Asian American and Pacific Islander advisory board to help the school system understand the challenges and issues of the community, developing Asian American and Pacific Islander curriculum at all levels of education, and creating more events and programs during the heritage month.

Those three requests will be part of Thursday’s resolution, said Jean Xu, founding president of the Chinese American Parent Association of Howard County who has been working on the effort.

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“We want to channel two-way communication between the [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community and the school system,” Xu said.

The groups — including Chinese American Parent Association of Howard County, Families for Education Improvement, Global Federation of Chinese Business Women, Howard County Chinese School, Indian Origin Network of Howard County, Korean American Parent Association, Korean Society of Maryland, League of Korean Americans, Peiying Chinese School and Chin Association of Maryland — met weekly beginning in early March to brainstorm what they wanted to achieve. By the end of March, they sent their requests to the school board to review before the formal proclamation.

The resolution is being introduced by Kevin Gilbert, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Howard County Public School System.

Xu and Ming Du, Chinese American Parent Association board of directors chair, said they were motivated after the recent rise in anti-Asian violence, including the mass shooting last month in Atlanta that killed eight people, six of them Asian women.

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“First of all we want the county, the government to protect us. We’ve been facing a lot of violence everywhere,” Du said. “We largely were left out and since the [coronavirus] pandemic started, since the safety issue started, we have to talk about our issues and let people know what we’re facing.”

Pravin Ponurri, chief volunteer and founder of Indian Origin Network, said the requests were long overdue but builds on the work his organization and others in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have been doing for years.

“The overall goal was something that has evolved over the past five to six years working with all the group,” Ponurri said. “This was the formal thing that just sealed it.”

At an April 16 meeting with some of the organizers and schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, Xu said Martirano agreed to the creation of the advisory board.

“We are very glad to see the school system and the board members are so committed to the [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community,” Xu said.

The group has also gathered materials for the proposed additional curriculum, incorporating the names of well-known or historically important members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, like Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo; Chang-Lin Tien, the first Asian to head a major university in the United States; and Sammy Lee, the first Asian American to win a gold medal at the Olympics for the U.S.

“We believe by incorporating more [Asian American and Pacific Islander] history in the curriculum, the students would recognize that the ... community has a long history in America, and we are no less American than other immigrants,” Xu said

Du said his 10th grade son sees no Asian American and Pacific Islander curriculum being taught in schools. “Besides what we talk about [with] Chinese history at home, he receives nothing from the school system,” Du said.

Ponurri said the conversations among the groups led them to specific curriculum problems they saw in the school system.

“One thing we realized as we started talking is that the school system is teaching Eurocentric history,” Ponurri said. “What we found is that there is not enough visibility of Asian history. We wanted to make sure that our kids understand where they come from.”

Xu said the third request will push the school system to host events that acknowledge Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. She said she hopes schools will make morning announcements focused on the month and see teachers talk about it in class as well.

“I know some [Asian American and Pacific Islander] students organized some events on their own. We would like to see more events sponsored by schools,” Xu said.

In February, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball formed an Asian American and Pacific Islander work group for leaders in the county to discuss issues facing the community and organize events in Howard County.

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