Ethnic Studies has been a central part of Social Justice Humanitas Academy (SJHA) since the school opened in 2011. Serving a student population that is 96% Hispanic/Latinx, the school builds its programs around a core of Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy (CRRP).
Complementing the core of CRRP, grade-level interdisciplinary units provide students with unifying themes to learn content. Students examine essential questions, usually focused on historical events that are then extended through the lenses of different content areas. With themes such as “How to be a Catalyst for Change,” students have a voice in their interdisciplinary investigations as they apply their own strengths and cultural perspectives to related community-focused projects.
Other academic options for students include enrollment in college-level classes through a local community college as well as programs that support students’ college aspirations with activities such as college visits, FAFSA support for parents, and post-graduation summer programs. Tutoring from teachers and peers is readily available.
The school provides broad access to its Advanced Placement courses. Students in other classes, which are purposefully mixed-ability classes, have the option of doing honors-level work. Resource teachers and the school’s approach for co-teaching content courses ensure that special education students are fully included in regular classes.
Interactions at SJHA are based on deliberate care and support. The school’s culture and disciplinary guidelines are strongly rooted in restorative justice principles, providing students an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and to face their challenges. The school recognizes that a community faced with high incarceration rates must avoid punishment as the focus of a discipline plan. Rather, the goal is to encourage conversations and maximize positive interactions before disciplinary action is needed. Students and teachers also communicate through the use of what the school’s faculty, staff and students call “love languages” (acts of service, words of affirmation and the like).
As a result of SJHA’s comprehensive efforts to make school culturally relevant, engaging and welcoming to its diverse students and families, this unique School of Opportunity boasts very low suspension rates—only 10 incidents in the school’s eight-year history—and a 96% graduate rate that is 15 points higher than the Los Angeles district average.