Schools to test Chavez curriculum
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 10, 2003
Pilot program focuses on labor activist
The legacy of the labor leader who gave farmworkers a voice
and a union could live on through a special educational curriculum that some
want to bring to Arizona.
To some, Cesar Chavez is revered as a modern-day saint. To critics, he was
merely a rabble-rouser. Still, the history of migrant workers and
Hispanic-Americans cannot be written without him.
State lawmakers, municipal officials and school administrators will meet today
in Phoenix to discuss plans to start the Cesar Chavez Service Learning Program
in five to seven schools.
The pilot program will start this month.
Depending on its success, the curriculum, which would teach students the
importance of community involvement, values and leadership, could be implemented
into many more schools by next fall.
The California-based Cesar E. Chavez Foundation selected Arizona for this
program because of Chavez's deep history with the state, the place where he
lived and died, representatives said.
Tolleson parent Tia Barnum wants her son to learn about Chavez but doesn't want
administrators to go "overboard on it," she said.
"He was pretty important," said Barnum, 28, whose son is in first grade. She
said schools should dedicate at least a week to learning about Chavez "kind of
like they do for Martin Luther King."
Students will spend part of the semester studying farm working conditions,
heroism and homelessness while working in the community and meeting its needs,
For example, students could learn about health risks associated with migrant
farm work while organizing a health fair.
Or students could focus on homelessness by writing letters to businesses asking
for help for a clothing drive.
At the same time, organizers said, they would read about Chavez's life and the
values he lived by: giving service to others, helping those most needy and
respect for life.
"The figure of Cesar Chavez is not very present (in K-12 curriculum)," said Dr.
Gustavo Fishman, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at Arizona
State University's College of Education.
Typically, Fishman said, Chavez's galvanization of a union and the conflicts
within the union "are not really addressed in any depth" in schools.
The Chavez curriculum is being implemented on a national scale from Colorado to
In September, the Los Angeles Unified School District launched the program in
It's too soon to gauge the effectiveness of the Los Angeles program, but
students are "becoming interested in school, seeing value to what they're
actually learning and how they're applying it to real-life situations," said
Ruben Zepeda, a curriculum adviser for the district.
Locally, Pappas Elementary School and schools in the Tolleson, Fowler,
Littleton, Pendergast and Union elementary school districts will start the
Phoenix officials have identified three high schools, Central, North and Cesar
E. Chavez, as possible demonstration site models for the program.
The city also could decide to roll it into its after-school programs, officials
"I'm excited because obviously Cesar Chavez had a great deal of influence with
the agriculture and migrant (issues) in the area," said Tolleson Union High
School District Superintendent Kino Flores.
"It will be a curriculum strand that focuses on everything from the essence of
migrant and agriculture work, the history of it (and) what (Chavez) was all
about, " he said.
The program initially will cost the schools nothing, Maricopa County
Superintendent of Schools Ben Arrendondo said.