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Broomfield High School sophomore Kaviya Chidambaram read four books by and about white men in her freshman English class.

What hasn’t been included in her classes, she said, are stories about Asian Americans like herself — or many stories about any people of color. She’s also watched classmates display “outright bigotry” toward her and other students of color.

“Now, more than ever, BVSD needs to change,” she said. “People of color are not a supplement. We should not have to force ourselves into a syllabus. We should not have to fight to see ourselves represented in our own education.”

To push for change, Chidambaram and Fairview High senior Nikki Smith recently started a local chapter of the student-led Diversify Our Narrative movement.

Co-founded by two Stanford University students in June, Diversify Our Narrative’s goal is for every high school language arts class to include at least one book written by a person of color that’s also about the experiences of people of color.

That’s especially important in less diverse communities, Chidambaram and Smith said.

“Boulder is an overwhelmingly white city, making it easy for high schoolers to avoid thinking critically about race,” Smith said. “While it’s a fairly liberal town, we aren’t nearly as immune to racism as many would like to think. I frequently hear racial slurs shouted ‘jokingly’ down the hallways by white kids at my high school. These are students who have never had to confront their own prejudices.”

Most high school language arts reading lists aren’t helping students learn about other perspectives, given that the top 10 most frequently taught books are written by white authors about white characters, she said.

“It is essential we consider what messages (students) are taking from their education and carrying into the rest of their lives,” she said.

Chidambaram and Smith were among a group of students, teachers and parents who recently lobbied the Boulder Valley school board to require more diverse literature.

Monarch High sophomore Sahiti Balaji said reading and discussing books with diverse perspectives “can create a space where kids can have important conversations.”

“Kids will learn that their language is cruel, ignorant and wrong,” she said.

Rui Gao, who is Chinese American and a sophomore at Broomfield High, said the only time she can recall reading a book by an Asian author was when her seventh grade class read “Red Scarf Girl.”

She said she’s been harassed at school because of her race, adding the lack of teaching about racism “has made me feel unacknowledged.”

Fairview High senior Qing Qing He said the Diversify Our narrative movement ” is battling against racism at its core” because racism is often based in ignorance.

She said books “allow us to live in someone else’s shoes. When we read we become the protagonist. We begin to understand their hopes, their dreams, their pain and their suffering.”

In response to the request to require at least one book authored by a person of color in language arts classes, school board President Tina Marquis said mandating instructional materials would be an “overreach” for the board.

Instead, she pointed to a board policy on instructional materials and creation of a new instructional materials task force with a goal of materials in all subjects that provide “a more complex, positive and authentic picture of the diverse lives of students.”

She urged the Diversify Our Narrative students to help guide the task force’s work.

“I’m so excited that there are so many young people who are getting together and advocating for what’s such an important part of our education,” she said.

Boulder Valley spokesman Randy Barber noted the district is already working to address the concerns around diverse materials through its strategic plan and welcomes the input from the students. That work includes an ongoing curriculum review, he said.

Chidambaram and Smith said they plan to continue to push the district to mandate at least one diverse book per language arts class so it’s not a teacher-by-teacher decision, but also are willing to work at the school level instead.

“It is important to us that our vision is not only encouraged but carried out across the district, giving all students the opportunity to experience an equitable curriculum,” Chidambaram said. “The way we reach our goal is not important, but we won’t stop until we do.”

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