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Seattle Filipino-American Community Advocate to Save Class from Budget Deficit

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

The Filipinx-American U.S. history class on a field trip at the Filipino Community Center. (Photo/Tianna Andresen)

Editor’s note: Some students in this group photo have chosen to have their faces blurred for safety and privacy reasons.

With Seattle Public Schools (SPS) facing a $131 million deficit, the district is evaluating which programs to cut. One of these programs, a virtual Filipino-American history class, is at the stake of being cut. However, members of the Seattle Filipino community and supporters of the class have spoken–advocating for the class to be saved. Through their activism, they hope to prevent the program’s removal from the district’s catalog of ethnic studies courses.

After 50 years of advocating for more Filipino inclusion in high school curriculum, a group of Filipino community members successfully introduced a Filipino studies course within Seattle Public Schools. “Filipinx American U.S. History Studies” began at the start of the 2022-2023 school year as an online course for 11th graders across SPS high schools. This course allows students to engage with Filipino culture, history, and social issues in the U.S., all while fulfilling a U.S. history requirement for students.

Tianna Andresen is the lead instructor for the online class. While her class only consists of eight students, Andresen believes the course provides a sense of community, even when they meet virtually.

“We'll have daily check-ins with each other. We'll hold space for hard things that [have] happened. If they need space to talk about [something], I'm gonna give it to them,” Andresen said. “I don't force [anything] out of them, they kind of just bring it up. So that kind of shows me that I hope they feel safe in the class.”

Although the history class primarily meets online, students also have the opportunity to meet in person in the form of field trips. Andresen describes one of the class outings students participated in to learn more about Filipino-American history.

“We went to the Filipino American National Historical Society. There's an archive room that has millions of files in it, and you can look up your family members there and look at different things that they've done,” Andresen said. “My students went there, they looked through…some of them looked for their family members.”

Andresen recalls the moment she was told her class may no longer exist after the 2022-2023 school year. While she was told many online classes at SPS were likely to be cut, Andresen realized that most of the online classes she could think of were ethnic studies classes, similar to the one she taught.

“If you look at all the online classes, they're all ethnic studies classes. So there's like LGBTQ+ studies, African American studies, there was Native American literature, Asian American literature, women of color composition literature. It was basically all classes that had to do with people who are marginalized folks.”

This common trend seems to emerge in education whenever budgets tighten, explained Anakbayan South Seattle organizer Nica Sy. Anakbayan South Seattle is an organization made up of Filipino youth advocating for “national liberation and genuine democracy in the Philippines.” The organization has been vocal in criticizing SPS’ move to cut the Filipinx-American history course.

“We are also seeing evidence that when budget cuts happen, ethnic studies and liberatory education programs are the first to go,” said Sy.

After learning about the upcoming removal of the Filipinx-American history course, Andresen decided to tell her students, resulting in an immense effort from the students to save the course.

“They were like, ‘Yeah, I can go tell my friends about it.’ They made a little video to present to their classes about why people should enroll,” Andresen said. “[We made] the Linktree–started compiling resources for the general public to know what's going on. This became what it is because my students wanted to do it, and two of them ended up testifying at the school board.”

According to Andresen, her class was at risk of being cut because of low enrollment. However, she believes the low enrollment has less to do with disinterest in the class and more to do with a lack of publicization.

“My students said, ‘I didn't even know about this class until I went through my spam folder,’ or ‘my mom had to advocate for me to take the class because they didn't have enrollment open’ or something like that…[the schools] didn't really try to push these courses anyways, so of course, there wouldn't be a lot of knowledge [about] it.”

Jeren Regala, a freshman at Rainier Beach High School, agrees that the class was not on most students’ radars.

“I can speak for a lot of the freshmen and other people here that we didn't know the class existed until it was being cut. The only way that I got that information is through social media and through other people that also are in the class, and then other alumni from Seattle Public Schools,” said Regala.

Sy noticed that after the Filpinx American history course was set to be cut, it affected not only students but the Filipinx community in Seattle as a whole. This sparked more support for the class.

Teachers, community activists, and students gather at the SPS board meeting on April 4, 2023. (Photo/Nica Sy)

“I think we've all seen a lot of things going around about it online, and people from all different walks of life. I've seen Filipino business owners really advocating for the class, Filipino educators, Filipino students, Filipino community organizations, like Anakbayan South Seattle,” said Sy. “And I think the reason why that urgency around it feels so high is because there's a shared understanding that this culturally relevant history is missing; there’s this huge gap.”

A huge gap that could get bigger if the liberatory and ethnic studies courses, like the Filpinix American U.S. History course, end up getting cut. Regala recalls the history he’s been taught all throughout his academic experience, saying it has never reflected him, his culture, or his community.

“I remember vividly; we talked mostly about white colonial settlers. That's all we were taught in U.S. history…but there's also a lot of history between the immigrants here in the United States,” said Regala. “So, for example, the Chinese people were the ones who built the railroads connecting east to west, and that's something you wouldn't learn in the U.S. History class, but they were a vital part of connecting this nation.”

Additionally, a recent study found ethnic studies courses and “classrooms that make historically marginalized students feel valued and welcome can unlock their academic motivation and engagement.”

“Because by learning your own history, the real history, you can better understand the struggles of your family, your community, your own life, and actually put work towards fighting against those problems. But without a proper education, without a pro-people education, it becomes really hard for students to grasp that understanding,” said Sy.

With several ethnic studies courses up on the chopping block in the SPS budget deficit, the issue has become quite contentious. For Sy, this move by SPS raises some serious questions.

“Is it true that the priorities that Seattle Public Schools are saying that they have…do those actually hold true? When in reality it comes down to the numbers and actually making these decisions in the boardrooms, said Sy.— “The community-led classes…are so easily cut. I think it…sends a really terrible message to Filipino students and to students of color when they see that their district is not supporting them learning about their own history.”

So while cutting such courses could save SPS some dollars, advocates emphasize this decision will come at a greater cost for representative history and the future of ethnic studies for students in the Seattle School District.

Regala is disappointed by the little to no effort put forth by SPS to advertise such ethnic studies classes to interested students and get enrollment numbers up.

“What I'd like to see in the future for further ethnic scope study courses or liberatory arts in general is more community outreach via SPS. There should have been some announcement to people that this course is available because they're taking away something that a lot of people didn't know existed until now,” said Regala.

For community organizers like Sy and students like Regala, now is a crucial time as they ask for the greater Seattle community to show their support in any way they can.

“There's an ask for folks to learn about the background on the Filipinx American curriculum. There's so much history and this fight to save this class is not where it started,” said Sy. “So really going back to the roots…to be able to continue that fight.”

Right now, activists from Anakbayan South Seattle, like Sy, are calling on Filipino youth and youth of color to take back their education and fight to save the Filipinx American U.S. History course.

“I think if folks are willing to share their own experiences, Filipino youth are willing to share their own experiences, that will be a huge contribution to the ways that we can organize our right to fight,” said Sy.

However, in the case that the course does get cut, this won’t be the end.. According to Sy, regardless of what medium the course is offered in, the community will rally to bring it back somehow.

For Regala, these potential budget cuts are just the tip of the iceberg in a long-winded battle for a better education. According to Regala, students at Rainier Beach High School have been underserved by SPS for a long time.

“If they cut the class, there's going to be a lot of students protesting,” said Regala.“We've seen it here in the South End trying to change our educational quality, and we'll definitely see it again if the class is cut.”


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