Lack of Representation in High Schools in Stanislaus County

Lack of Representation in High Schools in Stanislaus County


Throughout California, the demographic of the student population is diverse. However, the diversity is not reflected in the types of events, clubs, curriculums, and organizations that are funded in public high schools. Our group identified that the high schools within Stanislaus County do not make cultural celebrations a priority. Many teachers, administrators, and school districts do not make the effort to incorporate the backgrounds of students in the classroom and in extracurricular activities.We feel that representation should be made a priority in education. Students need to feel welcomed and appreciated when they go to school. Students should have the opportunity to collaborate with their peers to celebrate their cultures and to create a more equitable school environment.

Team Information
Las Morenas

About the Problem

Problem Category


How did you identify this problem?

Looking at Stanislaus County’s population, the first thing one would notice is the immense diversity that is present within the community. Although there are several areas that are predominantly white, Hispanic, or Black, students who attend schools within each community do vary in their racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. Even though this is true, oftentimes, when it comes to holidays, or specific cultural celebrations, schools lack to provide students with the opportunity to equally share or represent their culture. Not only does this lead to individuals feeling as though they are belittled, but it also leads to the lack of awareness of the importance of diversity. Our group felt that the lack of representation signals a failure of the education system to students of color. The question we identified voices our initiative: “How can student- led organizations increase racial/cultural/ethnic celebration and awareness in public high schools in Stanislaus County within 10 years?

Problem Details

Who are those affected by this problem?

Students are the ones who are affected because they have to adapt in a setting where they spend most of their day, and where they are told that minor celebrations aren’t needed. Allowing students to incorporate a piece of their culture or racial background at school gives them a sense of belonging. That sense of belonging gives them more reasons to try in school. Many principals, deans, or even teachers do not want to organize events for different cultures because they don’t want to mess anything up. There are questions proposed on whether administrators believe that they might portray the culture wrong, or if the main cause is because white people feel entitled to setting other people aside. Moreover, students often feel like their needs and wants are not being heard by the school. This is something that needs to be fixed, and it can be done if administrators dedicate the smallest part of their day learning about ways to give students freedom to express themselves.

How often does this problem occur?

In America, it is a very rare occasion that students have the opportunity to celebrate their cultures in an educational and accepting environment. In many cases, students of color want to have a group of people that recognize the same hardships and discrimination that they go through. People that understand them, that share the same experiences. But when students propose the idea to have some type of cultural appreciation group, it is almost always rejected. This is because the American public school system does not care about students of color. Groups that celebrate diversity and cultural appreciation are rejected because they can be problematic if the culture is not portrayed correctly. This is one of the many excuses higher ups on school boards have said, but what that really means is American public schools are too lazy to put effort into making students of color comfortable in educational spaces. Stanislaus County is no exception to this laziness. Many students in this class have said they have felt left out when it comes to cultural appreciation. When wanting to wear the Mexican flag when graduating, they were told no. When they wanted to form groups like a Black Student Union, Latin Student Union or MEChA, they were told no. The excuses these students were given were; the white students will feel left out, it will be too much of a hassle, and we don’t want to be canceled for messing up. In Stanislaus county, students of color are more often let down by the low effort the school board puts in than not.

How long has the problem been going on?

This problem has been going on since the invasion of America. The education and history of people of color was wiped as soon as colonizers got to it. It started with the genocide of the Native Americans, the desecration of so many things they held as holy and sacred. Then the enslavement of Africans, the history and traditions of so many tribes wiped from American history by the assimilation and mistreatment of African slaves. Then the theft of Mexican land, which led to the harsh working conditions that Mexican farmers still face to this day. American is known to be a melting pot, but almost every immigrant in this country has faced the same discrimination by white people. Even now, it doesn’t stop. The children of these peoples with rich histories wish to have appreciation of their culture. To share the food, traditions and stories that have not been lost.

Is the problem disrupting the community? How?

Within high schools in Modesto City Schools, there are a limited amount of opportunities for students to engage in activities and community events. One of the factors for this is the availability of advisors for clubs and organizations. Teacher diversity is lower than student demographics in the district. According to the Modesto Bee article, “Clear Progress: Report on Teacher Diversity shared with Modesto City Schools Board,” as of 2022, Hispanic/Latino students make up about 66% of the district’s population. Eighteen percent of students are white, 2.5% are Black, 5% are two or more races, 4% are Asian, and 4% identify as “other.” The article mentions how 70% of the district’s teachers are white. The diversity gap that exists between students and teachers makes it more difficult for students to reach out to a teacher to start a club or program. Administrators and districts should ensure that high schools are fostering an inclusive environment, where students can celebrate their heritage and address the social injustices that are affecting their communities.

Is the issue perceived as a problem by the community at large?

The issue is being addressed by some of the districts in the county. Modesto City Schools issued an equity framework statement, where they detailed the 2021-2022 framework for their equity task force. The equity task force committee includes MCS administrators, board members, community members, but only one student representative. The task force announced the creation of equity audits to ensure access to marginalized groups. The statement does not detail how their equity audits will be conducted, or who will be responsible for research. These details should be revealed publicly so students, parents, and faculty can stay informed.

Is the problem limited to certain geographic areas?

There are areas and places where students don’t feel welcomed, like Texas, which contains schools that do not make students from different origins a priority. Unlike other states, in California there are towns in the northern part that do nothing but appreciate and allow students to express themself however they deserve. Which is anywhere from having different foods, dances, and the list goes on. There just needs to be change in order for students to feel welcomed.

Who are the Stakeholders, those wanting this problem to be fixed?

Those who want to advocate for a change are the ones experiencing or acknowledging it. A student who attends a local high school here in Turlock, is someone who is actually a part of something that can be considered a solution for this problem, a student site council. It consists of school staff, teachers and a selected number of students from each grade level, and around two parents. The only downside is because the student who is a part of this, explained that in reality, it is a “puppet show”. The only reason why students are there is for show and not for voicing out opinions from their experiences. Not only that but last month, a student from another local high school led a rally to raise awareness of hate-related bullying occuring. Younger generations are already noticing the lack of awareness of diversity in their own school and some have managed to take matters into their own hands. Parents are also noting this problem and are starting to fight for what they believe is best for their children. The mother of the student who fell victim of bullying of their sexual orientation took this case to the law since the district has not provided appropriate actions. Therefore, it can be confirmed that the ones wanting this problem to be fixed are students, people of color, and finally older generations.

Addressing the Problem

Are you aware of any solutions, approaches, or efforts to tackle this problem?

Throughout California, the demand for a more inclusive curriculum that reflects diverse backgrounds has been ongoing. The passing of Assembly Bill 101 requires all California public high school students to take a course in Ethnic Studies. Schools do not have to implement the courses until 2025. However, students should have the opportunity to start programs and clubs that incentivize them to collaborate with other students. Students can gain a critical consciousness about issues they perceive in their communities, and they can help create solutions. This can be done in the years leading up to the 2025 Ethnic Studies requirement, and afterwards.

What are the obstacles you are aware of to address the problem?

A few common obstacles we were able to find and caught our attention were schools not having enough funding, knowing where to start, and possibly who they need to reach out to. Schools might feel the need to have enough funding in order for them to start incorporating clubs, extracurricular activities, guest speakers and events. Not only is it something many administrations face but it's also used as a form of an excuse to say to students. Stating money as a problem can be a reason to put off wanting to have anything demonstrated in any school allowing students to lose motivation towards wanting to add something new into the schools system. However, funding isn’t the only issue many schools face but also not knowing where they could start to make students feel welcomed. Administrators might feel as if they will offend a certain ethnicity just because they don’t know how to start a club or what faculty could be asked. Bringing in events to a school who isn’t used to having any cultural values demonstrated can be hard. Students can judge a race or even laugh because they might feel as if it is a joke. Things like this need to be changed and proved that all schools here in the Central Valley can make a change. It can all start by adding the opportunity of parents helping students by adding clubs or volunteer opportunities to college students who really want to make a change. Asking a faculty member to volunteer as an advisor can be extremely hard. That is because many teachers have a second life back at home.

What are the success criteria that could be defined to address this problem?

Setting a success criteria would vary for the enrollment number at each school. However, it would be based on the number of student engagement in each board, the number of activities organized each school year, and the number of school electives and core classes that promote ethnic based learning. The criteria would also include GPA and the graduation rate in the lens of ethnic groups in order to ensure that students have equal opportunities for higher education. When there is specifics to the criteria, it gives this plan more of a chance of being successfully carried out. Having specifics also gives hope that our plan is realistic and can make a positive change to the American public school system.