A six-student class at Mission High School is making history as the first Mexican American studies dual-enrollment course in Texas. Covering a Post-Civil War 1864 to the 2000s, the class is following the United States timeline from the southwest perspective.
South Texas College Instructor Trinidad Gonzales and MHS teacher Victoria Rojas teach the class. Each day the two switch off leading the class in the lesson with an open Socratic learning method, hands-on projects and sampling of the occasional Mexican cuisine.
“There is an under appreciation for our area, an under appreciation for living in the Valley,” Rojas said. “I think if you understand our history then it makes your appreciation for our history grow.”
This semester the class is focusing on Mission history and some hometown success stories that are not typically discussed in state textbooks. The class has visited the Mission Historical Museum and the University of Texas – Pan American archives to broaden their knowledge.
“It’s really expanded the way we think about ourselves. We usually don’t get too much attention in the Rio Grande Valley,” senior Ariana Navarro said. “My teacher and professor have taught me that we do matter and we do have an impact on society and history, not just in our area but the United States in general.”
When the class started in fall 2014, Gonzales said that the students weren’t used to the round-table type of class setting and preferred the lecture-and-listen method. As a way to get the students to open up, the STC professor brought in a cultural pastime as a teaching tool – medienda, similar to tea time in the English culture.
“I went and bought pan dulce. We ate some bread and I used that an as occasion to talk about that sort of daily activity people would engage in when I grew up,” Gonzales said. “Medienda is when it’s 3 o’clock you go and get some bread, have some coffee and people get together. It’s just that afternoon meal break that people get to bond and talk.”
Whether the students realized it or not, the exercise was a way to get them to be more articulate, a vital aspect of the class.
Both Gonzales and Rojas are teaching the students the importance of defending their positions when they speak out. In the class they are required to not only contribute how they feel about a certain topic, but why they feel that way.
“The idea is to develop people who can think, analyze, evaluate and then articulate what those positions are…to somebody else,” Gonzales said. “That’s scary for a lot of students and a lot of people in general because it may fundamentally lead to some changes in how you see the world, but that’s what education is.”
Senior Kobe Marquez was not prepared for the intensity level of the class and admitted that he enrolled because he thought the elective course would be less demanding. However, Marquez has learned to appreciate what the program offers.
“The first past of this class made me have a different viewpoint and I just had to take part two of the class,” the 17-year-old said. “Now we’re starting to get closer to the present and I’m starting to see how everything I’m learning is connected. What I really like is that I’m able to know more about where I’m coming from.”